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By Kim Tasso
While lawyers sometimes shy away from selling, they seem comfortable accepting that cross-selling is a fundamental part of developing their practice. Perhaps this is because selling focuses on winning new clients whereas cross-selling is an inevitable part of developing existing relationships. Yet cross-selling, while accepted as important, remains tantalisingly – perhaps frustratingly - out of reach for many law firms.
From cross-selling to cross-buying
The term “cross-selling” implies an inherently internal perspective. The firm wants to sell more of its products and services to a client. Yet, like all sales initiatives, we need to start with the client and what they perceive and need.
Empathy skills come to the fore here – as well as research and a long term investment in lawyer time to build a relationship where the client trusts you and is prepared to reveal more about themselves and their family or business. When we shift to how the client buys then we can appreciate better how to cross-sell.
Clients – whether they are private clients, OMB/SMEs or large corporates – will have different decision making and buying processes. Smaller clients – where the main contact is with the owner – may see value in the time saved and convenience of a single point of contact for a variety of services. Larger clients – where there are qualified professionals and procurement experts – will focus on “horses for courses” and want to use specialist firms in different areas. In some larger clients, your main point of contact may have no knowledge of or links with those involved in the buying processes of other parts of the organisation. In fact, it may not be in their interests to try to introduce you to other parts of their organisation.
Some lawyers may resist cross-selling initiatives if they fear that handing over their clients to others (who may have different standards and perhaps give their own clients priority) may risk the relationship. So a first step is building internal trust – to check that the service from different teams is up to scratch and consistent. Analyse the concerns (a structured analysis of reasons for and against cross-referrals) and mend internal rifts. And look at procedures both to smooth the transition to ensure that the client has a good experience and to keep the referring partner in the loop. And find ways to balance the risks by ensuring some recognition or reward for internal referrals.
And it’s not just about rational service elements as documented in your technical quality programme. Client emotions and perceptions play a huge part. I have heard clients report that they left a firm because receptionists didn’t recognise their voices on the phone, or because they felt that their partner “doesn’t care about us”. So perhaps look at client care or “clientology” training to ensure these aspects of the service are also addressed.
At the heart of effective cross-selling is good data. Yes, the dreaded database word. The CRM (Client Relationship Management) database needs to extend beyond supporting e-newsletter mailing campaigns.
It needs to capture a range of internal indicators and external intelligence about the organisation (or family) and individuals – both static and dynamic information. Advanced organisations are using behavioural economics and predictive analysis to show, for example “similar clients used these services at this point”.
But the information should set the benchmarks and help measure progress towards the goals that you want to achieve with your cross-selling programme whether this is increased revenue and profit, reduced cost of sales, greater share of pocket, increased NPS (Net Promoter Score), higher cross-selling or referral indices within specific segments, online campaign effectiveness or enhanced client life time value.
A desire to increase cross-selling needs to be converted into a coherent strategy before it can be implemented. And the strategy must support and mesh with the firm’s overall strategy and new business development programme(s).
This means setting out a compelling vision, setting specific SMART aims, assigning appropriate resources, ensuring the programme fits the external client environment and demonstrating confident leadership.
Some cross-selling programmes will focus on internal marketing and communications, some will be part of a sector approach, others on online promotion through intelligent web interfaces, others through the focused use of social media and others through targeted effort on major client relationships.
It’s trickier to manage the rich knowledge arising from multiple contacts over many years from a major – perhaps global - relationship. There’s tacit and implicit knowledge that can be trickier to capture, maintain and share. And when information from intensive client listening programmes, regular satisfaction reviews and strategic account planning programmes are incorporated the challenge grows.
But in many cases, the deeper and more collaborative relationships forged through genuine (as opposed to short term sales initiative) key account management programmes are the key to enabling effective cross-buying or even the co-development of new services.
Machiavelli commented: “It ought to be remembered that there is nothing more difficult to take in hand, more perilous to conduct, or more uncertain in its success, than to take the lead in the introduction of a new order of things” and we must remember that promoting cross-selling often requires a concerted and sustained change management programme.
The behaviour of senior role models, service excellence and quality systems, compliance integration, fee-earning targets, policies regarding relationship management responsibilities, internal communication, information systems, recognition and reward systems, training and e-learning programmes and financial management systems must be aligned to support the cross-selling dream.
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