How to Upsell Like a Pro

If you’re new here and you don’t know what an upsell is, here’s a scenario you might be familiar with:

You go to Chipotle (or whichever burrito venue you prefer), and you complete your order. While the skilled team behind the sneeze guard tenderly fills the tortilla, turning it into a vessel of delight, a war wages in your mind. You know they’re going to offer guacamole. Not FREE guacamole. Guacamole at a charge.

Oh the decision! You love it so, but it’s an extra $1.95! What’s a hungry person like you to do? Yes please, no thanks, yes please, no thanks—back and forth you go until… it’s time.

You already know how this ends. You get the guacamole. You get it every time. But why? Because Chipotle (or whichever burrito venue you prefer) knows how to upsell like a boss.  

The Upsell

According to me (not quite a famous online marketer… yet), upselling is dance of desire, will, and discount. According to Neil Patel (a seriously famous online marketer) the quick definition of upselling is this: “Upselling is getting your customer to make a higher cost purchase than he or she originally planned. The goal is compounding profit by using the momentum of the purchase.”

You can see this very phenomenon unfold in the burrito scenario… you’re already buying the burrito, heck… it’s in the very process of being made right in front of your eager eyes. For retailers—burrito makers, affiliate marketers, or otherwise—the moment when a sale is already en route is a prime opportunity for an upsell.

So, how is it done? What are the steps to this ornate and exquisite tango? Below, find some expert tips from those who know best.

Be Subtle

According to a Harvard Business Review study conducted over a seven year span, there are two essential qualities that ensure sales success for an individual: empathy and ego drive. In the article “What Makes a Good Salesman,” authors David Mayer and Herbert M. Greenberg outline the findings:

“A salesman with much drive but too little empathy will bulldoze his way through to some sales, but he will miss a great many and will hurt his employer through his lack of understanding people.”

While this data was sourced primarily in reference to auto and insurance sales, the findings truly still apply when developing your upsell content. Buyers can sense when you’re trying too hard to finagle an upsell… and they don’t like it. Behind the ego drive for success, there must be an authentic connection to the consumer. This connection is called empathy. Developing empathy is a slow and subtle process that creates a cozy den of trust. Trust is an essential for first time buyers, and–most importantly, for repeat buyers.

Let’s talk about how this can be done with online marketing:

  • Keep Brand Language Congruent
    It’s easy to fall into the “But Wait! There’s more trap!” to encourage buyers to add additional items to their order. The “over eager salesman” is a well-known trope largely due to this kind of language. In your upsell content, don’t switch on the gimmicky verbiage if that’s not consistent with your regular sales content.  
  • Provide Helpful Quality Content for Free
    Providing high quality and helpful content for free builds trust with your customers. Doing so demonstrates empathy and can help increase your upsell conversion because buyers have experienced your brand and product in a low risk arena. Thus, they have come to rely on a certain caliber of capability. Just make sure that your upsell products are on brand and as good as (or better) than your free content.
  • More is Not Always More
    Most importantly, always keep in mind that more content does not always mean that more people will engage more often. In fact, in 2015, the amount of content rose an average of 35% per channel, but engagement declined by 17%.

If the goal is generating more upsells, sellers have to fine-tune content to reach customers where they’re going to feel it. This starts with defining your customers wants and needs and tailoring your language for the upsell moment.

…But Not Too Subtle

The same Harvard Business Review Study also pointed out that a salesman cannot be too subtle if they want to be successful. The overly empathetic approach to sales is ineffective due in part to a lack of actual desire for the sale. Again, Mayer and Greenburg write:

“A salesman with fine empathy but too little drive may be a splendid person but will be unable to close his deals effectively. This is the ‘nice guy.’ Everyone likes him, and from all appearances he should turn out to be one of the best men on the force. He somehow ‘doesn’t make it’… He will get along with the customer, understand him, and bring him near the close; be he does not have that inner hunger to move the customer that final one foot to the actual sale.”

This is all to say, if your upsell content has connecting ethos, but doesn’t possess the persuasion to compel the shopper to buy, you might need to realign your empathy/ego balance in your marketing strategy. Here’s some ways to do just that:

  • Use Urgency
    Urgency is a tried and true method for converting the upsell and many people shy away from it because of its “salesy” tone (i.e. “For a limited time only!” or “Don’t miss out on this special offer!”). It doesn’t have to be this way though. A few choice words can add a bit of pressure to a buyer. Thinking using terms like “limited batch” to imply that the product won’t be around forever. Or, put a time limit on when an order must be placed to receive an upsell opportunity.  
  • Use Social Pressure
    Encourage buyers to commit to an upsell by displaying the addons with words like: “Similar buyers also bought… ” or, “Similar shoppers also added… ” Just a small indication that people of a comparable social stature also committed to an additional purchase can be compelling enough to capture an upsell.  

Get Your Ratio Right

Neil Patel encourages sellers to keep their upsell at half the cost of the original purchase or less. This is the ratio at which a consumer can typically rationalizing spending more. If your upsell costs just as much as the product, the consumer won’t feel like they are getting any sort of “bonus.” If an upsell is too cheap, it may seem gimmicky and useless. Try out different ratios and see which ones work best with your products to optimize your conversions.

Eventually, All Things Must be Cleaned

Choose your upsell product based on something that will solve a problem that arises from the initial purchased item. Every single thing that someone buys will at some point or another require attention in some shape or form. For example, software will require updates or training; all books and e-books can be sold with a specialized workbook; and eventually, all things everywhere must be cleaned, or sharpened, or charged, or renewed somehow because that is the nature of stuff. Use this fact of life to your favor when tailoring your upsells to your products.

Most Importantly, Steal Ideas from Experts  

When it comes to a successful upsell, you don’t have to reinvent the burrito. There have been experts conducting psychological studies to figure this stuff out for decades. Tap into the collective genius of sales and marketing and try out some of these tried and true methods to optimize your upsell opportunity.  

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