Charles Wendel_resized
Charles B. Wendel Feb 5, 2016

Six Keys to Cross Sell Success

We all love lists, particularly those New Year’s resolutions for improving our businesses and ourselves. But the fact is, for most financial institutions, that any list should begin with one item. Once that item has been addressed in detail and signs of success have begun to appear, then banks should focus elsewhere. No other activity provides the potential revenue and bottom line impact of doing just one thing and doing it well.

I can almost hear the collective sigh when I suggest, not for the first time, that the top activity, the one that should be the hurdle that banks meet before losing focus and going on to other areas involves selling more to the customers you already have.

Cross-selling has become a term that carries with it significant disappointment and frustration; several colleagues have recommended using a different term such as relationship development or fortress marketing to avoid the stigma of the cross-sell phrase. Some bankers are even in denial that a problem exists saying, “We already do that,” when asked about initiating a rigorous cross-sell initiative.

And then there’s the regulatory angle. In particular, Wells Fargo, known for its cross-sell prowess has recently come under the scrutiny of regulators concerned that its push to sell results in unethical actions, with the Los Angeles City Attorney stating the bank uses “pernicious and often illegal sales tactics to maintain high levels of sales of their banking and financial products.” Obviously, in this hyper-sensitive regulatory environment, banks need to be sure they meet compliance requirements, which increases the complexity of implementing an effective cross-selling program. However, the potential benefits far exceed the costs.

Let’s try this in 2016: set and achieve the 10% hurdle. Banks need to evaluate their current customer set to determine how they can increase per-customer revenue by an average of 10%, a significant improvement. Of course, it’s easy for me as a consultant to suggest such a goal. What needs to happen to make this achievable?

A relationship plan. Bankers certainly do not need more paperwork. However, a written relationship plan can serve as a living document that guides a relationship manager (RM) and his colleagues to improve customer satisfaction and sell more. Some bankers develop a yearly plan, while others do not; some reach out to their colleagues in doing so, while others do not. In many cases, the plans created lack consistency and thoroughness. What banks need is a one- to two-page plan that is uniform across the bank, simple to create and easy to review. It is only a waste of time if it does not become part of the fabric of a bank’s client management discipline.

A team to create and execute the plan. Banks talk about the need to develop a team approach to client development, but teaming has yet to become the industry norm. RMs who believe that the client belongs to them, rather than to the bank, need to be disabused of that notion. Of course, in most cases, RMs should lead communications with the client, but they should view themselves as one key part of the client solution puzzle and bring in others to identify and solve specialized needs.

Even in banks that do partner, we often see too much selectivity in the areas where bankers work together. RMs may partner with private bankers but not with cash management, equipment finance or other disciplines. Personal relationships, trust and compensation issues seem to drive these choices. Senior management needs to make sure that the plans submitted reach across the bank as fully as possible.

Regular plan reviews. Oftentimes, team leaders (TLs) become part of the sales problem rather than the solution. Often promoted for their sales success, they then become stuck in the quicksand of a bank’s ever-proliferating internal bureaucracy where sales coaching activities lose out to internal management issues.

Banks either should redesign the TL job and/or hire an internal sales leader who focuses solely on working closely with bankers to help them identify opportunities, design sales approaches, conduct follow-up and close the sale. Today, no one wants to hire additional staff, but many banks need a dedicated focus on this critical activity.

Compensation aligned with goals. Recently, I spoke with a banker who commented that his institution made some bonus decisions before personnel reviews were submitted. Huh? That both undercuts the value of the review process and demoralizes the managers preparing the reviews. Many banks may factor cross-sell success into their year-end compensation but, typically, it’s not given the weight it deserves. Business lines may need to push harder to ensure they are incenting for a small and finite number of highest priority accomplishments, one of which (maybe number one) should be cross-sell.

Management-led cultural change. Enabling cross-sale activities can become part of a bank-wide initiative that changes the culture and makes solution-oriented sales part of a bank’s long-term sustainable advantage. Senior management needs to be in the forefront of this effort. Over 20 years ago, Richard Kovacevich, the former CEO of Wells Fargo, repeated this theme until it became part of the bank’s DNA. Too often, senior managers allow themselves to be swayed by banker reticence or whining and fail to maintain the focus and discipline required. Perhaps even more dangerous, some senior managers view themselves as pushing cross-sell when, in reality, they are not.

Technology to support cross-bank communication and cooperation. Despite its importance to cross-sell success, this item has been listed last because too often management places inappropriate emphasis on sales management software as the answer to its problems. I can name more than one bank that has spent in excess of $1 million on sales management software only to experience little to no improvement in sales penetration. The software was not at fault; rather, its use was never fully incorporated into bank management procedures. If you are going to make it optional, don’t bother. Those who best exploit the software’s use follow the mantra, “It if has not been entered into the system, it did not happen.”

Unquestionably, success in cross-selling requires commitment, time and a willingness to push against resistance. Yet, examples do exist of banks that have successfully travelled down this path to improve their performance. Focusing on current customers can have a positive impact this year and, perhaps more important, positively impact a bank’s culture far into the future.

Mr. Wendel is president of New York City-based FIC Advisors, Inc. He can be reached at

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