Cross-Selling Is More Optimistic Than Realistic

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

During a conversation the other day with the chief operating officer of a manufacturing company, the COO asked about cross-selling. “It’s so important to us,” he said. “How do other companies make it work?” 

My answer was, “It’s more realistic than optimistic." Cross-selling sounds perfect on paper; you’re already in front of the customer, why not sell him more stuff? But complications abound. 

Here are a few of the challenges we see with cross-selling—and ways to make it a realistic possibility in your sales organization. 

Optimistic Perceptions of Cross-Selling 

We can grow our business! Cross selling seems to hold the potential for greater growth in our customer base. 

  • Opportunities are everywhere! White space mapping (by product and/or account) often shows low product penetration and an abundance of open opportunity to cross-sell.

  • It will be easy to compensation reps for cross-selling! Even though we still haven’t figured out how to pay our reps to cross-sell (and when we do, it usually doesn’t end well).

  • Seriously, how hard can cross-selling be? 

In reality though, cross-selling presents some unique challenges. By giving thought to the realities of cross-selling, you can plan accordingly and set your organization up for success. 

Realistic Preparations for Cross-Selling 

  • Establish a clear value proposition.

    The products you are cross-selling must fit within a broader value proposition that is compelling to the customer and furthers your competitive differentiation.

  • Look for a natural fit.

    The buyers of your current products must also be either the natural buyers for your cross-sell offers. You also must be able to recognize the opportunities and refer your team to the right buyers.

  • Make it an important part of the sales role.

    Let reps know that cross-selling is strategically important and a responsibility they own.

  • Get the cross-selling foundations in place.

    Cross-selling can’t happen in isolation; it must be built on a solid sales strategy, with well-mapped territories and a coverage strategy.

  • Train them to be ready.

    Build rep competencies to recognize cross-selling opportunities and then either refer those opportunities to a team member or close the sale themselves. Sending a rep in unprepared to recognize cross-selling opportunities or to communicate a compelling value proposition sets them up for failure.

  • Build trust.

    If cross-selling involves bringing in another rep from a separate team, often the rep originating the opportunity weighs the benefit of cross-selling with the risk of bringing in another seller and hurting the customer relationship. Build trust among your reps and teams to know that they can confidently introduce new offers and sellers into their valued customer relationships.

  • Compensate. Once you've done the groundwork in the sales strategy, customer coverage, and sales enablement disciplines, you can include cross-selling in the sales compensation plan or the rewards program. Consider whether you want to hardwire the cross-selling incentive (which requires the rep to hit those goals) or create an upside incentive (which rewards additional incentive beyond target for cross-selling). In early cross-selling stages, when setting goals and integrating cross-selling into the strategy is new, creating an upside incentive is usually a more positive message with successful results. 

Cross-selling is an important part of an overall sales strategy. Don’t let optimism blind you to the challenges. Rather, enjoy the confidence that comes from a realistic plan.

About the Author

Mark Donnolo is managing partner of SalesGlobe and author of The Innovative Sale: Unleash Your Creativity for Better Customer Solutions and Extraordinary Results and What Your CEO Needs to Know About Sales Compensation. He focuses on helping companies grow profitably by developing and implementing strategies that improve the effectiveness of their customer-facing sales, marketing, and service organizations. His areas of focus include sales strategy, customer segmentation, channel strategy, sales organization design and deployment, performance management, and incentive compensation. Mark’s work spans several industries, including technology, telecommunications, business services, manufacturing, and financial services.

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