It was a full house on the recent “Cross-selling and referrer management acceleratorworkshop from PM Forum.   There are lots of insights shared by delegates below. But I wanted to focus on cross-selling and referrer management – Expectations, Data and Focus.

Expectations and Goals

An effective cross-selling or referrer management programme needs goals and objectives. Without objectives, any activities risk being too general to be effective and the scope of any project too broad to be meaningful.

Without objectives you can’t align M&BD team or fee-earning targets so that people are accountable. Without objectives you can’t monitor progress to assess whether your activities are effective in generating the right results.

Without objectives, cross-selling and referrer management remain lofty ideals that no one addresses in a structured way.

Only 6% of the delegates said they had clear goals (and ROI measures) for their referrer management plans. So the starting point for many firms will be to articulate their expectations into goals. That way you can achieve the buy-in and resources to any programme you develop – as senior management and stakeholders will know what they might receive in return.

Data

In order to set goals and targets you need base line data on what has happened in the past and what is currently happening. And herein lies a major challenge – too many firms do not have sufficient or accurate information either about levels of cross-selling or about inbound or outbound referrals.

The delegate polls revealed that 53% felt their information systems for supporting referrals management were poor and 18% said they were non-existent. 27% stated that the lack of information was the biggest barrier to cross selling.

So whilst professional service firms have invested in CRM systems to keep track of client information and martech to automate many of the client lifecycle and communications activities, there appears to be a lack of investment in information systems to track internal cross-selling and external referrals.

And until this is done it is hard to set goals – whether for firm or team plans or for the performance of individuals. And if you can’t set measurable targets for individual fee-earners, then it is hard to develop recognition and reward systems to encourage and motivate referral behaviour. Nearly a third (27%) of delegates said that the lack of reward or incentive was a barrier to cross-selling.

Focus

The delegate polls show 41% don’t have a cross-selling or referrer plan and 35% only have plans for key referrers. Furthermore, only 6% said they had a plan that was good.

So. Once you have acquired the relevant data and set some goals the next challenge is to focus.

Look at the goals. Decide how best you can achieve them – generate options. Then select those strategies that are most likely to do so effectively and efficiently.

Strategy is about making a choice. Which services do you most want to cross-sell? On which internal audiences or external markets will you concentrate? Which referrer relationships do you most want to develop? Which key relationships do you most want to grow? Which messages do you need to promote? Do you want everyone in the firm to cross-sell or appoint a special task force?

It is more likely you will be effective if you select a few key activities – and do them well – than trying to do a wide variety of things that simply spread the effort too thinly.

While talking about focus, it also struck me that whilst firms were great at promoting their brand values and overall positioning often these messages were insufficient for referral purposes. You need to focus on the people you are talking to for referrals. And provide messages that make it easy for them to remember the types of client and/or types of situation you can help with. Remember the power of three (see a short video on the power of three) e.g.

  • Consultants who help businesses reduce risk by doing the necessary due diligence before making an acquisition or merger
  • Patent attorneys who help those in the cosmetics sector protect and harness their investment in innovation
  • Accountants who are best placed to help medium-sized charities and not-for-profit organisations with their financial management and taxation
  • Lawyers who understand the impact of future trends on the real estate sector and help property companies prepare (BTW I really like Mills & Reeves interactive map with links to trend information about the real estate sector Forward looking and insightful legal content from our leading legal experts (mills-reeve.com)

There were two other points I thought worth mentioning:

  1. Back to the office As we return to the office there is a window of opportunity to harness the internal social interactions that we have been starved of during lockdown to re-ignite cross-selling programmes. Informal internal interactions are vital both to help teams understand what each other can do for their clients and build trust between them.
  1. Training Once we have gathered data, set goals and built a plan we need to invest in training to make things happen. Whether this is internal product knowledge training so people know how to talk about the firm’s services or skills training to provide the confidence for fee-earners to initiate and convert cross-selling and referral conversations.

Delegate ideas and suggestions

The following ideas were suggested by delegates

Programme elements for cross-selling projects

  • Case studies – share good news stories of wins from teams
  • Have informal/non-project related conversations on clients’ wider work, projects and mid/long term goals to identify any gaps or opportunities we can plug and align with
  • Get to know your client as an individual, maybe invite them on a day out event, the races etc – ask about their family, information that is shared acts as an indicator to services you may be able to offer them or their family
  • Identify a current and pressing challenge for a client which we can help with (through LinkedIn interactions or business information reports) and reach out to the key client relationship partner offering our help
  • Build relationships with wider team not just the main contact / decision-makers – this provides great insight on what else is on the agenda
  • We created a business area ‘Playbook’ highlighting top challenges and questions they should be looking out for from clients as well as listing the key people within the business to target
  • Google Alerts is good for monitoring key organisations you might want to target
  • Following company pages on LinkedIn…
  • Ask ‘How else can we help?’ post transaction

Programme elements for referrer management

  • Joint roundtables and events
  • Collaborative thought leadership programmes
  • Case studies
  • Social media – especially LinkedIn (sharing content)
  • Joint webinars to showcase knowledge and expertise
  • Networking
  • Analyse changes in (and threats to) referrer relationships
  • Organise internal meetings to collate all the information about a referrer relationship and then brainstorm potential activities
  • Ask for an introduction to a colleague of theirs
  • Consider the blind spots we have with some referrers

Challenges to cross-selling and referrals

  • Obtaining good data
  • Chargeable time targets limiting resources for referrals
  • Fee-earners lacking the breadth of relationships at the client
  • Fee-earners being reluctant to discuss services outside their area of expertise
  • Struggle to get testimonials from lawyers from their clients
  • Keeping track and following up referrer conversations
  • Not tracked or measured and so no accountability
  • Lack of confidence
  • Not enough granular detail
  • Lack of time to investigate the issues that are keeping clients up at night, to not knowing who in the firm can help with this
  • Agree on tracking / measuring. If it’s not measured it isn’t usually a priority.
  • Brand ambassadors and cross-selling team has ended up another silo of activity

Delegate key takeaways and actions

  • Write down your goals/objectives to make them more achievable
  • Establish a clear buy-in for the programme with senior management and other stakeholders
  • Build referrer profiles to understand existing and target referrer organisations and relationships
  • Relationship mapping on a deeper level
  • The Godfather story – The people closest to the relationship are often in a tricky position to actually ask what more can be done for them (it’s true that stories are 22 times more likely to be remembered!)
  • Consider motivation of individuals to refer (what’s in it for me, cultural issues, rewards and incentives)
  • More segmentation needed for our referrers
  • Create a cross selling HIT team with clear targets
  • Hot desking to promote proximity marketing
  • Structured approach to tracking referrals in and out of the firm (across teams)
  • Targeting, objectives, measurement and reviews, incentives and “Thank you”

Actions:

  • Obtain a list of the current referrers (immediate) and create heat maps (medium term)
  • Map out existing referrers and collect data on inbound and outbound referrals
  • Create relationship maps for referrers and address any blind spots
  • Conduct a cross selling matrix of our top clients to see our most used services
  • Already working within a CX programme on account planning – measuring and reporting on service gaps is an immediate action that we haven’t got planned
  • Grade referrers, identify hot spots, develop referrer profiles, create face-to-face opportunities
  • Create better internal conversations with fee earners on their referrer relationships
  • Produce referrer profiling briefing sheets for four target accountancy firms

Thanks to delegate contributions, I added the following research agencies to those previously recommended (for the full list of research agencies)

Feedback surveys | Business insights | PDW Group

Customer Feedback: What to Collect and When | Qualtrics

Delegate Poll Results

Which aspect of the workshop is of most interest?

  • 33% Strategy and planning referrer programmes
  • 40% Referrals from existing clients and cross-selling
  • 27% Referrals from external referrers and intermediaries

Do you have a plan for referrer management?

  • 6% Yes – and it’s good
  • 6% Yes – but it’s not being used/implemented
  • 12% Yes – but only marketing and BD use it
  • 35% Yes – but it’s only for a few key referrers
  • 41% – No

Are your referrer management aims and plans:

  • 6% At a firm wide level
  • 24% For a particular market or segment
  • 0% For a particular territory or office
  • 24% for a particular service line
  • 47% A combination

Do you have clear goals (and ROI measures) for your referrer management plans?

  • 6% Yes
  • 71% No
  • 24% Sort of

How would you rate your information systems for supporting referral management?

  • 0% Excellent
  • 0% Very good
  • 29% Average
  • 53% Poor
  • 18% Non-existent

Which of the following methods do you use to promote internal referrals?

  • 13% Recognition and reward systems
  • 63% Internal communications campaigns
  • 56% Client relationship management targeting activities
  • 19% Matrix management (e.g. sector approach)
  • 75% Client satisfaction/listening reviews
  • 50% Service line campaigns
  • 25% Client workshops
  • 50% Key Account Management (KAM)
  • 6% Account Based Marketing (ABM)

What do you perceive as the biggest barrier to cross-selling at your firm?

  • 27% No reward or incentives
  • 13% Fear/risk and protectionism
  • 13% Lack of time
  • 27% Lack of information
  • 13% Lack of knowledge/distrust of other teams
  • 7% Other

Which methods does your firm use to promote cross-selling?

  • 38% Relationship mapping
  • 75% Key client analysis and plans
  • 31% Onboarding process
  • 19% Client grading systems
  • 13% Workflow and referrals analysis
  • 38% NPS and client listening programmes
  • 38% Internal knowledge systems
  • 75% Internal campaigns
  • 25% Cross-selling training
  • 0% automated prompting of gaps/opportunities

Which external referrers does your firm target?

  • 79% Law firms
  • 66% Accountancy firms
  • 21% Insolvency firms
  • 64% Private equity/corporate finance
  • 57% Banks, financial institutions and IFAs
  • 36% Property firms
  • 29% Charities and associations
  • 21% Regulators
  • 21% Government and local authorities
  • 14% Other

Which methods does your firm use for generating more work from external referrers?

  • 38% Targeted mailings
  • 31% Targeted social media
  • 75% Joint client events
  • 63% Providing articles and speakers
  • 75% Joint webinars
  • 19% Collaborative/joint services
  • 25% Dedicated plans for specific referrer organisations
  • 56% One-on-one or team meetings
  • 31% Campaigns

Other recent posts on cross-selling and referrer management

Referrals – The role of internal communications (kimtasso.com) December 2021

Three referrer management themes – Plans, Relationships (kimtasso.com) July 2021

Referrer Management and Cross-Selling Insights (March 2021) (kimtasso.com) March 2021

Highlights from a referrer management workshop (2020) (kimtasso.com) December 2020

Six themes on cross-selling and referrer management workshop highlights (kimtasso.com) September 2020

pragmatic steps to improved referrer management 2019 (kimtasso.com) December 2019

Structured programmes for Referrer Relationships – workshop (kimtasso.com) July 2019