What is upselling? Benefits, techniques, and more

Two marketing executives work on an upselling campaign using a laptop at a table in a common area.

As most marketers know, acquiring a new customer is significantly more expensive than retaining an existing one. Furthermore, existing customers are much more likely than new ones to try new products. This is part of what makes upselling so valuable — it allows you to take customers who are likely about to convert and sell additional products to them at a much lower cost than otherwise would have been possible with a colder audience.

Upselling is a highly effective way for businesses to boost their revenue and profitability by encouraging customers to upgrade or add extra items to their carts. Indeed, upselling can unlock major opportunities for your business — but why does it matter, what makes upselling different from cross-selling, and how do you do it successfully?

In this article, you’ll get a deeper understanding of all things upselling, from its benefits and strategies to best practices and more. Specifically, you’ll learn:

What is upselling?

As a sales strategy, upselling is the process of encouraging customers who are purchasing a product or service to upgrade to a more expensive version of the item or to include add-ons with their order.

Upselling typically occurs in the phase of the buyer’s journey where a customer has already added something to their shopping cart and is not sure if they are going to purchase or not. This person has likely already done their research on the product and can more likely be swayed to upgrade to a premium version of it.

Upselling is an important sales strategy for all different kinds of companies, as it can increase both average order value (AOV) and overall profitability. This is particularly useful for ecommerce businesses with fixed costs like shipping and marketing, which can be relatively expensive on smaller orders or on items with low gross margins.

Not only is it easier to target existing customers than acquire new ones, but by continually demonstrating brand quality and offering special incentives, you can also build customer loyalty.

Upselling vs. cross-selling

Upselling encourages people to upgrade from a more basic level of product or service they were planning on purchasing. Cross-selling is the process of encouraging customers to purchase products or services in addition to the original items they intended to purchase.

Cross-selling and upselling are both typically performed in the mid-to-late stages of the conversion funnel, where a customer has already indicated they’re likely to make a purchase. Additionally, each strategy promotes products or services known to be similar to the original item the customer planned to purchase.

Both techniques are essential for improving AOV and profitability, and they can be used together. However, they can have slightly different impacts on the business. For example, upselling usually encourages upgrading to a higher margin product, while cross-selling may not always increase the margin rate but rather boosts the average order value by adding additional products.

Say you sell cybersecurity software, and you are trying to upsell a customer by encouraging them to buy an upgraded plan from the basic one they plan to buy. If they’re on the fence about purchasing the upgraded plan, you can cross-sell by throwing in a discount on another service if they buy the upgraded plan.

Upselling encourages upgrading a product or service. Cross-selling encourages buying other products or services along with the original item.

What are the benefits of upselling?

Upselling can help your business reach new heights by increasing AOV, profitability, and, in the short term and even long term, overall revenue.

Upselling best practices and techniques

You have the opportunity to increase your current customer spend and revenue by taking a walk in your customer’s shoes. By listening to customer feedback and thinking of the questions they may ask ahead of time, you can market your product to their individual needs.

Understand your customer

What is holding your customers back from upgrading their products? By understanding your customers and taking in their feedback, you can better tailor your product to their different wants and needs.

Grow trust and loyalty with customers

By understanding your customer base and using their feedback to share your product’s benefits, you can more easily build a strong relationship. Then you can grow customer trust and loyalty with a couple of simple strategies.

Upselling is an important sales strategy for all different kinds of companies, as it can increase both average order value (AOV) and overall profitability.

Make good recommendations

When you customize the experience to each customer, you make them feel seen and heard, which builds trust.

Don't oversell or overwhelm with options. As a salesperson, it’s your job to sell a product. But when you throw too much at a customer at once, it can seem aggressive and annoying. You want to be excited about the product and demonstrate its features and capabilities without presenting the whole catalog. You can share similar products without showing all of them.

Recommend products that align with your customers’ preferences. Use customer data and feedback to determine what they’re most interested in. Don’t try to push products that are irrelevant or unnecessary. By showcasing a product that ties in with their interests and adds value to what they’ve already purchased, they’ll be more likely to buy.

Make sure your upsell isn’t too expensive. A general rule for upselling is not to go more than 25% higher than what the customer planned to spend. Most people won’t exceed a budget that’s too far from what they initially expected to pay. Going too high can push your loyal customers away.

Use the right data

Making recommendations that are in your customer’s best interest comes with using the right data. The best tools can help you accomplish your goals by giving you relevant information about your customer. Use analytics to create personalized recommendations and experiences.

Underscore value and time-sensitive considerations

Your customer may not fully understand the difference between a basic-level product and the upgraded one. Most people are trying to save money and get the best deal possible, so they need to know what makes the upgrade worth it. Another thing to consider is what issues a customer may have faced previously with the basic-level product and how the premium one can alleviate those issues.

There are multiple techniques you can use to incentivize customers, including promotions, discounts, and creating a sense of urgency. You can offer free shipping if a customer spends a certain amount of money or a discount on future purchases if they upgrade now. You can create a sense of urgency by noting that there’s only a certain number of products left in stock or a date when the deal will expire. However, these techniques require the right digital platform.

Get started with upselling

By doing your research, you can create a personalized customer experience that could lead to more upselling. You can make good recommendations without overwhelming your customer and find them the best deal while helping them see the difference a premium product makes. The next step is to find a tool that can help you with ecommerce upselling.

Adobe Marketo Engage is a complete solution for lead management, bringing together marketing and sales to nurture needs. With Marketo Engage, you can orchestrate personalized experiences, optimize content, and measure business impact across every channel. It supports demand- and account-based marketing strategies and provides a single, integrated lead management platform from acquisition to advocacy.

To learn more about Adobe Marketo Engage, watch the overview video or take a product tour.

Adobe Commerce is the world’s leading digital commerce solution for merchants and brands. It can help you build engaging shopping experiences for every type of customer — from B2B and B2C to B2B2C — on a scalable, open-source platform with unparalleled security, premium performance, and a low total cost of ownership. Businesses of all sizes can use it to reach customers wherever they are, across devices and marketplaces.

To learn more about Adobe Commerce, watch the overview video or take a product tour.

Upselling FAQ

What is upselling? Upselling is a sales strategy that encourages the customer to purchase a more expensive version of a product they had planned on purchasing.

What’s the difference between upselling and cross-selling? Upselling encourages people to upgrade from a more basic level of product or service they were already planning on purchasing. Cross-selling is when additional products or services are offered to a customer when they are making a purchase.

Why does upselling matter? Upselling can help your business to reach new heights by increasing AOV, profitability, and even revenue.