By, Melinda Guillemette, Marketing Consultant
Cross-selling is proposing to a current client the use of another of your firm’s services. Perhaps a tax client needs a financial plan or estate plan; perhaps an audit client’s employees need training on their accounting software; maybe a management consulting client needs to update his technology. Each of these cross-selling scenarios could result in solving thorny problems for your client.
No partner enjoys hearing a client say “I didn’t know your firm did that!” after the client has purchased a service from someone else. Learning to present clients with all the relevant problem-solving services of your firm can prevent the loss of that opportunity to a competitor. More importantly, it gives your team members the chance to deepen relationships with clients and broaden the firm’s value to them.
Marketing yourself as a professional is really about three distinct activities: finding, creating and sustaining human relationships. If you keep your attention on finding, creating and sustaining relationships, you can escape the nausea that visits most professionals when they contemplate selling.
Cross-selling isn’t even selling in the classic sense. It’s as much an attitude or perspective as it is an activity. Think of it as helping your clients by communicating with them clearly, by listening to their needs and concerns, and by keeping them informed of the services you have available that can help them succeed. Cross-selling requires that you be actively concerned with your client’s success, and that introducing one of your firm’s services would contribute to that success.
Build Your Cross-Selling System Internally
If you educate and communicate with your team members regularly, you’ll establish the strong internal system that will help your external cross-selling efforts. Use every tool available to help people in your firm be familiar with the firm’s service, including lunch sessions, internal newsletters and "everyone" e-mails.
Schedule regular sales and marketing meetings to keep everyone up to date on the firm’s cross-selling efforts and results. When you hold these meetings, do two things: keep them short (consider stand-up meetings) so people will keep their puffing to a minimum and invite anyone who wants to come. And remember: people will model their behavior on those senior to them. If partners don’t attend these meetings, you can expect that shortly no one else will, either.
It’s important to include cross-selling efforts in reward and recognition activities, because people typically do what they’re rewarded and recognized for. If you reward and recognize positive behavior, and make your expectations clear, you’ll get what you’re looking for from your team members. Anyone in your firm, from the receptionist to the word processor to the runner to the partner is capable of saying to a client, “Hey, did you know our firm….”. Anyone can create the opportunity for business to develop.
How and When to Cross-Sell
Ideally, of course, you’ll want to make your clients aware of all your firm’s services at the beginning of the relationship. You do this by verbally discussing the relevant services and being sure they have written information on all of them. This is the most natural time to introduce services, but it’s unlikely clients will buy an array from you initially. Don’t worry; if you remember you are creating and sustaining a relationship, rather than trying to cross-sell, your attitude will be right on and things should evolve successfully.
Be sure to use all the communication vehicles you have available to convey the benefits of the new service to your clients. Note the emphasis on the word “benefits”; professionals tend to use lists when introducing services. Lists usually describe features, not benefits. They’re boring and not helpful to your clients. If you must list, describe the service and how the clients will benefit from it.
- Cross-selling efforts can occur on your web site, in your newsletter, in client alerts by snail or email, at social/professional functions, at client lunches, seminars and community networking events.
- You can insert cross-selling materials in tax return packages (“Did You Know We Offer…”). They needn’t be expensive, either. If they’re well written and clearly communicate benefits, you can forego the print-shop, four-color glossy stuff.
- Tax time is a perfect time to introduce relevant services to clients. Make sure everyone who has client contact responsibilities knows what services each client uses and what he needs that he’s not using. Checklists are extremely helpful in this effort.
- Management letters are spectacular cross-selling tools. Sit down with the client, discuss the results of the audit in terms that are useful to him or her, and help the client understand where improvement is possible. If your other services fit the client’s needs, introduce them at that meeting. Remember they probably won’t buy the new service at that time (but it has happened); it may take many meetings to win an engagement. But this is a great place to start.
- When a client comes to your office, take her on a tour of the whole place. Introduce her to other team members. That’s a great way to say, “Michelle is our financial planning expert. She’s helped many of our clients create a financial plan that’s helped them reach their goals.” It’s natural, it’s polite, and it just might create an opportunity for you and your client.
You’re Face to Face with an Opportunity. Now What?
While advertisements, emails and client alerts are useful tactics, no piece of mail ever closed an accounting deal. Nothing beats getting in front of your client and working on sustaining that relationship. If you have a service that can address these, you are obligated to let him know you might be able to able him. You can say exactly that: “Bob, we might be able to help you with that. Did you know our firm handles benefits administration for many businesses like yours?”. That’s not just selling; that’s helping your client, which is at least part of the reason you went into this profession.
When your cross-selling efforts require an introduction of your client to a new team member who’s an expert in the new service area, be sure to act as the hub of the wheel. Of course, you introduce the new service to the client, but you’ll also want to be present for the introduction of the new expert in the relationship. Remember: you’re acting as the client’s advocate and want to make the process as smooth as possible for him.
When the client has given you the go-ahead, set up a meeting with you, the client and the new expert. Be sure you’ve fully briefed your colleague on the details of the client’s situation. The key in this initial meeting is to maintain your focus on the client, rather than trying to sell the firm or the new expert. Ask questions that demonstrate your focus on solving the client’s problems. Keep the technical information at a level that is appropriate for your client, and eliminate the accounting language he won’t understand.
Choose the Appropriate Cross-Selling Clients
Cross-selling at its most successful is very specific. It’s geared toward specific clients with specific needs; your job is to help them match their needs with your services. To do this, you’ll need to carefully study and evaluate your firm’s clients. Who are your best clients ? Who’s an advocate for your firm? Who trusts your advice today? These are the groups you’ll want to start with. Determine what services they’re using now and what other services might be appropriate for them.
Plan Your Activities. Then Act on the Plan.
An effective cross-selling plan (like any marketing plan) will hold team members accountable to the firm, their colleagues, and themselves. You’ll want to develop a very clear, specific plan of action that targets who, what and when things will happen. If cross-selling is a new effort for you, keep the plan’s time-frame short – about 90 days. During that time, hold weekly meetings with your cross-sellers. Discuss hits and misses; keep everyone up to date.
Be Like Nike. Just Do It.
Ultimately, all effective marketing comes down to action, most of it face to face. You can have the most powerful mailing and telemarketing machine in the business, but if you’re not getting out there and talking to clients and prospects, you’re not really marketing. Cross-selling is just another way for your to get in front of – and to help – your client. Once you have the basics under your belt, and you discover that your clients won’t pull out a gun and shoot you for introducing a service that’s valuable to them, you’ll savor the sweet taste of cross-selling success. You will have helped your client. And, at that point, you’ll be certain it’s worth the risk and effort.
(Melinda Guillemette is a marketing consultant with 11 years in-house experience as a CPA firm marketing director. She is based in New Mexico. You can reach her at 505/263-9460 or [email protected].)