Why Cross-selling Should NOT be a Dirty Word

Common pitfalls and 2 approaches that work.

The concept of cross-selling has gotten such a bad rap in banking because of the sins of a very few. But cross-selling is arguably one of the most important avenues community banks have to fuel continued revenue growth and retain customers. So as bank executives plan for 2019, cross-selling must be made a top priority.

This article outlines specific recommendations for how to shift cross-selling from a pariah to one of your most imperative growth strategies.

Get Everyone on Board to Avoid the Pitfalls all Costs.

The first thing bank executives need to do is to commit to taking a leadership position in educating everyone about why cross-selling is so important and the dos and don’ts. It’s essential to eliminate the fear of cross-selling (and any potential excuses) with entire team including executives, front line sales, and marketing. I highly recommend using examples of what cross-selling is NOT such as:

  • Home Equity Loan Example

    One of the worst examples I have witnessed (other than the huge industry faux pas we all know all too well) is one where a person I know recently opened a home equity loan with a major bank. At the closing, the bank had bundled the equity loan with checking and savings accounts. This person did not need or want either, but was left with little choice other than to start the loan process all over again with another bank. The result – the customer has banking products that won’t make any money for the bank and the experience was so negative, he will never bank with the institution again.

  • Common Mistakes that Everyone Commits

    Here are some less egregious, yet very common, examples that will also degrade the banking relationship you are trying to develop with your customers. Is your bank guilty of committing any of these mistakes?

    • Promoting Banking Products a Customer Already Has

      Sending out product promotions to all your customers – including those that already have some of these products with your bank is not smart marketing. This can’t possibly create a feeling of a close banking relationship – right The common culprit of this situation is the lack of data integration between different banking systems. With the advances in technology this is an issue that can, and should be, easily resolved.

    • No Communication between Marketing and Retail

      A very common problem in banking is the lack of collaboration and communication between sales and marketing. No matter how effective your promotional campaigns could be – the results will be dismal without front-line sales buy-in and awareness. Not informing the front-line bankers will certainly create awkward conversations with customers and perhaps generate longer lasting damage to your brand. The last thing you want is a customer walking into a branch to open a new account and the branch personnel have never heard about the promotion. Front-line bankers need to see all communications and understand all the offers made to their customers.

    • General Pop-Ups

      Presenting online pop-ups constantly asking for customers to update their information – even if they already have and/or it is complete and there is no apparent reason to ask for updates. How annoying! Here’s a fresh idea – perhaps you could present a promo for a banking product or valuable new online feature that the customer could really have a need for.

    • Spray and Pray Email and Direct Mail

      If you build your marketing program account what you need to sell and not what your customers need – it’s safe to say you execute “spray and pray” campaigns.   How often to you hear “we need to generate new money market accounts, so send an offer out to all clients that don’t have one”. And, maybe the next month you send every customer a promo for new deposit accounts. Using this approach, your results are based on a prayer and, more importantly, you are wasting marketing dollars and damaging to your community bank’s reputation. General offers don’t speak to anyone and end up conditioning your customers to ignore future offers.

Cross-selling Approaches that DO Payoff.

In my experience, successful cross-selling is a simple matter of knowing what your customers need. And in community banking this is even more important. There are really only two approaches that work:

  • 1. Conducting Needs Assessments

    Surveys are a great tool to give your customers a way to provide direct feedback on their financial needs. We find that online surveys are much more effective than phone surveys or mailings. While response rates are not typically high, the customers that do respond are giving you a road-map on how to best serve them and are typically highly motivated at the time they engage with the survey. In addition, customers love it when you ask for their opinion – even if they don’t respond.

    Customer Surveys – Words of Wisdom

    • High response rates should not be the goal – in one of our customer’s survey campaigns we only produced a 1.5% response. However, that equated to several hundred highly MOTIVATED/HOT leads.
    • Avoid mailed surveys – there will be a significantly lower response rate, and it produces much more work such as transcribing responses.
    • Commit to executing online customer needs surveys one time a year.
    • Be obsessively diligent about follow-up after on every survey response. Don’t do surveys if there is not accountability for follow-up – it is like paying for bad press!
    • Net Performer Score (NPS) is not a replacement for conducting your own customer surveys. Although it has become a very popular customer satisfaction indicator, however, the NPS survey doesn’t benefit the customer, nor does it help you understand how to meet an individual’s banking/financial needs.
    • Most banks never survey their customers – this can be a program that really helps your bank stand out from the crowd.
  • 2. Intelligent Targeting

    Customers bank with community banks because they feel like they will have a closer relationship with the institution. They expect the bank to understand their financial needs and to present cross-sell product offers they actually need. This approach requires that you are able to perform predictive customer analytics. It also reduces the number of inappropriate offers you make – you’ll get a fewer opt-outs for email campaigns, and significantly reduce printing and postage costs for direct mail campaigns. In addition, it will help build stronger relationships, improve sales results, and make you look much smarter in the eyes of your customer.

    Intelligent Targeting – Critical Success Factors

    • Integrate your data. Without a full picture of your customers and all the products they have you will make dumb sales and marketing mistakes. Don’t kid yourself into thinking this is optional. For example, if your mortgage accounts data is separate from your core and isn’t integrated for marketing campaigns, you can’t use core customer data to drive mortgage offers.
    • Householding is imperative. It is absolutely vital to understand all the products all the individuals have in a household to determine the potential banking needs for the individuals in that
      household. There is no effective way to market to individuals in a household as if they are treated as completely separate entities. You’ll end up making inappropriate offers and look stupid in the process.
    • Essential component is demographic information. Make certain that you have invested in the accumulation of key demographic information so that you can truly analyze your customers’ product and service needs. Some of the key data points include: income, income producing assets, segments, and distance from branch locations.
    • Leverage technology. Intelligent targeting requires a firm knowledge of our customers and analysis that predicts their financial needs. This type of analysis is beyond the capabilities of human efforts and/or spreadsheets. The good news for today’s bankers is that there are highly sophisticated data analytical tools available that are affordable making them available for banks of any size. This is an investment that will pay off because it helps even the playing field with the giant institutions, and makes sure you are focusing your sales and marketing time and dollars in the right place.


Banking Customers want (expect) their bank to anticipate their financial needs the same way online retailers do.

Source: Harris Poll Survey 2018

See the Results of Effective Cross-Selling

See a real example. FI Works’ Intelligent Targeting identified the top 3 deposit products current customers of a community bank were most likely to use. The cross-sell campaign produced $25 million in new deposits and a 3,300% campaign ROI. Click here to see the details.