Getting The Edge In Professional Selling
Terence A. Hockenhull

LARGE COMPANIES which carry hundreds of different items will often task individuals to sell specific lines or products. One of my clients is a major reseller of software, hardware, consumables, and peripherals. Tasking individuals to pick up the responsibility for one of these four areas makes sense. Indeed, even the hardware division is broken into laptops, portables, desktops, office applications, and servers!

Cross-selling means selling (or helping to sell) products that are manufactured or sold by your company even when they fall outside your own product responsibilities. Yet, for all sorts of reasons, this is something that rarely happens. At worst, there are companies who discourage this practice (although why is a mystery to me!). Cross-selling is a strategy that should be encouraged. The pareto rule applied to selling states that 80% of business (sales) can be derived from 20% of the existing client base. Reselling the same product to existing companies over time may contribute significantly to business; nonetheless it seems to me that cross-selling is a faster and more productive way of securing additional business with relatively little effort.

Perhaps the greatest barrier to cross selling is an inability or unwillingness by the salesperson to listen to his or her customer. The salesperson who approaches a client with the sale of a particular product in mind will almost certainly focus on delivering his well-rehearsed sales pitch and uncovering needs for the product. He may listen very carefully for “buying signals” that will indicate the client’s interest in his product. However, in doing so, it becomes apparent that other needs expressed by the client (that might be met by other products in his company’s range) are strained out as extraneous.

Another reason is fear of the unknown. In this situation, a client may be quite explicit about his needs and requirements. And these needs might well be adequately met by available products. But if the product falls outside the range (and product knowledge) of the salesperson, he may choose not to hear the client’s needs and respond in an appropriate manner. There are companies who encourage rivalry between departments. While this might engender competition that, if effectively managed, will result in greater effort and an increase in sales for competing departments, the down-side is that salespeople will actively avoid cross-selling (since no-one will want to give a “sale” away to another department!).

Over the last couple of years, I have worked with a large Japanese conglomerate which sells everything from air-conditioners to railway trains. With such a massive product range, it is easy to split the company into departments and even house these departments in different businesses or territories.

Most salespersons will admit that it is easier to secure additional business from existing clients than to find new clients. This Japanese company has taken this one step further by aggressively pushing for cross department sales and support. For major projects, project teams are created led by a single manager and, like the conductor of an orchestra, he directs the activities of his multi-departmental team. Where products are not represented (by sales people on his team) he will call in salespeople from other departments and have them introduced to the customers. They then join the team and present their products. When a client only wants to deal with a single salesperson, all of the liaison work and discussions are held in the office to ensure that all appropriate products can be offered to the client.

This Japanese company is beginning to see results. Sales volumes have increased and each department has acquired many new clients quickly and easily. The company relationship has strengthened with customers now recognizing the breadth of products handled rather than seeing the company as a consumer appliance, elevator, or medical equipment manufacturer.

Salespersons must have a rudimentary knowledge of the available products and services offered by other divisions within their company. They must be prepared to listen for verbal clues that tell them that the client might need one of these other products. And, if they don’t want to handle the sale themselves, they should take steps to introduce another salesperson who can pick up on the business opportunity.

Terence A. Hockenhull is a long-term resident of the Philippines. He is an accomplished sales consultant who currently holds an executive sales position with an Italian geotechnical company.