Leaders to profit

Your clients are engaging rival firms for services you know your firm is better placed to provide.

Your managing partner is continually reminding staff that generating new types of work from existing clients – cross-selling – should be easier than finding new customers and, indeed, more profitable too.

Your clients are loyal, think your firm does a great job for them and are fully aware of the range of services you offer since you improved your marketing strategy.

You have even put your client-facing professionals through training to develop their cross-selling skills.

You believe there are massive opportunities to cross-sell new services.

So, why has there been no significant improvement in the cross-selling of your firm’s services to your clients?

In one word: leadership. Leadership plays a pivotal role in making firms effective at overcoming the three internal challenges they must deal with to cross-sell successfully.

Loss of control considerations

“My client” will be an all too familiar phrase from your partners. It is probably the single greatest barrier to cross-selling.

“Owning” the relationship with a valuable client is one way partners compensate where there is a feeling of insecurity in the business. Some professionals have worked in a culture of insecurity for a number of firms and have built careers moving between employers, taking their clients with them.

With this attitude and experience, individuals are hardly ever willing to introduce colleagues to “their clients”.

This feeling can be exacerbated when a professional worries that his or her colleague might be considered as brighter, more knowledgeable, more personable or more client orientated.

When this attitude is widespread within a firm, it is because the firm supports and fosters a culture of insecurity and fear. In that culture, individuals quickly learn that the path to success involves grabbing any opportunity that arises and never sharing the spoils.

These problems invariably start at senior levels. The whole firm reflects the behaviour of those who run it, making it a leadership issue.

Trust in others’ capabilities

It is unlikely that we will recommend the services of those in whom we do not have absolute faith.

Lack of trust may arise when a fellow professional is technically weak or does not have the skills to deal with certain types of client. Sometimes there is evidence that this lack of skill or ability pervades an entire business unit or office.

In some instances though, the evidence of poor performance is weak, unproven and exaggerated by rumour. The result is a belief that the other party cannot be trusted.

When it comes to trust, perception is every bit as important as facts. Managing poor performance and perceptions is a leadership task.

Financial considerations

That terrible situation where senior management says “do what is best for the firm”, while the individual asked to do so suffers in the process, is a result of poor leadership. Why should any individual dedicate time and effort to cross-sell when this will lose income for them or their division?

In some firms there will be no negative financial impact of cross-selling, but there will be no incentive to do so either. Encouraging behaviour that results in “doing what’s right for the firm” is most definitely a leadership issue.

Without a full appreciation of the part leadership plays, firms will lurch from one cross-selling initiative to another as they fail to deal with these issues.

Follow me?

A senior partner in a leading firm was recently heard to moan “why, when I go over the top, then look behind me, do I find no one is following?”

Experience suggests that, rather than developing charismatic “follow me” leaders it is more profitable to create a wider understanding of leadership, particularly among partners and managers.

It is the professional firm’s business model that demands leadership. Professional firms consist of partners, peers, professionals and colleagues who share ownership. They tend not to be motivated by speeches, vision statements or command and control.

What is required of leaders is the ability to influence and motivate colleagues so their action and behaviour fit the strategies of the firm. While professionals have worked and trained hard over many years to develop their technical skills continually, too few have committed to developing their leadership abilities.

Left and right: use your brain

Biologist and psychologist Roger Sperry, back in the 1970s, made us familiar with the concepts of right and left brain activities. Leadership is a “whole brain” activity.

The technical training professionals have received tends to have developed their “left brain” activities extremely well. Logic, reasoning, objective setting, measurement, rules, discipline and organisation characterise the world many professionals understand.

These same professionals are affected by attitudes, energy, drive, enthusiasm, ambition and feelings, all of which are “right brain” activities. It is these right brain or emotional brain issues that make all the difference.

There are many rational initiatives that people fully understand but where very little action follows. Action depends on engaging the right brain. Anyone who occupies a formal leadership role has to develop a whole-brained activity.

Leadership inspiration

Leaders in professional firms need to provide sound management, give direction, inspire colleagues, set the right example and be good at team building.

You can be a manager without being a leader but never a good leader unless you are a good manager. Management is about rules, procedures, guidelines, performance measurement and discipline. Good leadership requires strong management.

Providing the vision – being able to paint a picture in words of where the firm or business unit is headed – is fundamental to the leadership role.

“Inspire me” is increasingly the cry from professionals at all levels. Inspiration is about engaging and enthusing people through an understanding of what motivates them.

It is vital a leader’s behaviour is seen to reflect the firm’s values. People follow what you do, not what you say.

The potential of getting a group of people to work as a team is too huge to ignore. Good leaders are good at building teams.

There is a little more to being a good leader. Having worked with thousands of professional staff, I have been able to get their views on how their leaders should behave to get real buy-in and commitment rather than simple compliance.

If you have identified cross-selling as a real opportunity, yet find there is still some way to go, give leadership a try.


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