A couple of days ago, I was booking a flight to visit my parents during the holidays on American Airlines. I figured it was early enough to get a good rate - and it was - so I would secure my seat. The beauty of living in Dallas is that I don't have to be in an airplane (*ahem* tin can *ahem*) more than 4 hours to get anywhere in the US. So wonderful! It saves on the need to upgrade to have an enjoyable experience. Anything can be enjoyable for 3-4 hours.
After I booked my flight, I saw these two modules on the page to book a hotel and car. They looked oddly familiar:
I was happy to see such great rates for hotel rooms and cars. I clicked through to the site to book (the deal only lasted 15 minutes and would expire after that time. It truly did disappear, which definitely added that sense of urgency.). The booking site looked familiar - like something I worked on in the past.
It was a site from Switchfly! I worked there when it was EzRez. And I worked on this widget about 5 years ago. It was like visiting an old friend! We were working on a widget to cross-sell a hotel room, car, or activity with a flight or hotel. This widget would be placed on the confirmation page of a booking to provide a way to access other deals offered and get someone to spend more money.
I was surprised to see this widget because I thought it was a flop of a product. We all worked so hard on it, but customers weren't running to implement it in their site like we thought they would be. Some tried it - but it didn't succeed. It was a little depressing - all that work done only to see it shelved, knowing that cross-selling in a helpful, positive way does generate revenue. I couldn't understand how travel companies just didn't see the value.
How American Airlines implemented it was fantastic - it connected a hotel option with a user's flight to make a package, allowing the user the ability to select a room type and possibly a different hotel option. The hotel prices were phenomenal! Sure, I had to enter my own info at the end, but that's ok. (Originally we wanted everything built into the widget, but a standard user wouldn't know that). It was helpful.
And yes, I almost booked a room.
A while ago, a friend of mine booked a flight on Hotwire. At the time, flights weren't as accessible (ok, cheap) as they are today, so booking "blind" on Hotwire sometimes was the only way to go. About 2 weeks before his trip, he got an email from Hotwire that reminded him of his trip and asked if he wanted to add a hotel or car with that - in case he forgot or his plans changed.
He thought it was a great email - and felt that Hotwire really cared about his trip and wanted to help him.
At the time this happened, I worked at Hotwire and I was a member of the team that created that cross-sell email. We decided to present the offer as if we were trying to help the traveler with his trip and resolve last minute details rather than present ourselves as just trying to get more money from the traveler. Obviously with my friend, it worked.
I don't remember the financial results, but I do remember that after we launched that program, we didn't really touch the creative for the 2 years I was there. Well, I take that back - we updated the email for a brand refresh. It was very successful - to the point we just didn't touch it because it kept performing.
Cross-selling can be incredibly helpful to the buyer, depending on how it's done. Sometimes people need a last minute item, or they forget about the details, like a mattress pad when buying new mattress.
It's almost like that final candy aisle at the grocery or convenience store - it's there as a last minute, "Are you hungry? Looking for a snack?"
Depending on your mood, how you perceive the same aisle could be, "How they try to get another dollar out of me! Isn't me spending $40 per week enough?"
If you put your mind into the buyer's, there are only two approaches to successful cross-selling - it is perceived as helpful (almost like providing a service) in the form of a reminder or a suggestion.
- Reminder. Super effective. In this fast-paced world, people forget things. Often. Sometimes people need to be asked or offered something to be sure they get it - at a restaurant, being offered a beverage in addition to water; when buying a mattress, being offered a mattress pad; when booking a flight, being asked if you need a hotel room or a rental car. Reminders work, aren't intrusive, and are generally helpful.
- Suggestion. To sum it up, something that isn't that expensive - but a nice luxury. A great example - a friend of mine owns a restaurant and she sells baklava like hotcakes because she shows it to every diner. Sure, it is excellent, but if someone sees it, hears that it is $5, he or she figures why not have a little dessert? It's a little luxury. Same with adding on features to a car. If someone is spending $20K on a car, what's another $2,500 for leather seats and the rockin' stereo. It's not a necessity, but it's great idea and for a few dollars more, why not?
For years, Travelocity was the master of suggesting activities to travelers. During their booking/purchase flow, they included a page listing every single activity in the city you were going to visit. Most travelers I knew hated this page on Travelocity's site, thinking it was a waste of space and so "marketing-y." However, according to the people I talked to who worked at Travelocity, this page made them a lot of money. Most visitors saw this as a great reminder or suggestion page to make sure they had something to do during their trip. It was perceived as helpful to some - not just a benefit to Travelocity.
Again, some did find this tactic ineffective.
So what types of cross-selling tactics don't work? Any that are perceived as a sales attempt to satisfy the company's needs. Most times, this perception occurs because the buyer feels that the company isn't listening to his needs at all and isn't trying to help him.
For example, AT&T calls me every month (or mails me an offer) to get cable. I hate these calls. I haven't had cable EVER in any city, and I know AT&T tracks such things, so these aren't reminder calls or even suggestions. Well, I take that back - the first time I ordered service in a new city and I was offered cable - that was a suggestion. Every time I say no to the offer, and I'm offered the service again, I feel like I'm being ignored. To me, these calls are simply AT&T trying to get themselves more business, not AT&T helping me with better service or savings. And that's annoying.
Cross-selling can be the best - or worst - marketing strategy to get more business. If a customer perceives your offer as a helpful request or suggestion, he will most likely say yes and have a positive opinion of your company. However, if you are offering him something just to benefit yourself and he doesn't see the value, the perception is that your company is greedy. It is a fine line - but one where it is best to lean on the side of adding value to the customer and listening to his or her needs.