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Realising the potential within your client base

The professional services marketing expert David Maister once described cross selling as “like meeting your prospective in-laws for the first time”, although I think a better analogy may be that it is like introducing your extended family to your intended partner.

Having developed an intimate relationship with your loved one (client), you earnestly hope that none of your relatives (colleagues) upset them and drive them away.

It is easy to accept the theoretical benefit of cross selling as a route to increased profits – higher spend per client, lower cost of acquisition, less risk of attrition.  However, in 2007, a survey by BTI Consulting Group reported that only four per cent described their firm as highly effective.  A massive 77 per cent of heads of marketing and business development in 120 leading law firms in the US rated their firms as ineffective in cross selling. 

Compare this to the adoption of cross selling within financial services or consumer brands.  With seven million members, the Co-operative successfully built up a private client legal services business worth £33 million by 2012 through cross selling to its existing members. 

Another consumer brand, which has successfully cross sold a wide range of services to its subscriber base of over 50’s is Saga.  I can recall my grandparents booking Saga holidays in the 1970’s and later taking their insurance products and now Saga offers a range of legal services alongside its care products and dating services.

Love or loathe the consumer brands, they cannot be ignored and there is surely merit in adopting or at least examining the management tools which they have used to build their businesses.

So, what is required to implement a successful cross selling strategy?

Types of cross selling

Cross selling is the art of selling additional services to a client, and should not be confused with up-selling which is the art of getting a customer to buy a more expensive version of the same product – for example persuading me to have leather seats in my new car instead of fabric seat covers.

For any law firm, there are four main types of cross selling each with a different level of complexity and each requiring a slightly different approach:




Type A - Where the current lawyer/ practice group sells a new service to an existing client. 


Where a private client lawyers sells a lasting power of attorney or tax planning advice to a client who has made a will.

Type B - Where the current lawyer introduces a colleague from a different practice group to their existing client.


Where a residential property lawyer introduces an unmarried couple to the family team to prepare a cohabitation agreement.

Type C -Where the current lawyer/ practice group sells the same service to a new branch of the client company (or family).

Where the employment lawyer for one division of a company wins the employment work for another division of the same company.

Type D -Where one lawyer with a relationship with one branch of the client company introduces another lawyer from another department to another branch of the company.

Where a property lawyer servicing the facilities division of a company introduces an employment lawyer to the HR department.


Some cross-selling opportunities arrive without warning, such as the commercial client who wants to get a divorce or the employment law client who needs help with a motoring offence.

However, many cross selling opportunities can often be foreseen by the lawyer, and so should be planned for and built into the processes for different matter types.  For example, when concluding a divorce an appointment to make a new will should be a standard procedure (not just an introduction).  For any new company set up, shareholder or partnership agreement there should be an automatic introduction to the employment team.

Most practice groups have a better idea of the types of work they believe that their colleagues could be referring to them than the type of work that they can refer to colleagues, but this is rarely documented.

For type A and type B opportunities each department should take time to think through their own list of services, or matter types, to identify any triggers and client characteristics that are indicators of an additional need.  This information, almost in the form of a shopping list, should be shared amongst practice groups to ensure that each team knows what to look out for in order to identify cross selling opportunities.

It is also important to be clear about what sort of cross referrals a practice group does not want.  For example a commercial team may not want referrals of businesses less than two years old or with a turnover beneath a certain threshold.

For type C and type D opportunities, research and analysis of the client is required.  This is usually a company, but can also include high net worth families with extensive business and investment interests.  The first step in identifying how you can position your firm to provide services which may be purchased elsewhere is understanding the structure of the client organisation and their legal needs coupled with a gap analysis of the services that you currently do or do not provide.  This will enable you to see where there are opportunities and plot a route towards them.

Embracing cross selling

If you want your firm to become effective at cross selling then it is important to recognise that this may require some fundamental changes, and it will not come about as a result of a short-term push.  Change will be required across a number of areas and aligning the various interests may be easier said than done.  The key factors that will contribute to a successful change in approach across the firm include:

  • intelligent information
  • systematic approach
  • communication & training
  • shared values and trust amongst colleagues
  • leadership and culture
  • recognition and reward.


Sue Bramall considers the first four of these factors, and Joy Kingsley of JMW sheds light on their approach to leadership, culture, recognition and reward in the box opposite.

Intelligent information

Discussing a cross selling initiative to promote private client services with the head of marketing at a building society, she offered to run off a list of their clients according to almost any criteria that I could think of: age, marital status, geography, mortgage or house value etc.  I was green with envy, as most law firm CRM systems would struggle to provide me with that level of filtering at the push of a button.

However, once you have identified the characteristics of individuals who will have the need for an additional service then you will need to ensure that this information is captured and can be reported on via your systems

You will also need a means of monitoring current performance and whether it improves.  For example, you may identify that:

  • Around 30% of wills clients currently set up a lasting power of attorney – can you increase this to nearer to 50%?
  • 60% of commercial clients also use your employment team – can you increase this to reach 75%?

Systematic approach

This involves reviewing your current systems to see how they can be improved in order to reduce the risk of cross selling opportunities being ignored.  Many firms raise the subject of their other services in the file closing letter. Unless the client has a pressing need on the day that the letter arrives, then the letter probably is just filed and not referred to again.

Consider how systematic the Cooperative is in cross selling to its funeral care clients.

Another approach is for a client care manager to call the client after their matter has closed to check if they were happy with the service that they received and see if there is anything else that they could help them with.

The building society mentioned previously worked with a rolling programme of cross selling initiatives where the whole team focused on promoting a particular service for a couple of weeks via all meetings and phone calls.  It then moves on to focus on promoting another service.

Even a simple newsletter can be an effective way of showcasing all your services and ensuring that you clients hear from you at least a couple of times each year. 

Communication & training

Once your practice group has defined the profile of the clients that you would most like referred, it is important that you spend time with other departments to educate your colleagues in what to look out for.

A lawyer in one practice area may not have had anything to do with another practice area since their training and so may not feel at all comfortable talking about an area of law that they are no longer familiar with.  Talking with a family lawyer recently about how to get more high value divorces we discussed a joint initiative with the commercial team.  She confessed to being out of her comfort zone as the very reason she had chosen family law was to avoid business issues.

It is not necessary to re-educate others in your practice area, but simply to help them know how to identify a client that your team could help, and also what questions to ask to ascertain whether they have a need.

If there is new legislation which will stimulate a new need then don’t forget to let your colleagues know about this and explain to them how to identify those clients with a potential need.

Shared values and trust amongst colleagues

In 2003, David Maister drew parallels between successful professional firms with a “one firm” approach and the US Marine Corps culture where “everyone knows the values they must live by and the code of behaviour they must follow.  Everyone is commonly and intensively trained in these protocols.”

Trust amongst colleagues is essential for cross selling to thrive and time needs to be spent developing internal relationships and understanding, in the same way that you would invest time with external referral sources.

Most firms would think nothing of spending quality time getting to know key contacts at the local bank or accountancy practice, but may rarely make time for a coffee with a partner in another practice area, on another floor, or in another location.

A firm’s management needs to create opportunities for these relationships to grow.  Away days and retreats are a good opportunity for practice groups to remind others of cross selling opportunities.

Making any referral to someone for the first time is a risk on a number of levels.  First, you hope the enquiry is handled promptly and enthusiastically.  If your colleague is the right person to help, will they scope the work adequately and provide an acceptable quote?  If they win the instruction, will they deliver service to the level that you have provide?  What if a dispute should arise, is there a risk that the client would go elsewhere?

Typically you are not going to refer your gold star clients to an untried colleague, so may test them out with a few smaller clients that you are less worried about.  If you are the receiving lawyer, then you need to appreciate this and see the bigger picture.   Earning your colleagues trust on the small opportunities will pay dividends in the long term. 

Sue Bramall is Managing Director and founder of Berners Marketing, a niche consultancy that works exclusively with the legal profession in the UK and internationally.  Sue has nearly 25 years of experience in marketing and business development professional services.