Primer: Cross-selling for B2B companies

Sourov De
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We all know what cross-selling looks like for the consumer market. Buy something from Amazon, and your purchase will be followed by emails and pop-ups saying, “You may also like…” But cross-selling doesn’t just belong to B2Cs; it is a must for B2Bs, as well.

Here’s what cross selling looks like for the B2B market, and what you need to know to make cross-selling a success for your small or mid-sized business.

How is cross-selling different for B2Bs?

A common misconception among small and mid-sized businesses is that B2B and B2C audiences are different, but according to Sourov De, partner at Stryve Digital Marketing, this is not the case.

“[Businesses] will really benefit from understanding that cross-selling in the B2B market is not too much different from B2C,” he says. “For example, I came from Unilever, where it’s B2C. A very simple idea is when you sell some shampoo, you can then sell your customer conditioner, you can do infuser — you can sell them an entire hair care line. B2Bs can learn a lot from the B2C space, because the same principles apply. It’s about thinking about what the customer’s need is, and what are the other things you can sell along the same line as part of the buying cycle.”

Why cross-sell?

Obviously, cross-selling means selling more. Unfortunately, too many B2Bs overlook this aspect of the sales process.

Lisa Shepherd, president of The Mezzanine Group, illustrates this. “One of the biggest weaknesses [of many B2B companies],” she says, “is that they absolutely do not cross-sell. And they all admit it. They say, ‘We have a thousand customers and we sell 20 different products. But every customer buys just one thing from us, and they think that one thing is all we do. They don’t know all the different products and services we offer.’”

At a very basic level, Shepherd stresses that cross-selling is important so that your customers know the full breadth of offerings your company has. It is also important that you’re putting that opportunity in front of them on a consistent basis.

A major advantage of cross-selling to existing customers, rather than targeting new customers, is that you’re selling to businesses from which you’ve already earned trust. Mark Cox, sales expert and founder of sales consulting firm In the Funnel, points out that it’s not only easiest to sell a new product to an existing customer, but that it’s expensive to acquire a new customer. He states, “It is difficult to build credibility with a new customer. You don’t have that challenge when it’s an existing customer. They’ve got you as a vendor in their system already. You don’t have to be approved, there is no legal contracting, etc.”

How to cross-sell for B2Bs

When you’re trying to cross-sell similar products to your existing customers, it is crucial to remember that your customers are savvy. Sourov De of Stryve argues that the B2B customer does not want to be promoted to, but educated. “We’re partial to digital marketing,” he says, “and digital marketing is a great tool to educate the customer and reach the B2B buyer. We run content campaigns on solving the customer’s problem.”

De cites an example of a campaign for a healthcare furniture manufacturer. Instead of a “You might also like …” campaign, Stryve opted to report on how best to optimize the layout of a healthcare facility. “The approach for B2B when you’re promoting to and advertising to someone,” he explains, “is that you need to look at the problems experienced. In this case, it’s ‘How do I optimize the layout of my facility?’ A supplier can write a report that’s specific to that, and in this way, your customer doesn’t feel like he or she is being marketed to. It’s a more genuine transaction.”

Being genuine is a key aspect of cross-selling with which Lisa Shepherd agrees. “You are selling to very informed buyers,” she says. “So it isn’t just about flashy, creative campaigns. Good marketing in B2B is about education.”

For Shepherd, too, content marketing is an effective cross-selling method. She says, “It’s about painting a picture with communication, email newsletters, case studies. These are the stories that your sales people sell. You don’t have to do the hard sell. Just start with sharing news, and really educate [your customers] before you try to sell.”

For Randy Milanovic, Creative Director and Principal at Kayak Online Marketing, packaging is another effective cross-selling strategy. “Packaging services that are related,” he says, “is the secret to our success. People may come to us for website design or SEO help. We tell them it’s all different facets of the same thing, and match them up with a package properly designed to meet their needs.”

Other cross-selling tips

Of course, cross-selling does have its drawbacks. When it’s done wrong, it can be detrimental. By failing to understand your client or customer’s needs and promoting the cross-selling of something that doesn’t make sense to them, you risk devaluing your company in your customers’ eyes. Lisa Shepherd points out that the path to success for B2Bs is much narrower.

“If you present a cross-sell offer to a customer,” she says, “and it has nothing to do with their requirements, their needs or their priorities, it’s like offering a hamburger to a vegetarian.”

When considering what to cross-sell to your existing customers, Mark Cox of In the Funnel suggests you consider the overall story. “By that,” he explains, “I mean, is there a logical extension from what you do today to expand your value offerings to that client. As an example, say I run a facilities management company, and I have a contract to clean offices. A logical extension would be if I said I were to offer handyman services. I could paint offices, put up white boards, repair walls. This is a logical extension. A non-logical extension would be if I suddenly decided to distribute photocopiers.”

Cox also suggests that you consider who you are targeting in your cross-selling efforts. If your existing relationship is with one department within an organization, but the item or service you’re trying to cross-sell is the domain of another, this can potentially be as difficult as selling to a brand new customer, because you have not earned the trust of this new group of individuals or influencers.

Image: Lisa Shepherd, president of The Mezzanine Group

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