It's one of the oldest (and truest) phrases in selling: people buy from people they know, like and trust.
But it actually applies much wider than buyer-seller relationships.
One of the emerging findings from my research project into law firm business development best practices is the importance of cross-selling – especially in today's economic climate. It's so much easier and better for professionals to sell more work to their existing clients – those who already know, like and trust them – than it is to hunt out new business. And it's also better for the client too – their risks are greatly minimised by doing business with people they trust and they know will be looking out for their best interests.
Yet sadly, most professionals aren't great at cross selling. My research has identified two main barriers:
- Most professionals have very limited knowledge of the services their colleagues can deliver. They don't know who their ideal clients are, what to look for to spot an opportunity, or what to say to begin to engage with the client.
- Sadly, many professionals also don't trust their colleagues enough to want to pro-actively cross-sell their services. By this I don't mean that they dis-trust them. Simply that they don't know what they do well enough, or have enough experience of working with them to feel confident that they would do a great job. And if they're not confident of that they will hesitate to recommend them and put their strong client relationships at risk.
So in fact, success in cross-selling is driven primarily by whether you Know, Like and Trust your colleagues.
How can we increase the level of knowledge and trust in professional firms? It's something I discussed over a few drinks with Will Kintish last night.
Will has come up with a great idea. As many readers will know, he's the UKs leading trainer and expert in Business Networking. He runs a lot of courses teaching professionals how to network externally: how to build relationships based on Know, Like and Trust with potential clients and external referral partners. But, of course, the same skills can be applied internally. By asking the same questions and networking internally, professionals can begin to break down the silos between their different units and teams. In Will's Internal Networking training sessions, not only do participants get to learn great networking skills which can be used to great effect externally; they also get to experience networking live with their internal colleagues. As part of the session they essentially “speed network” with many people from different functions and tak the first steps to building the trusted internal relationships which will give them the confidence to cross-sell.
Another approach to this I've used in the past is to hold an informal “trade show” event for staff. This can be an evening or Friday afternoon session where each practice area showcases its client work to the rest of the firm.
But it's not dry, formal, powerpoint presentations. Instead, each practice area or specialism hosts a “booth” – rather like at a tradeshow – with posters and charts giving examples of client projects they've done. Each example is in story or case study form:
- Who was the client we worked with?
- What was their business issue?
- How did we help them? Did we do anything unusual or different for them?
- What results did they achieve?
They close with talking about the sort of clients they're looking for introductions to.
The audience organises into small groups (preferrably mixed from across practice areas) and gathers round each booth for a 10 minute interactive presentation. Because the presenter is talking to a small group rather than presenting to the whole audience, there's a lot of interaction, questions and discussion. After 10 minutes, the groups move round to the next presentation which is repeated for them.
For a firm with 4 practice areas the whole thing can be done in about an hour. But be sure to add at least as long afterwards for informal networking and discussions as individuals follow-up on interesting things they've seen and areas where they've spotted opportunities.
They key is to keep it informal and client focused. No presentations about how great your team is, what revenues you achieved last year, or how you're better than that PI practice down the road. Focus on who your clients are, and what you've delivered for them.
By doing this, not only will staff get a much better understanding and knowledge of what each practice area does and how well they do it – but by interacting personally in small groups they'll begin to develop the level of trust between each other that's necessary for cross-selling to work.