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Partnerships 101: What is Cross-Selling?

Ask a friend in the partnerships world, “What’s cross-selling?” and you might find yourself doing the shuffle. Your friend redirects the question to you, making sure you answer first. Then, in most cases, they agree with you. 

We’ve learned that the meaning of cross-selling is different depending on who you ask — and that’s okay.

We spoke with partnership professionals at Onna, ActiveCampaign, and Drift to learn what “cross-selling” means to them and how it fits into their everyday partnerships work.

Brace yourself for:

What is Cross-Selling?

You don’t need partnerships to cross-sell, so let’s go over the general meaning of the term and then get into the fun part — you know, where you come in with the partnerships secret sauce. 

Cross-selling typically refers to selling a product or service into an additional department or branch within an existing account (think: the customer’s marketing team uses your product but their sales team does not). Additionally, some sales professionals use “cross-selling” to describe the selling of complementary products to an existing customer account. Cross-selling does not mean increasing dollar spend for a product the customer is currently using (that’s "upselling").

Depending on who you’re talking to, cross-selling can mean expanding an account in one or more of the following ways:

  • Selling into new departments tied to existing customer accounts (e.g. selling your product to your customer’s IT department, after their Security department has already been using it)
  • Selling into different branches tied to existing customer accounts (e.g. selling to your customer’s Abu Dhabi office, after their U.S. office has already been using the product) 
  • Selling additional, complementary products to existing customers (e.g. selling Adobe Audience Manager to a customer who’s already purchased Adobe Analytics) (To note: this is different from upselling, which means selling the same product for more, e.g. Vimeo PRO for $20/month versus Vimeo Business for $50/month)

But anything a sales team can do on its own, it can do better with partnerships. So, we were curious how partnership professionals like you are helping their teams cross-sell more effectively. 

Keep in mind: just as one partner program differs vastly from the next, the way in which organizations cross-sell with partners can be worlds apart, too.

“It’s like the term ‘business development’ — it means so many different things at different organizations,” says Kevin Raheja, Director of Strategic Partnerships at customer experience automation platform ActiveCampaign. Raheja previously worked at Typeform and HubSpot, where he helped each company’s sales teams sell their products into customers' various departments and business units.

“[Cross-selling is] Selling into a department, a function, a company that you basically don't have access to, but a partner does,” says Eugene Krimkevich, Director of Partnerships at knowledge integration platform Onna

“It's supporting the account manager's responsibility of growing their accounts by leveraging relationships and influence that partners already have that you might not,” says Jared Fuller, Senior Director of Global Partnerships at revenue acceleration platform Drift

Speed Round: Examples of Cross-Selling With Partners

Now that you’ve got an idea of what cross-selling is, let’s go over a few hypothetical examples of cross-selling in SaaS.

Example #1 Your customer’s marketing team is using your product. You want to sell into their sales department. You map accounts with your partners to determine if your customer is also a customer of each of your partners. The resulting overlaps reveal the tech stacks of your existing account’s sales team. 

If you have integrations with the sales team’s tools, awesome. 

If you don’t have integrations with the sales team’s tools, you chat with your partner about developing an integration so that you can win the deal with your customer’s sales team. 

Example #2 One of your agencies is implementing your product for your customer — the North American branch of an enterprise organization. The agency learns that the APAC (Asia-Pacific region) branch of the enterprise organization may have a need for your product as well. 

The agency develops a one-sheet outlining the results they’ve helped the North American branch accomplish with the intention of sending it to their North American contact at the leadership level to pass along to the Head of Revenue in the APAC region.

Example #3 You’re an email service provider (ESP) that offers template building, personalization, and SMS messaging. Your e-commerce customer is already using the template building and personalization tools you offer, and now you’d like to sell the SMS messaging tool to them. The SMS tool is a separate, complementary product that your customer has not purchased. 

You know that your customer uses a particular shipping software to track shipments for buyers (because you’ve mapped accounts with your shipping partner and determined that your customer is their customer, too!). Your two tools work well together, and you decide to engage the customer together to sell your SMS product. 

In fact, the conversation could lead to an upsell opportunity for your partner who is interested in selling additional package tracking functionalities the customer is not yet using (note: upselling is different from cross-selling in that upselling involves the customer paying more for an individual product).

Sounds easy enough, right? But what tactics should you use to make sure you’re cross-selling successfully? What could a referral look like, and how could your partners fit in? 

In some scenarios, you’re leaning on your existing customers to help you close the deal. In others, you’re approaching the target department or branch as if it’s an entirely new prospect. No matter the case, you’ve got to approach your cross-selling strategy with thoughtfulness. 

We learned a thing or two while chatting with Raheja, Krimkevich, and Fuller. Here are their three tips for mastering the cross-selling process: 

Tips for Successful Cross-Selling With the Help of Partnerships 

1. Ask Your Customer for a Referral (And Loop in Your Partner if the Opportunity Arises) 

The best way into a lateral department at an account? The leadership team your target opportunity sits down with every day. For example: if the marketing team has seen great success with your product, let them be the ones to share the results with the sales team. Existing users are your most powerful influencers and know their company’s pain points to steer colleagues towards the use cases that are most attractive to them. 

For example: Your marketing team has seen a 50% spike in engagement through their campaign drips since using your email software. That could translate to a 50% increase in demos if their sales team adopts the same software. 

Kevin Raheja at ActiveCampaign says that he’s seen the most success with cross-selling when the existing customer (for example: the VP of Marketing) agrees to be on a call or looped into an email with the target department (for example: the VP of Sales).

Kevin-Raheja (1)“Typically, what I've found is that it's more powerful just to get a referral than it is to give a presentation from scratch or even like the one-sheet,” says Raheja.

But we know more than anyone that what works for one B2B company may not work for the next. So, if you want to create marketing collateral for your point of contact to make the referral more official — go for it! 

Consider creating: 

  • A one-sheet explaining your value proposition and the products you offer as well as outlining the results you’ve driven so far for your target opportunity’s company 
  • A case study. This would be a big lift purely for the sake of selling to another internal stakeholder (unless the price is really right). However, if your customer is interested in participating in a case study and it would benefit your lead generation and deals in addition to the particular cross-selling instance, it’s a win-win. 
  • A request for proposal (RFP) outlining the results you’ve driven for your target opportunity’s colleagues as well as other companies with similar business models. Include relevant partners in your RFP that exist in your target opportunity’s tech stack (map accounts with your partners to identify overlapping customers) and/or partners for solution-selling (you can account map here, too, to identify overlapping opportunities).

Raheja looks to his tech partner ecosystem as a lever for influencing successful cross-selling.

“The first question that you should be asking is, ‘Okay, what are the tools and what is the tech stack of those departments that you want to get into, and does our product, or do we have an the app ecosystem, that's going to support that expansion,’ and that will make a better case for you when you get those internal referrals,” says Raheja. 

2. Know Your Target Opportunity’s Tech Stack

To be ready for a party, you need your best outfit. To be ready to cross-sell, you need tech stack knowledge. Real-time account mapping is the fastest way to determine which integrations could help you get the in you need to close the deal. 

Kevin Raheja at ActiveCampaign says that one of the most important pieces of information you need to have in your arsenal to effectively cross-sell is tech stack knowledge. Raheja has mapped accounts on Crossbeam since his days at HubSpot and Typeform. “We would use Crossbeam to understand where we had the most joint customers between our partners because that would help us prioritize which integrations we should be focused on so we could fully support our customers,” says Raheja.

“If we were going to release a new product that was targeting sales or support,” says Raheja. “We had to have integrations in the ecosystem that would allow those organizations to connect their tech stacks into that system.”

For example: say you’re trying to sell into a customer’s human resources (HR) team. You map accounts with your partners and discover that the HR team is using a particular applicant tracking system that your product integrates with. Hooray! When you start the sales conversation with the HR team, you can: 

  • Talk about specific use cases that tie in the integration (like streamlining your messaging across job boards).
  • Ask your tech partner for a referral (don’t forget to ask the HR team’s colleagues for a referral, too!).
  • If an upsell opportunity exists for your tech partner (to upgrade the account to a higher paid tier), you and your tech partner can develop a joint solution pitch and engage the target together.

An example from Onna: One of the most popular use cases for using Onna is “e-discovery” in legal proceedings. Imagine you’re a mid-sized business, and you’re being sued by another business claiming that you infringed on its intellectual property to develop your product. 

As part of the legal proceeding, you’re asked to produce conversations between yourself and four other stakeholders between the years of 2011 and 2015. Onna helps you surface the exact conversations you need from your team collaboration tools (like Slack and Zoom) — which host years of internal conversations. 

Legal teams need to surface specific pieces of internal conversations and data in a variety of circumstances. As the legal team’s usage of Onna grows, their IT team also needs to get involved since they’re gathering data from more tools in the team’s tech stack. The IT team needs to know what data is stored where and for how long. The legal team introduces Onna to its IT counterparts, and the sales conversation begins. 

During the sales conversation, Onna assesses the IT team’s needs. Through account mapping, Onna can identify which team collaboration tools the target opportunity is using and get context from the respective tech partner about the opportunity before beginning and during the sales conversation. Depending on the IT’s team’s needs, Onna determines if the team needs to invest in a more robust version of their team collaboration tool in order to achieve their goals. It’s at this point that Onna brings their tech partner in for a potential upsell opportunity.

Eugene-Krimkevich (1)“A customer will come to us, they’ll say, ‘Hey, we need to collect from this team collaboration tool. Can Onna do it,’” says Krimkevich. “And we’ll say, ‘Yes, you can, but for what you’re asking for you’ll need the highest subscription tier of that partner’s software to do it properly.”

Krimkevich says his team is often the first to know about the potential upsell need. His team then checks with the customer to confirm it’s helpful for Onna to facilitate the conversation with the tech partner. Then, Onna will fill the tech partner in and make sure the tech partner is not in an existing upsell conversation already.

Psst! You can determine if your partner is in an existing upsell or cross-selling conversation by mapping to their “open opportunities”. Your customer must be sharing opportunity-level data to see open opportunities within a single, existing account. 

“None of that context is lost. It’s very clear why the upgrade is necessary,” says Krimkevich. “We’re able to work on a joint ROI case for the customer to help them understand, ‘Yes, you will be paying more for the partner’s software, but this joint solution will actually save you X dollars in time.’”

Onna is cross-selling laterally into a new department, and their tech partner is selling additional functionalities (a.k.a. upselling) for a product the team is already using. 

3. Sync With Your Internal Account Managers to Identify Cross-Selling Opportunities Early On

Jared Fuller at Drift says you should put your partner data in front of your internal account manager who’s responsible for the day-to-day management of the existing account. The account manager will be the first to know of possible cross-selling and upselling opportunities across other business units or branches. Your account mapping strategy is critical for helping the account manager identify the most thoughtful and influential ways to cross-sell into the account with partners. 

For instance, map accounts with your partners to identify which of their opportunities or customers overlap with your account manager’s accounts. Then, run a report that shows which partners have overlaps with each account, or push the partner data into your account manager’s Salesforce dashboard.

Jared-Fuller (1)“A tactical tip is to understand what your partners are doing in terms of new opportunities and their install base and then mapping those to your opportunities, install base, and target accounts,” says Fuller. “And then, put that visibility in front of the account managers and the account management leadership.”

Fuller says the account manager and account management leadership team should have full visibility into partner data so they can strategize in advance, identify the most tactical route into the account, and know which partners to reach out to and when. 

“Prioritize visibility of partner data for the account manager, less so for the partner rep and for me, but to go, ‘Okay, I own these 30 accounts, right? Here are the 15 partner relationships and exactly who they map to and what business units are in-market,’” says Fuller.

Through Crossbeam, you can automatically pull your partner data into Salesforce so your account manager can strategize in real-time and plan ahead with the most up-to-date data. You can also generate easy-to-parse reports revealing the following data for a shortlist of target opportunities: 

  • The partners that exist in the target opportunity’s tech stack (tip: focus on partners that solve use cases for the particular department or team). To do so, map your target opportunity (within the customer account) to your partners’ customers.
  • The partners that have open opportunities with the target account. In this case, next steps could include developing a joint solution pitch. To surface these overlaps, map your target opportunity’s account to your partners’ open opportunities. 
  • The partners that have existing cross-selling or upselling opportunities for their existing account. First, map your target account to your partners’ customers. Narrow down the resulting list to include only the existing overlaps. Then, map accounts between the “accounts that overlapped with your partner’s customers” and your partner’s open opportunities. Your partner will need to be sharing opportunity-level data to see the number and type of open opportunities they have with a single, existing account. 

Make sure to discuss a playbook of next steps with your account manager and their leadership team. For example, let them know that if the target overlaps with a particular partner’s customer list and the account manager is looking to cross-sell into the account’s marketing team, the account manager should: 

  • Ensure the existing customer is using the integration.
  • Keep track of the results the customer is seeing.
  • Ask the customer to serve as a referral. 
  • When the account manager starts the sales conversation with the marketing team, they should know how to apply the most relevant integration use cases for the marketing team’s business needs.

Lastly, you and your account manager should observe leading indicators of success. Fuller says it’s important for the account manager to track and share partnership success stories.

“Then you need to have a hard line stance on partner attach rate and you need leadership to say, ‘Hey, 25% of all your bookings, 50%, whatever number has to come co-delivered, sourced, influenced with a partner,” says Fuller.

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Now that you’ve heard some real-world examples and food for thought on how to cross-sell with partners, we’re excited to see what you can do! If you’re using partnerships in an interesting way to cross-sell, drive retention, or close deals, let us know for the chance to get featured. Plus, hear about more tactics like these by subscribing to our newsletter.