Hulcher & Hays, LLC, Client Development Consulting

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Celebrating 25 years in business, 1993-2018

Norm Hulcher    How To Market   Websites  •  Brochures    Tools  •  Advertising    Blog    Home




Generate more work by focusing on what your clients need

You might recall an old TV advertising campaign that featured several variations on a recurring theme. It’s late afternoon at the club. Biff and Buck are heading for the 19th hole.

Biff: Say, Buck, I hear little Bucky’s going off to Tufts this fall.

Buck: Yes, Muffy and I are taking him back there next week.

Biff: But doesn’t Tufts cost an arm and a leg? Where are you coming up with that kind of cash, now that your dot-coms have all gone south?

Buck: Not a problem. My stockbroker helped me set up a "uniform gift to minors" account that’s going to take care of Bucky’s tuition.

Biff (quizzically): But how did your broker know you wanted to send Bucky to such an expensive school?

Buck (pauses for effect; arches eyebrow knowingly): Because he asked.

Who Takes Care of Your Clients?

For attorneys who lie awake at night – or during the day, for that matter – trying to figure out how to stay busy, this may be as close as the networks have ever come to educational television. The commercial carries a valuable message that reaches far beyond convincing viewers to use a particular brokerage firm, to wit:

People quietly yearn for professional relationships that they can count on, that give them the comfort of knowing that at least one person looks out for them and stands with them, shoulder to shoulder, in facing down life’s problems.

The commercial’s more direct message – that Buck’s stockbroker cared more about helping Buck pay for his son’s college tuition than simply selling him 1,000 shares of Wonder Widget – taps into that yearning.

Who plays that role for your clients? It ought to be you, through the effective use of cross-selling.


Cross-selling is not "selling"; it’s a valuable client service. It’s too bad no one’s come up with a synonym for "cross-selling" that would be more palatable and accurate for the legal profession. After all, words that contain the letters s-e-l-l make many lawyers break out in hives. More important, attorneys who take literally the term "cross-selling" tend to come across with all the warmth and panache of a telemarketer's apprentice.

Only after you recognize that cross-selling is not "selling" in the dreaded sense of the word, but is essential to truly taking care of your clients, will you likely become comfortable and effective in practicing it.

What Is Cross-Selling?

Cross-selling is the affirmative, ongoing process of anticipating your clients’ legal needs so that you can maximize the services you and other members of your firm provide for those clients and, thus, enhance client retention.

Cross-selling means suggesting to every DR client that it’s time to draft a new will.

It means introducing a commercial litigation client to your employment law, tax and estate planning attorneys.

Or it can mean suggesting to the mouth-breather for whom you just won a $15 million personal injury award that he put at least some of his ill-gotten gains in a trust or something instead of buying 10 million Powerball tickets.

And every non-litigation business client should be introduced to one of your commercial litigators.

Cross-selling is not a passive process. If a client asks who in your firm can keep his crack-dealing son from doing 10 to 25 in Hotel Graybar, merely transferring him to your criminal defense guy down the hall constitutes cross-selling only in the most invertebrate sense of the word. All you’ve really done in that case is make an internal referral. (Give yourself credit for this much, though: When your client needed a lawyer, it was you he called.)

Cross-Selling Helps You and Your Clients

Cross-selling is cheap, it’s easy, it pays off, and it makes you a better lawyer.

  • Planning partner. Cross-selling helps you re-examine the way you view your client relationships. It helps you think of clients not as files, not as time blocked out on your calendar, not as unreturned phone messages, but as people and companies who have many facets and many possible needs. It also helps you view yourself as a planning partner instead of a high-priced repairman.

  • Star quality. If you’re an associate, and if your firm’s compensation system doesn’t reward cross-selling, don’t stop reading. You probably aspire to be a partner some day, and there are few more partner-like activities than generating work for others in the firm (especially partners).

  • Client fidelity. Cross-selling reduces the chances that your client will, out of ignorance, go to another attorney for a service that you or your firm can and should provide. Incredible as it may seem, clients who come to you for a real estate matter may assume, to the extent that they think about it at all, that everyone in your firm practices real estate law and nothing else. It’s up to you to set them straight.

  • A bird in the hand. Cross-selling allows you to make more productive use of resources that you might otherwise waste in trying to woo prospects with whom you have no relationship. Instead, it helps you take care of people with whom you have already established some measure of trust.

  • Client retention. Putting more of your firm’s services and attorneys to work for your clients creates an institutional relationship that enhances client retention, helps inoculate you against raids from competing firms, and provides a safety net against the day you screw up. Firing one attorney is fairly easy (and, for some clients, wildly entertaining). But firing an entire firm can be a real pain. If you do something that upsets a client, they’ll be more willing to give you a second chance if half the members of your firm are also doing work for them.

  • Cheap malpractice insurance. Clients place a high value on attorneys who are solidly and enthusiastically on their side. If you consistently go out of your way to anticipate and perhaps head off your clients’ legal problems, they will be more likely to forgive you than fire you the next time their $50 million lawsuit is dismissed because you forgot to answer some interrogatories.

You Can Cross-Sell at Almost Any Time

Nearly any situation is ripe for cross-selling.

Initial consultation. Use the initial consultation to learn as much as you can about your clients. If what you find out reveals potential needs for legal services that other members of your firm sink their fangs into, make some introductions. That makes clients feel important, shows that you’re thinking about them, projects pride in the firm and a satisfying degree of camaraderie, and lets them know, early on, that they have an entire law firm on their side.

In process. As you become more familiar with your clients and their affairs, other legal needs may become apparent.

Post-matter. If you haven’t found or taken the opportunity to cross-sell during the pendency of the matter, do it at the end.

No statute of limitations. You can cross-sell long after you close the file. If you see an article or read of a new statute or court decision that may affect some aspect of your clients’ affairs, send it to them and follow up by phone. If the topic falls within a colleague’s practice area, get him or her in your office and make your introductions on the speaker phone. Granted, this may look a little contrived from your perspective, but most clients will be impressed (provided they know this little show isn’t going to end up on their bill).

Know when not to cross-sell. There are certain times when cross-selling attempts will fall short. Examples include: while your clients are crying; when they call to complain about your fees; when they are threatening to sue you for malpractice; during a deposition; while they’re on the stand; or moments after a judgment has been entered against them.

Cross-Selling Techniques Are Simple

As was mentioned earlier, if you approach cross-selling with a literal emphasis on selling, you will probably fail unless you’re a born salesperson (and if you are, what are you doing practicing law?).

Be subtle. Don’t just blurt out something like, "What are your other legal needs?" Clients may not know. If they do know, but if they sense you’re asking only because you want to get in their pocket, they won’t tell you. Instead, ask them a few general questions. Find out how they think the matter at hand might affect other aspects of their life or business. Ask about their goals and other concerns.

Based on what your clients tell you and on your own conclusions about their situation, tell them what legal and non-legal issues they should look out for. If you see the potential for a specific problem, tell them how you or another member of your firm can help head that off.

Take time to inform. It doesn’t take more than a minute to tell a client what other kinds of work your firm does.

Develop a checklist. If you represent a lot of business clients, you should have a list of standard questions designed to help you unearth other legal needs that others in the firm could address:

  • How many employees do you have? Is your employee manual up to date? Do you have and enforce non-discrimination and sexual harassment policies?

  • Do you have a buy-sell agreement?

  • Have you worked out a succession plan?

  • When’s the last time you reviewed your estate plan? Have you had any major changes in your business or personal affairs since then?

And so on.

Become a Tour Guide

One of the best ways to cross-sell is to give a new client a tour of the place. As you make the rounds, you’ll have a chance to talk about the firm’s other services, say nice things about your colleagues, and make some introductions. This has the added benefit of making your client feel welcome and familiar with the surroundings, rather than knowing only the path from the elevator to the receptionist to the conference room.

Get Out of Your Office

If you represent commercial clients, visiting them shortly after you open your first file for them should become as automatic to you as charging for faxes and copies. You can learn more about a company’s legal needs through a first-hand look at their screwed-up operation than you could ever glean from phone conversations and meetings in your office. You can also meet some of the company’s key people and other employees, and through those introductions you may become the only attorney they know. When they have a legal need, you’ll be the one they call, and then you can cross-sell them.

Don't Keep Your Legal Skills a Secret

A big part of encouraging cross-selling in your firm is to let all of your colleagues know what you know. If you're the new kid on the block, the burden's on you to educate the other lawyers so that they don't refer out something that you are perfectly able to handle.

No Selling Skill Required

Cross-selling is not so much an activity as it is a frame of mind that allows you to look beyond solving your clients’ immediate problems, to be attentive to all of their needs, and to communicate sensible and well-conceived suggestions that will help keep them out of trouble.

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