The Ups, Downs, Ins, and Outs of Upsells, Down-Sells, and Cross-Sells

Keith Perhac
Founder @ SegMetrics

There are so many ways to buy things these days. On your phone, your tablet, your computer. One-off purchases, bundles, subscriptions. You can pay with PayPal, Stripe, or with the click of a button through a portal like the iTunes Store. You can buy a cup of coffee with your phone, or a tank of gas with a wave of a keychain. Heck, you can even walk into a real live store with cash and buy things! (But who does that anymore?)

It’s so easy to buy, and yet it can be tricky to entice your audience to do it. For whatever reason – price, timing, not feeling quite sure your product is for them – they haven’t made the leap to becoming paying customers.

Fortunately, there are just as many ways to SELL your product as there are ways to buy. Sometimes it can be difficult to think of yourself as a “seller,” because it can feel icky. You don’t want to see yourself like a stereotypical used car salesman, pressuring someone to buy with cheap tactics.

Go ahead and rid yourself of that negative image. Because selling is a good thing, and there’s nothing wrong with doing it! Actively selling is the only way to get your product in front of the people who will benefit from it. You’re providing them the value they need, not pressuring them to buy something they don’t want.

Today, we’re going to take a look at five creative ways you can sell your product to more people. Think of these as handy tools to keep in your toolbox that will help you welcome new customers into your world, guide them in the most helpful direction, and build a lifetime of loyalty.

One other note! Some folks define the selling terms below differently than we do. (Just like saying “Let’s table this discussion” in the US means “let’s stop talking about this for now,” but in Britain, it means the exact opposite. Confusing!) We hope our definitions clarify any incorrect usage you may have heard.

UPSELL: A Classic Maneuver

Definition: Upselling is simply suggesting another product to your customer as they’re purchasing.

The upsell is a classic move, one that you see all around you whether you notice it or not.

  • A toy store offering you batteries when you purchase a remote controlled car
  • An electronics store like Best Buy offering you a warranty on your new printer
  • A hair salon offering you a blow-out after your haircut

An effective upsell must occur at the point of purchase. Why? Because the customer has their wallet open. They’re already in “Yes, I’m buying something now” mode. Also, it doesn’t make much sense to offer someone batteries for their child’s toy a day or a week after they’ve bought it. An upsell is something the customer needs now.

The upsell product has to be related to the initial purchase. It wouldn’t make sense for the toy store to offer you batteries when you’re buying construction paper, would it? They’re completely unrelated. It would be more logical to offer you a pack of crayons. You have a better chance of buying the upsell product if it’s connected to what you’re already committed to purchasing.

How should you upsell to your customers?

Well, it depends on the sophistication of your shopping cart/check out process. If you’re able, offer your students a quick add-on that’s related to their purchase when they’ve already entered their credit card information and are about to confirm.

It should be fast and easy: your students should be able to click a button to instantly add the upsell to their cart. No headache, no hassle!

CROSS-SELL: Maintain the Momentum

Definition: Cross-selling is offering your customer another product after their initial sale.

So many students will purchase your course, take it, and not know what to do after. They need a bit of hand-holding to show them “the way,” just like a college student needs an advisor to help them select classes. Cross-selling is the perfect solution because it allows you to recommend what product your student should purchase next.

Cross-selling works best for courses that have a logical trajectory: Intro, Beginner, Advanced, Expert. Once your student finishes one section, let them know that it’s time for them to sign up for the next.

You can also use cross-selling for products that are tangentially related. For example, students who take your “Write Your First Novel” course might be ready to move on to “Editing Your First Novel.” But if they aren’t, they might find your “How to Write a Short Story” course interesting, too. The course is still about creative writing, even if it doesn’t follow a clear trajectory.

This is also a fantastic opportunity to utilize any data you may have collected from previous buyers. If you know what courses repeat students have signed up for in the past, you can predict what courses new students may enjoy in the future. It’s the same magic that recommends products you might like on Amazon.

DOWN-SELL: An Enticing Proposition

Definition: Down-selling is offering a downgraded product to a customer who’s walked away.

We’ve all gone shopping online and stopped before we completed the purchase. It can happen for a number of reasons: you don’t find what you’re looking for, the prices aren’t what you want, you can’t make up your mind what to get.

When you offer your course to a new buyer, and they walk away without purchasing, it can feel like you’ve lost that sale forever. Down-selling gives you another opportunity to put yourself in front of that customer, by offering them a product that’s easier to say “yes” to buying.

Here’s how to do it in three steps:

1. Wait a day or a week after a new customer abandons their shopping cart. Don’t attempt a down-sell when they’re still in a “No, I’m not buying this” mindset.

2. Send an email with an offer that’s different from the one they originally rejected. It doesn’t have to be complicated – just use your common sense.

a. If the customer abandoned a top-shelf version of your product, offer the lower-shelf version. b. If they selected several products, maybe they couldn’t decide where to start. Offer them your introductory product.

b. Wait a few days, then send one or two additional emails to remind the customer of the offer. You may just see some of your lost customers coming back to take advantage of your down-sell!

3. One other thing to keep in mind: don’t down-sell every single time a customer walks away from their shopping cart. You don’t want to down-sell the same customer multiple times, or they’ll undervalue your product.

IMPULSE BUY: Control Yourself

Definition: Impulse buys are products people buy without thinking because they’re inexpensive and have high value.

We all have our impulse buy item. The one thing we see and grab because it’s cheap, it’s good, we like it, and we need it – or might need it later. Things like:

  • Gum or candy at the supermarket checkout line
  • Accessories like scarves, sunglasses, or socks at clothing stores
  • Lip balm, breath mints, or tiny packs of tissues at the drugstore

These items are small and relatively inexpensive, and they also have instant utility. You can start chewing that gum or applying that Chapstick before you even leave the store. The low price point and immediate value make it easy for you to open your wallet.

Once you say “Yes” to the purchase, you’re in a buying mindset, more likely to buy other things.

You can offer impulse buy products just like a brick and mortar store! Provide a $1 downloadable worksheet, checklist, or script that buyers can put to use right away. Or a $5 multi-page PDF that gives instant results. The key is to offer high value at low cost to make your customer comfortable getting out their credit card. The rest is cake!


Definition: Gateway products are less expensive than your regular product, and are used to get people in the door.

In almost anything you do, the first step is the hardest. Whether you’re making a doctor’s appointment or cleaning the house, you spend a lot of time thinking about doing it before you actually decide to move forward.

Businesses know this, so they try to make it easy for you to take that first step by using gateway products. A few examples:

  • Yoga studios offering a free class to first-time students
  • Apple’s less expensive (and more colorful) iPhone 5c
  • Tax preparation software that allows you to start preparing your taxes for free or cheap, then increases in cost as you progress

Once your customer makes that first purchase, it’s easier for them to stay loyal to you. It’s like buying a Sony TV that you really like. Of course you’re going to buy a Sony DVD player to go with it, and a Sony universal remote. You’re already in, you’re already satisfied – why switch brands?

What kind of gateway products can you offer potential students? Here are some ideas to get you thinking:

  • Use your basic/intro course as your gateway product, and heavily promote it to potential buyers.
  • Streamline your basic course information into a less expensive mini-course.
  • Create a super-speed version of your most popular course that requires a shorter time commitment to complete.
  • Build a few new mini-courses that are related, but include different information than your regular courses.
  • Offer a limited time price reduction on your regular course.
  • Allow your students to start your regular course for free, then prompt them to pay after the first few sessions.
  • Host a paid webinar or other event that allows potential buyers a taste of what you have to offer.

The Goal? Lifetime Value.

Upsells, down-sells, and cross-sells will help you sell, but don’t think of them as quick fixes to ramp up your income or hit your weekly goal. Our objective isn’t increasing short-term sales. We’re committed – and you should be, too – to providing long-term value to our customers.

Why focus on long-term value instead of short-term sales? Because establishing a real relationship with your customers makes them happy and increases your growth potential.

It’s easier to entice an existing student to purchase again than it is to convert a new student – and it’s more cost effective, too. It increases the likelihood of positive word of mouth, reduces your refund rate, and keeps your customers from defecting to your competitors. When you value your customers, you’re looking out for tomorrow’s revenue, not just today’s.

So get selling! Welcome new students into your world with gateway products. Entice them to take another look with down-sells. Guide them in a helpful direction with cross-sells. Give them what they need right this minute with impulse buys, and give them added value with upsells.

Above all, show your customers you care. That’s the foundation for enduring success.


Keith Perhac

Founder @ SegMetrics

Keith is the Founder of SegMetrics, and has spent the last decade working on optimizing marketing funnels and nurture campaigns.

SegMetrics was born out of a frustration with how impossibly hard it is to pull trustworthy, complete and actionable data out of his client's marketing tools.

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