Seriously Selling Services: The 5 Best Practices


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It takes Kevlar vests and iron underwear to sell services in a product company—learn the five vital keys to leading this transition.

Managing the transition to seriously selling services has an immense upside for most companies. New, profitable revenue streams, more sales of products, higher levels of customer satisfaction, and competitive differentiation are all probable outcomes of a well-executed shift to services. Know that the path to services success is clear and the obstacles are well-known.

As with any significant change, strong leadership is a critical success component. A services leadership framework exists, and executives willing to listen to the voice of those who already have made the journey will enjoy major rewards in a relatively short period of time. For most organizations, the time for seriously selling services is now!

Here are some proven best practices of executives that have successfully guided the transition to seriously selling services:

1. Create a sense of urgency.

When people are reluctant to do something, they will come up with every excuse imaginable to put it off. Change is time-sensitive, and prolonged hesitation only makes things more difficult. Leadership is needed to trumpet the cause and build the emotional momentum needed to break the status quo and get things rolling. To demonstrate urgency and show your seriousness, initially host highly visible weekly updates on progress. Personally call and write people to ask how it is going. Put this at the top of your to-do list each day. Publicly publish selling services success performance so that everyone can see progress. To emphasize the criticality, publish results versus targets not only quarterly, but monthly, weekly, even daily. Break it down by division, geography, even by salesperson in order to build the necessary momentum of change. Remember that when you are challenging the status quo, fast is better than slow.

2. Tie executive compensation to seriously selling services success.

Make seriously selling services a core objective tied to compensation for the entire executive team. Yes, you “get it,” but your executive colleagues may not. These are the same people who achieved their success and power through the very system you are trying to alter dramatically. Remember that it is rare for the ruling class to support the revolutionaries, so the case for change must be seen as the only choice for organizational survival. Everyone will be watching for the slightest wavering at the top to justify stalling or just plain non-compliance, and the best way to prevent this is a one-for-all-and-all-for-one approach to compensation based upon hard numbers and firm time frames.

3. Make heroes out of those who attempt the change.

This is a scary change for many people, and you want to look for every opportunity to reinforce their new, seriously selling services behavior, even when the results aren’t as good as you like. Make it a point of singling out those who are doing what you request of them at your weekly feedback sessions. Send them notes and copy everyone, publish their success in internal newsletters and magazines, and give them small incentives to keep them going. Early on, it is the little things that matter.

4. Give zero tolerance for slackers.

Here is the scenario: It is year end, and overall you have made good progress with selling services. However, your top seller, Ace Flanagan, has blown the doors off his product quota, doubling his target and selling twice as much product as anyone else. However, Ace didn’t come close to reaching his services quota, ending up at 28%. Your vice president of sales doesn’t want to rock the boat and risk losing Ace, so he suggests business as usual, paying Ace full commission and bonuses.

What a great opportunity! After telling your vice president of sales thanks but no thanks, you have a one-on-one sit down with Ace. First you thank him for his product sales contribution, but then quickly state your major disappointment in his services performance. You confirm that this is the new strategy, it is vital to the company, and that everyone is expected to contribute. You are sorry, but he will not get any bonus, he and his wife will not be going to Bora-Bora as part of the President’s Circle, and if he misses his quota next year, he will be fired.

5. Stay the course.

There is a good probability that 90 to 120 days into the transition to seriously selling services that performance will actually go down. If you are doing the right things, giving lots of training, involving people in the process, and allowing for the inevitable lost water-cooler time, overall sales could well drop. Anticipated services sales may not materialize as people try to figure out how to do it, and product sales will drop due to lost time out of the field and the lowered productivity that comes with the deer-in-headlights stare when people are passively aggressive.

Don’t panic! If you give up now you will never get services off the ground and you most likely will never regain your level of past product sales. Suck it up, stand tall, damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead!

This article was adapted from Seriously Selling Services: How to Build a Profitable Services Business in Any Industry, by James “Alex” Alexander.

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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