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Business Development

Don’t Cross-Sell, Cross-Market

By Bob Denney

Most lawyers are familiar with the term cross-selling. Some even realize it’s important because, effectively done, it increases the number of services you provide a client, increases the client’s dependence on you—and increases your business. Unfortunately, many lawyers miss these opportunities because, even if they try, they go about it the wrong way. People don’t want to be sold something. They want to buy. So don’t try to cross-sell your clients. Instead, cross-market and educate them.

It’s not rocket science. Here’s how to do it:

  • Be sure clients are delighted with your work and service. Notice I said “delighted,” not just “satisfied.” How do you find out? Ask them! “Are you pleased with the work I’ve done? Are you pleased with my service? How could I improve it?”
  • “Know thy client.” Learn about them, their goals, their plans in addition to the information you needed to handle the matter you worked on for them. How? Ask them. And show interest in their work, family and hobbies.
  • Identify their wants and their needs. These are often not the same. Wants are things they recognize or talk about. Needs, on the other hand, are things they should do but may not recognize or want to do. For example, they may want to change their will or buy the building their business is renting. On the other hand, they may need to update their will and estate plan but don’t recognize it. They may need a succession plan for passing on the ownership of their business but don’t want to do it.
  • Ask leading questions. For example. “Have you thought about transferring some of your assets to your spouse or children?” or “What would you do if your business partner died suddenly?” Or, if they have complained about how another lawyer is handling their labor work, “Do you feel the problems you’ve told me about could have been avoided?”
  • Educate clients about other services you can provide that meet their wants or needs.  If you write newsletters or client alerts, be sure all your clients receive them. If you have been quoted in the press about an issue, send clients a copy when appropriate.
  • Tell “war stories.” One of the best ways to educate clients about other types of legal work you do is to tell war stories. The best cross-marketer I ever knew was always telling stories about how he helped other clients—and the example always matched the need or want of the client to whom he was telling the story! Right then, or later on, many of his clients would ask, “Could you handle that same issue for me?”
  • Remember my father-in-law. His name was Al. In this case, spell it AL—for “Ask” and “Listen.” After you ask your client questions, listen to their answers.

Bob Denney is President of Robert Denney Associates, Inc. He says “it seems like forever” that he has been providing counsel on management and growth strategy to firms throughout the United States and parts of Canada. You can find his firm’s latest reports on “What’s Hot and What’s Not in the Legal Profession” at

Related Dispatches

Illustration ©ImageZoo.

Categories: Business Development, Daily Dispatch
Originally published September 12, 2011
Last updated April 9, 2018
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Bob Denney Bob Denney

For 45 years, Bob Denney provided services to over 400 U.S. law firms and legal organizations as well as serving as an outside director and interim CEO for public and privately held companies. At Robert Denney and Associates, Bob provided management, leadership, strategic planning and business development services and was a respected speaker and author.  His articles appeared in many legal publications, but he is best known for producing highly regarded reports on What’s Hot and What’s Not in the Legal Profession. Bob passed away in 2021 at the age of 89.

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