How To Use Cross-Selling The Right Way When Offering Online Courses

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If you’re starting a business offering online courses, you’ll soon see that it is easier to sell your digital training to existing customers rather than find new ones. That’s why if you’re not cross-selling your courses, you may be missing out on a huge opportunity to earn more.

If done right, cross-selling is one of the most effective ways to sell your digital courses to already interested customers. By cross-selling, you are letting your customers know about value-adding programs they can benefit from without resorting to hard-selling techniques.

With that out of the way, let’s take a look at what cross-selling is, its examples, and best practices when it comes to online courses.

What is Cross-Selling?

Cross-selling is the process of selling additional complementary or high-value products or services to your existing customers. Cross-selling is all about identifying customers’ interests and suggesting offerings based on them so that they can reap more value during a buying experience. In most cases, the products are related but not similar.

For example, a learner who is interested in courses on a Networking course may also be interested in a course on Software Engineering or Cloud Infrastructure.

Why Use Cross-Selling for Online Courses?

Cross-selling is one of the best ways to improve your business’s visibility, brand awareness, and brand loyalty. When people purchase more of your online content, you have a greater likelihood of forging long-lasting relationships with them and they are more likely to buy even more courses from you in the future.

However, keep in mind that you cannot cross-sell to every single customer. There may be many customers who are looking for only one specific course, which is fine. However, your purpose should be to give your learners an opportunity to know about more of your courses and subtly encourage them to add them to their shopping cart. If you are successful in doing this, you can enjoy a variety of cross-selling benefits.

Ensures Recurring Revenue

Recurring revenue is very important for any business’s growth. Without money coming from repeat clients on a monthly basis, it can become very difficult to predict cash flow and to make the necessary investment to grow your business. In addition, finding new customers is a very expensive and difficult process.

That is why it is so important to capitalize on the sales you are making and make the most of a cross-selling opportunity. By creating positive experiences, taking a tactful approach, and timing your sale, you can reap the most benefit from your cross-selling strategy.

Encourages Bigger Purchase Value

Cross-selling not just allows ensure a constant stream of revenue, it also ensures that the incoming cash flow is bigger with the same number of customers. Cross-selling convinces consumers to buy related or complementary products in addition to their main selection.

In fact, cross-selling techniques can go beyond product purchases. When you cross-sell services like loyalty programs, exclusive access, of future discounts, you bring in more opportunities for sales.

Can Cross-Selling Backfire?

Before you decide to cross-sell, keep in mind that your main objective should not be to ensure the most sales by any means necessary — it should be providing the most value to your customers. In addition, if you try to cross-sell your customers at the wrong time, it can result in lost sales and damage the trust and relationship with your client.  By remembering the core purpose of cross-selling, you can time your sales efforts just right. With some good research on your customers’ interests, you can figure out the best way and time to cross-sell.

Cross-Selling Examples

Most course creators already use cross-selling even though they may not be aware of it. Here are some examples of how you can cross-sell online courses:

  • Suggesting smaller complementary courses that are sold separately.
  • Offering exclusive access
  • Recommending the learner courses that go well with their current selection
  • Sending automated follow-up emails with promotional discounts or relevant course suggestions
  • Targeting customers based on their previous sales
  • Including recommended courses link in the landing page of primary courses

For example, you offer online courses for embroidery and have courses dedicated to punch needlework, French knots, outline embroidery, candlewicking, and shadow work embroidery. If a person is interested in learning French knot embroidery doesn’t mean they won’t be interested in other types of embroidery as well.

To cross-sell to these learners, you can also include links to the other online courses on your sales page under a heading like “Recommended,” or “You might also like.” In addition, you can also ask your customers to subscribe to your email newsletter when they enroll in a course and let them know you have other embroidery courses available, and provide a link to each one.

Your learners may also be interested in combining multiple online courses so they have a better grasp of embroidery by the time they are done.

Cross-Selling vs. Upselling

To provide the maximum value to your client while ensuring you get the most revenue, you can combine two similar selling techniques, cross-selling and upselling.

Cross-Selling: Cross-selling involves buying additional products. This means that you buy additional product/s with your primary product. For example, cross-selling in online courses is when you are interested in taking a carpentry online course on parquetry but were encouraged to enroll in a higher-value course that offers both parquetry and marquetry courses.

Upselling: Upselling involves buying more expensive but similar products. For example, if you were planning on buying a two-month course for baking but end up buying a three-month master course for baking.

There is a fine line between these two approaches and often time they can also overlap.

Cross-Selling Strategies for Digital Training

Although cross-selling offers you a lot of benefits, you need to make sure that you are using this strategy in an effective way. You do not want to turn off your learners and miss out on a sales opportunity that would otherwise be in the bag.

Since you are not in direct communication with your learners in person, you do not have to be concerned with some of the pitfalls that brick and mortar businesses experience. However, you still need to be aware of cross-selling best practices that can keep your online course business strong.

Know When to Make an Offer

Not every one of your learners will be interested in a cross-sell offer. To increase your chances of success, you should know when to make an offer. Let’s take a look at some of the opportunities for cross-selling before you make a purchase:

  • When you learner adds a course to their shopping cart. As soon as they click the “Add” button, you can show them additional products that complement their primary selection.
  • When a user lands on the landing page. You can show them side-by-side comparison charts so that they understand the value of upgrading to a premium plan.
  • After you get a message from someone who is just about to complete an order. You can pitch a cross-sell to them based on the learner’s need.

Basically, you want to get to know your learner base so that you can understand what motivates them to buy a course from you. This can help you create a customer journey experience that leads customers through a series of decision-making processes and provides you insight into what they want from your courses.

Providing Value

Every time you come across a cross-selling opportunity, you need to ask yourself a few questions:

  • Does the product you are suggesting complement or add value to the course the customer is buying?
  • What kind of benefits the additional product will add for the learner?
  • Which courses do other learners often buy together?

For example, if a person has selected a Basic course on coding languages, it might not make sense for you to steer them towards an Advanced language course. However, it may be a good selling opportunity if you recommend them a Basic course on another programming language that they may be interested in pursuing.

The most important thing that you need to do when you are cross-selling to your learners is to make sure they understand the value they are offering. If they don’t understand what they will get in return for making an additional purchase, you can risk putting them off getting any course at all from your service.

Personalizing your Recommendation

According to research, approximately 80% of your customers want personalized recommendations when they are on a buying journey. If you are willing to understand your customers and personalized product and service recommendations based on their specific behavior, interest, and lifestyle, you will be able to cross-sell and see a significant boost in sales.

A smart move is to keep in contact with your existing learners through social media, review their feedback, and keep a close eye on your analytics. You can use all this information to create personas for your customers and craft offers that are specifically designed to appeal to each customer segment.

By doing that, you can create highly personalized lists based on the purchase history. Even though small businesses and startups do not have many resources, this strategy is quite simple to implement if you offer limited product catalogs.

Offering Post-Purchase Cross-Selling Opportunities

Many online service providers do not feel comfortable interrupting their users during a decision-making process. Sometimes, the thought of clicking through an additional upsell can result in the customer canceling the order outright. However, this doesn’t mean you don’t have a cross-selling opportunity. You can let your learner complete the sale and then pitch a cross-sell. One of the ways you can do that is through a thank you page or a thank you email.

You can also follow them up on an email or text message to ask if they are happy with their purchase and suggest related items.

Using Your Email List

Do not forget about email listing when you are considering cross-selling. Email is one of the most powerful and effective ways to reach customers and directly influence their shopping habits.

For example, you can set up automatic notifications to trigger when a learner abandons an online training course in their shopping cart. This autoresponder may remind them of the abandoned cart and may suggest a bundled version of courses at a discounted price.

This strategy offers several benefits. First, it lets your learner know that they have items in their cart that they were interested in and encourage them to come back. Second, the discounted bundle might persuade your learner to buy more courses than they originally intended.

Leveraging Customer Testimonials

Today’s customers trust other people’s experience and word of mouth more than they trust businesses touting their own praises. That makes a lot of sense.

As a course creator, you want to portray your online courses in the best possible light. However, your learners will only give you the review that you deserve; they do not have any ulterior motive to giving you a great review. Your learners understand this so you should leverage it.

You should consider putting customer testimonials on your sales and landing page from learners who have previously bought multiple courses from you. This will let your new learners know which courses are popular choices among similar learners and also let them know that the previous learners were happy with those courses. This can be a powerful incentive to our learners to buy more than one course.

Creating Partnerships for Bundling

Another great way to cross-sell is to partner with other course or product providers to offer your learners complementary products. You can pool your marketing resources with one or more providers to have a stronger impact and share access to each other’s learners or customer database.

By creating bundles of complementary products, you can encourage bigger sales. You can offer two or more courses or one course with complementary products or accessories in a discounted package which can provide an extra level of convenience and savings to your customers. For example, a bundle may contain a course on knitting as well as needles, crochet hooks, and yarn to deliver to your home.

Your learners will appreciate not combing the site or other resources to buy everything they need to learn more effectively.

Don’t Cross-sell with Too High Price Points

When cross-selling, you need to carefully consider the learner’s original course selection and only cross-sell them relevant products that have no more than a 25% higher price. For example, if a person wants to buy an online painting course that costs $100, it doesn’t make sense for a course creator to sell them a course package that is worth $250. Your learner may not be able to afford a cross-sell that has a much higher price. Hence, it is a good rule to only exceed a certain percentage of the original course cost.

Don’t Try to Cross-Sell Something a Learner Doesn’t Want

Another mistake that some new course creators make is to cross-sell something that their learners do not want. By creating segments of your customer base, you can identify the pain points and needs of your learners. Once you’ve established these pain points, you are then better positioned to create personalized cross-selling campaigns. These can consist of relevant content that matches the need of your learners. It has a much better chance of being bought than generic courses your learner has no interest in.

Don’t Hard Sell

You do not want to become too pushy when cross-selling. You need to be subtle and careful when selling additional products to your learners; otherwise, you may come across as spammy and your prospective customer may lose interest in buying from you.

Course creators need to avoid retargeting their customers again and again, particularly if they are not responding to their campaigns. They should only send email newsletters or promotions a certain number of times in a specific period. If you send promotions too frequently your learners may block you. Then you won’t get them to take any of your courses in the future.

Frequently Asked Questions on Cross-Selling

Should I sell products that complement each other?

If you’re running a business, it’s important to think about complementary products. Complementary products are those that go well together … so well that they can often sell as a package.

Complementary products can be a great way to boost sales. This makes them worth considering.

Of course, there’s no hard and fast rule about whether to sell complementary products. It depends on different factors. These might include your product lineup, your target market, and your business goals. But if you have ideas for products that complement those you already offer, you may as well give them a try. At the very least, it’s worth it to ask your past customers if they have an interest in your new idea.

How do you know if your product complements another one?

Here are a couple of examples of complementary products:

  • A digital camera and a memory card.
  • A blender and a smoothie recipe book.

As you can see, they go together.

When it comes to the online training industry, you can have one course complement another.

If you’re offering digital marketing courses, then there are many complementary products. If you sell an SEO course, then a course on social media traffic could complement it. Both courses drive traffic for the client.

How do I find out what people want to buy?

The best way to find out what people want to buy is to ask them! You can do this through surveys, interviews, Facebook groups, or even casual conversations.

Pay attention to the things that people say they need or want, and look for patterns. If people talk about wanting a certain type of product, then that’s a good sign there’s demand for it.

Keep in mind, though, that people don’t always act on their desires. If someone says they want something that doesn’t mean they’ll actually go out and buy it. But, gauging for interest is worth your time.

What are the key elements for cross-selling?

Cross-selling is a key sales technique. It helps boost revenue and encourages customer loyalty. Here is what you need to make this work:

  • You need to understand your customers’ needs and purchasing habits. This will allow you to identify potential upsell and cross-sell opportunities.
  • You need to have strong product knowledge so you can recommend complementary products.
  • You need to build rapport with customers and establish trust.
  • You need to handle objections.

What tools can I use to increase sales?

If you’re looking for ways to increase sales, there are many tools out there to help you. You can use ad platforms like Google AdWords and Facebook ads to drive traffic to your website. All the major social media sites now offer the ability to advertise.

Once visitors are on your site, encourage them to buy. For example, offer discounts or free shipping to encourage people to buy from you.

One of the best uses of your time is to test your results (especially when buying advertising). That way, you can see what’s working and what’s not.

What are the benefits of cross-selling?

Cross-selling can be an effective way to boost sales and revenue, but it can also have some other benefits.

Cross-selling can help to build customer loyalty. When customers see you’re willing to help they’ll be more likely to stick with you in the future.

Also, cross-selling can also help you increase your average order value. If customers are buying many items from you, they’re likely to spend more money. Finally, cross-selling can also help you boost your referrals. Satisfied customers are more likely to recommend you.

Bottom Line

Cross-selling is a basic but powerful technique. It can help you increase the average order value of your learners. This will result in higher revenue with the same number of customers. It also increases brand loyalty and helps you cultivate a long-lasting relationship with your learners. However, cross-selling should be used carefully. You will want to consider numerous factors like initial purchase price, customer interests, previous purchase history, and more.

It is important that you follow only good cross-selling techniques. These include understanding your customers, providing them value, personalizing cross-selling recommendations, offering post-purchase opportunities, creating incentives like discounted bundles, and leveraging customer’s testimonials. Your cross-selling tactics should not be pushy. Rather they should be focused on providing the learner with the maximum possible value for their purchase.

As a course creator, it may take some time for you to see results; however, cross-selling is one of the surefire ways to boost your sales, learner engagement, and customer relationship. By taking the above tips and tweaking them according to your specific course service requirements, you can gear yourself towards success.

Lisa Parmley
Lisa Parmley

Lisa Parmley is the founder of After gaining a Master's degree, she worked in research for about seven years. She started a training company in 2001, offering a course helping people pass a professional exam. That course has earned multiple 7 figures. She created SEO and authority site building training around 2007 which went on to earn well into the 6-figure mark.

She has 22+ years of experience in the trenches creating and selling online courses. Get help starting and growing your online course business here.

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