Greed bows to ethics

Firms that want to cross-sell services must focus on their clients’ plans, not their own.

Accountancy firms, like property companies, are multifaceted businesses providing a range of services to their clients.  Cross-selling these services should therefore contribute to the bottom line of both the client’s and the firm’s business.

Unfortunately, in accountancy, cross-selling has developed a bad name.  Clients say they are being sold “everything under the sun”.

So what lessons can accountancy offer property firms that provide a multitude of different service lines?  How can we respond to all of our clients’ needs in an ethical way?

Many fee-earners, business developers and marketers are often commanded by their senior management to cross-sell more, irrespective of the client’s requirements.  The resulting cross-selling efforts are then focused on the service firm’s gains and not on the benefits to the client.

Building on client relationships

Cross-selling efforts should be built on our relationship with the client, in which:

  • We fully understand the client’s business and their plans;
  • We can then develop and target our expertise to add value to our client’s business and their plans; and
  • The client will in turn then understand the value we bring in helping them to achieve their success.

This particular approach requires us to invest time, energy and skills that add value to the client, and this in turn will create long-term value for our firm.  For cross-selling to work effectively, people from different parts of the firm need to work together, but unfortunately this doesn’t always happen.

When an opportunity to cross-sell occurs, the client manager’s role is crucial as one of facilitator.  He or she should orchestrate the involvement of other areas of the firm to satisfy the client’s particular requirement.  In doing so, they can ensure that everyone is fully briefed internally on the background to this project, the client’s business objectives and market pressures.

Effective and ethical cross-selling is therefore dependent on building strong and good relationships – ones that work well on two levels.  Firstly, there is the nature of the relationship between the client and the firm (external relationship).  This relationship will be developed through building a real understanding of the client’s business, by perhaps:

  • Asking the client about their “big picture”;
  • Inviting clients to talk to fee earners;
  • Using in-house research to keep abreast of the client’s industry;
  • Building “thinking information” into the key client plans and file;
  • Attending client’s industry conferences or reading the client’s relevant trade press; and
  • Investing non-chargeable time in building the relationship and adding value.

The second relationship essential for effective cross-selling is that between individuals and groups within the firm (internal relationships).  This will be achieved by improving communication between different departments and raising awareness of what different areas of the firm do.

If you are a trusted adviser, cross-selling is easy.  However, reaching this stage is not.  Trusted advisers demonstrate high levels of credibility, competence and compatibility.

Credibility is a belief by the client in us and in what we say and is developed through our confidence in all contacts with the client, our delivering what we promise and our honesty in our business dealings.

Competence: a belief engendered by knowledge

Competence is a belief that we can do what we say we can do and is built through demonstrating knowledge and a good track record and through our attempts to build a full understanding of the client.

Finally, compatibility can build a barrier to our competitors even when they offer the same range of services and charge the same level of fees.  Compatibility is defined as a belief in the client’s mind that they can work well with us and is a key factor underpinning the strength of our relationship.  It is created through our demonstrating genuine interest, our active listening, our behaviour and showing that we care.

Cross-selling in property firms can provide tremendous value and support to clients and colleagues.  It can, however, be done badly and have the completely opposite effect.

To be effective and ethical, any cross-selling activity should be built on pure motives, strong internal communication and external relationships built on trust.


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