Love or loathe consumer brands, you should not ignore them if you want to succeed in selling to existing clients.

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 or put them off with their annoying idiosyncrasies 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 4% described their firm as highly effective. A massive 77% 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. Look how Saga has developed from a specialist in holidays and mobility aids to a major financial services provider and a recent entrant in the legal services market.

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 or shared with those colleagues in a structured way.

As most lawyers find it hard enough to find time to undertake all the business development activities that they would like to, it is understandable that progressing opportunities for others can slip off the radar, without a systematic approach for progressing them and recognition and reward.

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

Sue Bramall is managing director of Berners Marketing and advises law firms in the UK and overseas