Upselling vs. cross-selling for creators: maximize revenue the right way

Upselling vs. cross-selling for creators: maximize revenue the right way
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So you’ve made your digital product, and now you’re ready to start bringing in the sales. As you learn about ways to market your product, chances are good you’ve come across terms like "upsell" and "cross-sell." And while they may sound similar, these two sales strategies can play very different roles when it comes to getting your digital products sold. 

This guide will break down each term, compare their uses, and offer actionable strategies to optimize your sales process. After all, a study by Forrester Research found that upselling and cross-selling can account for 10-30% of e-commerce revenues. So, with that in mind, let's get started!


Upselling explained: offering higher-value options

First up, let's talk about upselling. Imagine you’re at a fast-food restaurant and you order a burger. The cashier asks if you want to “make it a meal” by adding fries and a drink for a little extra. That’s upselling in a nutshell — encouraging customers to buy a more expensive version of a product, or add extras, to make a higher sale.

For digital products, upselling could look like offering an extended version of a course, additional content, or exclusive access to live sessions for an added fee. The key here is to make the upsell relevant and valuable. It’s not just about selling the most expensive option; it’s about making the customer’s experience better and adding to the value of their initial choice.

In the context of digital products, upselling could look like:

  • Offering extended versions of a course
  • Additional, exclusive content
  • Access to personalized coaching sessions

Related: Upsells: How to increase your revenue

Cross-selling explained: recommending complementary products

Cross-selling, on the other hand, is when you recommend products that complement the original purchase. Think of cross-selling like being at a book club where someone says, “If you loved this book, you might enjoy this one, too.” It’s all about enriching the customer's initial purchase with products that complement it. 

For digital products, this could mean suggesting a course on photo-editing to complement a photography course, or a series on eBook publishing for those who’ve just learned fiction writing.

The trick with cross-selling is to ensure the additional products make sense in the context of the original purchase. They should feel like a natural extension, not just an attempt to push more sales. When executed properly, it can enhance the customer's experience and increase your sales without significant additional marketing costs. 

For digital courses, effective cross-selling might include:

  • Suggesting a course on SEO to a learner enrolled in a content writing course
  • Recommending a time-management tool or eBook to students in a productivity course

Upselling vs. cross-selling: when to use each

Now that we’ve unpacked what each tactic is, you may be asking yourself when you should use upselling versus cross-selling. 

Well, choosing between upselling and cross-selling is like deciding whether to go deep or go broad with your customer’s interests. 

Use upselling when your learners show an appetite for more in-depth knowledge in the same area; it works well when the customer already sees the worth in your offerings and realizes that bundle deals get them even more of the value you offer.

Use cross-selling when you see an opportunity to enhance their experience by offering breadth across different yet related topics. It’s like when you buy a new smartphone and the salesperson suggests buying a protective case or headphones to go with it.

While both strategies aim to increase revenue, they serve different purposes, and which one you choose often depends on customer interaction and the specific products involved. 

Upselling pro tips:

  1. Make your upsell relevant. If someone purchases a beginner’s course on web development, offer them a follow-up intermediate course or a bundle that includes advanced topics.
  2. Offer clear benefits: Clearly show the benefits of the upsell, including what the additional features or products can do for them and why the higher-priced option is worth their investment. 
  3. Offer incentives: Discounts, exclusive content, or free trials can make the upsell more attractive. For instance, offering the first month free on a premium version if the customer signs up immediately can be a compelling incentive.
  4. Timing matters: Present the upsell at a time when the customer is most likely to consider it, which is typically after they have decided to buy the initial product but before the final checkout. 
  5. Leverage social proof: Use testimonials, reviews, and user statistics to validate the upsell. Showing that others have benefited from the premium product can further demonstrate the value.

Cross-selling pro tips:

  1. Leverage personalization: Personalize cross-sell recommendations based on the customer's past behavior, preferences, and data; these suggestions are more likely to convert.
  2. Use a soft selling approach: Present your cross-sell as a helpful suggestion that could enhance the value of their purchase, not as a hard sell. This approach respects the customer's decision-making process and keeps the shopping experience positive.
  3. Monitor and optimize: Continuously monitor the performance of your cross-selling efforts. Analyze what’s working and what isn’t, and adjust your strategies accordingly. This might involve changing the timing of offers, the type of products recommended, or the way offers are presented.
  4. Follow-up and feedback: Use follow-up to ask customers about their experience and potentially introduce other products that could complement their purchase. Feedback not only improves customer satisfaction but also provides insights into the effectiveness of your cross-selling tactics.


Upselling & cross-selling examples for creators

Let's look at some examples of upselling and cross-selling that you might use for your digital products:

  1. Say you’re selling an online course on digital marketing. An upsell could be an offer for an advanced masterclass on digital marketing analytics at a discount, if purchased with the original course. A cross-sell could be suggesting a course on social media marketing strategies, assuming it complements the digital marketing course.
  2. Say you’re selling an online course on creative writing. An upsell could be an offer for exclusive feedback sessions with an author. A cross-sell could be a course on self-publishing a book.
  3. Say you’re selling an online course on digital photography. An upsell could be an offer for a bundle that includes advanced editing techniques. A cross-sell could be a course on videography or a guide to starting a photography business.
  4. Say you’re selling an online course on fitness training. An upsell could be an offer for a more comprehensive course with additional workout plans and dietary guides. A cross-sell could be a wellness and mindfulness course.
  5. Say you’re selling an online course on public speaking. An upsell could be an offer for an advanced communication skills workshop. A cross-sell could be a course on body language. 
  6. Say you’re selling an online course that teaches Italian cooking techniques. An upsell could be an offer for a premium package that includes live sessions with professional chefs. A cross-sell could be an eBook with Italian dessert recipes.

These examples show that the key is understanding what adds value to customers' purchases and takes their experience to the next level.

Related: How to upsell (almost) anything using Teachable

The art of the upsell: doing it ethically

The most important thing to remember, however, is that upselling should feel like a win-win, for both you and the student! 

The art lies in making sure that your upsells are genuinely useful, and aren’t just there for the sake of higher revenues or pushing higher-priced products. Offer upgrades or additional features that genuinely add value and improve the customer's outcome from the purchase. Be transparent and let your customers know what they’re getting and how it benefits their learning journey.

When upselling gets annoying: UX is important

Ever been to a website so cluttered with ads that you couldn’t wait to leave? That’s a perfect example of what not to do with your upsells.

There’s a fine line between effective upselling and spammy tactics, and it definitely impacts your user’s experience (UX). When a customer selects a course, your upselling should feel like a helpful suggestion (not a pushy sales pitch) and integrate seamlessly into their experience.

Think subtle, intuitive prompts in the sidebar or in a pop up that can be dismissed if not interested, rather than those aggressive pop-ups that are impossible to maneuver around.

User experience should never be compromised by aggressive sales tactics. Make sure that your offers are presented as optional and that they provide value. 

Sometimes choosing not to upsell is the right choice

Believe it or not, there are times when it's better to hold back on upselling or cross-selling. For instance, if a customer’s purchase history shows that they prefer lower-tier or introductory products, pushing high-end upsells might feel pushy and lead to dissatisfaction. 

Be sure to read the room (or the data), because sometimes, playing it cool is the best sales strategy. If a learner seems overwhelmed or is satisfied with their current purchase, respect their space. This builds trust and increases the likelihood they’ll return to purchase from you in the future.

Related: How to make your first digital product sale (video included)

Upsell & cross-sell successfully with Teachable

By understanding and implementing both upselling and cross-selling, you can not only increase your revenue but also your value to customers, improving customer satisfaction and retention. 

That’s a huge win-win, and will keep your customers coming back to you again and again. 

So use these strategies wisely, keep your users' experience at the forefront, and if you’re ready to 10X sales for your digital products, get started with Teachable to make it happen!


Bethany Clark

Bethany Clark is an Atlanta-based content marketer and freelance photographer. When she's not running her blog,, she loves to bake, roller skate, and give her passport a workout every chance she gets.

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