For Queen and Country: Reducing Services Giveaways


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During the heyday of the British Empire, many a naval blockade or military campaign was launched under the watchword of “For Queen and Country.” Keeping missions at this high level is not only inspirational (very important when facing thousands of tough-looking Zulus), it is vague and flexible enough to allow wide discretion as to how it is applied!

In a perfect world, all of us in business would behave altruistically, taking care of the customer first (the queen), the company second (country), and finally our own needs. But in reality, that’s not the way it works. Although everyone may cross their heart and swear allegiance at the global kickoff when the CEO announces the latest theme (e.g., Lean and Mean 17 Sigma, Customer Success with Loyalty for Life), that’s about as far as it gets.

Salespeople (hey, all of us) behave in ways (within some ethical boundary) that maximize personal gain. This is not a question of values, but a fact of life. (I know, I know, there are cultural and situational factors that impact the degree that altruism is practiced, but it is a reality nonetheless.)

For example, in organizations that primarily reward sellers on product sales, sellers are highly motivated to do whatever it takes to sell the product at the possible expense of everything else (so would you if your desired lifestyle depended on it). If they don’t sell services, oh, well. If they give away services, big deal—getting the product sale is the prime consideration. Why should they change? For the good of the services organization? Forget it. For the good of the company? No way!

So, if you want to change selling behavior (in this case not giving away services), you must change the consequences—the personal gain or loss that people incur by following or not following what you want to occur (flogging, a week in the brig, or court marshaling, for example).

In our case, it is a straightforward fix: Change the selling rewards from maximizing sales volume to maximizing profitability of the total sale (or at least meeting a minimum profitability benchmark). If enforced, those same sellers who wouldn’t think twice about throwing in a year’s worth of support or 100 hours of consulting to clench a deal, now (with calculator in hand) will approach every sale from a different perspective. If they decide to give away or discount services they do so at their own peril, as they endanger taking their spouse to the President’s Council trip in Barcelona or jeopardize maxing out their total compensation.

Of course, two things must happen, and they are not easy to do.

  1. Get the executive team to agree upon changing the sales incentive focus from driving volume alone to driving profitable revenue. This requires a fact-loaded, everybody-wins business case to sell this shift (plus patience). It also raises the important discussion of blended margins and the overall profitability of solutions sales. Once senior management sees the overall financial impact, they will become true believers of the cause.
  2. Train the sales force to sell the value of services and solutions. For many of your sellers, this is a big change. Don’t try and do it on the cheap (the off-the-shelf generic selling package or the $99 one-day-in-the-auditorium extravaganza is not the right approach). What is needed is high-quality, services-specific, company-tailored training and ongoing reinforcement designed to address the particular issues of your organization and the needs of your sellers.

Once your sellers personally see the need for selling services appropriately and have confidence in their services selling capabilities, giving services away will become the exception, not the rule. “For Queen and Country” will be embraced across your organization, and everyone will be the victors.

Note: Note that even with enticing new incentives, lots of good training, and ongoing coaching and reinforcement, only about two out of three box sellers will ever become minimally competent at selling professional services—it is just a fact of life. To really make a difference, you need to boost your services selling horsepower with strong pre-sales support and dedicated services sellers.

James Alexander, EdD
James "Alex" Alexander has a doctorate in Human Resource Development, and after a dozen years in corporate life has spent more than two decades helping product companies build brilliant services businesses. Alex researches, publishes, advises, trains, and speaks on transforming good services organizations into high-performance services machines that create loyal customers, drive sales of services and products, and dominate the competition. He has written five research studies, four books, and over 150 articles, and has spoken, consulted, and trained in 25 countries.


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