BY Michael Fleming

DATE: 14 OCT 2020


Cross-selling – Now More Than Ever You Need to Get This Sorted in Your Firm

I’ve been having some really interesting discussions with Partners in law and other professional services firms around the world over the past few months (all via Zoom and without a single ounce of aeroplane carbon being released into the atmosphere at my expense) about how to be effective at business development in the new virtual business world.  One issue that has been coming up a lot is around cross-selling.

This is understandable. In a tough, turbulent market where some practice areas are awash with work and others are in redundancy consultation because the work has fallen off a cliff, it makes sense to try to maximise the amount of work you can get from your existing clients rather than trying to go out and find new ones.

Some people seem to hate the expression – “cross-selling”.  Perhaps you’re thinking:

  1. It’s arrogant to assume that just because our client is kind enough to give us their work in practice area X they should also give it to us in practice area Y
  2. We should be asking and listening and finding out clients’ wider business needs before we try to sell them anything – so that anything we do offer to help with in other practice areas is relevant to their needs

And I agree.  But my definition of GOOD cross-selling would involve NOT making assumption A and WOULD involve doing what I set out at B.

Right – have you chilled out about me calling it “cross-selling” now?

Anyway, the point is that most law firms are a bit pants at it.  See the accompanying virtual flipchart for about twenty of the most common barriers to good cross-selling that I hear all the time from partners and BD professionals.

I think there are two big, fundamental, underlying reasons for these various cross-selling barriers:

  1. The remuneration model often doesn’t reward it
  2. Lack of relationship with, knowledge of capabilities & experience of, and trust for colleagues in other teams/departments/practice areas/offices/sectors/jurisdictions

Let’s be honest about this. If I don’t really know who you are, what you do, what you’re like, how you interact with clients, if you’re any good to deal with – and if I’m not going to be rewarded for it – then why am I going to want to introduce you to my contacts/clients?

I know of course that I should try to introduce you, because I get told that every year at the Partners’ Conference and, along with everyone else, I nod in agreement and promise to do better next year.  Then we have a flurry of boring meetings in which partners blame lack of cross-selling on lack of information. And everyone asks the BD Team to produce some practice brochures, teams sheets and spreadsheets of contacts we should each be introducing to others.  And then it all fizzles out again until next year. We don’t actually make the calls to clients. We don’t have the necessary wider business conversations with them. We don’t ask for the chance to introduce colleagues.

Alas in a tough, recessionary marketplace I think Partner behaviour on this often gets worse rather than better. People hog contacts and clients even more. These contacts have given me a position of wealth and status and power. I want to hang on to them to keep my equity points up.

It’s a shame really. It’s missing such an easy trick.  Because as we all know it’s going to be much, much easier to get an existing client contact to talk to you - to explore with them their potential wider needs, and perhaps to spot some potential cross-sell opportunity.

So perhaps you need to get some of your partners together in a big room (suitably socially distanced of course) with a lot of coffee and cake, stick a print of the accompanying flipchart on the wall and have a very challenging but necessary debate about which of the common cross-selling barriers are holding your firm back. And what are you going to do about this.

Good luck!

cross-selling the barriers