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I am designing an app that has different pricing tiers with specific features tied to the tiers. We currently have a tier 3 feature called zebras that will be added to/accessed from an existing drop-down menu. It has been suggested that we add a greyed out text option of zebras to tiers 1 and 2 with a tool tip to inform users that they can have zebras if they upgrade to tier 3.

I believe that the user would rather not have a UI element crowding the interface and I don't want a paying customer to feel like we are constantly telling them what they cannot do with our product and forcing marketing on them.

What are some in-app light touch approaches, other than an upgrade button that can be utilized in this situation. Also, is the greyed-out text approach as bad as I feel it is or am I over-reacting?

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The approach you take really needs to be tailored to your users - I would recommend running some multi-variant/A-B tests to try out a few different ways to upsell that feature and find out which is the most effective. You'll probably discover you need to take a couple of actions - like adding the new button and adding a run-once tutorial ("we've moved a few things around to help you work better. Here they all are!") to surface the new button among some other streamlining or look-and-feel changes.

As for how effective or intrusive your proposed method (the disabled control) is; This is quite a well recognised pattern and is widely used to offer users a "glimpse into a better world" if only they pay a bit more. Having said that, it does depend on how it's done; where the button is, how visible it is, how much it just gets in the way of regular tasks. If you're simply adding a new button where the was previously a space it shouldn't be a problem. But, if you're moving the rest of the interface around to fit the new button in, you need to be aware of how that will affect your users' workflow. At the same time, if it blends in with the rest of the interface too much, users won't notice it, will never click it, and won't pick up on the upsell.

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I don't know any best practices, but here is a couple of strategies to think about.

What are factors that can help predict when someone is likely to want to use Zebra?

Can you do some analytics work to figure out how they are different in their usage of the tier 1 or tier 2 features? Is there a pattern that can predict if someone is more likely to accept adopting tier 3? For instance, most tier 2 users who end up using the [antelope] feature 20 times per day switch to tier 3 and use the zebra feature. If you can define something like that, you can target your potential upgraders very carefully, and probably sharpen your messaging, which is a win-win.

Multiple ways to upsell

Typically, one would experiment with multiple ways to upsell, and test the most effective ways, while looking at how it compromises the experience. For instance, you may make it worse for 90% of users 1% of the time, but it may be so effective for driving a 80% conversion rate upsell that it is worth the tradeoff? But by testing multiple approaches (targeted emails, modal on login, one-off strategic placement in the content / chrome, etc.), you might be able to find less disruptive, yet as effective approaches.

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