What Is Cross-Selling? The Ultimate Guide

Cross-selling featured image on a purple background.

There are many ways to generate additional revenue for your business. You can introduce new products, offer additional services, or even raise your prices. But one of the most effective ways to increase revenue starts with how you sell your products to current and existing customers.

In this guide, we’ll break down the common sales and marketing technique known as cross-selling and share exactly how you can use it in your business to drive more sales, which can lead to increased customer lifetime value.

What is cross-selling?

Cross-selling is a sales and marketing tactic used throughout the customer journey to get a buyer to spend more by purchasing a product that’s related and or supplementary to what’s being bought already. Cross-selling is a relatively low-lift way to increase revenue per order.

A classic example of cross-selling is when someone purchases a suit. Suits are notoriously expensive and aren’t usually purchased every day. Whether someone is buying a suit for a wedding, a funeral, or an important business presentation, the stakes generally are high.

In this example, cross-selling would refer to a salesperson recommending the additional purchase of a tie to go with the suit. A high-quality tie that matches the suit is an additional purchase that enhances the value of the suit. It's a win-win for both the business and individual.

Another example would be when you go to purchase a new car. Dealerships make a significant amount of additional revenue by suggesting relevant add-ons to your original purchase. For example, when purchasing a car, the dealer may suggest adding a new sound system or that you upgrade the driver’s seat with a more comfortable material. 

Cross-selling is particularly effective when the additional purchases are small in comparison to the original purchase. A car, for example, is a significant investment, so spending a few hundred dollars more on additional functionality or benefits likely won’t meet much resistance. An electronics retailer will commonly suggest purchasing an extended warranty to cover a new phone or computer, for example.

It's important to note that cross-selling doesn’t need to involve suggesting low-value add ons or products just to make a quick buck. When done effectively, cross-selling will not only generate more revenue, it also should increase the customer satisfaction of both new and existing customers

Examples of cross-selling promotions 

Amazon reportedly attributes as much as 35% of its sales to cross-selling through its “Customers who bought this item also bought” and “Frequently bought together” options on every product page. That approach allows a retailer to prompt an existing customer to buy a compatible—or necessary—product.

So how can you replicate that cross-selling strategy? Here are some examples.

Examples of cross-selling include:  

  • A sales representative at an electronics retailer suggests that the customer purchasing a digital camera also buys a memory card. 
  • The cashier at a fast-food restaurant asks a customer, “Would you like fries with that?” 
  • Nearing the purchase phase of a customer journey, the check-out form at an ecommerce site prompts the customer to add a popular related product or a required accessory not included in the product being purchased. 
  • A new car dealer suggests the car buyer add a cargo liner or other after-market product when making the initial vehicle purchase. 
  • A clothing retailer displays a complete outfit so the shopper sees how pieces fit together and buys all the pieces instead of just one.

In the world of ecommerce, a popular cross-selling technique is to have a pop-up appear after the completion of an order, usually offering an additional relevant item at a bit of a discount. Again, cross-selling efforts don’t need to feel “sleezy” or over the top. You don’t want to negatively affect the customer journey at the cost of cross-selling.

    Cross-selling initiatives and best practices

    Remember, cross-selling should improve, not hinder customer satisfaction. Best practices for cross-selling success include:

    • Recommend the accessory required for proper operation or use of the product purchased, such as a power cord for a computer printer that doesn’t include one in the box.  
    • Bundle related products so the customer doesn’t need to look for necessary components or accessories. 
    • Offer a discounted price on a bundled product offer to encourage immediate purchase with a temporary price savings.
    • Demonstrate how the additional products work with the product being purchased. 
    • Make it easy for the customer to say “yes” by addressing potential customer objections in the cross-sell conversation. For example, a waiter showing diners the dessert tray can overcome, “I shouldn’t” by suggesting that diners share a dessert.

      Cross-selling in the ecommerce environment involves identifying related products and creating appropriate offers while in-person cross-selling could require training in effective approaches. In both cases, though, the goal is to make more money for the company while creating a satisfied customer.

      Cross-selling an effective way to increase revenue and maximize profits

      It's not every day that a marketing and sales technique can apply to virtually any business. But in the case of cross-selling most businesses can benefit in a major way when they incorporate cross-selling into their marketing strategy. If increasing revenue is a major goal for your business, it’s definitely worth giving it a try. Use the cross-selling examples shared above as a starting point to implement cross-selling in your own business—you’ll be happy you did.

      Cross-selling FAQ

      What’s the difference between cross-selling and upselling?

      It’s easy to confuse the cross-selling technique with upselling. Cross-selling involves offering the customer a related product or service, while the upselling tactic typically involves trading up to a better version of what’s being purchased.

      What is a cross-selling example?

      There are many great examples of cross-selling. Here are just a few: A restaurant chain asking, “Do you want fries with that” when someone orders a hamburger. A salesperson suggesting a tie to go along with the purchase of a suit. An electronics store asking if you want to purchase an extended warranty on a phone or a computer.

      What are some common cross-selling techniques?

      Cross-selling techniques can be applied in a wide variety of situations, but almost always occur post-purchase. In ecommerce, it’s common to see a pop-up offering an additional complementary product after your initial purchase. Another technique is sending a customer an email after a purchase, encouraging them to purchase another related product or service.