Cross-selling is the Holy Grail of CPA marketing. In its simplest form, cross-selling is the act of uncovering unfulfilled client needs and offering your firm services to fulfill those needs. And while no one would argue the value of serving client needs, it is our experience that cross-selling meets with unnecessary resistance in most firms. In this article, we'll explore some of the reasons for this resistance and share our ideas for developing a cross-selling culture and implementing cross-selling strategies and methodologies in your firm.

Overcoming the barriers

The barriers to cross-selling success are often related to leadership, sales, marketing and education. The most common barriers we see include:

1. Leadership barriers.

* Many firms lack a clear top-down commitment to cross-selling that permeates all levels of the firm. And, as with all things in your firm, your team will only focus on those things that they feel are truly valued by you and your leadership team. Consider articulating a leadership commitment to cross-selling and sharing your vision for making this part of your firm's overall culture.

* Sometimes, we see instances where the people are not measured on, or compensated for, cross-selling. Because cross-selling performance is not tracked or reported on, it appears to be unimportant - regardless of the commitment you may articulate. Ensure that your compensation and measurement programs provide an incentive for selling more products or services to existing clients - for the service delivery team and for the referring team, too.

* Closely tied to the compensation barrier, cross-selling is sometimes sabotaged by a firm's emphasis on new-name business versus you "making a big deal" out of up-selling or cross-selling additional services to existing clients. Be certain that recognitions systems reward the closing of existing and new-name business similarly.

* In CPA firms, client ownership has traditionally been perceived to reside with individual "client owners," such as partners or managers, versus clients of the firm. Having individual silos of clients, versus a one-firm, one-client base orientation, makes integrated marketing and consistent messaging difficult to achieve. Ensure that all partners view their clients as belonging to the overall firm, and that all clients are made available for marketing messaging on the firm's initiatives.

* Client owners may have had a bad prior experience with other service providers in the firm or have heard of such incidents. As a result, they may hold back referrals to guard against potential blow ups. Be sure that you're holding all teams to specific standards of client service and that any client service issues are quickly addressed. Communicate any actions taken to enhance service quality to all internal team members to instill increased confidence.

2. Sales and marketing barriers.

* The annuity nature of public accounting tends to de-emphasize the importance of cross-selling from two perspectives. First, because you have an almost guaranteed volume of business coming from each client, a "don't rock the boat" mentality can pervade. Second, the assurance of a regular revenue stream has made it so that many firms do not manage marketing and sales functions, of which cross-selling is one, as strategically as may be warranted. Recognize the importance of delivering more value to each client (versus delivering the status quo), and build a strategic cross-selling process in the firm (more to come on this shortly).

* In public accounting, there are few rainmakers, even with existing clients. Be sure that all of your people have the information and tools that they need to comfortably identify and then further opportunities with your existing clients.

* Many firms traditionally focus their marketing dollars on networking programs and sponsorships - with an emphasis on new-name versus existing client business. Ensure that the firm's marketing dollars are spent on a balance of existing and prospective client marketing programs.

* Most CPA firm client data is housed in a time and billing system, paper-based workpapers and files, and within the service delivery team's systems. Because the data tends to be decentralized, it is difficult to mine the data to easily identify clients with a profile that makes them a candidate for certain firm services. Consider beginning the process of gathering a deeper level of information about your clients to help you identify additional ways that you can be of service to them (see our survey idea below). Store this data in a central place, even if it is a simple spreadsheet or survey form housed on your firm's network.

* Often, there are no formal processes to provide guidelines for referring clients internally, team-selling existing clients, or managing existing client opportunities to closing. You can mitigate this by developing a clear process for managing internal referrals and tracking your existing client opportunities as diligently as you track prospective client proposals.

3. Educational barriers.

* The ideal client profile for each of your firm's services may not be well-defined or understood by your team members - from your administrators to your partners. This can make it difficult, if not impossible, for them to identify potential clients for additional services. Identify and then share the ideal target client for each service area and provide team members a method for referring business when they see a need that the firm can fulfill.

* Sometimes, we see firms where team members are unclear on the value proposition of the firm's services or what difference each of these services will make for clients or how to explain the service itself. This can lead to a lack of confidence in raising suggestions to clients about potential services. Consider overcoming this by conducting ongoing education at your regular team meetings, reviewing ideal target clients for each service, sharing client success stories with your team members, and discussing methods for making internal referrals.

* Because many firms focus their marketing on new-name prospects, existing clients are often unaware of what the firm has to offer beyond the specific service they are already receiving. Overcome this by ensuring that your marketing dollars are allocated such that there is a focus on existing client education and sharing multi-service client success stories.

Cross-selling success strategies

Now that we've distinguished some of the most common barriers to cross-selling success and some actions that you can take to overcome them, we're ready to explore several success strategies that will enable you to enhance your cross-selling culture:

* Make sure that your people understand that cross-selling is about better serving firm clients, not selling more "stuff." Ensure that all are aware that the end goal is to fulfill unmet needs that the client may have, to make a bigger difference for them.

* Develop your firm's "story" or elevator pitch for each service initiative. The elevator pitch will be a two- or three-sentence description of each service and the difference it will make for the clients who use that service.

* Make sure that you have written and shared multi-service client success stories and other service-specific marketing materials with all team members - regardless of their role. Ensure that "service literacy" is a firm-wide education goal, and that this extends well beyond employee orientation. Strive to ensure that everyone in your firm is confident, and consistent, in articulating the different services that your firm offers.

* When identifying your ideal target client for each service initiative, be sure to consider their industry, the size of organization or annual income, and any other unique traits that would enable your team members to identify them as a prospect. Share these profiles in writing as part of your ongoing education process.

* Create a survey, or a short list of questions, that your team members can ask to identify a client as a potential prospect for a particular service. Make the questions simple to ask and answer. Specific, technical questions should be left for a follow-up call or meeting when a service delivery specialist can be present. Your goal is to make it easy for your team members to identify prospects without being experts.

* Consider creating a simple survey for all team members to use during tax interviews (coming soon!) and audits to ensure that each and every client is included in the analysis.

* Identify (in writing) the specific steps that your staff should follow when managing client opportunities, from prospect identification through prospect referral and hand-off.

* Implement an internal tracking mechanism to allow you to see what referrals were made and when, and what the outcome or follow-up was - even if it is a basic spreadsheet shared on your network.

* Develop a communications plan for your existing clients. Use a centralized, firm-wide marketing calendar that captures all of your marketing and communications efforts so that you know who is being targeted and how often. This way you can ensure that all clients receive the appropriate messages about your firm and each of your service initiatives.

* Remember that existing client opportunities are valuable sales opportunities and should be managed following your firm's standard sales processes. By doing so, you will increase the probability of closing new opportunities within your client base.

Our cross-selling methodology

The ideas that we've shared thus far are important to managing the cultural and process aspects of your cross-selling program. We'd also like you to consider implementing a simple cross-selling opportunity identification methodology. To do so, follow these simple steps:

1. Using Excel, create a cross-selling matrix (you can download our template at Using data from your internal databases and from client owners, list all of your existing clients in the rows of the spreadsheet and the current services that your firm provides across as column headings.

2. Meet with your partners or key service leaders to review each of their clients and identify those that may have a need for the other services that your firm offers.

3. Mark the services that each client is already using in black; those that they are not a candidate for in red; those services that they may be a candidate for in the future in yellow; and those that they may be a candidate for now in green.

4. Then, work with the partner or service delivery leader to develop a strategy for teaming up to discuss the "green light" services with each client and a timeline by which each contact will be made.

Once you've completed your cross-selling matrix, we're confident that you'll generate opportunities that will enable you to be of increased service to your existing clients. And with busy season just around the corner, it is the perfect time to implement the strategies we've outlined and identify potential service opportunities to capitalize on now and in the future.

Good luck and happy cross-selling!

Jennifer Wilson is the co-founder and owner of ConvergenceCoaching LLC (, and Tamera Loerzel is a senior consultant for the leadership and marketing consulting firm, which specializes in helping CPA and information technology firms achieve success.

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