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It seems so simple. If we can just get our people to cross-sell between divisions, everyone wins!

After all, increasing our value by providing our clients more a broader variety of skills and solutions, and doubling or tripling our sales force, sounds like the ideal growth strategy. But staffing firms of all sizes and disciplines have struggled for years trying to get people to cross-sell their services. They create elaborate revenue-share plans. They get creative with commission splits. And still, nothing works as intended.

When “cross-selling” is successful, this success typically happens at the enterprise level in a board room in the C-Suite where a more sophisticated solution involving all business lines is sold by senior sales leaders.

There are two big challenges we face when trying to cross-sell staffing services at the ground level:

Hiring Managers live in silos

If sales are getting stuck because marketing efforts aren’t attracting the correct buyers or salespeople are pursuing the wrong buyers, those have little to do with cross-selling.

The person who buys IT staffing isn’t the same person who buys Finance & Accounting. And it’s quite possible that neither knows – or cares – about the other’s condition enough to help you. This is why you get a mostly blank stare and an oh-so-slight nod of the head when you enthusiastically mention “we also do (fill in the blank) staffing!”

You can overcome this hurdle by making sure your people are engaged with potential buyers who can actually say “yes” to what you are selling.

Your sales team is terrified of selling something they don’t understand

When I worked with partners at PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), one of the “big four” consulting firms, our objective was to expand opportunities beyond the classic audit. It turns out the firm has more value to offer than the assurance of financials. Much more. But to effectively sell those high-value services, these partners needed an understanding of the myriad of drivers of need that would indicate appropriateness.

Maybe an acquisition strategy would support a valuation project. Perhaps a conversion to a new ERP system would require technology strategy. But recognizing those circumstances and being able to identify issues on the horizon in which a CFO may have not yet taken action, is valuable. And, it provides the context for discussions about a new service.

A hallmark of the overused, but still accurate and effective term of “consultative selling,” is unearthing specific customer needs that can be addressed by what you have to offer. However, if your sellers are not intimately familiar with the issues or problems a new service helps clients address, it’s a tough road. It won’t be enough to just tell the customer how good a new product or service is (aka talking brochure style).

Again, that’s not isolated to cross-selling.

Knowing how your product or service addresses customer needs is what effective sellers do every day

Product training and education must support this. Even very effective solution-oriented professionals will revert to a pitching approach if education only addresses what is new. Sellers also need to understand the context of how the new thing benefits buyers.

Further, if there are multiple subject matter experts who get involved in complex sales (e.g. trust experts in banking or technology specialists in IT sales), I can make a strong argument that product or service knowledge may not matter much at all to salespeople. Because if sellers understand who their buyer is, and have a depth of knowledge about the issues that they are most keen to address, then getting specs on a product or details of a process is easy.

But again, that isn’t just true of solving cross-selling issues because those things are at the heart of most successful sales, period.

Don’t allow your selling issues to masquerade a cross-selling issue. Recognize it for what it is, and address it head on!

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