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Looking for gold in your own back yard

I had three conversations with businesses last week around them wanting to focus their business growth by looking for opportunities within their existing client base.

It’s exactly where I’d start looking.

There may or may not be ‘quick wins’, but it’s the best starting point for generating new business.

Why it’s worth looking close to home first

Most of you reading this will have heard that it’s cheaper and easier to keep existing clients happy and loyal than it is to find new ones. That’s still true and why it’s the first port of call. You have the relationships. Clients know, like and trust you.

We’ve seen this first-hand in our business. My co-director’s leadership and innovation training work fell off a cliff a year ago. Since much of it was with healthcare organisations, it has been very hard to even have conversations with them about their needs; they’ve been otherwise busy!

However, over the course of last year, he had regular conversations with clients, catching up, finding out how they were doing. Alongside this we were busy developing some new products and services in an area we saw as being increasingly important: innovation and making it happen.

And by the autumn, those who had been busy with challenges thrown up by the pandemic were raising their heads again. He started to talk with them about the future. From which conversations arose several opportunities which have started to come to fruition.

So, even though your business from some clients may have stopped, don’t assume they won’t need you now or in the future.

A firm of accountants I was chatting to recently said that if they could successfully explore the opportunities they felt were already there through cross-selling, their growth goals for the next year were within reach.

So how to approach cross-selling and actually make it happen?

It’s not always an easy thing to effect in firms. In many ways it can seem a bit like the holy grail, not least because identifying where the opportunities actually exist takes time and effort. Building relationships with colleagues whose clients might need your services is not an overnight thing.

Here are some practical starting points.

It’s not selling

The first thing to say is that “cross-selling” is a bit of a misnomer. Selling has a bad rap sometimes. It feels pushy; done badly, it’s all about the seller’s agenda.

What ‘selling’ conjures up for some of us belies the fact that for cross-selling to be done well, you need to understand what’s relevant to clients and build their motivation to buy, if that’s the right decision for them.

So, it is all about them. Their needs, their wants, their situation. It isn’t about shoe-horning a service into the conversation because you need to meet your targets or because you assume it’s something they will want. However, as long as you’re offering the right service to your clients at the right time, as long as the intent is good, you can see it as customer service. Which brings me on to my second point.

Understanding your clients’ world

Understanding your clients world is the entrée to a good conversation. You can only introduce new services to your clients if you’ve talked to them about their situation, needs and wants and identified that another service you already provide would be perfect for them at this time – would help to solve a problem they have.

An initial gap analysis is a good starting point. Looking at the clients for which you are the main contact and think about what services might be relevant. From your knowledge of them, you:

  • may know already that they are wedded to another firm for one service so there’s little chance for you;
  • might know that something is coming up for them for which another service would be highly valuable
  • could have question marks against a third service

Once you have this, then arrange a conversation whereby you explore what’s happening in their world and ask good questions to help you identify where the opportunities might be.

Overcoming the blocks to cross-selling

There are several blocks that impede cross-selling in a professional services firm. I mention three of them below. Along with some quick things you can do to overcome them. Understanding what these barriers are in the first place will point to practical steps you can take.

1. Getting pigeon-holed

A client walks through one door and has no idea that you offer a whole range of other services. I’ve seen instances where that client goes to other firms for services you offer simply because they didn’t know it was something you offered.

Good solutions to this include:

  • invite them to sign up to your client newsletter and ensuring you include profiles of other areas of the firm and articles from your colleagues that talk about current topics;
  • invite a colleague along to a review meeting with you once you have introduced the idea that this other service might be relevant;
  • create a visual device or map that shows them which door they’ve walked through and set it in the wider context of what you do (you could reference this through various marketing materials, from blogs and reports to welcome packs and email footers.

Related post: How to improve your communications with clients.

2. Feeling you’ll lose control

It’s normal to worry that the introduction of colleagues to your clients will mean you’ll lose control. We may worry we won’t know what is happening or we may be concerned that our client will like our colleague better than us! We might not trust our colleagues to work collaboratively with us.

There are no easy solutions if this type of thinking is common within a firm. It is not healthy if that is the culture, and even if it’s only a few people who have ‘my client’ thinking it can be enough to really impede cross-selling efforts.

There are lots of things I could suggest here, but two things immediately come to mind.

  • Be generous. Identify colleagues you feel you could introduce to your clients – that will set a good example for reciprocation. Speak to the client first to find out which colleague(s) it might be appropriate to introduce. Then set up a meeting to chat to that colleague and agree next steps.
  • When introducing a colleague agree how things will work: communication between you, notes from meetings with the client and how you will both keep abreast of what’s going on.

3. Communication within the firm

Not knowing what other areas of the firm do, the kind of clients they work with, what they actually do and help clients with is a common problem.

This is easily solved through regular inter-team talks sharing this information. Don’t just say what you do. Share some case studies to give people a good flavour for the challenges your clients have, what you did about it and the impact it had. Give them some pointers to help them watch out for opportunities. Paint a picture of what a good client looks like.

So, three ways to kick-start your cross-selling efforts: begin with the right mindset, identify specific opportunities and follow them up, put in place practical steps to overcome anything getting in the way.

© Bluegreen Learning Ltd