It's an old adage: Driving increased sales from your current customers is easier than acquiring new customers. But when marketing via email, a lot of businesses seem to be missing an opportunity that's right in front of them.

Cross-sell and up-sell programs are a great, low-cost way that retailers can increase revenue by reaching out to the customers they know best. But when my company, StrongMail, conducted an industry survey last fall, we found that only 37% of respondents were integrating these kinds of offers into their email marketing strategy. What gives?

You may be thinking about targeting email subscribers who have previously purchased your products with complementary (cross-sell) or enhanced (up-sell) offers. The trick is to do it right. You don't want to annoy valued customers with an inappropriate or ill-timed offer. But with the right approach, you'll be well on your way to making the most of promising sales prospects.

To implement successful cross-sell and up-sell email programs, consider the following three critical elements.

1. Take advantage of available data

The volume of customer-related data now available to retailers is growing at an exponential pace, and those who find ways to put it to use will be the most effective at developing highly relevant cross-sell and up-sell offers.

Purchase data from point-of-sale and transactional systems, Web analytics that track site clicks and views, email response data, and preferences that email subscribers self report all provide marketers with a treasure trove of insight into the types of products to recommend to customers in cross-sell or up-sell situations.

For example, you could send an offer for a Blu-ray player to someone who recently bought a TV or a discount for a spatula to an email subscriber who recently viewed it online while purchasing a new cooking pan.

An ability to blend together data from different channels and back-office systems will add the greatest potential to your efforts. Keep in mind, however, that you can devise cross-sell and up-sell tactics even if you have access to only one or two sources. The key is to make the most of the data you've got!

2. Deploy the right resources

All the data in the world won't make a difference if you don't have the people or technology to act on it.

You'll need a way to both analyze your data and link the insight you've extracted with cross-sell and up-sell opportunities that fit. Your team also will want to create alternative versions of emails that include new offers based on what you've found.

You'll likely need to involve data analysts and creative or production staff members, but the right technology can really minimize the level of resources required to set up, trigger, and time cross-sell and up-sell offers. For example, a transactional email solution can be tied into your data warehouse and other back-office systems so that you can pull in relevant data and use it to identify the best cross-sell and up-sell targets.

Lifecycle-focused email marketing solutions can even help you set up automatic offers based on appropriate triggers as well as customize wait intervals, execute test strategies, and optimize performance in real time. If you aren't currently able to dynamically assemble and send event-triggered emails with full tracking capabilities, such systems are certainly worth a look.

The net-net is that someone, or some technology, needs to build the offers, so be prepared to think about how you are going to get it done.

3. Consider when and where to reach out

Finally, you must think strategically about when and where cross-sell and up-sell offers will be made. For example, you can tag your offer onto a transactional message, such as purchase confirmation or shipping notification, to take advantage of the closer attention that customers usually give to such communications. Other options include setting up messages triggered by customer actions, such as shopping cart abandonment or Web page views, or tying offers to regularly scheduled emails like newsletters.

For the greatest impact, and to determine the best approach, test various methods and then measure the response.

The GameHouse division of RealNetworks offers a good illustration: This gaming company uses purchase history to serve up cross-sell offers for popular and new-release games that may be of interest to customers. By attaching a "you may also like…" purchase option to product review messages, GameHouse is able to increase conversions by simply taking better advantage of a communication that was going to go out anyway. Because the "sell" is not the main focus, this approach is a softer way to reach out, and it works!

* * *

Email marketers who employ cross-sell and up-sell offers can increase sales simply by engaging more often with the customers who already have a relationship with the brand.

Interested in giving these proven tactics a try? Start with simple applications, and you can add scale and sophistication as you go. With the right approach, your organization will be better equipped to take advantage of email marketing opportunities.

(Image courtesy of Bigstock: Young positive businessman)

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Three Cross-Sell and Up-Sell Tactics to Improve Email Marketing Results

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Amanda Hinkle is senior digital marketing strategist at StrongMail.