Everybody Sells Services

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Relying entirely on the product sales force to drive services is not a good idea. Involving your frontline services pros can kickstart seriously selling services.

Everybody Sells Everything

The title of this article, “Everybody Sells Services,” is a vital component of selling and delivering solutions. In fact, it is a best practice of those who succeed. However, it is a subset of a larger business principle: Everybody sells everything. The concept is simple: Everyone who has contact with the customer (or prospects or partners or suppliers or the media or anyone) understands that a part of their job responsibility is to “sell” their organization, its capabilities, and the offerings it provides—the receptionist who makes everyone feel comfortable and welcome, the technical support specialist who doesn’t treat you like an idiot and really cares about your problem, the finance person who takes the time to understand your needs and demonstrates a little flexibility. Organizations that embed this philosophy into their culture stand head and shoulders above their competitors.

Unleash Your Hidden Sales Force

Ponder Point: Trust drives sales, and those with the most customer trust are usually your frontline services pros.

There is no faster and easier way to grow profitable services revenue than by using your services pros to help sell your offerings. Nothing works better or quicker.

Why Is Using Services Personnel to Sell Such a Good Thing?

My research shows that a best practice of top services organizations within product companies is that their services pros demonstrate appropriate selling skills. Let’s look a little deeper to see why this is so powerful.

  1. There are lots of them. Depending on the type of services sold and the services strategy, services providers usually outnumber salespeople. Of course it varies, but often the ratio is 20 to 1 or more—professional services consultants implementing projects, field services engineers doing preventive maintenance, technical support engineers resolving problems. Just think of the power of increasing your services selling capabilities if you can tap into just a part of this potential.
  2. They know the customer. Services providers are where the action is. Who better understands the issues and day-to-day realities of customers than the folks who implement, prevent, troubleshoot, fix problems, and advise on new opportunities than a service technician who is in the building or on the phone every day and knows everyone, from the facilities manager to the department head to the CIO? As they walk the plant floor or office hallways, eat in the lunchroom, and meet with technical staff, they become privy to a wealth of information specific to company issues, challenges, problems, and opportunities.
  3. They have established trust with the customer. Trust is, of course, a main driver in decision making, and your services pros often have a high level of customer trust, established from a history and track record of doing what they say they will do. When services people make suggestions, customers listen.
  4. They are not a threat. Services pros don’t have the word “sales” on their business card. The “BS warning signal” that automatically goes off inside customers’ heads when they come in contact with a salesperson does not sound when dealing with a services person. Customers are much more likely to share their reality and respond to recommendations from them than they ever will to a salesperson. This is an important fact of life.
  5. Small investment—big return. Once your services pros buy into the concept that when they influence with integrity, it is good for their customers, you are two-thirds of the way home. Because of the four points outlined above, all it takes is some building of existing skills and a road map for what to do, and they can quickly start positively influencing services sales. While it might take years to get product sellers effectively selling services, your services people can be productive in just months.

GIST: Getting your services teams to help sell services should be a top priority.

How to Do It

Knowing how to positively leverage the trust built by your project managers, consultants, support account managers, and field engineers makes it easy to sell services (and products) that add value both to your customers and your organization.

Effectively done, you’ll see qualitative changes in 30 days and quantitative results in three months. Here are the core steps to making it work:

Step 1: Communicate That Professional Selling Is Not Evil

You’ve all probably heard this from your people at one time or another: “If I’d have wanted to sell, I’d have gone into sales.” I’ve heard this time and time again in my workshops on helping services pros become more like consultants or helping them understand the attributes of trusted advisors. When this part of the workshop occurs, the body language of many of the technical people quickly changes—their arms cross, their bodies lean back in the chair, and their eyes roll.

When asked, “When you hear the word ‘selling,’ what thoughts come to mind?”, the answers are predictable: “slick,” “used-car salesman,” “sleazy,” and so on. This is truly a shame. Many of us let a few bad experiences early in life or stereotypes about salespeople (see the movie “Tin Men” for a great example of all that can be bad about selling) color our thoughts and attitudes toward what is one of the most challenging and important professions.

However, those that influence with integrity start with the mindset of “whats good for the client.” They realize that creating client value will lead to value for them and their organization. Professional influencers understand the old maxim “you’ve got to give to get.” They put a very high value on their personal integrity. Therefore, they prefer honest dialogue as their communication technique of choice. Providing straight talk about problems and fixes, what they know, and what they don’t know, these folks tell it like it is because their personal credibility is on the line.

GIST: The truth is that your services people are not acting professionally if they are not selling—that is, looking for customer problems or opportunities that your organization can positively address. Selling is servicing; it is as simple as that. Once they understand that selling, properly done, is good for their customers, most of your technical talent will be open to this important change in their role.

Step 2: Lay Out Baseline Expectations for Everyone in the Services Organization Who Touches the Customer

I strongly suggest that you establish a minimum level of selling support for each of your services groups (project managers, SAMs, consultants) and make this a central part of your expectations and their performance plan. It must be seen as a core part of the job, not a nice-to-do but a must-do. For your people who really like building relationships, you may want to bump up their role a level or two.

As you review the expectations, determine where each of your groups are today and where they should be in a year or two.

Step 3: Provide Incentives That Motivate Your People

Recognition is always a strong motivator. I suggest starting small. For example, as some of your people attempt to be more aggressive in influencing appropriately, acknowledge them both publicly and privately. Feature them in your internal newsletters, buy them lunch—just show them you appreciate their efforts. Their peers will quickly try and get involved as well.

Step 4: Train Everyone on How to Build Relationships and Sell Services

Find some services industry-specific, high-involvement training that will give your people not only the appropriate skills for selling competence, but also improve their selling confidence. My experience in training hundreds of services professionals shows that quality training will yield positive selling behaviors almost immediately.

Sure, there are other considerations, but the above five steps are the main elements of getting your technical talent up and running on selling services.

Barriers to Plan For

Of course, there are always a few challenges. Here are four that come up in most scenarios.

  1. It’s not for everyone. Yes, it is vital for your business today, but most of your technical people were probably hired with the sole focus of implementing, fixing, or problem solving. We owe it to them to provide them with the tools to make the change but realize that a certain percentage (15% to 30%) won’t do it; they just don’t have the desire and/or the skills. If you are serious about selling services, you’ll need to find new roles for these people.
  2. Sales pushback. Once they understand the program of services people assuming some responsibility for selling, most top sellers in the sales force welcome the services selling initiative, as they see it directly helps them to be more successful. Sellers in the middle will be a little leery but can be won over when they see the results. Usually, it is the lower-performing sellers that push back, expressing something along the lines of: “Those are my customers. I do the selling around here!” Most likely they feel threatened. Overcoming this mindset requires three things: (1) A good relationship with sales management and their support of having services people involved in selling, (2) not taking anything away from the sellers (they get their normal commission/bonus on everything your people sell), and (3) clearly defining who owns the customer when. For example, in many organizations, sales’ main role is to find and sell big product deals, to act as “hunters.” Once the initial deal is sold, it often makes sense to turn the account over to a “farmer” from services (often called a customer relationship manager or services account manager) to make sure the product is used correctly, issues are resolved quickly, and new opportunities are uncovered. For this system to work, however, the process needs to be clearly defined, and ownership must be determined at each step.
  3. Mixed metrics. If you decide that you want some of your services pros to be aggressive in selling, they will naturally have to invest more of their time in doing so. For example, you can’t expect a consultant to invest two days a week in some sort of selling activity and remain 75% billable. So, you will need to adjust expectations, objectives, and incentives to align with your new expectations.
  4. Crossing the line. My research on this topic (Alexander, 2007) clearly shows that services leadership’s greatest fear is that their technical talent is perceived by the customer as crossing the line from being a technical expert there to help, to being a salesperson looking to sell them something. If this happens, the relationship will never be the same. The key is balance—driving home the concept that whatever the technical talent’s position or title may be, their goal is to assume the role, when possible, of being seen as a trusted advisor. This takes vigilance, especially for some of your people who really like to sell! The best way to keep this from happening in most situations is to keep incentives relatively small—big enough to get their attention, but small enough so that they don’t go over to the “Dark Side.”

GIST: Selling should be everyone’s business, and your services talent are a critical part of that mix. Define and implement a selling services strategy that is right for your organization, and you’ll quickly reap the rewards.

Best Practices

Best Practice #1: Get everyone who touches the customer on board.

So far, we have talked about getting the salespeople, the sales managers, and technical talent on board and up to speed. Who’s left? Everyone else who touches the customer, from phone contact personnel to managers to executives to the receptionist. With everything else going on, it is easy to forget or delay the communicating, training, and reinforcement needed for these important people. The approach outlined above applies to everyone in the organization. Understand the value of having everyone sell services (and products) professionally and what selling expectations are appropriate for them. Train them on what it takes to meet their selling expectations, and put incentives in place to motivate them to do the right thing.

Best Practice #2: Put an emphasis on pre-sales support.

In many organizations that sell complex products into complex environments, services and technical specialists are an important part of the sales organization. They go by numerous titles, but for our purposes, let’s call them SAs (solution architects). Immediately after an opportunity is discovered and qualified (at least to some degree) by the salesperson, the salesperson brings in the SA to “talk tech” with the customer, understand the environment, and if the opportunity appears worth pursuing, takes the lead in creating a proposal. The role of the SA is to help sell, and they are compensated for it just like the salespeople. When it goes well, the SA and the salesperson become a strong team, with the salesperson finding opportunities and building business relationships, and the SA providing technical credibility and the knowledge to craft technically appropriate solutions.

However, when it comes to seriously selling services, often the same roadblocks discussed with the salespeople occur with pre-sales support. The SAs are often product specialists, and because of how their selling teammates (and themselves) are compensated, they have been trained to focus on the product and only consider the absolute minimum amount of services when crafting responses to customer needs. Hence, they need the same change in mindset, knowledge, and skills as the sellers. In most cases, it is good to train sellers and SAs simultaneously so that they can grapple with the change together. SAs that are competent and confident in selling services can be a huge help in bolstering the selling services capabilities of the product sales force.

Best Practice #3: Establish dedicated services sellers.

When first making the move toward seriously selling services, a best practice is to bring some dedicated services selling horsepower on board—people who are already competent, confident, and credible in selling the type of services you need to sell. Doing this has many benefits:

  • It demonstrates to your company your commitment to seriously selling services. Bringing in top services sellers is not cheap, and the signal made by your investment is strong.
  • You will generate services revenue fairly quickly, helping to quell the natural fears that this initiative is not a good one.
  • Once the dedicated services sellers start showing results, it will begin to remove the excuses of your product sellers that customers won’t pay for services. Furthermore, this modeling will encourage some of the sales force to give it a try.

After a few years, when your general sales force has good services selling capability, you may go back to one sales force. However, initially hiring dedicated services sellers is a very good idea.

Conclusion

Getting the product sales force to effectively sell services is important to long-term success, but few organizations can sit back and wait while product sellers get up to speed. Everyone who touches the customer must have a role in selling services, and because of their existing customer relationships, technical people are the logical choice to initially focus on. Provide them with the knowledge, tools, skills, and incentives to be effective, and services sales will quickly follow.

This article adapted from Alex’s book, Seriously Selling Services.

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