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Upselling and cross-selling are sales and service strategies
By Craig Harrison

People often regard upselling and cross-selling as techniques or strategies to increase sales. Yet each has a customer service component to it as well. I prefer to think of them as forms of both sales and customer service.

When a customer calls to purchase one product or service, and you offer him or her a better, more appropriate or more versatile product, you are fulfilling additional needs. That's a form of service!

Uncovering additional needs

When you receive a call from a current or potential customer, your full array of products and services is often at your customer’s disposal. By employing your listening skills, asking pertinent questions and thus better understanding how they intend to use your products or services, you may uncover additional needs or more advantageous strategies they may employ. You're delivering service when you cross-sell or upsell.

Let's review a typical interaction. A customer calls with a stated need:

1. You, as a knowledgeable expert, know your product lines best — their strengths and weaknesses, capabilities and compatibilities.

2. You, as a skilled listener and problem solver, understand your customer’s needs and can make informed recommendations. You ask closed-end questions to determine a baseline of pertinent information and open-ended questions to elicit details of the customer’s experience, intentions and understandings.

3. You, as a persuasive and skilled salesperson, can make the additional sale. Listening to your customer’s current needs and anticipating future needs, you can identify products or services to solve tomorrow's dilemmas as well as today's problems. You may even show customers better and more innovative ways they can conduct their business.

In the course of these conversations, you may offer training or consulting to accompany a product, companion products to accompany their primary purchase, or other additional or more powerful tools and services for success.

A step-by-step process

Here’s an example: Suppose that you and/or your salespeople are selling telephone headsets to business owners and purchasing managers of large corporations. In your sales conversations, follow these techniques:

1. Ask questions to uncover needs.

  • “What is your greatest need in a headset for your employees?”
  • “How would you describe your current office set up?”
  • “Are you buying for men and women in your group, or just one or the other?"
  • “How many employees are in your company or department?”

2. Listen intently to the answers.

  • Listen and take careful notes.
  • Also listen between the lines to what customers are implying. What kind of picture does it paint?
  • Confirm your comprehension of their situation by paraphrasing for agreement.
  • Determine what the customer’s critical issues are. Price, compatibility, diverse needs, etc.?

3. Know your product line inside-out.

  • Be familiar with the strengths and weaknesses of each product.
  • Understand which accessories work well with each primary product.
  • Make sure you know your profit margins when proposing different or additional products and services.
  • Know and rehearse “migration paths” for graduating customers to newer or better models.
  • Recommend “add-on” products and services to enhance utility of their existing products.
  • Ask yourself “What’s new?” Or, what might your customers not know about yet?

4. Propose solutions.

  • Recommend sets of products and/or services that past customers have raved about.
  • Cite past successes in recommending suites of products and add-ons for customers.
  • Remember to speak the language of benefits instead of just stating features.
  • Emphasize value instead of price (e.g., reliability, reputation, warranties, etc.).
  • Anticipate concerns and strive to allay any of your customer’s potential fears.

Here are some action steps to get you started in the right direction:

  • Post your entire product list on a large easel or whiteboard, and then you and your salespeople match accessories to products with magic markers.
  • Role-play potential customer conversations to uncover new customer needs and practice cross-selling and upselling techniques.
  • Work backwards. Pick a product and, as a group, figure out ways of leading customer conversations toward this product as a solution. (For example, what are the benefits of this product? What “itches” can this benefit help scratch?)


Craig Harrison is a professional speaker, corporate trainer and business consultant who makes communication, customer service and team building fun and easy for his clients.

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