When it comes to generating more revenue, going from zero to one is infinitely harder than going from one to two, or three to four. 

When many firms look to generate more business they think ‘new business’. They ask for referrals, reach out to their network, or contact warm or cold leads. 

In these cases there is a lot of legwork to be done. You have to understand the new client’s needs, build trust, explain how your firm can help and sell your point of differentiation. 

But there are clients out there who don’t require all this work: your existing clients. 

Most commercial firms deliver between 1.8 to 2.8 services to their top 100 clients. So the potential to at least double this to 4 and beyond is huge. 

However, this process regularly fails as it is not undertaken properly –  the focus is put on the selfish seller rather than the needy client. 

But when done effectively it allows professionals to use their expertise to broker resources appropriate for each client by helping buyers gain insight into:

  • Problems of which their clients may be unaware.
  • Opportunities that clients probably haven’t considered.
  • Solutions that clients have not anticipated on their own.

Four levels of cross-selling opportunity

We’ve looked at the ‘why’. But before we dive into the ‘how’ we’ll take a quick look at ‘what’ cross-selling is most often made up of. 

Generally speaking, it’s broken into four parts.

  • New service to current client by existing contact
  • New service to current client by new contact
  • Existing service to new person in client organisation
  • New service to new person in client organisation.

Simple examples could include wills for divorcing couples, lasting Power of Attorney to those seeking wills and, for businesses, shareholder agreements to all new company start-ups.

Overcoming the cross-selling barriers

When it comes to cross-selling, only 4% of professional firms consider themselves highly effective at this elusive discipline, whilst 77% consider themselves ineffective. 

So differentiating your firm in this way offers a serious advantage over your competitor. 

To become part of this powerful ‘4% of highly effective cross sellers’, you’ll need to identify if your firm is facing some common barriers to cross-selling: 

  • Inept selling skills due to lack of knowledge, confidence or time 
  • Poor understanding of other partners and their practices
  • No incentives or recognition for doing it or consequences for non-achievement
  • Fear of losing client to poor service or losing ‘control’ of client relationship
  • Fear of competing with incumbent firms
  • Reluctance to impose on other partners 
  • Career competition issues.

Once you’ve identified your firm’s specific barriers, you should offer significant training to help overcome them.

Putting your cross-selling plan in place

You might wish to start the process by having a name change from the feared ’cross-selling’ to ‘cross-servicing’.

To become competent at this much under-utilised route to growing your profits, I recommend setting up an “Opportunities Board” lead by a ‘Client Development’ director.

It needs to be a senior figure as internal marketers too often lack the authority to put the necessary infrastructure in place. This communicates the importance of the project to the whole firm and regular meetings should discuss the barriers, incentives, risks and opportunities that present themselves.

Whilst underlining the client benefits of convenience or economies of scale, the board members will likely involve themselves with the debate surrounding compensation, target setting, recording accurate origination of files, control of the relationship and the preparation of the case and transaction inventories to help the CRM process.

It sounds very simple but much progress can be made in a lunchtime meeting where partners and fee earners come prepared with a top 10 list of clients, what they do for them now and their anticipated future legal requirements. This can all be compiled in a simple spreadsheet.

Once you’ve set up your internal processes, cross-selling (read: cross-servicing) messages can be utilised via your blog, newsletters, video, direct mail, email footer with embedded links or on-hold messages highlighting upcoming conferences, seminars, research, reports, ebooks etc from other partners, industry teams and departments.

On top of this, all business clients should have official business review meetings at least once per year to help further understanding of their goals, aspirations and issues. 

Keeping the cross-selling cogs turning

It’s all well and good to set up a plan with your senior team, but getting buy-in and excitement across your entire firm is also key. There are four ‘C’s to consider – Compensation, Control, Competence and Communication. 

Compensation

When measuring stats for compensation, remember to consider sales that would not exist without the individual’s personal input, projects they contributed to but did not initiate an expansion of work at existing clients. Partners should agree in advance the minimum acceptable performance required. 

You may need to be creative and offer some non-financial incentives such as internal awards, gifts, perks and ensure the team has some fun.

Control

To give higher emphasis to the project it should form an integral part of the annual appraisal process where the in-depth discussion should take place around success or otherwise in introducing clients to others within the firm and what specific plans are in place going forward. 

Competence

To overcome the problem of individuals not understanding the ‘triggers’ for certain types of work I would suggest regular meetings where partners educate the rest of the firm as to what issues they solve and the likely outcomes clients benefit from as a result of their input. Remember, clients don’t buy professional services, they buy the results of the professional services. 

Communication

Another hurdle to be overcome is the lack of trust in other fee earners or departments and this exercise will help to resolve this through improved education and communication. In many firms, partners have little idea who other areas of the firm act for and internal networking meetings should become the norm.

Final tips for success

Place the client at the very heart of your thinking. This may require an attitude change. Cross-selling is about making connections not about getting a new instruction. 

Your most valuable asset is your internal market so educate and motivate colleagues on an ongoing basis.

Recognise and reward behaviour. What gets measured gets done. Keep thorough activity records.

Cross-selling is as much about ‘ring-fencing’ relationships as it is about growing revenues.

If there are gaps in your service then competitors will not be slow in bringing this to your client’s attention. Once they have an audience, the level of influence and control you have is diminished. Ignore at your peril.

If you need assistance in getting your team to engage, be sure to get in touch.

About the author

Authored by Alistair Marshall, Director at Professional Services BD.

Alistair has helped hundreds of firms to become easier to buy from and be seen as experts in their chosen field.

To learn more got to www.professionalservicesbd.com.au