How To Successfully Cross-sell Products and Services

On a recent series of speaking engagements in the UK, I was asked several times about cross-selling. Those asking the question were specifically trying to determine the best way to get professionals from each department within their organization to effectively grow revenue by cross-selling products and services from the other lines of business within their own company.

If you thought cross-selling had to do with wearing the clothing of the opposite gender, that’s “cross dressing.” I’ll address the first two here. You’ll have to look elsewhere for the third item.

Why Cross-Selling Fails

The intent to cross-sell generally starts out as a noble thought: “We have four departments: A B C and D. We want the people in each department to sell the services of A B C and D… not just the services of their own department.” In principle, the other departments might agree with the concept. They’ll say, “Sure. If someone expresses a need for what the other departments do, we will absolutely tell them we can help.

In my research, when the customer claims they need a particular product or service, in most cases they actually end up needing something different than what they originally requested. The reason cross-selling typically fails is that you may lack a clear definition of what symptoms your customer is experiencing that indicate a need for your product or service. If you know what conditions warrant your product or service, then you can ask your customer great questions to help determine the best fit between their needs and your solutions.

What Do You Need to Know

For example, a law firm might ask their people doing work with large financial institutions to cross-sell the firm’s expertise in human resources. But, the finance lawyers don’t necessarily know what human resource “issues” their firm is good at solving. Without that information, the partner or associate can only ask “Do you have any need for our human resources expertise?” That question sure sounds like they are just trying to sell something, an approach that usually turns the client off.

In To Sell is Human, Daniel Pink raised the notion of Upserving instead of Upselling. The gist of his concept is to focus on how you can better serve your customer’s needs rather than focusing on what you can sell to them. I often use the term UpSolve. The concept is the same. Essentially, determine what problems do you solve or how can you best serve your customer’s needs. Also, try to expand your thinking and even consider problems the customer doesn’t know they have. In her latest book, AGILE Selling, Jill Konrath shares “need to know” information that can help you effectively entice interest from customers.

Staying with the legal finance example, this is how the human resources part of the law firm might explain a typical area where they help with new ventures: “When customers embark on new ventures in other parts of the world, there are different regulations that might create new human resources risks that could be costly or devastating if not addressed proactively.” The partner working on the finance side of the law firm could ask their client: “Other clients have found that when they go into new parts of the world as you are doing, that regulations can catch them by surprise in terms of human resources law. We’ve got some talented people who have helped others navigate that complexity. Do you have that covered, or would you like me to setup a conversation to see if we can help?” Notice how in this situation, the finance partner has a description of a problem the firm is good at solving, and can present it as an area where the firm can “solve” or “serve” not just sell.

Next Steps

Have each department in your organization define the top problems/issues that they solve for customers. Take the time to build a matrix that shows why customers in specific situations might need your help. When you are done, you might have a matrix that you could sort (use a spreadsheet tool). This way, you could look for “Acquisition” and see what conditions might also exist within an acquisition where you can help.

I facilitate a workshop with customers on this exercise. You’d be amazed at how quickly departments find cross-serve opportunities within existing customers. If you want people to successfully cross-sell (or cross-solve or cross-serve), first ensure they know how you can help and what questions to ask the customer.

Your Turn

In the comments on the article, share what problems you are great at solving. I’ll give you feedback on what changes you could make to help attract the right customers.