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Is cross-selling in a firm the toughest nut to crack?

MOST CROSS-SELLING initiatives fail because firms fail to grasp the nettle of business development, cultural and leadership changes that are needed to significantly affect fee income.

The worst kept secret is that every professional advisory firm is trying to win more business. Clients know partners and managers have business development responsibilities. If fee earners don’t want to be seen as mere pedlars of professional services they need to ensure the client’s best interests are at the heart of any cross-selling activity.

Even with the right client centric mindset, there are eight more cross-selling challenges that stand between you and effective cross-selling:

• An in-depth understanding of the clients’ world
• Client perception of the firm
• Chemistry
• Skills and behaviours
• Compensation
• Control
• Communication
• Competence

In a 2012 Financial Times report into adviser-client relationships, client demand for advisers to really get under their skin was highlighted. Nurturing relationships takes time and commitment plus a genuine interest in the client’s world and their ‘horizon’ or long-term issues.

An in-depth understanding of the client, i.e. knowing their critical success factors, motivations and future plans will reveal how your firm can help them. Thus, naturally prompting cross-selling without becoming service-led. However, most professional advisers are really good at exploring their area of technical expertise with a client, i.e. a service-led approach, and less good at demonstrating genuine interest.

Action: Be good at asking questions about issues that may be hidden beneath the surface and be really good at listening to the answers.

Clients’ perception of the firm

All too often clients don’t seem to fully grasp the range of services available despite being bombarded with a firms’ latest marketing information. Managing the perception of clients involves more than a few newsletters because they tend to ‘pigeon hole’ advisers. Also relationships tend to move from strategic to operational over time and the contact face between staff in the firm and key influencers can narrow.

Action: Map all relationships then use high value content marketing and social media to communicate with clients and keep in touch with key influencers. 

Chemistry

Developing client relationships requires skills beyond technical expertise. Doing a great job for a client in one area is no guarantee that you will be asked about other services your firm provides. Building and maintaining relationships with key influencers requires individuals who are motivated to participate in, lead and develop client teams.

Action: Select the individuals and teams motivated by building client relationships. Use profiling tools to identify the individuals who will work together best in client teams.

Skills and behaviours

Successful cross-selling requires advanced selling, communication skills and behaviours. It requires a high level of emotional intelligence and understanding of what motivates decision makers. The ability to ask commercially insightful questions and demonstrate genuine interest in the answers requires coaching and practice.

Action: Plan long-term business development coaching and support for all client facing staff. A one off ‘sheep-dip’ (where everyone does some training) business development workshop isn’t effective.

Compensation

It isn’t so much lack of personal incentive for introducing colleagues to a client; it’s that often there are disincentives at play. If a partner or fee earner feels their efforts to do what is right for the client and the firm are not recognised or that the firms compensation plans are not equitable, cross-selling will not be effective.

Action: Shout loudly about cross-selling successes, include cross-selling in key performance indicators and ensure rewards are aligned with the right behaviours.

Control

Sometimes partners fear losing control of client relationships if they introduce someone else from within the firm. At worst some will see client relationships as portable and want to protect their portfolio, more often there is simply fear that someone else might be better at business development.

Action: Support, encourage and coach individuals to develop client facing skills and take a team approach to client management.

Communication

Poor internal communication can mean that fee earners simply don’t fully understand the range of services a firm offers and how colleagues can help their clients. This is more about providing regular opportunities to meet informally than setting up internal ‘road shows’ or knowledge systems.

Action: Provide appropriate space, time and events for people in the firm to meet informally. Ensure internal presentations profiling department’s services are more ‘what we can do you for your clients’ rather than ‘please introduce us to your clients’.

Competence

Doubting the skills and abilities of colleagues in other parts of the firm can result in lack of trust in their ability. No partners, fee earners or directors will recommend a colleague they doubt, however the colleague often does not realise they are not trusted and often the doubt is based on myths or outdated perceptions.

Action: Deal with any actual lack of competence swiftly and ensure that individuals and teams understand and manage their reputation within the firm.

Effective cross-selling needs a firm to have strong leadership and business development expertise. To crack the tough challenge of cross-selling, involves recognising which of the challenges your firm faces and putting action plans in place to address them.

David Tovey is the author of Principled Selling: How to win more business without selling your soul. 

Heather Townsend is the co-author of How To Make Partner And Still Have A Life, and The FT Guide To Business Networking. 

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