Up-selling and cross-selling are dead

Core and premium plus sales storiesForget about up-selling and cross-selling, they’re legacy terms and concepts, and in fact, they’re dead.

Why? Because of these two b2b sales realities:

#1) Sales are polarizing to very big or very narrow deals

Up-selling and cross-selling are slowly being eclipsed by the enterprise-wide solution sale (I’m calling them premium sales), or they’re being limited to the one-off, core sale.

This happens because customers will either have a large charter to buy, or a narrow, limited ability to spend. Reps can only sell to their customers’ level of authorized buying.

#2) It’s hard to up-sell, or cross-sell

Even if customers have a large spend limit, only a sales virtuoso could sell an ice-maker, a sub-zero freezer and an air-conditioner to a customer at the North Pole. And that makes you question whether the sales rep took advantage of the customer.

However, most sales reps don’t up-sell, or cross-sell because they lack an understanding and strategy to get it done. And without that runway, they’re never going to get more of their customer’s  share of wallet.

Drop the Past – Update Your Sales Definitions

Since  “up-selling” and “cross-selling” are dead, we must find a contemporary definition. Here’s how.

Selling and buying in the 21st century have more to do with customers’ authorization levels, which drives the scope and scale of potential sales, as well as the buying process, i.e. RFx, or right into Statement of Work/Purchase Requisition/Purchase Order.

Consider using the terms “core” and “premium” sales instead of those ancient relics “up-selling” and “cross-selling.” By thinking this way, more sales strategies open up. But first, the definitions:

“Core” sales are rep’s baseline offering, the one that:

  • Is easiest & quickest for reps to sell
  • Reps are most comfortable with & knowledgeable about
  • Is top of mind awareness for reps & possibly customers too

“Premium” sales are where it gets interesting. By definition these are sales that are beyond the basic core offering, and include a greater value to customers, than if they’d bought the core by itself.

As you may guess, this is a large category of sales, and can include selling:

  • Multiple offerings individually (aka cross-selling)
  • Multiple offerings as part of an integrated solution (aka enterprise-wide sales)
  • Individual offerings that are upscale, enhanced featured, more-expensive versions of the core (aka up-selling)

Adapt Strategies – Mix & Match Sales Stories

First, a little about strategies.

A basic sales strategy is to present the customer-requested core offering, and then add an alternative premium offering; just to get the customer thinking differently.

This expands the  sales conversation and broadens the potential value customers may receive, as well as increasing the size of the sales rep deal.

Interestingly, customers don’t have to buy the premium offer for the sales rep to win. The customer may opt for that rep’s core offering with the intent to upgrade in the future to the premium offer – something the competitors didn’t consider because they followed the customer’s rules and presented only the core offering.

The major sales strategies for selling core and premium offerings can be listed as:

  • You selling core against competitors selling core
  • You selling premium against competitors selling core
  • You selling premium against competitors selling premium

Now, about sales stories.

Selling core and premium offerings relies on the use of business narratives, which are sales stories. And they come in three breeds; the big story, the enabling story, and the individual story.

By placing the appropriate emphasis on one or two sales stories, reps can present a far more compelling narrative that persuades customers to choose their offering.

You’ll want to get familiar with the three breeds of sales story so quickly revisit the 3 Breeds of Sales Story.

It’s in the choice of breed

When selling core and premium offerings, the choice of sales stories will make or break the deal.

Sales reps’ competitive advantages for having premium offers are weakened, if not lost entirely if they tell the wrong stories.

Put another way, tell the right breed of sales story, in the right order – or lose the competitive advantage of your offerings.

Mixing and matching stories with strategies

Consider the recommendations in the table below for mixing and matching breeds of sales story based on strategies for selling core and premium offerings.


  • large image = major story emphasis
  • smaller image = moderate story emphasis
  • blank square = minor to no story emphasis

Sales Strategies by Story & Offering

CC image attributions: Great Dane from State Farm, Royston from Jeremy Keith, Pablo from Werwin15

Here’s a little more background and rationale for the recommendations above.

  • You are selling core – your competitors are selling core

1st – In a head to head competition, put the pressure on the customer and place major emphasis on the individual story.

This story shows how your offer helps customers personally, and  it can help provide them the courage to choose you over the alternatives.

2nd – Follow up by putting moderate emphasis on the big story. This story is how your offering helps the customers’ firm deliver their desired customer experience.

In this story combination you’ve told your customer how their life will be easier and their customer wins at the same time. How can they not buy you?

  • You are selling premium – your competitors are selling core

1st – Bring out the big guns right off the bat, place major emphasis on the big story. You want customers to shell out bigger bucks than they expected so give them the reasons to justify that choice to their bosses upstairs. Your premium offering will help their firm create and deliver their desired customer experience, something they’ll gladly pay more for.

Be aware that in this strategy, you’re asking your customer to go out on a limb, i.e. spend more. Using or placing a major emphasis on the individual story may be misinterpreted by the customer as you trying to “buy” them. So just be careful if you choose to use the individual story here.

2nd – Show downstream benefits to the rest of their firm: place moderate emphasis on the enabling story. For this customer to spend more than expected, they want to help more than the firm, they want to be able to tell their peers in other departments how they’ll make their lives easier by buying your premium offer.

  • You are selling premium – your competitors are selling premium

1st – Make it personal from the start, place major emphasis on how your premium offer is going to make their personal work life easier. Your competitors are pitching their premium offerings, and are likely covering the high level benefits. Take yours to where your customer lives, their day to day work life, and show how your offering makes it better, easier, and more successful.

2nd – Give your customer the political capital to spend among their peers (departments that rely on your customer’s choice of offering). Present with moderate emphasis the enabling story. It’ll give your customer the ammo for winning over their internal audiences.


There’s never any fixed rule of what  stories to use and when, but there are stories, and then there are winning stories. It all depends on the sale.

By swapping the terms “core” and “premium” for “up-sell” and “cross-sell”, you can more easily figure out which of the three breeds  of story to use.

Good luck, and let me know if these work, or don’t work for you.

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