Best Practices for Up-selling and Cross-selling in the Contact Center

Cross-selling and up-selling initiatives have existed in the contact center industry for a very long time and implemented with varying levels of success.

Perhaps it is time to consider the “best practices” most often neglected in these initiatives … those that represent the practices utilized by the most successful programs.

The contact center has many attributes that make it a “near perfect” environment to drive add-on sales. However, a successful outcome depends upon the effectiveness of the program’s strategy, structure, and execution.

I have corralled some thoughts and tips to consider doing and some things to consider un-doing.

Jump to: Alignment | Skills assessment | Training | Technology | Measurement


Alignment is defined as “a state of agreement or cooperation among persons, groups, nations, etc., with a common cause or viewpoint.” In launching or adjusting up-selling and cross-selling initiatives, alignment among management, quality, the front line, etc., provides context. Context provides a bigger picture and a view greater than the simple act of making an offer to add an item or give special treatment to an order.


Is your contact center aligned to the corporation’s overall strategy, business drivers, and brand? What is its contribution? At the most fundamental level, businesses are in business to make money; that is a given (and we all know it is more fun to work for a company that is profitable than one that is not). Up-selling and cross-selling provides a means by which the contact center’s visibility throughout the enterprise is elevated to that of a valuable strategic asset rather than costly overhead.

Alignment cross-functionally assures proactive communication with other departments that look to the contact center to fulfill dreams of additional revenue generation and a more collaborative spirit to campaigns and promotions.

If your contact center has been the victim of marketing campaigns and promotions jettisoned to the marketplace without contact center collaboration, it is time to reach out and build that relationship in order to better serve the enterprise, the customer, and the front line.

Frustration around “marketing never tells us anything” is an unacceptable out. If you know they never tell you, then it is time to start asking.

Consider the following:

  • Assure that top business drivers are identified and communicated to the contact center; contextualize in terms of how the contact center contributes.
  • Evaluate the contact centers’ relationships cross-functionally; develop an outreach program to enhance collaboration and improve cross-selling and up-selling opportunities.

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Skills assessment


Who works in your contact center? Do hiring practices include sales sensibilities and skills? If not, you need to begin a skills transformation. The bottom-line is that the skills to provide service and the skills to encourage sales are eerily similar. The core competencies of an excellent customer care professional (elements such as empathy, rapport, passion, focus, etc.) are exactly the same as those for the best sales folks.

The difference is in the execution – how we develop the application of those skills. Begin now by taking these steps:

  • Identify and document sales competency requirements.
  • Determine the gap between baseline contact center skills ad sales competencies.
  • Develop a training and support plan that fills in that gap.

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Training is crippled in many contact centers. Relevance of delivery methods, effectiveness of support tools, and ability to access information in a timely fashion all impact whether “getting more” out of up-sell and cross-sell is a reasonable expectation.

Consider a transformation from training to learning … what does my team really need to know, do and feel to be successful?

Face it – the front line needs to know more than the special of the day. Far too many contact center selling programs begin and end with the day’s special “memo” or email message. This leads to limp offers at the end of a call (“You wouldn’t want the insurance on that would you?”).

Take a look at your current training program. Is material organized in a way that builds in up-selling and cross-selling as part of an ongoing relationship with the customer? The best programs are integrated into the day-to-day world of the contact center; they are not stand-alone, adjunct, or optional. Anyone who says, “Don’t up-sell when there are calls in queue” has isolated the task and created an undertone of selling being discretionary. Remember, the agent is responsible for the call; management is responsible for the queue.

Anyone in a position to influence the front line must learn how to consistently reinforce the front line. Once again alignment comes into play. Managers, coaches, trainers, supervisors, etc., will enjoy more success when they interact with the front line in the context of business drivers, and brand requirements. Solid learning programs must lynch-pin to these strategic elements.

Create explicit definitions of what the front line needs to know, do and feel:

  • Create a supported and encouraged learning environment; educate leaders at every level regarding alignment.
  • Review the training curriculum, approach, and effectiveness; make adjustments where needed.
  • Amp up your coaching approach to be more about asking and less about telling.
  • Integrate learning into day-to-day tasks and activities; adjust the program if it is stand-alone and optional.

The mission is to make sure the front line has ongoing learning opportunities. In order for the front line to be successful, they need to feel confident … the outcome of supporting what they need to know and do. Show me a front line that lacks confidence from a selling perspective and I will show you an unsuccessful program.

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There are many tools and systems on the market today to assist in facilitating up-sell and cross-sell initiatives.

For example, well-architected customer relationship management (CRM) systems can be among the most effective; they provide profiles, preferences, and specific needs of customers. However, like so many technology applications of today, systems need more than IT administration and maintenance.

They also need information architecture and business analysis to yield results. It is important to invest in information architecture to provide appropriate and actionable information to the front line.

Customers choose among many technical channels by which to access your products and services. It is critical to check and confirm the alignment of offers across all channels for consistency and effectiveness.

And regardless of the system, the front line agent is the driver. Whether or not they are on board with the sales program determines if any offers are made and any revenue generated.

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Any initiative undertaken in the contact center must be evaluated. The means by which up-selling and cross-selling efforts are measured is (at its most basic) the ability to track revenue generation. Understanding where your opportunities are happening makes measuring them easier.

One popular sales offering in the direct-to-consumer business is priority shipping. It is interesting to consider how this offer is made by some online retailers … a pop-up window glows with the statement “get it tomorrow” and the consumer accepts the offer. How is this different from the verbal request, “Would you like to use priority shipping?” Blah. It is the urgency displayed online vs. the closed question asked on the call.

Measure your own creativity at crafting this offer and increase revenue in an area where a relatively easy sale can be made and deliver on a high-margin item. If you offered staff a dollar for every order using expedited shipping, my guess is that it would be good for all concerned (as long as the warehouse can handle it and you have a system to measure it).

But be cautious when using a specific target number an agent must reach regarding offers or referrals. A client once required that ten “referrals” be made per month, per front line agent for a particular program. Guess what? There was never an 11th. As far as agents were concerned, it was just a task being assessed rather than long-term internalized behavior. So be careful what you ask for.

Measurements often include incentives and these work very well when considered to be fair and equitable. For example, commission on sales is popular. This is great if you are working in an inbound sales environment.

However, within sales and service operations not every contact is an opportunity for add-on sales. If a customer is dealing with a serious issue, it is quite possibly brand damaging to jump into sales mode. Keep in mind that every contact involves selling something … even if it is confidence in your brand to fix a problem. If the program’s incentives are flawed, some staff may “blow off” service calls in favor of hoping to get more sales calls and … more commission.

Quality programs are often part of the toolkit for measuring sales performance. The monitoring form needs to include such items as “identifies selling opportunities” and “takes action” on those opportunities. Accordingly, coaches must possess these same skills in order to coach to them.

Measurements for up-selling and cross-selling are dependent upon systems and reporting. It is critical to be able to easily get the data you need without allocating multiple management hours to a manual task. Many operations are extremely weak in this area, so the program must be designed – at least from a measurement perspective – to be easy to track. Otherwise the program’s measurement may have to rely on more global data (e.g., overall increase in line items per order, increase in expedited shipping, etc.).

As a final thought, measure what you can report on, use numerical targets cautiously, and assess your systems information architecture for usefulness.

Kathleen Peterson is chief vision officer at PowerHouse Consulting.

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