art of the cross sell

More than Upselling: The Art of the Cross-Sell

Erich has more than 18 years experience as an award-winning digitizer, e-commerce manager, and industry educator. He empowers decorators to do their best work and achieve a greater success. A current educator and long-time columnist, Erich takes every opportunity to provide value to the industry. Find more information on Erich and his publications here.

Every salesperson in the garment decoration industry has listened to the tale of the glorious upsell. “With simple prompts, you too can take existing orders and increase them, making every exchange more profitable!”  We've all repeatedly heard the tired, “would you like fries with that” example.

We know that we can push hats on a shirt client or offer a higher-markup polo while we seal the deal, but have we considered that a simple last-minute suggestion of additional apparel might not be the only way to open new inroads into customers’ budgets? As quick as some marketers are to encourage us to go for the upsell, I’m a fan of a slightly labor-intensive, but more customer-focused approach: the cross-sell.

Cross-Selling Opportunities

When you cross-sell, you offer a product that provides a new experience or utility not offered by your initial product. Rather than blasting customers with higher-priced items or more variations of the same class of item, we can be more compelling by providing additional value. Cross-sales employ the same type of creative solutions we’d use to address a customer’s request with the difference that we must identify problems that need solving on the customer’s behalf, researching their needs that our usual offerings don’t cover and creating new products to suit. The best cross-sales pitch displays that utility, shows personalization, and has ease of ordering built in. If we succeed in creating solutions while maintaining our own profitability and ease of production, we create remarkable value for our customers and ourselves in the process.

To illustrate such a proposition, we’ll take a procedural overview of one of my favorite cross-selling star products—bags. Analyzing how we turn bags into a critical part of a team sales catalog, we’ll see how you can take add-on sales from a fast food trope into a fully-formed tactic that puts customer satisfaction first while increasing our bottom line.

For example, one of Black Duck’s owners has a long history as both a volleyball player and certified coach with a coaching career spanning more than 17 years. As garment decorators are natural niche marketers, It’s no surprise that under his tutelage, our shop has secured a large number of clients specific to the sport. For apparel decorators, it’s also natural that our first sales usually consist of garments: uniforms, polo shirts, practice T-shirts, coaches’ jackets, booster T-shirts, visors, and caps. All of these items easily fit our usual decoration processes. We’ve decorated every style of clothing for just about any use-case you can imagine, both on and off the court. As a lucrative niche market with dedicated members used to buying specialty gear and spend time, effort, and even logging travel for their sport, it stands to reason that if we can offer them value, they’ll reward us with expanded orders.

Products with a win-win proposition

For sports, it’s easy to envision a world of specialty equipment like pads, shoes, braces, and logo-emblazoned balls. Though it’s true that our dedicated club-level customers are willing to buy these items, it’s also true that they can be selective about this specialized and critical gear. The trouble we would incur when sourcing and pricing these specialties for profit, let alone the trouble taken in decorating them, might make them a poor choice for an initial foray into cross-selling. We need to take both our needs and existing resources, as well as the needs of our customer, into consideration; this means that our selection must not only provide utility to the customer, but should be easily sourced, cost-effective, and easily decorated with minimal fuss in ordering.

To get the best value for our company, we should select an item that we can purchase from suppliers with whom we order regularly; one preferably non-sized for ease of organization, and one which we can embroider along with our usual apparel orders. For our clubs, it didn’t take lengthy research to find something that made sense for our production while serving their needs. Knowing that players and coaches alike have to carry clothing, gear, and accessories to and from matches, bags stood out as a perfectly balanced offering. Moreover, our existing apparel suppliers had bags that, though they weren’t volleyball-specific, provided more than enough function for an individual team-member’s gear while providing us a canvas to employ existing embroidery designs and personalization schemes honed on our initial apparel orders.

Slimming your selection

Your first step in a successful cross-sale is curation. You want to select a bag with features that the client needs while making sure that it has adequate access for embroidery. Once you find bags that cater to your customer, those among them that feature wide, flat opening pockets, zip-off panels, or embroidery-specific decoration areas should figure highest on your prospective list. Choose a small number of complementary bags with panels that match team colors—a backpack, gym bag, and duffel make a great trio. You can offer a primary bag and an alternate for each, but make sure to reduce the field to bags with quality you trust and features you need to make embroidery easy. Expanding your selection is simple; it's much harder to narrow down your choices when you lay down a catalog without curating a selection; as an expert, your guidance is part of the product. Start with your best-case bags and offer to expand only when your customer can’t find a product that suits them.

Proper presentation

Once you've got your selection down, pre-visualization creation is a fairly simple process, especially if you’ve sourced your bag from larger suppliers who offer virtual sampling tools. Just how much more attractive your product seems to your customer when they can see the exact placement of their decoration is surprising. Removing guesswork on their part makes them feel more confident and thus more likely to commit to an order. Using existing designs wherever they make sense gives your company the maximum value, and previewing them helps set customer expectations about design size, placement, and the style and size of any personalized text in a way that descriptions alone can’t do.

Make ordering easy

It’s an obvious boon to everyone concerned to make the ordering process as seamless as possible. Once you’ve convinced a customer of the utility of your product, smoothing the transition to purchasing and taking the pressure of organization off their shoulders is a great way to seal the deal. The easiest way to do this is by providing either online or paper order forms showcasing your bag and decoration. If you have online tools, you get the added benefit of copy-and-paste ease for name lists, but any prepared order form is likely to make ordering and organization simpler than a piecemeal approach.

In addition to collecting information, order forms present a chance to inform the customer, so don't waste the opportunity; clarify anything that may cause hiccups later. The form should make the process of selecting product and specifying personalization like names and player numbers as error-proof as possible. Order-by dates, delivery windows, pricing, and product specifications are all good things to include in the informational portion of your forms. Just as you are explicit with images of the proposed decoration and descriptions of your product, be equally as explicit with expectations and consequences, should the customer fail to provide information you need to produce the finished product. Make it clear: correct information leads to correct decoration. Due diligence in making sure you get what you need in a format that speeds up your process means less effort in production and more profit in the long run.

Cross-selling is so much more than a side of fries. Showing your customer than you’ve taken time to know them and to anticipate their needs is a customer service win that you can’t underestimate. In the simple act of showing care and preparation, you communicate a great deal. First, that your existing customer is as important to you as any new acquisition. Second, that you are always looking to improve your offerings, and third that you have both the initiative and the knowledge to create solutions beyond what they ask of you. Not only do you increase your potential sale, you elevate yourself above the status of a commodity supplier of apparel to the level of a consultant and a partner in their endeavors. Whether you are selling bags to ballplayers or accessories to businesses, pushing beyond the upsell takes you from the “shirt shop” to a member of their branding team.