Overcoming the Cross-Selling Hurdle

June 26, 2024

Although cross-selling can be an easy way to increase revenue, lower marketing costs, and extend your firm’s relationships with your clients, getting buy-in from your team members is often challenging.

Do any of these statements sound familiar? “We’re leaving revenue on the table.” “Do your clients even know we offer other services?” “The more services we offer to our clients, the deeper our relationship will be.”

Our research suggests that the hurdle is, as is often the case, communication. In an industry that relies heavily on relationships, it can be difficult for team members with long-term client relationships to allow others to engage with their clients. It feels risky. “What if they don’t take care of them the way I do?” “What if they are late on a deliverable?” “What if they make a mistake, don’t call back on time, make my client upset?”

These fears, whether real or imaginary, can prevent individuals from introducing their clients to the rest of your team. Overcoming these fears and reaping the benefits of cross-selling can be accomplished through intentional communication strategies. Here are two typical hurdles with strategies to overcome them.

Hurdle #1: Fear/Lack of Trust

What are the client managers afraid of? That’s easy - losing clients. If you ask anyone in professional services, they will most likely tell you that relationships are essential to their ability to continue winning work from their clients. Makes sense. Unlike transactional businesses, professional services firms spend weeks, months, or maybe even years working on projects with their clients. They spend a lot of time together and build a rapport that, hopefully, has that client come back repeatedly with additional work.

Darren Smith (CIMA Strategic) spoke at one of our CXps conferences about ways your team can collaborate to have that best project ever experience every time. As Darren pointed out, many in professional services indicate they’ve had one or two projects they’ve worked on that fall into that category. However, most indicate that their experience typically falls short of that goal. The reasons are varied, but the results are the same.

If a client manager has had an experience working on a project that could have negatively affected his client if he were not engaged, he will fear what ‘might have happened.’ This fear can make them reluctant to place their client in someone else’s hands. In fact, many client managers I’ve spoken with tell stories of clients who were made unhappy or even withdrew work owing to a colleague who was unresponsive took too long on a matter, or communicated too infrequently with the client.

Overcoming the Fear/Lack of Trust Hurdle

How can intentional communication help you overcome your client manager’s fear of losing a client if they cross-sell and introduce their long-time client to another team member? I’d like to suggest two strategies that are connected:

  1. Have a Client Experience (CX) Playbook that everyone in the firm follows (in every situation). A CX Playbook allows your firm to operationalize the CX initiatives you want in your firm and provides a roadmap for employees. Because the playbook provides guidelines for how employees are to respond in situations (internally and externally) that arise, client managers gain a level of trust that their peers will respond according to those guidelines. It is key that the playbook becomes the law (no excuses) within your firm.
  2. Integrate a Voice of the Client (VoC) program into your project or service delivery process. Best practices recommend that one of the elements of your CX Playbook will be the metrics you use to measure progress toward goals and the impact of your CX initiatives. One such metric can be found in your VoC program. A VoC program provides client managers with a quantitative way of knowing that their peers are meeting (or exceeding) expectations for their clients.

    Would knowing that their peers are taking exceptionally good care of other clients make them feel more comfortable in introducing them to their best clients? The answer is yes. When client managers recognize that their teammates are receiving accolades from their own clients, they are confident that they are introducing their clients to someone who will provide them with outstanding service and value.

Hurdle #2: The 'Salesy' Fear

Many professional services firms say they wish their clients had a greater understanding of what their firm does, but they feel promoting their additional skills and expertise may be viewed as “pushy” or overly “salesy.”

Most individuals who ultimately become client managers joined their firms to provide the ‘services’ associated with professional services. With that, they are uncomfortable being perceived as trying to ‘sell’ their clients anything. These individuals are more comfortable reframing their conversations with clients as ‘solving problems’ for them to speak confidently and with authority. What might this reframing look like? Here’s an example

Your team has done their homework and recognizes that Client A is facing a challenge with their wastewater treatment plant. The client may not even realize the extent of the problem yet. They likely have seen some symptoms of the problem, but many clients do not have experts on staff who can recognize the symptoms as part of a larger problem.

Your team knows the client needs an expansion. This is an expensive project, and they will likely need to ‘sell’ the client on doing the work now instead of waiting. Their ability to see the benefit to the client as solving a significant challenge lets them move beyond the idea they are ‘selling’ the client on the solution. They are protecting them and saving them from more serious problems.

The team’s discomfort at discussing services outside their expertise is closely related to the fear of being pushy. I’ve heard principals tell their team to ‘listen’ as their clients describe other challenges they face and be ready to let them know that the firm can assist them with that need. This can cause two related challenges:

  1. Most client managers are not generalists, whether we are talking about engineers, architects, or lawyers. They are highly trained in a specific area of the field. So, they will not pick up on clues when their client is talking about an area other than their area of expertise.
  2. As part of the relationship, they want to maintain their status as experts. They are not likely to discuss something about which their knowledge is limited. As discussed earlier, if they cannot frame the conversation as problem-solving, the interaction becomes increasingly uncomfortable for them.

Overcoming the 'Salesy' Fear Hurdle

Active listening is one of the most important skills you can provide your team to help them overcome this fear. Most of us have heard of active listening and its importance to effective communication. However, to help your team overcome the fear of being ‘salesy’ and allow them to maintain their position as the expert, requires more than positive body language and mirroring back conversation. Consider these specific strategies:

  • Listen for the story behind the story. What are your clients’ priorities on the current project? When listening to your clients’ concerns and wider business challenges, you better understand the problem.

    We’ve all been in a situation where our thoughts have wandered off while someone else was speaking. Employing active listening with constructive notetaking can help you stay connected as the client discusses their priorities and goals. This allows you to formulate the most optimal and accurate solutions for the project you are working on and will give you a clearer understanding of what other services might be beneficial to the client to address these challenges.
  • Be attentive and let the words create a picture of what your client is saying. We’ve all been told not to rehearse and plan what we will say next in the conversation. This strategy helps you stay focused on that important part of active listening while also enabling your mind to create a mental model of the information being communicated.

    Whether a literal picture or an arrangement of abstract concepts, your brain will do the work if you stay focused. Creating a mental image of what your client says adds more depth to your understanding of the ‘story behind the story.’

    You need not be an expert in other areas of your firm's services to ask questions as you picture what your client is describing. Combining this strategy with constructive notetaking will enable you to go back to your team and engage others in the conversation.


There are so many benefits to helping your team overcome their fear of cross-selling. Recognizing the fears behind the hesitation is an important first step. Providing your team with tools that allow them to quantify the ability of other team members to successfully take care of clients will turn roadblocks into new opportunities.

Let Client Savvy assist you in winning more work through successful cross-selling. Contact us to learn more!

Ryan Suydam

Ryan Suydam co-founded Client Savvy in 2004, to help firms create fierce client loyalty by designing, implementing, and measuring client experiences. He has coached nearly 700 organizations and over 30,000 professionals on the skills required to be “client savvy.”

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