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This is the second part of a two-part post describing why cross-selling (or “cross-marketing,” or “cross-servicing”) is much more difficult than most professional-services firms believe. (Read Part 1 here.)

Q: My firm can’t cross-sell. What are we doing wrong?

A: It’s not just you, it’s most law firms. 

In fact, most law and accounting firms struggle with cross-selling different practice areas to existing clients. The problem is that everyone thinks that everyone’s doing it better than they are. Trust me, they’re not.

There are many subtle but entirely reasonable obstacles to cross-selling within firms. To successfully increase a firm’s success in this area, a firm’s leadership must understand and overcome each of them.

My favorite summary came from an exasperated Executive Committee member at an AmLaw 100 firm who proclaimed “Cross-selling sucks!” So true, so true.

Further complicating the problem is that the reasons given for failing to cross-sell are usually in code. Here’s what the lawyers say and what it means:


WHAT THEY SAY: “My client would resent the intrusion.” 

WHAT THEY MEAN: “I told him repeatedly that I’d been selected as a ‘Super Lawyer’ and he still gave the case to another firm. Marketing is stupid.” (A lawyer whose sales style is intrusive is doing it wrong. Get them some marketing training.)

“My client has long-term relationships with firms in other practice areas.”

“See how I called it my client, not ‘our client’ or ‘the firm’s client’? Figure it out.”

“I am too busy doing client work.”

“The firm does not reward me well enough to make the effort.”

“I’ll talk to my client as soon as I can.”

“‘When Hell freezes over’ sounds about right.”

“Their tax needs are already well covered.”

“I don’t understand tax law, and I don’t want to look stupid by asking the wrong questions.”

“They don’t need any litigators.”

“If I send work to the litigation department and they lose the case, I could lose my client. I’d rather send the case to some other firm.”

“I know the client; I’ll pitch the litigation work myself.”

“Sure I’m an ERISA lawyer, but our compensation system would give so much of my origination credit to my litigation partner if he helped bring it in that I’d rather wing it myself for full credit.”

“My client doesn’t need an estate plan.” 

“We charge $1,500 for a Will; I’m not going to waste my time or risk my relationship for chump change.”

“I can’t cross-sell Labor & Employment [or Tax Law]. Those decisions are made by the VP of HR [or some tax guy] in a different building. My guys don’t control that work.”

[OK, that’s a decent reason. You got me there. Move on.]

“I’d be delighted to work to ‘institutionalize’ my clients and turn them into ‘Firm Clients.'”

“Sure, just like the last senior partners who institutionalized their clients a decade ago. Remember them? The guys you later fired for being “Dead Wood” because they didn’t control their clients any longer? Yeah, I’ll get right on that.”

“Diversifying my client’s relationships in the firm will reduce its portability. I want to keep the client portable so I can take this client with me if I decide to leave or feel underpaid.”

[OK, they won’t say that, but for the last 25 years, lawyers have been thinking it.]

SO, the next time that your marketing partner complains that your firm doesn’t cross-sell enough, you can at least tell him/her that most of your competitors aren’t doing it especially well either. That’s not to say that it can’t work, it can, but it’s much harder than most of the articles and marketing experts lead you to believe.

And you can tell them I said so.


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