The key to cross-selling is understanding the client's needs.
Any business that sells multiple types of products or services is challenged with how to cross-sell to existing customers. We recently received a question about cross-selling from the CEO of a midsized legal firm:
We are trying to encourage our team to cross-sell. It's a challenge for many of our business developers to educate the client to retain us in the full range of legal service provided. They may use us in one area (e.g. Business/Commercial) but not others (e.g. Commercial Litigation or Wills and Estates). I believe the service offering is there, the skills/experience are there, and the pricing is right. How do we educate the client on what we can do for them?
This question is specific to a legal firm, but the challenge is similar across any multidimensional business.
The CEO defined his problem as "how to educate the client." That's always a dangerous way to define the problem, because it comes from the perspective of how the client should use the firm rather than what their need is. When you communicate the problem that way to business developers, they may frame it around what the client is not doing (seeing the company as a broad solution) rather than what the company is not doing (understanding the client's needs).
We have a standard approach to all client meetings:
1. How's life? How's business?
These are the two questions we try to ask at the beginning of every meeting. Sometimes that's all you need for a rich one-hour plus discussion on what their needs are.
2. Give your elevator speech on your company.
Everyone in our firm uses a standard speech to introduce who we are (credibility), what we do (breadth of services), and when is the ideal time to call you (expertise and differentiation). This should take no more than two to three minutes--anything longer and the client may tune you out.
3. What are your goals and objectives and key challenges?
This open-ended question gets the client to talk about what's most important to them. It helps you define where you can help or sets the stage for follow-up meetings to discuss how your offerings are right in the wheelhouse of solving their needs.
Our objective for every client meeting is to get the next meeting...no more, no less. Client revenue growth, new clients, or greater cross-selling stems from ongoing conversations about the client's key issues. In the framework above, our goal is to get as much information about them and from them as possible and spend very little time talking about us, except to communicate what we do and why we are different. We can always come back to them with a specific proposal or offer a potential solution at the end of the meeting, which hopefully prompts them to ask for a follow-up. Relevant, sustained discussion leads to more cross-selling opportunities--and more business.
KARL STARK AND BILL STEWART are managing directors and co-founders of Avondale, a strategic advisory firm focused on growing companies. Avondale, based in Chicago, is a high-growth company itself and is a two-time Inc. 500 honoree. @karlstark