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The Art of Pulling the Trigger: Upselling Done Right

  • Karol KKarol K

Note: This post was part of the “Marketing That Works” Ideas Contest, showcasing 20 of the most innovative marketing ideas from the blogosphere’s up and coming marketers. We’ve since picked a winner – check out this post for the details! 🙂

Upselling is like bringing a gun to a knife fight, or a knife to a fist fight. If you’re doing it right, and your competitor isn’t, they lose.

Upselling is essentially the art of generating free money. Money that can be made without any additional marketing costs. And of course, everybody likes them free monies.

I’m not going to go into much detail on upselling itself here, but let me just bring up a short definition in case you’re not that familiar with the concept:

Upselling is a technique of selling another products right after a client has bought your main product. And by “right after” I mean a second after (i.e. immediately). – from my post What Exactly is an Upsell (and Upselling) – feel free to check it out to find out more.

So in plain English: if you’re offering an additional product to your customer at the precise moment when they’re standing at the cash register, that’s upselling.

And in this post, I’m going to show you exactly how to do it…

Upselling is highly popular in virtually all markets

Let’s take the most famous upselling pitch ever: “want fries with that?” I’m sure you’ve heard it once or twice in your lifetime already.

But McDonalds is not the only place where they try to upsell you on something. The craze happens practically everywhere.

Take large online stores, for example. Amazon. They always try to sell you something similar to what you’ve already bought. Also, take a look at the sections of the site where they try to sell you items that “customers who bought this item also bought,” or the “frequently bought together” packages. All upselling.

Small business owners use upselling too. Your local supermarkets, for example, with all their cheap, small items waiting for you at the cash register (candy bars and such).

… Insurance companies willing to sell you additional packages for virtually every possible circumstance.

… Car dealers have mastered the art of selling optional extras to the max. Leather seats, satnav, performance package, 12 speaker stereo, and so on.

These are all upsells.

So let’s get to the interesting stuff:

What pulls the trigger for upselling

By pulling the trigger I mean, what is the main reason why a customer decides that they want to buy an additional item on top of what they’ve already bought?

Once you learn how to use these triggers efficiently in your marketing process you’ll be able to produce some free money for your business.

As you would imagine, there is a number of ways in which you can pull the trigger. Let me just discuss the top 6.

1. Fear

Yes, fear has always been a major motivator for anything. Upselling is no different. Here’s an example of what people might fear when buying one of your products.

The most common source of fear is the worry that the product might break down unexpectedly.

An upsell can be sold here in the form of an extended warranty. For example: you pay more and we make sure that you can get a new specimen of our product in case yours brakes down during the next two years. Not the best copywriting, but I’m sure you get the point.

2. Some products wear out

This happens a lot in the mechanical products world. Products like cars, fridges, stereos, virtually all kinds of stuff consisting of a lot of moving parts. Customers are pretty aware of this. What’s more, they are even okay with this. For example, they expect some parts on their car to break down eventually.

In which case you can offer them a special service package after the warranty period ends. You can offer special 24 hour guaranteed support, or a technical inspection within the first four hours, or the ability to call for support 24/7.

Of course, it doesn’t apply to cars only. The possibilities are endless. For example, if you run a software company you can still sell access to lifetime upgrades. Everyone expects software to be upgraded every now and then…

3. Some products are difficult to handle/master

Some products are very powerful, and therefore very difficult to master to the level that a customer can use the product’s 100% potential. Things like all kinds of software, musical instruments, DSLRs, and so on.

This is a great field to upsell someone on additional education, training, consultation, or any other form of help. If you happen to be selling someone a new guitar then you already know that they’re interested in playing it. Why not offering them some individual lessons? (And you don’t have to be the one giving them, you can arrange some affiliate relationship with a local teacher.)

The truth is that you can offer additional education as an upsell to almost anything… cars, sushi kits, coffee machines, guitars, software, online courses (in the form of 1-on-1 consultation). There are no limitations.

4. Scarcity

The oldest trick in the book. All people (including me and you) are afraid that they could lose an opportunity to get a great deal on something. It’s one of the most powerful triggers because we don’t want to miss out on anything, it’s our nature.

That’s why it’s not that difficult to use this nature for upselling. One way to do it is to offer another product at a discounted price and saying that it’s a one-time limited offer for all buyers of X, and that it ends tomorrow. If you give a big discount on that product (let’s say 30-60%) it just might be enough.

Of course, the product you’re upselling on has to be related to what the customer has just bought.

5. General appeal

It’s upselling on products that appeal to your typical customer. Let me give you an example to make it clearer.

If you’re selling any online business related education/information, chances are that your customer will be starting a website after going through your material, so they will need a web host. You can capitalize on such a situation by signing up for a reseller hosting account. Now you can upsell your customers on hosting, which they can buy directly from you (a reseller).

It’s a really narrow idea so let me give you a more general one – Amazon, again. They know that whoever buys a book is interested in reading (duh!) That’s why they try to sell you on their Kindle every five minutes.

In the end, no matter what you’re offering try to find a product that appeals to your typical customer, and then turn it into an upsell.

6. Low price

This is the least sophisticated trigger on this list. The idea is simple. If something is cheap (like disposable-money cheap) people are more likely to buy it. Considering the fact that they already have bought something a lot more expensive.

Candy bars, chewing gums, razor blades and other things usually found at the cash register in your local supermarket are a good example here.

Another example. Let’s say you’re selling computers. You can try to upsell on things like mouse pads, pendrives, DVDs and other similarly cheap stuff.

The rule is easy to follow here. Just look around your store, or try to come up with something really cheap that doesn’t require much work to put it together, and at the same time can be offered to your typical customer.

How to put all of this into practice

The trick here is not to choose separate triggers and create different upsells for each, but to create a small range of upsells that use more than one trigger.

Here’s what you can do. Whenever you have an idea for an upsell go down the list and try to think how many triggers it pulls. If you can offer something that pulls more than two then it’s a good start. If there’s something with three or more triggers then … great, you’re doing it right.

Example. Let’s say you’re selling a software product. As one of your upsells you could create a priority support package, with bonus upgrades, but offer it to the first 100 customers only.

If you create some clever copy around this (good copy is always crucial for sales) then it might end up hitting as much as four triggers (fear, product difficulty, scarcity, and general appeal).

Start by outlining 3-4 upsells, and then think about how you can incorporate these triggers into your marketing message (copy) and the nature of your upsells themselves. You should end up with at least one quality upsell.

Even though there are only six triggers on this list I’m sure that more than a dozen more are equally effective. That’s when I ask you to step in and take the stage. Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments and give us your own upsell-triggering ideas.

14 thoughts on The Art of Pulling the Trigger: Upselling Done Right

Daniel Roach

I have to say, Amazon is the best when it comes to good upsells. I have bought more stuff from them on an upsell that from anyone else (okay, except maybe for McDonald’s 🙂 ) and your post actually got me thinking about why. It does come back to numbers 5. and 6. in that they suggest things they know I’ll like, and let me get free shipping if I buy a certain amount. But truthfully, both of those add up to me feeling like their upsell, and their attempt to upsell, is in my best interests. I don’t feel like they’re grasping for more money from my wallet, but kindly pointing out other ways to make me happy.

For me, and I think most of us, that emotional reaction is key.

Great post, Karol.

Karol K

I couldn’t agree more. Upselling is all about making your customers feel comfortable and not being tricked into buying something they might not need.

Ryan | Strategies in Content Creation

A good process for upselling is slowly building up your clients tolerance for a larger purchase.

First give them a free product, then a very inexpensive product, then the big ask… It can be more drawn out. But the upsell is very important… Good stuff!

Ryan H.

Karol K

This is the general idea. But what do you think about upselling someone on similar priced items or even something extremely cheap (like disposable-money cheap)?

Ryan Hanley

You mean getting them to buy twice?

Karol K

I mean offering some low priced items instead of something expensive as your first upsell after the initial sale.

Jason Fonceca

Cross-sell, up-sell, re-sell… All ‘good things’, especially when done well.

Any resources on the nuts + bolts of this? Like somehow the user just magically gets a checkbox and a buy more, and it’s all processed + e-commerced and ready to rock, or… ?

Karol K

It all depends on the shopping cart software you’re using on your site. Thankfully, every modern software like this supports upselling these days.

Dan Sumner

Upselling most definitely scoops up money that could be left on the table.

Form an offline point of view I love ASOS clothing. They hit you with “If you spend another 50 (Euros or Pounds)” you qualify for free shipping. Every time I do it to save! I know I’m not, but I think I am 😀

From an online point, low cost monthly recurring billing options are always brilliant e.g. $7.95. You can rake in hundreds of members each paying a recurring monthly income. Provide good content every month and the cancel rate should be very low.

Great tips Karol, Thanks for sharing.

Karol K

Good idea, Dan. Especially if what you’re normally selling is a lot more expensive. In such a situation another $7 or $10 doesn’t seem like a big deal.

David Sneen

One who masters the upsell has a far better business than his competitor who has not mastered that skill. An additional 15-50% in sales will make a huge difference in anybody’s bottom line! Thanks for the valuable information. There are businessmen everywhere who would do well to study, bookmark, and apply this tutorial!

Karol K

Thanks! When it comes to upselling, some people even go as far as deciding to pay 100% commissions to their affiliates. This is a clear indication that the business makes all of its profits from upsells. As it turns out, sometimes even the most extreme approaches work exceptionally well.

Lisa Cash Hanson

Fast food restaurants are the best- Do you want to biggie size that? NO Would you like Fries with that? NO Would you like to try our new cookie with that?- Pretty sure fast food restaurants are experts.

Karol K

I wonder who was the first one to try upselling, but I think it might have been someone from the food industry 🙂

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