By the very nature of the job, service people, and by that I mean anyone who has client contact but is not in sales, are generally highly skilled, often technically minded, people. Yet it seems, across many service functions, the role has become more customer-facing and commercial – everyone has to ‘sell’.
However, the start point is not encouraging. Sales people don’t see service having a role in selling and service people have no inclination, or appetite, to become more sales focussed.
Yet, ironically, service people are often ideally placed to influence purchasing. Service are involved with the customer at the start of the decision making process – before needs are clear and long before a sales person is involved. Furthermore, service people often have greater direct contact with clients than their sales counterparts. And, these contacts are often the very customers who actually use your products and services, whereas sellers are increasingly finding their contact limited to professional procurement. Finally, the client is much more likely to open up to a service person than when they are being formally ‘sold to’.
So, service is ideally positioned to provide advance customer intelligence from their regular client visits, and begin to influence the customer’s thinking, in interactions which are not perceived by the customer as sales meetings.
This means the supplier is seen to be more proactive and responsive, helping to safeguard the account by building value for both parties. For, although good service delivers customer satisfaction, only by adding value is customer loyalty and retention realised. To achieve this, service people need to:
Recognise customer needs, perhaps even before the clients themselves have identified them
Acknowledge that need and flag it in the customer’s mind
Communicate the need internally for the sales team to develop
Provide technical support to advance the sale.
This isn’t about turning service people into sellers – they usually don’t want to go there. It’s simply getting service to develop a mind-set that curbs the instinct to instantly solve a problem and consider how to develop it to your (the sales organisation’s) best advantage instead.
An example: if a customer complains that a device is failing, the engineer’s response is to repair it; by contrast the salesperson’s instinct is to sell the client a new device. Either reaction may be correct depending on the circumstances; the key is to consider all the options first.
In addition, service people should take advantage of their unique position by also learning to ask appropriate questions – before jumping in with the offer of a ‘fix’. By asking the right questions, and in particular questions that relate to the vendor’s key strengths, service people can begin to develop in the customer’s mind a need that the vendor is best placed to meet. So, when the customer does go to the market seeking a solution you have already created needs around your strengths that automatically give you competitive advantage. However, if this is going to work, there also needs to be dialogue between service and sales. A common language is required that enables an understanding of the needs, the decision-making process and the roles within the buying decision.
The initial, and most important, step to achieving this is simply to encourage service to break the instinctive habit of immediately offering solutions and first ask themselves, “Is this an issue I should be resolving or selling to?”
So are we looking to turn service people into sellers? Emphatically not. When service are comfortable spotting and communicating opportunities early, customers will perceive them as providing a better service and the selling company to be more responsive to their needs.
Adopting this approach enables vendors to build genuine, new added value for the customer at the same time as creating a new sales value stream for themselves. A genuine win/win that lies at the heart of customer delight and supplier success.