Is Cross-Selling Actually a Bad Thing???

By Jeff Beals

Thanks to widespread media coverage of the recent Wells Fargo fake-account scandal, the sales profession has a new villain.

It’s called, “cross-selling.”

And you might add another villain to the list:

“Sales culture.”

In Wells Fargo’s world, cross-selling is the practice of getting customers to open and use as many of the bank’s products and services as possible. Some critics have claimed the practice led to a sales culture that incentivized employees to open unauthorized accounts.

Wells Fargo was fined $190 million a few weeks ago for opening nearly 2 million accounts without obtaining permission from customers. Wells Fargo revealed it has fired 5,300 employees who were found to have defrauded customers.  Some employees have sued Wells, claiming they were pushed by management to engage in unsavory selling tactics.

The process has apparently been going on for quite some time as evidenced by this clip from a Fortune magazine article in 2009:

“Wells, more than any big bank, makes its money by lending. It focuses on consumers and midsize businesses, which tend to be more profitable customers than Fortune 1,000 corporations that can raise money from many sources. And Wells relentlessly cross-sells everything, including credit cards and mortgages (to consumers) and treasury-management services and insurance (to businesses). Wells persuades each retail customer to buy an average of almost six products, roughly twice the level of a decade ago. Business customers average almost eight products per customer.”

Wells Fargo has rightly been criticized for the practice, and its CEO has been dragged before a Congressional committee.  Customers, government regulators and members of the public have understandably been outraged.

But whenever a big corporate scandal hits the news, you guarantee there will be an abundance of knee-jerk, overreactions.

Media coverage has cast a negative light on cross-selling and the existence of sales-oriented corporate cultures. However, bad behavior in one company does not necessarily mean that cross-selling and “having a sales culture” are bad things.

I had lunch yesterday with the owner of a mid-sized manufacturing company.  We were talking about how he could increase his sales but then pointedly said, “I don’t want us to have a sales culture at our company where we end up cross-selling like Wells Fargo!”

Uh oh…I’m afraid cross-selling is getting an undeserved bad name. I respect the business owner’s strong desire to maintain an ethical company, but is he jumping too far too soon?

Is cross-selling really all that bad?

No.

Companies need sales cultures where employees are incentivized to sell more. Companies need to cross-sell in order to maximize revenue and deliver the best products/services to customers.

Companies are selling organizations, period. Your company may manufacture a certain product, may deliver a certain service or may develop new intellectual thinking, but none of that matters if you don’t sell it.  What’s more, if a given product at your company is perfect for a given client, there’s a good chance that one of your complementary products may also be of value.

A sales-oriented culture is necessary to stay in business.

How do you know if your sales culture is okay?

The best way to avoid a sales scandal and treat customers ethically is to focus on customer value. The key is to determine exactly what your customers truly care about and then do an outstanding job of delivering it.

Meanwhile, communicate accurately, honestly and promptly with your clients.  If you are only selling what customers value and making sure they are well informed and constantly kept in the loop, you can be proud of your sales culture.

As long as you are the trusted adviser, the person who puts clients’ needs before your own, there will be plenty of opportunities to cross-sell thus making both you and the client very happy.

There’s a big difference between opening fake accounts, the existence of which customers knew nothing, and having a company culture that simply maximizes the ways you can engage a customer.

Jeff Beals shows you how to find better prospects, close more deals and capture greater market share.  Jeff is an international award-winning author, sought-after keynote speaker, and accomplished sales consultant. A frequent media guest, Jeff has been featured in Investor’s Business Daily, USA Today, Men’s Health, Chicago Tribune and The New York Times.”

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