Diversity & Inclusion

Turning a Corner! … 10 Traps to Avoid Perennial Cross-Sales Under Performance

by | Mar 16, 2021

…and Build Cross-Sales Pipelines Remotely

For those of you that follow premiership football, you’re probably familiar with the perennial under-achievement of my great team, Arsenal FC. But our new manager seems to be heralding a new era, and all Arsenal fans are hoping that we’ve turned a corner. I have the same faith that sales management can turn a corner in cross-sales under-achievement – simply by doing the exact opposite of what many organisations do when it comes to cross selling.

Restrictions in our operating environment have led to a downturn in new business activity. This means that client retention has become an even bigger component in meeting and exceeding sales targets. Suddenly, the persistent challenge of cross-selling has moved from the margins to centre stage. This is because a key part of client retention must include capitalising on the natural opportunity to cross sell expanded services to existing clients. Cross-selling can mitigate many of the losses that were incurred in new business development over the lockdown period and that continue to this day.

Professional services environments are hectic. In the day to day hustle and bustle of account management, meeting service requirements, keeping clients happy, attending to renewals and managing client reviews. It’s easy to forget some basic truths. For our purposes the most important is that, depending on your sector:

You have a 50/50 chance of selling additional solutions to existing clients as compared to a 1 in 10 or less chance of closing fresh new business from initiation to closure. This simple truth leads to another. In our current uncertain times – and beyond – it makes sound business sense to progress with strategies and tactics that capitalise on cross-sales opportunities within your existing clients base in order to fast track sales targets. Yet over the last 20 years, I’ve observed that Senior Management is often – and with good reason, frustrated with the amount of cross-sales generated in their businesses. What can be done? How do you, as a manager, ensure that teams are maximising all available opportunities to cross-sell expanded services across your client base? In my experience the firms that succeed in getting their account managers, account executives, consultants, partners and associates to cross-sell well and consistently, have a few things in common. Put simply, they all actively avoid the following 10 traps:

Trap 1: Projecting cross-selling as an optional part of the job

It is imperative to make cross-selling an essential part of the job description and a genuine expectation on all staff with client management responsibilities, regardless of seniority. When you make cross-selling a part of the job – and a basis for evaluating performance, you push people out of their comfort zones, you recalibrate expectations that most will try to live up to.

Trap 2: Failing to review cross-sales performance

People do what you review; so if you have cross-sales targets – and cross-sales pipeline meetings, specifically dedicated to cross-selling prescheduled across the year, your people will be forced to step up to the mark. If you don’t, they won’t. The meetings should be short, with a laser-like focus, purely on the number of cross-sales prospects in the pipeline, and the likelihood of progression. Cross-sales meetings will also reinforce the fact that cross-selling is a non-negotiable expectation within the role.

Trap 3: Failing to equip teams with cross-selling skills

Cross-selling is a skill, like anything else, and it must be taught thoroughly and well. Most companies focus on the strategic side of cross-selling and on identifying cross-sale opportunities. In my experience, insufficient attention is given to equipping teams with the practical skills of cross-selling. This can provide an excuse for under-performance on the part of reluctant and reticent account managers. It is also not fair to hold them accountable for cross sales targets, without giving them the necessary interpersonal and soft skills to do it properly.

Trap 4: Failing to capitalise on natural competitiveness

Friendly competition around cross-selling is a winner on every front. Competition creates the kind of positive tension that propels behaviour change across the team, regardless of the seniority of members. It also drives cross-sales activity and normalises cross-selling as part of the job.

Trap 5: Failing to track cross-sales opportunities

Cross-sales opportunities should be tracked in the pipeline with exactly the same level of detail and rigour as new business prospects. Once identified, opportunities should be progressed, emphasised, de-emphasised and forecast with the same attention to accuracy as any new sales opportunities.

Trap 6: Failing to inspire and empower internal leaders

Creating a culture of cross-selling requires buy-in across the organisation, especially from senior management. It is important to think carefully about how that buy-in can be cultivated. One way is to shift power. For example, account executives could be given responsibility, on a rotating basis, for leading weekly cross-sales pipeline meetings. This is a simple but highly effective way to embed cross-selling activity into the culture of your organisation.

Trap 7: Too much new product, service or solution training

This is seen by many organisations as the best way to equip non subject matter experts with the confidence and impetus to cross-sell. But it can overwhelm them, having the reverse effect and evoke comments like:

“I’m only comfortable speaking to clients as a subject matter expert. This falls out of my comfort zone and I don’t want to look silly in front of my clients if I don’t have all the answers.”

It can also complicate, what should be a simple first stage in the cross-selling process of igniting interest.

Trap 8: Too much too soon

The first stage in cross-selling mid to high-value services is igniting interest in the idea and gaining commitment to a scheduled online meeting at a future date. Trying to speed up this step, by for example, launching into a full-blown conversation about the additional solution or expanded service, can backfire.

This has implications for the cross-seller. Once your account managers or practitioners understand that their cross-selling job is simply to ignite interest, they will be much more eager to engage. They won’t feel intimidated, knowing that any follow-up will have the support of subject-matter experts. And the opportunities themselves become easily trackable in the pipeline.

Trap 9: Being on the Back Foot

Focussing purely on identifying needs as opposed to igniting interest is a sure-fire way to reduce cross-sales effectiveness. Being a messenger of change, in relation to expanded services as they apply to client objectives, will reap more rewards than relying solely on identifying explicit needs.

Take the matter of Cyber Insurance cover. It could be argued that a client could live without this solution. But it could also be argued that, in the current climate, this is becoming more of a necessity than a luxury. An account executive’s job would be to ignite the client’s interest based on an understanding of potential exposures in the client’s sector and the client’s objectives. They may then explain what similar clients to them are doing and secure an exploratory meeting at a future date.

Or

The client may already have a solution from one of your competitors, so they have no apparent need for cyber cover. The Client Executive’s job in this case would be to ignite the client’s interests by giving them a reason to consider changing and then secure a zoom meeting to discuss this further.

Trap 10: Over-reliance on service and support to generate cross-sales

High-level and consistent service and support is a pre-requisite for good account management. However, it may come as a surprise that cross-sales are not a natural outcome of even the best service. Rather, such sales are inevitably generated through a proactive approach to supporting clients through igniting interest in additional solutions that help them meet their objectives. Account managers must be on the front foot in adding value to client relationships in order to strengthen relationships and fend off the competition.

By doing the opposite of what most big clubs do, Arsenal FC have turned a corner with a fresh approach and a new, young manager culminating in an unprecedented 14th FA Cup championship victory, as well as solidifying their position as North London and London’s finest. Likewise, many organisations would do well by thinking about cross-sales in a completely new way. Underperformance in this area is endemic across the professional services industry. Avoiding the ten traps I have laid out will change that.

Stay Safe, Stay Alert, Happy Prospecting!

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