Has Marketing Abdicated Upsell and Cross-Sell to Sales?

June 3, 2024

Is there a role for customer marketing? Here’s my take.

Bad customer contact data impacts the customer’s experience and a company’s ability to meet departmental goals. With the focus on growth through upsell and cross-sell, this can’t be acceptable.

Unfortunately, there is very little published research on B2B upsell and cross-sell, as companies generally do not share the revenue split between new logo, renewal, upsell, and cross-sell. According to Accenture, an account’s lifetime contract value can be increased by about 20% through effective upselling. Cross-selling can generate additional revenue, but less than upsell. That’s because upselling is a relatively easy motion for both the customer and the vendor. Cross-selling is much harder as it’s more like a new logo sale and few vendors have cracked the code which results in it being talked about, but neglected.

From the perspective of sales and marketing, the complexities and manual work of cross-selling are often underestimated. Marketing has historically focused on new logo acquisition and there is little experience with cross-selling. This results in the abdication of cross-selling to sales to choose the accounts, find the leads, and nurture cross-sell prospects, with each salesperson usually doing their own thing. And, with demand gen/marketing not providing air cover, customer marketing is left on the margins.

The purpose of this article is to provide ideas for customer marketers to make an impact by helping generate upsell and cross-sell revenue.

Forrester’s definition.

Whenever you hear someone talk about upsell and cross-sell in the same breath, there is a good chance they are not aware of the differences.

Upsell creates additional demand in an existing buying center.
Cross-sell creates demand in new buying centers and new buying groups.

Forrester’s definition works for vendors with multiple products selling into enterprise accounts, and it may not fit with the way your company does business. That’s OK, and vendors just need to make sure the differences and motions between up & cross-sell are understood internally.

Can customer marketing help?

Potentially, but there are landmines to watch out for. Earlier, I stated that marketing is not leading the charge and customer marketing tends to be on the fringe wherever it lives in the organization. The first step is to have an up-to-date and accurate database of customer contacts, which will be an asset when you approach marketing or revenue operations.

For example, customer marketing won’t be involved in choosing the accounts on the cross-sell list, but they should know which accounts are on it, to determine if they can help.


At many vendors, CSM’s are responsible for identifying upsell opportunities and handing the lead to an account manager. If so, customer marketers can provide leads by listening for buying signals from advocates. Customer marketing can also help by cross-referencing customer personas with utilization data to determine which of the less than obvious contacts should be contacted and when, recognizing that most upselling happens during renewals.


At many vendors, a salesperson is responsible for closing the sale as this is much closer to a new logo than an upsell. There will be a new buyer and a new legal, security, or procurement team may need to be engaged.

Below are thoughts related to identifying prospects, which is the hard part of cross-selling.

  1. A common way to generate leads is to ask existing customers for names at their company. This sounds easy and it may work for a truly relationship driven account manager, but customers are not an extension of your marketing team and finding leads is not their job.
  2. There is a group of advocates who may be worth pursuing to identify cross-sell prospects. They are advocates who can’t advocate publicly but can within their company. Internal advocates can speak in the company’s vernacular and approvals should not be an issue. That said, internal politics may impact someone’s desire to be an internal advocate.
  3. If customer marketing is identifying current customers who left their company in order to nurture them when they land at a new employer, it is not a leap to identify new contacts at cross-sell accounts.

Cross-sell considerations.

1. How are accounts chosen?

  • Company location, size, industry, tenure…
  • Contract size
  • Utilization/ROI
  • Renewal stage
  • Tenure of the account team
  • Personal relationship with existing contacts

2. How are prospects chosen?
Most likely by title and how long they have been in their current role. Use LinkedIn or a third-party tool to confirm the prospect’s employment status and title.

3. Rules of engagement
Accounts and contacts should be vetted by the account team as they have account intelligence and know the state of the customer-vendor relationship. To avoid confusion with account management, rules of engagement need to be in place. For example, sales and CSM’s are notified or cc:d when an email is sent to up & cross-sell prospects, but they can’t approve who receives each email. It may be worth enabling account managers to opt an account out of up & cross-sell communications. The challenge is to review these opt-outs as conditions change.

Final thoughts.

It’s pretty clear that the tone of voice, messaging and other selling activities need to be different when communicating and nurturing prospects vs. customers. Cross-sell prospects are neither and should be thought of as a third type. A helpful exercise is to take an email written for prospects, such as a webinar or event invitation and re-write it for up and cross-sell prospects. For key cross-sell accounts, it may be worth customizing the communications to highlight the vendor relationship, utilization, and results achieved.

Upsell and cross-sell emails are not transactional. These should be considered marketing and subject to opt-outs. In-app messaging is not subject to email opt-outs. That said, except for customers that renew monthly, resist the temptation to upsell when they log-into your platform.

Has marketing abdicated upsell and cross-sell to sales?

This is a guest blog by Irwin Hipsman, member of the Advocacy Mavens Coalition.

The Advocacy Mavens Coalition is an association of open for contracting customer-led professionals, each with extensive industry experience. We’re experts in building advocacy and community programs, designing experiences, running advisory boards, creating content, managing and migrating platforms, and more.

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