Hiring for a Profit Center: Find the Overlap in Sales and Service


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Talk about a stumbling block from the get go. Regardless of working on a sales team or a consumer service team, contact center reps face an enormous challenge.

The telephone is first and foremost a physical barrier to communicating with customers. Eye contact and body language are but two of the cues people normally have available to them as guides in reacting and responding in a face-to-face conversation. Remove these dimensions, and a phone conversation can sometimes be perplexing and leave both parties unsatisfied. Layer on the mandatory timed call requirements in many contact centers, and as an employer, you find yourself looking for a modern day Houdini, able to wend his or her way through a maze of sales and service situations with customers.

Given the demands of balancing customer needs with company economics, it’s important to hire to an appropriate standard for the high volume demands of a contact center. Moreover, it is not necessarily safe to think that, just because existing staff members have a particular title, they necessarily have the optimal skill sets€”or are in the right job.

Take, for example, the leading retailer for whom my firm developed sales and service (as well as recruiting and interviewing) training products. During the pilot in three locations, in which we employed pre- and post-training evaluations, results revealed that sales managers showed an 83 percent increase in sales knowledge after training€”a larger increase than the sales staff (who was the target population for the initiative.) The results were shocking to the president of the chain. They showed that, although frontline employees had been hired into sales supervisory positions, they were no more qualified for the job than the people who reported to them.

Sales and service positions, while overlapping in many respects, require different dimensions in terms of fluidly being able to foster strong sales, resolve customer concerns and retain brand equity, while working within optimal economics for the contact center.


Developing specifications for each position can make a hiring manager’s work more targeted, provided the interviewing tools are there and are correctly utilized. While each company’s contact center will have its own internal standards, here are some general guidelines for skills to look for when hiring for sales teams and service teams.

Whether inbound or outbound, sales teams must be able to blend product knowledge and selling skill at the right time on each call. They must know how to engage the customer in a dialogue. By asking targeted questions, sales reps can rapidly make decisions about which direction to head to close the sale or gain commitment to next steps. Having a running inventory of product knowledge helps sales reps immediately turn what they hear as customer need into general and specific benefits about the company’s products and services, within tight time constraints.

If there were a poster of Super Contact Center Sales Rep, he or she would be outgoing, able to flawlessly integrate product knowledge and selling skills and be able to think strategically in rapid-fire situations. Challenging? You bet. It’s the difference between having a great conversation with a Nordstrom or L.L.Bean sales rep and having your order taken by the myriad of mass merchandisers who run order centers under the guise of sales centers, to the detriment of their bottom line.

If sales reps are about strategy, service reps are about empathy. The ability to listen to the customers and to understand their point of view is critical. Given the number of calls, it is the service rep that must be able to stay engaged, rather than becoming a robot in every sense of the word.

Being able to read customer cues (without benefit of eye contact or body language) will help keep the conversation on track. And checking for agreement that the customer is satisfied with the solution presented can make the conversation successful and individualized, rather than a recital of the policy on, say, Page 23 of the manual. Although a more elusive concept (in a marketplace intent on new customer acquisitions), the service rep holds future sales with a current customer in the balance. Skill in managing service recovery is the key to future business. And as marketers have said for ages, repeat sales with existing customers are the lowest cost of sales.

Sum it all up, and Super Service Rep has the skills and abilities to empathize, stay connected, read cues and take the customer on a path that maintains or rebuilds trust in the business.

Now, I am old enough to remember Venn diagrams in math class. Venn diagrams are all about sets and how they are separate and yet overlap to varying degrees in different situations. Let’s call sales Skills Set A and service Skills Set B. While there are distinct differences in function, there are also critical overlaps between them. That overlap is constantly changing, based on the situation and the customer on the call. A dimension of sales is in every service transaction, and every sales rep who sells the right product or service to the right customer is extending a valuable service that represents the brand’s face to the public.

Sales and service. Service and sales. Where is the line drawn? Understanding the unique differences as well as the many similarities between these two mission-critical functions will help hiring managers build for each position a knowledge, skills and ability inventory that celebrates individual and company success in each hire, every time.

Barbara Poole
Poole Resources
Barbara Poole, the president of Poole Resources, Inc., a Fairfield County, Connecticut-based revenue improvement firm she began in 1992, has developed a number of management tools and processes for corporations to build market share.


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