Many accounting marketers know there is great benefit when it comes to cross-selling. As with many other business development efforts, having a plan and communicating that plan to those in direct client service roles is critical to cross-selling success. It sounds simple, doesn’t it? But it turns out it is not so simple to accomplish. Because service teams are focused on client work, it is easy for them to be unaware of a new subspecialty or specialist joining the firm. And if they don’t even know the specialty area exists or the specialist has come on board, how are they expected to share with their clients?
In this article we will hear from two expert accounting marketers who share their five best tips when it comes to building a culture of cross-selling.
Michele Buckingham is the Chief Marketing Officer for LaPorte CPAs & Business Advisors, an RSM US Alliance firm of about 190 professionals in five markets, including Houston and New Orleans. With the firm for about 10 years, Buckingham’s prior professional experience includes 11 years at a Big Four firm and then running a consulting practice that offered research, marketing, and business development training as well as coaching services.
Leslie Paull is LaPorte’s Vice President of Marketing. With the firm just shy of 10 years, she has worked closely with Buckingham to educate staff on the firm’s service and specialty offerings. They are both involved with LaPorte’s Professional Growth Plan (PGP) program for younger staff (seniors and managers) as well as LaPorte University, an internal skill development program for senior managers and income directors at the firm.
Both Buckingham and Paull are big believers that to really learn something, you need to learn how to teach it. That is where we begin with their top five tips for cross-selling.
Tip #1: Teach to Learn
LaPorte’s PGP program includes a project for seniors and managers in which they work in cross-functional teams and create a presentation showcasing the firm’s industry groups or services and highlighting their differentiators, or “hero stats.” They even pull in outside research tools, such as Dun & Bradstreet’s First Research, to get a view of what is happening industrywide as a part of their presentations. They present first to each other and then to the entire firm at the annual training day. Marketing team members help by providing a template and framework for the exercise. Through the process, Buckingham and Paull say the staff members benefit personally, but the recipients of the presentation benefit as well. Everybody learns, and that is a cross-selling win.
Tip #2: Dive Deep
As opposed to a high-level overview of services, specialties, and experts, LaPorte’s marketing team believes a deep dive is important and benefits cross-selling efforts. The thought: if staff truly understand the services and specialty areas, it is much more natural for them to share that knowledge with others. What is critical, says Buckingham, is that all staff members are able to recognize a need in a client and be able to match that need with a service, or that they are able to hear a need and be aware of a key specialty provider at LaPorte whose name they can share at the right time with the right client. The goal, she says, is to equip staff members with the information they need, to be sure they are comfortable talking about it, and to get them interested in always learning more.
Tip #3: Have Fun
Buckingham and Paull look back on firm trainings and other activities related to cross-selling education and say one thing is very clear: they have had so much fun! While they have learning opportunities all year long, they say their annual firm training day is a great opportunity for laughs and team building as well as updates on service specialties and industry areas. They like to avoid the word sales and prefer the word help. Buckingham says you have simply got to understand how you can help and when you can help. It is their goal to help make learning memorable and fun. One memorable example is LaPorte’s competition for best sales presentation by an industry or service line team. These groups each picked a theme (the sillier the better) and presented at the annual firm training day. From a “cash cab,” to a team of chefs to sock puppets, presentation teams included everyone from leadership to new staff. The best sales presentation received a special award. End result: lots of laughs, team building, and learning about the firm’s capabilities.
Tip #4: Mix ‘Em Up
Like many firms that go to market by industry specialization, industry groups at LaPorte have been holding monthly meetings for almost 20 years. Leslie Paull says when they use the phrase “mix ‘em up,” they are referring to getting cross-functional service providers and specialists into those monthly meetings on a regular basis. She says it is also beneficial for department meetings. For example, a unique service provider can come in and report to the industry groups or department meetings. Perhaps it is an update on new offerings or a recent client project that tells a memorable story of how we can help. Paull and Buckingham recommend you keep it short: just a 10-minute presentation. It is another great way to educate professionals on key specializations that could benefit the clients they serve.
Tip #5: Continuous Learning
As with firms across the country, LaPorte sees turnover as young staff come in and others move on to their next opportunity. Buckingham says an educational session on an annual basis simply is not sufficient to be sure they are effectively educating new staff. She says education is built into the LaPorte culture structurally, so staff are learning all the time. An example of that is their breakfast clubs, in which a group from the firm—perhaps an auditor, tax professional, and consultant—grab coffee together and each one educates the others on how to cross-sell their services.
Whether you are a marketing department of one or have several members on your in-house marketing team, you would be wise to take LaPorte’s strategy into consideration as you pause to examine the success of your cross-selling efforts. Need to recommit to a better cross-selling strategy? These five tips are a great place to start.
About Susan Ross Wells
Susan Ross Wells is the Marketing Manager for Gilmore Jasion Mahler, LTD, the largest locally-owned public accounting firm in Northwest Ohio, with offices in Maumee and Findlay, Ohio. With the firm since 2015, her responsibilities include marketing & branding strategy, web development, content creation, media relations and social media management.
A member of the Findlay Chamber of Commerce Advisory Board, and the RSM US Alliance Marketing Advisory Board, Susan also volunteers her time in support of Flag City Honor Flight, the local hub of the national Honor Flight Network.