What if clients treated us as the customers of the UK’s leading supermarkets treat them? What if their desire for minimum hassle and the ability to get everything from one provider, made them demand more and more services from us? No more multi-member panels – just everything from one adviser. What an envious thought.
WHO’S ENVYING WHO?
But professional services firms are great at building relationships. In fact, they are often the envy of many a business sector – including the supermarkets. By the nature of what they do, professional advisers have more insight into their clients and what they want to achieve. Clients have come to expect this in-depth knowledge and there have been numerous research studies, which have concluded that clients want us to understand their business and their world even better. They want us to provide solutions that help them achieve what they want to achieve in the grand scheme of things.
Even when the cost of selling more services to existing clients is considerably less than selling to new ones, many clients still view their advisers in a particular light. They don’t recognise (or believe) in the wider capabilities these firms could offer. Therefore, what can we do to build on the strengths we have as professional advisers and motivate our clients to want more of our expertise?
NOT BEING PUSHY
But first of all perhaps we should be realistic. Professional services firms are rather uncomfortable with selling more services to clients. Many want to, but cross-selling always smacks of being pushy and few fee-earners want to come across as ‘salesy’. They certainly don’t want to risk damaging a client relationship. Also in the partnership structure fee-earners are very protective of their client portfolios. They often fear a loss of control in bringing in additional expertise. It does pose an interesting dichotomy. Clients want more tailored solutions, more added value and a more rewarding relationship with their advisers. At the same time, professional firms want to sell more services but are uncomfortable with being perceived as aggressive sales people.
So perhaps cross-selling needs a rethink, because it is not necessarily bad per se. It all depends on why and how it is done. Cross-selling can benefit both the firm and the client, if it follows three golden rules:
- Rule 1: What’s in it for the client? – If the motive is to better the client and their business or help them achieve a goal or ambition, then cross-selling is more likely to be a positive experience for both parties.
- Rule 2: If both the client and your colleagues trust you, then they will be more receptive to your ideas and suggestions.
- Rule 3: If everyone in your firm is supportive, understands others’ capabilities and doesn’t undermine the trust built with the client, colleagues are more likely to cross-refer work to each other.
This paints a much more positive picture of cross-selling. Here the client is at the heart of the activity, not the firm. And this seems less pushy too. Clients can be motivated to want more of us. But how exactly?
RULE ONE = KNOWLEDGE
To follow rule one, we need knowledge. Knowledge of the client and what they are trying to achieve and also knowledge of our colleagues’ strengths and success. On the client side, it means having an up to date picture of, not just the activities we are involved with, but also the wider issues and opportunities facing their business. How is this achieved?
Here are a number of good examples:
- Inviting clients to talk to us and other fee-earners about their business and industry,
- Attending the client’s industry conferences,
- Attending the client’s own events and conferences,
- Reading the client’s trade press,
- Investing non-chargeable time in building the relationship and adding value,
- Using in-house research to keep abreast of clients’ industries,
- Building ‘thinking information’ into the key client file,
- Using client review meetings to gain a greater understanding the client, their likes, dislikes, and the future as they see it.
And then there’s our knowledge of colleagues. If we are to identify potential opportunities that will add value for the client and make them want more of us, we need to be aware of our colleague’s capabilities and current successes. They also need to be aware of ours. Improving our knowledge of what others do in the firm comes from an active education programme. One, which will enable us and our colleagues to learn about each other’s different specialisms and achievements on a regular basis. For instance, we have seen some firms encourage colleagues to take secondments within different parts of the organisation. Others use their intranet, but do so with a strong emphasis that information is updated regularly.
A number of firms have also considered what barriers are hampering internal communication. This has led to improvements such as creating more open plan offices, instigating common areas and social spaces where people can get together and talk. Events, which bring together different parts of the firm, have also been arranged. Quite a number of firms have re-organised fee-earners into market or client-facing teams. These teams bring together different specialisms to create broader solutions and added value, which, the clients will want.
RULE TWO = PERCEPTION AND EXPERIENCE
For rule two, how much clients and colleagues trust us will depend on their perceptions and experience of us. Where trust exists between a client and their adviser, or a fee-earner and their colleagues, four key strengths are often recognisable:
- The professional has great technical expertise,
- They are fully equipped in all the skills needed to manage and develop the client / colleague relationship,
- They also have an in-depth knowledge of what the client or colleague is trying to achieve and what they are interested in (or not),
- They are genuinely interested in the success of that client or colleague.
Let’s look at some of these key skills in more depth. One which really fuels trust is ‘thinking like a client’ or ‘thinking like a colleague’. It forces a fee-earner to consider the other person’s world and present ideas, solutions or proposals, which relate directly to it. If that fee-earner is confident in what they propose, present themselves and their ideas in a way that is attractive to the client/colleague and if they then deliver as promised, they will create an impression of credibility. Credibility is vital for positive perceptions and trust.
So too is the need to demonstrate we have the competence to tackle the task in hand. Success here can be measured in the positive perceptions the client/colleague has of our knowledge of them, our track record and degree of expertise. Our ability to ask searching, but not manipulative questions, will be key. How we ask, listen and react to these questions will make the client/colleague assess how compatible we are with them. Compatibility also comes from how genuine our interest in the client is and from adapting our behaviour according to what they like.
Sending out the right messages
A client or colleague may trust us, but at the same time view our capabilities in a narrow light. For them to change their perceptions (and be motivated to want more from us), we need to educate them. This will depend on putting a plan in place, which seeks to build a reputation for the capabilities we would like people to be aware of. The plan comprises marketing activities, which convey to clients and colleagues those capabilities that will be of direct interest and benefit to them.
The more timely and relevant these activities (from the viewpoint of clients and colleagues), the more likely they are going to respond favourably to us. This doesn’t mean blanket-mailing hordes of people with a promotional flier. Instead we should look at individual clients and colleagues and think which of our services are pertinent now and in theThe more timely and relevant these activities (from the viewpoint of clients and colleagues), the more likely they are going to respond favourably to us. This doesn’t mean blanket-mailing hordes of people with a promotional flier. Instead we should look at individual clients and colleagues and think which of our services are pertinent now and in the future. We can then select a means of communication that will best capture their attention. future. We can then select a means of communication that will best capture their attention.
RULE THREE = CULTURE
Sometimes the culture of a professional services firm can actively work against cross-selling and motivating clients to want to buy more. Whilst cultural change will seem o utside the remit of many of us, there are a number of steps that can be taken. One of the key components to success is to lobby and obtain senior management support. If leaders and managers can be made to understand the benefits (for clients and the firm) that embracing cross-selling would bring, there is a great chance of them leading change.
Many fee-earners will fear a loss of control in participating in cross-selling activities. With senior management acting as role models and communicating positively about the cross-selling experience, this can be overcome.
In identifying and eliminating such fear, they can encourage fee-earners to have greater trust in their colleagues. For instance, this encouragement can take the form of:
- Insisting that the highest standards of work are adopted across the firm,
- Giving support and training to underperformers,
- Correcting any wrongly held perceptions about colleagues’ capabilities,
- Eliminating negative role models,
- Changing the metrics by which success is measured in the firm.
On this last point, people do look at what their firm rewards as good performance to judge how best they should concentrate their energies. Those firms with appropriate recognition and reward systems tend to be more successful at cross-selling.
Motivating clients to want to buy more of our services will rely on cross-selling. But not the cross-selling that just focuses on ‘what’s in it for us’. Instead our cross-selling efforts should focus us on understanding our clients’ worlds and presenting solutions from across the firm. These solutions have the clients’ best interests at heart. This may need us to tackle negative perceptions and cultural issues which are currently hampering and impeding cross-selling. Who knows, one day the one-stop shop professional adviser may become a reality.
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