Can Sales and Service Play Nice? Of Course


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Paraphrasing the prison warden in 1967’s Cool Hand Luke, we could say, "What we have here is a failure to collaborate." Today’s technological advances make communication and collaboration easier than ever. But is copying someone—or, as is too often the case, everyone—on an email the same as collaborating? Not.

Even more than communicating, collaborating suggests a give and take, an exchange of ideas such that the sum truly is greater than the aggregated parts. recently considered whether sales collaborates with marketing on the front end; here we consider whether sales is collaborating on the back end with service and support.

A quick look at CSO Insights’ Sales Effectiveness—2005 State of the Marketplace Review shows that nearly half (46 percent) of the companies that responded rated themselves "adequate" in their ability to communicate effectively with other departments. Twenty-two percent rated themselves "poor" or "dismal" in this regard. Without being too judgmental, it would appear there is room for improvement.

Which raises a couple questions: 1) What stands in the way of fuller collaboration and higher ratings? 2) Are there tools and/or processes to help contribute to this improvement?

I have done a workshop with service and support personnel I call “Degrunging Selling.” I start by asking what images come to mind and what words attendees associate with “selling” or “sales rep.” Their answers are generally negative and range from “pushy” to “liar” and plenty more.

At the very same time, many of these folks, particularly with a technical degree and/or background say, “I didn’t go through all my training to become a salesman.” With these sorts of stored images and messages, is it any wonder these folks are not readily collaborating with their company’s sales reps?

The stereotypical service person is methodical and deliberate, a good planner and service oriented. Distancing themselves from service people with equal disdain are sales reps, who feel service personnel don’t share their sense of urgency, are willing to "snatch defeat from the jaws of victory" by answering and even raising questions that have not occurred to the buyer and are generally resistant to the dynamism and change accompanying sales opportunities.

Can these two groups play nice together?

The answer is “yes,” and there are many companies enjoying the success of doing so. To begin with, collaboration is in alignment with how teams operate. And while there are countless groups of fellow employees, truly functional and functioning teams are few and far between.

Team stages
There are five stages of team evolution:

  1. Membership
  2. Acquaintance
  3. Jockeying
  4. Coalescence
  5. Synergy

And there is work to do at each stage. To belong to a team—to determine whether you’re on or off the team—requires that each member be clear on the goals and objectives of the team—to share a vision. Many "teams" have conflicting goals and success measures for their various members. Without this strategic and basic alignment, the group is already setting out in different directions.

Second, clearly identified roles will help team members eliminate conflicts, redundant efforts and customers/prospects "falling through the cracks." In addition, to get into and through the jockeying phase, clear methods and processes are required. We’ll leave Stages 4 and 5 for another day, but suffice it to say, with all of this foundational work in place, individuals have an environment within which to collaborate.

Yet today, many team members are geographically dispersed, have independent and crowded schedules or believe that, because they’ve answered a question a half-dozen or more times already, surely the rest of the sales team must know the answer—if only through osmosis.

Technology’s role
Here technology can help and in many cases today already is. Webex has several components including SalesCenter; Microsoft offers LiveMeeting; and Citrix has GoToMeeting. These are examples of real-time collaboration tools that overcome the issue of distance and allow teams, either formal or ad hoc, to assemble quickly, share information and make decisions—the very definition of collaboration.

Examples of sales and service collaborating could include the best way to orient a demo for a particular customer or vertical industry or bringing in a product specialist to describe a specific and especially relevant feature or answer a particularly thorny implementation question.

If all the team members are not available at the same time, Involve Technology offers a software-as-a-service (SaaS) solution. Its product StreetSmarts allows sales teams to share their knowledge and experiences as well as draw from company experts immediately, any time from anywhere. Think of it as a multi-functional collaboration tool. But it is not real time. Instead, StreetSmarts builds a knowledge base, can build searchable discussion threads drawing on and prompting subject area experts to respond, then storing those responses for ready access in future similar situations.

A software company has rolled out StreetSmarts in Asia and much of the United States, with the EMEA region (Europe, the Middle East and Africa) soon to follow. Product management members get input from sales on most frequent feature requests and complaints, and communicate with development, service and even other members of product management using this tool.

There are historic barriers to multi-function collaboration (old stereotypes and prejudices) and brand new ones (geographically dispersed locations). However, with the proper mindset and processes—and with the support of increasingly clever technical solutions—we may just find what we have here is a success in the way we collaborate.


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