Cross Selling at Banks: Adopting the Right Strategy for a Healthy Bottom Line


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Cross-selling is a concept all banks seem to be harping on, but is it worth all the hoopla?

Selling new products to existing customers has long been on most banks’ agenda and has been constantly discussed in various internal/external meetings. Yet historically, few banks have had significant cross-selling success. When establishing cross-selling strategies, banks must remember that the ultimate goal is improving the bottom line.

Cross Sell

Selling of banks products/services to an already existing customer—is the broad definition of what cross sell means. It can be selling an existing checking account customer a credit card or selling an existing credit card customer a mortgage. Banks have been using cross sell as a marketing approach to expand their footprint and also increase their customer base.

Every bank has its own logic of how many relationships it would like to have with its customers. It can be 1:2, 1:3, etc. The more relationships the bank has with a customer is tantamount to one having a better wallet share of the customer. More spends on all the products of the bank leads to better top- and bottom-line performance. Conversely in pursuit of selling newer products to existing customers, banks tend to forget that profitability of a customer is very important aspect and just not addition of another product. If banks tend to attract customers with free checking in the hope of getting other business from those customers and if this does not happen then the purpose behind cross-selling is defeated. As well, some banks forget that the objective was profit—not a higher cross-sell. Many tactics merely increase cross-sell—not profit. Offering discounts for additional products and services, but at the cost of forgone revenue, results in losses.

Banks in the past and some banks in the present also have been traditionally organized in product silos, with their own marketing and technology support. This has led to a siloed approach leading to less cross sell. Banks need to understand that it takes a great deal of time, effort and teamwork to successfully cross-sell beyond the traditional bank product set. Credibility and motivation are very important aspect here. The person interacting with the Clients needs to have an expertise on the subject and help the client in understanding and getting the right product.

Cross-selling comes with its advantages, of course. It considerably reduces customer acquisition costs, servicing, and marketing and communication costs and thereby substantially increases spread for banks. It is well understood and key finding that greater the number of products held by customer leads to an increased probability of retention.

Tools Enablement

Successful cross-selling requires that banks understand what their customers need and that the bank keep track of their interaction via phone banking, web, walk in, etc. Just making phone calls to sell loans or plastic cards that the customer does not desire may often end up annoying him. Analysing the customer database and then putting the right customer relationship management strategies in place is essential to ensure that the cross-selling effort does not backfire. Customers also would not like their data to be used by Banks to merely send them mailers of no interest to them. They will, however, appreciate a bank that does not try to sell them the same product again and again. It’s also important to keep track of interactions across channels. If the customer declines an offer at the call center, there’s no point in offering the same product when he or she visits the banks Web site. That would be the equivalent of telling them that they are data and not an individual.

Based on the market size the tools required to target customers also matters. For large Banks with large number of customers, CRM, referral tracking, profitability analytics, easy-to-use referral and sales-call tracking systems; complete activity management, scalable and flexible agency management systems, information support systems are required. Along with the systems/tools effective training gives customer service and sales representatives the knowledge they need to better meet customers’ needs and to utilize the tools that management has invested in.

Training, Incentives and People

Having tools and systems to cross sell does not end the process of selling. Getting the employees involved in this exercise and motivating them to sell is an important aspect. It is important for the Bank to provide rewards for the cross-sale or referral that are commensurate with the profitability of the product or service to the bank. It also makes sense to involve the staff in coming out with innovative campaigns and also ideas which will stimulate them to sell newer products. As banking products tend to get very complex, helping the employee understand the complexities of the product, rules and regulations and compliance issues if any need to be educated. Help in identifying a prospect and handing over the lead to a qualified lead for closure is also important. Constant coaching in helping them to understand customer’s needs, wants and goals along with dealing in an emotive, emphatic and interactive manner is imperative. Linking cross sell to be a part of an employee’s performance appraisal along with non cash recognition and cash awards are some of the initiatives taken for employee engagement.

How to Track Cross Sell

Measuring the conversion and maintaining the metrics is important. At the end of the day how many customers did the account representative see? In how many of these meetings was a cross-selling opportunity identified? How many of these were referred? What was the outcome of those referrals? An enterprise wide referral system enables management to set objectives, monitor performance and apply training and compensation resources. In addition to this Banks would like data on lead generation, conversion of leads to account, performance of employee, branch, division etc all leading to overall financial results and profitability.

The more relationships a bank has with a customer, the more loyal the customer will be and the bank gets to know the customer through several relationships, thus the assessment of the credit quality of the customer can be bettered. At the end it will be a win-win situation for both the bank and customer as it is cheaper and easier to get customer from ones own data base than going out for getting new customers. Banks should be careful in exploiting this situation and see that the bottom line along with the top line goes up and not just cross sell of products.

Girish P B
Girish is a Consultant with expertise in Retail Banking(Cards & Loans) and has extensively worked in the areas of People Management, Operational Management , Contact Centre Management-Voice & Non-Voice, Client Servicing and Relationship Management.


  1. Nice article Girish, as pointed out the key to cross selling is the basic fact of understanding the customer need and want. Its here that Tech companies are trying to provide solutions to the banks. Business Intelligence, CRM systems coupled with a strong delivery mechanism are required to provide a total and complete end to end selling cycle.

  2. Smartly written. Wish banks use a tip or two from author’s suggestions and stop bombarding customers with unneeded junk products

  3. Good article. For years I have been advocating that the definition of cross-selling is due for an upgrade – see our blog entry at the Bank Administration Institute What is a cross-sale anyway? particularly in the Financial Services industry.

    One of the keys to effective cross sales management is to measure cross sales precisely> thereby eliminating the confusion caused by product cannibalization and product substitution.

    Glad to see discussion of this topic. Hope you will bring us more.

    – LinkedIn David B. McNab, CA
    – Twitter David McNab

  4. Shrikant,
    I think the tech companies are part of the problem moreso than helping with a solution.

    The banks clearly need to spend more time understanding their business data and their processes. I’m not sure I see technology doing that for them

    Mark Parker
    Smart Social Media

  5. A well written article, which starts with an easy to understand definition and goes on to discuss advantages of cross selling.

    More importantly, the writer has pointed out how cross selling can end up in failures and result in annoying customers by spelling out what should not be done in the process of cross selling.

    The importance of linking cross selling to performance appraisals and creating reward systems are good strategies to ensure efforts put into cross selling deliver good results.

    The writer has also not forgotten to mention how to measure results of any cross selling campaigns.

  6. Hi Girish, nice article came across it while searching for the best way to track cross-sell. More than best actually what would be the ‘correct’ way.

    If we consider a cross-sell scenario via an inbound call center where-in say a bank or insurance company’s customers call in and after servicing/query resolution are pitched additional products thereby generating a lead when customer agrees to give an appointment.

    This ‘lead’ then flows to the sales team who meet the customer and complete the sale. Here they may sell one product or multiple products to the customer whereas the lead may have been generated for just one.

    What is the correct way to measure the cross-sell perofrmance here?

    Should it be limited to the conversion rate of appointments irrespective of no. of products sold (i.e. 10 appointment generated 2 converted hence 20% conversion rate) or the actual no. of products sold in those appointments(i.e. 10 appointments generated 2 converted and 4 products sold so 40% conversion rate) . Which is a better metric?

  7. In my opinion, tracking of response should only go to customer level. (i.e. 10 appointment generated 2 converted hence 20% conversion rate)

    In each cross selling activity we should have our main objective, for instance: cross sell of credit cards with the leads generated. At the end of campaign we would focus on number of credit card take up by customers with the leads given in order to get the accurate penetration rate.

    However, sales person may sell multiple products with the same leads given, hence we could also look at other new product holding the customers have within the calling period. To identify other potentials in cross selling and further enhance in future. But we will not use the product holding as our metric as we are calculating base on customer’s level only.

  8. I just started this new job at a credit union as a member service rep/teller. I work about 28 hours a week. And I have to get 20 products a month. Which does not seem like it could be that bad…until, I started working there and it is a lot harder than I expected. The CU that I came from, we were not required to cross sell so I really do not have much experience with cross selling. But honestly, I really hate it. The idea of getting people in more debt and offering them things they do not particularly need sickens me. But I still work hard to get any and every sell that I can. But it is hard. I do not know if it is because the branch is not really busy or because I am not that great at it. Firstly, I do not think that as being part time, I should have the same goals as a full timer. And secondly, we get the same members coming into the branch EVERY WEEK. What more can I sell to you this week that I have not already tried to sell last week? I dont know, maybe it is just me. Does anybody have any suggestions or cross selling and how to make goals from working at a bank/CU themselves? Please let me know, because I am seriously considering getting out of the banking industry all together. I spend more time worrying about “what if I do not make that goal” that it takes the enjoyment of the actual job away-connecting with the members, etc.

  9. Girish, your article show that you have great deal of knowledge on this Cross Selling. I hardly had a clear idea about it before I read your post. I agree with you 100% on the fact that the “basic fact of understanding the customer need and want” is the key.

  10. Personally, I don’t like to be bothered every time I go in the bank with some product. It takes time and I am usually in a hurry. Then if you have a problem, you have to go sit in the bank and wait for customer service which usually isn’t too fast. Small community banks are much better at providing service than the national banks in my opinion .
    Thank you

  11. I have never realised the impact that cross selling can have. It’s quite a new concept for me. Big companies like Mcdonalds also do this by offering fries with everything. Quite a cool concept.

  12. Nice article Girish, some aspects of general ops items and people behavior that stem out are actually to be treated with sensitivity and devoted time n attention by banks and financial institutions to exploit the actual potential of cross sell and happy customers.
    it was a good read.


    Neeraj V Singh

  13. Best way to cross sell is to listen to the needs of the customer. Probing questions is asking how there day is going, what plans they have for the week or weekend, listening for que words.

    By getting to know your customers, will serve as an opportunity to find the right product for them depending what your CU provides. Like we provide renters insurance, identity theft protection.

    While processing their transactions have a conversation and listen to what they are saying, then ask, example: are you still at such and such place, I see you live in an apartment, do you have renters insurance. That is one way to connect. Be confident when talking about your products the CU provides to the customers.

    If you are knowledgeable, you are able to explain and define why this product would be a benefit for them. Its making the cross sell about what benefits them.

  14. I seriously understand your point and i concour likewise. I am a personal banking officer with two sets of job descriptions for both the operational and marketing units of the bank and yet my targets require that i open 35 accounts per week via cross selling. I am also meant to cross sell other bank’s products such as risk assets and other liabilities to existing custonmers, and sincerely, it has been a difficult task. So far i have not been able to meet a quarter of my targets,and i know very soon i will receive a caution letter from my human capital management. But the point is this, not every existing customer wants products suggested to them especially if it will incure more costs and yield nothing for his business, but at least there is the possibility of getting referals from them if need be. Which also means that these customers ought to be enjoying either the product or service so as to lay in good word or two. In that case its been made easy for you. I agree, its quite difficult, but you have to have a positive mind set that it is achievable, that way it gives you leverage over other competitors, cos whether you like it or not, competitors are waiting for you to give up, so that will have the opportunity to come and take over.

  15. I work at a CU, and we have always done cross-selling it was just never called that. We look at it as educating our members on products or services we offer that they may not be aware of. There isn’t a set “Goal” that determines how many products/items you have to open. We don’t do the “flavor” of the month. Each member is different, and by engaging them in conversation you get a feel of what they may or may not need/use. If you don’t listen to queues, or are not willing to offer products to members/customers how will they now what your organization has for them.


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