The Problems (and solutions) of cross-selling. We recently conducted some research amongst some clients and contacts regarding the barriers they faced around cross-selling. Whilst there are eight barriers in total around cross-selling, my research uncovered that these firms faced three main challenges: mutual trust (or lack of) in their colleagues’ capabilities, the feeling of losing control and the client’s image of the firm. But what can you do to overcome these barriers?
Lack of trust in our colleagues’ capabilities
If anyone believes that any part of the firm (or any individual) is not up to scratch, cannot be trusted or they are worried they won’t give the right level of service, then their services will never be cross-sold. The situation can arise because one person didn’t meet their colleague’s or client’s expectations one time, or it could be an old perception that has stuck and become part of our ‘corporate memory’, even though it might not be now true. Sometimes, a lack of trust is there simply because you don’t know those colleagues well and haven’t worked with them on a particular project.
Usually, lack of trust is perception rather than reality. In this case, there are a number of actions that can help, all around opening up communication between individuals and practice areas:
- Think of a project or piece of work people can work together on so that they can get to know each other, both as work colleagues and on a more personal level.
- Ask each team to share what they do, how they help clients and some of the work they have done to give others a really good idea of the way they work and the service they deliver.
- Arrange short secondments within the firm, even if it is just about sitting in another team for a week, so that we can have more of an insight into what that team does.
- Have a social night out together, or ensure they are on a training course together. I have personal experience that spending a day or two on a workshop with colleagues helps to build relationships.
If that lack of trust is actually a reality – and there are good reasons why it is there – then the business needs to take a decision about what to do. A manager could provide feedback and a chance for improvement or, in time, it might be that that person needs to leave the firm.
Feeling you’re losing control
It is normal to worry that the introduction of other people into one’s clients will mean that our control of – and influence over – the client will be threatened. We may worry that we won’t know what is happening or we may be concerned that our client will like our colleague, or think they are better than us! We might not trust our colleagues to work collaboratively with us.
There are no easy solutions if this type of thinking is common within a firm. It is not healthy if that is the culture, and even if it’s only a few people who have ‘my client’ thinking it can be enough to really impede cross-selling efforts. Trickier still if it’s our managers or leaders who think in this way.
That is not to say that those who do want to cross-sell and aren’t protective of their clients can’t carry on and cross-sell, but it can take a determined effort in that kind of environment. And it won’t change the culture; that needs to come from the most senior people.
Things that can help with this barrier:
- Provide positive role models and publicly praise them and recognise their successes.
- Make clear what is expected from anyone in the firm in terms of behaviour and attitude, and follow that through to appraisals.
- Change the metrics for success – so ‘success’ can also be about introducing other clients or services. Success doesn’t have to be always about fees any individual has brought in for themselves or their team.
- Identify and resolve fear where it exists, through explicit discussion of what the issues are and reassuring people and changing the way they work.
- When introducing our client to a colleague, agree how things will work – communication between the two of us, meetings, each knowing what the other is doing with the client (work or contact), copying emails or letters to each other and ensuring complete transparency.
The client’s image of the firm
The first work we do for clients is often in one specific area of expertise, and rarely the whole range of our capabilities. It is therefore easy to become ‘pigeon holed’ in the client’s mind, as being the firm for this service. Different clients will see us in different ways – one business’s property adviser is another’s employment specialist.
Once this happens, the client’s perception can make it difficult for us to introduce other capabilities – and it can seem a bit ‘salesy’ to try and do so.
There are a few solutions to this problem.
- When taking on new clients, be sure to position ourselves in their mind in a way that makes it clear what it is we do. Those initial one, two, three meetings are crucial – not only are they about really understanding the client’s world and challenges, but they are also about talking about a range of issues that demonstrate that we know about those areas – not just the one which was our hook in. They will often forget over time about all of the different expertise you have knowledge in, especially if the first piece of work you do is in a particular area. So, in your communications with clients, it’s worth thinking about a plan – which brings me on to the second solution.
- Develop a plan to market, on a regular basis, other capabilities to existing clients – but making sure that those capabilities might be genuinely relevant for the client. It is worth identifying in which client organisations you feel there might be opportunities to cross-sell. This doesn’t mean flogging everything you can to them as often as possible, but it does mean thoughtfully sending material to them that you feel would be of value or interest that will, over time, build a reputation in their mind for a wider range of services. This could be, for example, invitations to seminars or an event we are speaking at, an article on a current issue, a case study, a summary of some research we have undertaken in their sector. None of this is about selling to our clients; it’s more about changing a client’s perception of our firm but doing so in way that will add value, even if they don’t decide to come to us for those services.
- When having meetings with our clients, be sure to discuss not only the work done and their feedback, but also the future – what are their plans, what’s happening in their business and the marketplace, how will this affect them, what are their main priorities for the next twelve months, and so on. By having a wide-ranging discussion on commercial issues, it is then easier to identify other of our services which might be relevant in the future, and to plant an thought in their mind that, as and when is appropriate, they could talk to us about it.
Three key things
The purpose of cross-selling is to gain the client’s willing acceptance to meet with colleagues from other offices, disciplines or practice areas. And the purpose of those meetings is to explore the opportunities for adding value to the client relationship through providing other areas of our expertise.
So, there are three key things to remember in our approach to cross-selling:
- It’s all about the client and adding value to the relationship you have.
- It needs to be relevant to the client; find out what other services are best through asking questions and listening.
- It’s not selling – it’s about motivating our clients to buy.