We are all too familiar with the problems associated with selling professional services. Quite apart from the difficulties of selling something intangible, our clients often do not want to buy from us in the first place, seeing our service as a necessary evil, which should be bought as little as possible. Also, professionals are deeply uncomfortable with the concept of “selling”, and even perceive it as something inherently unprofessional.
Even when professionals are brave enough to try to introduce clients to other parts of their firms, it often can go wrong. When work is referred to another professional or department, the client may not enjoy the experience which reflects badly on the professional making the original referral.
Given that the strategy is correct, how are we to achieve effective cross selling?
- Educate our clients
As outlined in last month’s article on “Winning Pitches”, most clients have difficulty understanding what professionals actually do. Think how little we understand the details of what is involved in forensic accounting or facilities management!As a result, we need to start by educating clients about the range of services we provide. By this, I mean that we need to give them basic information about what we do, and most importantly what benefits that will bring to them. The best professional brochures and websites provide illustrations, sometimes by way of case studies or stories, of the successes these firms have achieved for their clients.
- Working out the benefits
Many professionals seem to have become incapable of seeing it from the client’s perspective. As a result, when asked to define the benefits, they talk a lot about the technical content of what they do. However, we must be able to define the benefits of our services from the client’s point of view. Most clients value speed of response and that their professionals focus on results rather than the process.
For example, the benefits of our litigation department should not describe the expertise of our partners but should instead illustrate our speedy resolution of what appear to clients as being insurmountable difficulties and where appropriate our ability to build future relationships rather than irretrievably damage them. Yes, I can hear my fellow court colleagues commenting that that is easy to say but very difficult to achieve, but that is the point I am making. To earn high quality fees and win high quality clients and work, we need to be able to do what many people cannot do.
- Ask the clients
The easiest way to introduce new services to our clients is to ask them what they want! Many professional firms are reluctant to ask clients directly, yet those who do find their clients are delighted to be asked. Clients are pleased that their opinion is being sought and are happy to comment by way of direct discussion rather than written questionnaires. Asking people to spend their time filling in forms seems to underline many clients’ perceptions that “we are too busy and important to spend time with our clients!”
I asked one of my senior director clients (who does not work in the professional sector) recently to describe what he wanted from his professional advisors. He said: “This is kind of asking the difference between ‘that’s my right and expectation as a client’ i.e. good professional service and the WOW factor where you are really taken by surprise because it’s well beyond what you expected.
- very caring client service from the start and then throughout
- high quality timely communications
- delivered on time
- professional reporting, clear, concise, good descriptive English
- priced competitively and up front
- careful recommendations (beyond the fear of litigation stuff)
- precisely agreed contract and carefully specified
- relevant support and back-up when needed
- available when needed or at least user-friendly contactable
Many of us will look at that list and say that, in essence, what he describes is nothing hard or difficult, yet he finished by saying that “to be ‘wowed’ would be a rare occurrence for me and many others!”
- Hand holding clients is not a waste of time
Once we have ascertained what our clients want and what they will want from us in the future, we can then introduce new services to them. This is a very important stage in the relationship and must be handled with care. Clients, like most people, are resistant to change. They do not like having to get to know another professional and will not take it well if they have to explain themselves to other people within our firm. They will expect that introduction to their background and life stories to have already been made!
Retaining contact with them with regard to the new service is vital. Too often, referring professionals hand clients over without any attempt to keep in touch with them. Too often the new professional keeps the referrer out of the communication loop which causes professional and client problems on all sides. Clients feel abandoned and forced to build the new relationship themselves. Particular knowledge of the client’s situation may be missed in the handover which can cause professional indemnity problems.
It is important to keep all three sides of the triangle in touch with each other as this new relationship develops. Initially at least, the client will check out the new service or advice with the original professional who should be kept informed before the client is to make sure that the advice or approach will be acceptable to the client. This may initially not look cost effective but it will pay dividends in the long term by developing a strong and cohesive relationship.
- Make sure we reward cross selling
Professionals are reluctant to get involved in anything which is described as “selling”. They see it as unprofessional and not what they should be asked to do. Yet, many of them talk about the importance of client care and of delivering high quality professional service. It is important therefore to build on that inherent commitment to client relationships rather than put them off the concept by talking about increasing their selling skills. Cross selling is about developing and deepening their existing relationships with their clients. Once professionals see it from that perspective, it is much easier to encourage them to do it.
However, we also need to ensure that our structure and culture supports that aim. Too often, firms specify the importance of cross selling in their business or marketing plan yet operationally, set people fee and time targets which actively discourage it. Many firms operate on a “keep what you kill” policy! Professionals and clients alike must believe in the quality of the service we provide and the people providing it. Cross selling will not be achieved in an atmosphere of distrust and resentment. We need to ensure that we follow through by developing ways to reward the people who implement it. These should include recognition for the introduction to the new service, a percentage reward on the fee recovered and reciprocity. We also need to ensure that people and departments trust each other and are willing to share clients.
Implementing successful cross selling is one of the core elements of sustainable business growth. We know our existing clients and what they value. We should build on this and expand the range of support we provide to them. Clients choose us because they trust us and our professional judgment. It is important to maintain and not damage that connection. Cross selling implies that we trust the professional we refer our client on to and that the client will benefit from that additional service. We need to believe in the value that we can provide to our clients.
How to do it?
- Give clients basic information about the services you provide, couched in language they understand and detailing the benefits that these services will provide for them
- Work hard at defining these benefits from the client’s perspective
- Ask key clients what they value, why they choose us, and what they want from us now and in the future
- When introducing clients to new services, maintain the existing personal relationship
- Stop using the word “selling” within the firm and start talking about deepening existing client relationships
- Encourage sharing of clients and reward people for attempting successful cross selling
- Believe in the quality of the service we provide and the people who provide it
Fiona Westwood runs her own management and training consultancy specialising in working with the professional sector. A solicitor with 20 years experience of private practice, she established Westwood Associates in 1994.
In this issue
- Scottish Solicitors’ Discipline Tribunal
- Dangerous link
- Creating effective management structures
- Effective cross selling
- Keeper’s corner
- Does the writ warrant a warrant?
- Interview: Elish Angiolini
- Website reviews
- Domain name disputes
- Explaining delays – managing expectations
- Exhaustion of trade marks
- Book reviews