Cross-selling and referrer management

I recently presented a new course on cross-selling and referrer management for marketers and business developers in professional services for the PM Forum As the many other blogs on these topics will demonstrate, they are big issues and we had to be selective on what we covered.

However, the conclusions that were reached during the session on cross-selling and referrer management were as follows: 

Understand the contribution marketing and BD can make

So how do marketing and BD folk add value when the majority of cross-selling and referrer management activity is driven by individual partners and fee-earners as part of their day-to-day networking and relationship management activities?

Marketers must take a helicopter firm-wide view to see how they can help focus, co-ordinate, support and enhance cross-selling and referrer management activities amongst the various departments and fee-earners. This might involve analysis, planning, policies, information systems, training, coaching and monitoring.

Focus on the clients

As marketers, our primary responsibility is to understand and anticipate the needs of the clients. Whilst cross-selling is important, it may not be appropriate for or welcomed by all clients. So client listening and research is important. This typically leads to segmentation and targeting of those clients and referrers where relationships might be fruitfully developed.

Do the analysis

Avoid data-free marketing. Embrace the audit. Whilst some of the larger firms had sophisticated systems, many lacked comprehensive information about the source of valued clients and work – particularly where there were long standing relationships.

So an important contribution for marketing and BD folk is to lead the data analysis and research to understand what is going on at present. It may be that some teams are heavily reliant on internal and external referrals whilst other teams generate the lion’s share of their work directly from clients. So if the firm’s systems are unable to provide a suitable source of work analysis, then marketers will need to devise other methods to acquire and analyse the information.

The analysis is also required so that there are clear baselines against which objectives can be set and progress monitored. Some guidance on information systems for referrer management systems is here:

Set clear aims

Like all projects, there needs to be clear aims so that you develop the appropriate strategies. But a careful look at the objectives is especially important in cross-selling and referral management programmes which require a significant and sustained investment of fee-earner time. The business case showing the desired results and the costs to achieve them must be rock solid.

Develop a plan

Most agreed that whilst everyone acknowledged that cross-selling and encouraging referrals from clients and external referrals were important there were rarely structured and systemic programmes that focused activity and measured results.

So adopting a planned approach – analysing the current situation and opportunities, setting goals, presenting the business case in terms of cost (mostly fee-earner time) and benefits and having a clear plan for implementation was recognised as important.

Referrer management planning is covered here: and

Adapt for different referrer segments

Further analysis and research will reveal that the ways different types of referrers are structured will mean that different strategies are needed for each. So, for example, there may be different plans for:

  • Internal referrals
  • Referrals from existing clients
  • Referrals from accountants
  • Referrals from insolvency practitioners
  • Referrals from IFAs
  • Referrals from trade market and patent attorneys
  • Referrals from surveyors and property professionals
  • Referrals from domestic lawyers
  • Referrals from international lawyers
  • Referrals from overseas associates
  • Referrals from banks
  • And so on

Similarly, where fee-earners have long lists of those who refer work to them, it will be necessary to support them in analysing and grading their referrers so that they can focus attention on the most important rather than adopting a scatter-gun approach and spreading themselves too thinly over all of them.

Understand the different needs of each department or team

Some teams are heavily reliant on internal referrals from their colleagues. Others are net providers of internal recommendations. So a one-size-fits-all approach is unlikely to be successful. Motivations will be different.

The marketing and BD folk need to keep an eye on the firm’s overall objectives, take a firm-wide view of the internal referral flows and devise strategies to focus attention on those teams that will have the biggest impact and/or those that have most to gain. Also, the attitude to risk in referring will be different for various teams and individuals. Barriers to cross-selling and internal referrals must be analysed and addressed.

Support communication and collaboration

Marketing and BD teams are possibly uniquely placed to be able to see the opportunities and barriers across the firm. They can devise internal communication campaigns to help fee-earners understand the services and clients of other teams and thus become more effective ambassadors. The marketing and BD folk are the ones who will understand what information is needed – and how it can be pulled together and shared – so that communication and collaboration across the firm is more effective.

Consider the culture, motivation and reward

A key barrier to much cross-selling and referrals is the culture of the firm. Marketing and BD folk must help identify structural and systemic barriers and help management devise ways to overcome these. Whether the solution lies in improving service levels and trust between teams, internal communication programmes, moving out of the silo and into the matrix, adjusting the appraisal and reward system or tackling client protectionism.

Provide skills and coaching

There are a host of training programmes required to develop the necessary skills in lawyers, accountants and surveyors – not least those in support of rapport building, selling, relationship management and account management.

Then to support fee-earners as they try to use these skills, there needs to be plenty of one-to-one coaching to enable them to meet their personal business development objectives which should be aligned to the firm and their team’s overall aims.

Manage research and capture knowledge

To manage referrals from major referrers, there may need to be significant research into internal and external sources to collate the required information about the organisation, the individuals and the historical relationship.

Where there are long established relationships, this may involve finding creative ways to painlessly obtain masses of information from the heads of those partners and fee-earners who work with those referrers.

Building detailed profiles and plans for major referrers – keeping them up to date and using them to guide firm-wide and individual fee-earners activity – is a valuable contribution that marketing and BD can make.

Help fee-earners integrate cross-selling and referrer management into their day-to-day business development activity

Whilst there is a need to develop aims, strategies and systems for the firm and departments overall, they need to be presented to fee-earners in terms of the benefits to them as individuals. There needs to be clarity on the activities they need to integrated into their regular day-to-day working lives. Instructions must be specific, information presented concisely and systems must be simple but effective.

Adapt to international differences

For those who are supporting international networks or cross-border referrals, there is a need to understand the different cultural demands impacting collaboration, relationships and referrals. Further information on this topic is here:  and

Monitor the metrics

Whatever metrics are adopted – cross-selling indices, services used monitor, summaries of referrals in and out, value and volume of referral flows – it is vital that these are monitored and communicated appropriately to maintain motivation.