Cross-selling Services to Existing Clients

You are not a snake oil salesman.

It should be no surprise to learn that it’s easier to obtain new work from clients who already know and trust you for the work you do. Indeed, as a general rule, 80% of a professional service firm’s revenue will come from 20% of its existing clients. It’s too bad that that ratio scares firms into pursuing new business from clients who have no idea about them instead of trying to balance the ratio. As a result, many firms tend to focus the majority of their efforts on bringing in new clients and not on keeping current clients happy.

Having clients is a lot like a romantic relationship between two people. Everything is all wine and roses during the courtship phase. There are dinners, parties, phone calls to check in and see how the other person is doing, but inevitably we settle into a comfort mode where we seem to assume the other person will always be there. Happy. Content. Partners for life.

Unfortunately that is not always the case, and as with any relationship when it falls into a lull, we become hesitant to ask the seemingly vulnerable question, “What could I be doing to make our relationship better?”


As we now know, the financial downturn from nearly a decade ago has meant permanent changes to the way clients buy services.

Pre-2007 client service and spending models will not return.

The new world order means that clients have downsized the number of outside service providers that they have in an attempt to streamline internal management efforts, resources and cut costs.

Selling services to clients in areas where you haven’t before isn’t insulting, it’s expected. This is called cross-selling, and though it may seem like you’re trying to get them to buy a lemon of a used car what you are in fact doing is saving them time and money.  Your clients are also your business partners.

While there are financial rewards when cross-selling efforts work, it’s important to realize that cross-selling is not as much about bringing work to the firm as much as it is about helping a client effectively reach their business goals and making them look good. As the old ad slogan goes “When you look good, we look good.” The more good work you do, the easier cross-selling is.

So, you know you want to help your clients, but how do you start?

Talk to them.

“Yikes!”, you say. “But my clients don’t want to talk to me about their business goals. I can’t waste their time by asking them such nonsense.”

Repeat after me, ‘I am not selling snake oil. I truly want to help my clients save money and time.”

Know this. If you don’t ask your clients about their business goals, what keeps them up at night, and where they see potential cost savings, someone else will and they will take your client’s business away from you. It’s that simple.

If you find it easier to have a buddy help you through the process get a colleague from the office to join you for your face-to-face meeting with your client when you ask the below questions.

And you may already think you know the answers to some of these, but don’t assume and don’t be afraid to ask your client. They don’t know what you know.

  • What recent changes has your company undergone?
  • What are your company’s goals for the next year, 3 years, 5 years?
  • What are current trends in your industry and what do you see happening in the future?
  • What are the areas in your business where you see changes coming, how will they impact you, and how do you plan to meet them?
  • Who are your competitors, and in what markets are they located? What are they doing differently from you?

And the tough ones:

  • Are you happy with the current level of service you are receiving from our firm?
  • How do you think we can help save you money and time?
  • We would like to introduce you to our partners in other areas who we really believe can help you with your goals. Would that be ok with you?

I know some people will say that last question should be delivered in a way that doesn’t allow for a yes or no answer but I disagree with that. When a client is asked “When can we set up an appointment to introduce you?” that is the exact moment they feel like you are that snake oil salesman. Let them get comfortable with the idea of meeting new people from your firm. Follow up in a short but reasonable time frame and make the connection on their schedule. After all, it is about the client.

Here are some other considerations from today’s post:

  • Practice asking the above client questions until they feel casual to you.
  • Be prepared to face and remedy any areas that require attention before trying to increase the services provided to a client. An unhappy client is not likely to want to give the firm additional work.
  •  Share what you learn from the client with others in the firm who do work for that client to build awareness of issues and opportunities. But tell your client this is what you intend to do before you do it!
  • Get help. Want help on identifying which of your clients could most use your assistance, or how to talk to them comfortably? Or maybe you’d like to implement a formal client feedback survey before you get started. That’s where I come in. Send me an email to to find out more.

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