A personal approach to cross-selling

Yesterday I facilitated an interactive workshop through the Professional Marketing Forum  on cross-selling and referrer management. I promised the delegates – representing a range of legal and accountancy practices – that I would summarise and share the key points arising from the session and the six themes to supplement their learning resources.

Aims and issues

The topics that were of most interest to delegates included:

  • Improving internal communication and cross-selling
  • Using management information systems to prompt relationship management action
  • Guidance on establishing referrer management programmes
  • Identifying the best opportunities to cross-sell and generate recommendations
  • The soft skills required by lawyers, accountants and other fee-earners
  • How to engage and motivate the lawyers, accountants and other fee-earners in programmes
  • How to support remote/virtual internal and external collaboration during the Covid crisis
  • Using storytelling in cross-selling and referrer management
  • Ideas and tips to make cross-selling and referrer management happen

Break out 1 – Initiating a cross-selling or referrer management programme

These were the key points raised during the first break out session. Responses from the two groups have been consolidated:

  • Analyse (audit) what is happening across the firm with cross-selling
  • Decide on the level of focus (e.g. firm-wide, particular sectors, specific service lines etc – read an introduction to segmentation)
  • Set objectives
  • Capture the pockets of best practice and bright spots where things are working well and enlist champions to help with internal marketing
  • Establish systems to prompt, support and monitor activity
  • Identify 10-11 themes (e.g. issues and related services that apply to multiple markets)
  • Support each service leader and partner with elevator pitches, targeting criteria to identify relevant clients, trigger information to spot client needs and opportunities as well as case studies and stories to support client conversations
  • Compile lists and analyses of key clients (referrers) and allocate responsibilities
  • Provide training and confidence in a range of relationship management and other soft skills (see a nine minute video on soft skills  or my 2020 book “Essential soft skills for lawyers”)
  • Encourage people to pick up the phone to have relationship-building discussions

Delegates also identified challenges such as protectionism, resistance to sharing client feedback, risk perception, silos and steering group activity. There was also a short discussion about establishing policies and protocols to guide internal processes when clients are approached by those in the firm beyond their usual contacts.

Delegates felt that it was likely that 70% of the effort initially would be by marketing and BD professionals. As programmes become established and behaviours embedded into everyday practice less time is needed by both marketing/BD and fee-earning staff.

Break out 2 – Improving cross-selling and client recommendations and referrals

These were the key points raised during the second break out session:

  • Understand the rational and the emotional drivers around recommendations and referrals
  • Agree the roles and responsibilities of sector heads, service line heads and those in key client or referrer relationship management roles
  • Provide a focus for activities based on marketing and business development plans to avoid people spreading their nets too wide and diluting impact and effectiveness
  • Help everyone to develop appropriate elevator pitches and stories to share with their own and other people’s clients
  • Provide internal briefing sessions on different sectors, hot topics/issues and service-lines so that everyone understands the client’s perspective and uses the right language and vocabulary
  • Identify those who are “natural” salespeople and provide them with tailored material to encourage them to pick up the phone
  • Prepare a matrix of all the referrals received (and given) so that you can qualify and classify different groups of referrers and produce action plans accordingly
  • Ensure it is clear which teams are responsible for developing each relationship and support them in preparing for and facilitating activities such as digital “getting to know you” events, team drinks and briefing/learning sessions
  • Organise “lunch and learn” sessions to promote internal communication and understanding. And extend trainee programmes (through internal secondment programmes) where people move between different seats periodically to remain in touch with the strengths and activities of different service lines. We also spent some time on how to achieve this in a virtual working environment
  • Promote and support reciprocal behaviour (see this article on inbound and outbound referrals and this article on what to do when you can’t reciprocate work
  • Share the post transaction reviews, client and referrer feedback and win/success stories to provide ongoing guidance and motivation

Break out 3 – Key behavioural and skills challenges in cross-selling and referrer management

These were the key points raised during the third break out session:

  • Whether through a lack of knowledge or past bad experiences there was often a lack of trust
  • The structure of many firms means that there are internal silos and people do not know enough about the expertise, experience and clients of their colleagues in other departments. They were therefore nervous about initiating a conversation with clients where they had insufficient knowledge to sustain a discussion.
  • Many professionals are simply under too much pressure and too busy to take the necessary time to do the research and preparation that is required. Others lack the motivation to do so as reward systems focus on personal fee targets. Aligning cross-selling with professional rules may help.
  • Those in long-established client or referrer relationships may be embarrassed to ask clients basic questions. We talked here of the psychology research supporting introducing a new person into the relationship so this can be more easily achieved.

This 13 minute video explores the building blocks of effective business relationships

Summary – Six themes on cross-selling and referrer management

At the end of the session, I asked delegates what they considered to be the most important points. Whilst the importance of ensuring that programmes and activities were focused on the best interests and needs of the client, the following six themes emerged:

  • Avoid pigeon-holing and type-casting
    • This is where clients have a limited perception about the services provided by a firm and “pigeon hole” them into a particular category. We discussed many techniques to address this in the session on internal communication and cross-selling and proactive client relationship management. 
  • Use relationship mapping
    • Information is included in the workshop materials
    • We also discussed the systems available to help with this