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To Sell or Not to Sell Part 1: Insights from Field Service USA

For years, companies with service organizations have realized the potential opportunity of using their service people to develop business.

Service people interact with the customer more than anyone else in the supplier’s organization, including sales people. According to the Technology Services Industry Association (TSIA), service people visit or interact with customers 5 to 15 times more often than sales people, and even more for technical help desks.

Because of their intimate relationship with customers, their knowledge of the customer and their knowledge of their own company’s products and solutions, service people have a special, trusted partner relationship with their customers.

Leveraging this special relationship to identify new sales opportunities has become a priority for organizations that have service groups. Many companies have developed successful approaches and are realizing often significant gains. At the same time, companies have identified common success factors and pitfalls to avoid in implementing new approaches. Ultimately the question is not “to sell or not to sell,” it’s “how to create value for the customer and the service supplier and continuously build trusted partner relationships with customers.”

In two recent service conferences, Field Service USA 2017 and Technology Service World (TSW) San Diego 2017, the issue of leveraging service to sell was front and center. In our first article on this topic we will focus on the insights learned at Field Service USA 2017. In the second article we will summarize a comprehensive research study on this topic presented by TSIA at the TSW conference.

Insight #1: Don’t call it selling

A common mistake is to tell service people that they are going to learn how to sell. For many service people this is an immediate turn-off. You will hear pushback such as, “I didn’t go into service to become a sales person.” Many people, customers and service people alike, have an image of selling as pushing product on customers who may not really need or want it.

However, the real focus for both service and sales is creating value for customers – and getting paid for it. The skills that service people need to ‘sell’ are in the early discovery stage of the sales process. They need to observe the customer, understand what they are struggling with, anticipate the customer’s needs and proactively offer solutions that address the customer’s challenges and opportunities. When that leads to new business opportunities (as it often does), the service person can and often should bring in sales to follow up and close the lead – or the service person can follow through themself. It depends on the process established by the company. This takes us to the second insight…

Insight #2: Carefully establish a simple process for managing service generated opportunities

In an Oxford style debate at the Field Service USA conference, the debaters raised the possibility of ‘unintended consequences’ from jumping into a program without thoroughly thinking through the impact it might have on the behaviors of service and sales. They urged people to ask themselves questions such as:

  • How much time do we want people to spend on selling activities?
  • Is this going to really add new revenue or are we going to get revenue we would have gotten anyway?
  • How likely is it that service people will provide advice or recommendations that conflict with what the customer is hearing from their sales person?
  • How do service people deal with pricing questions?

These are just some of the most common questions that organizations need to answer before they launch a program. The key point was to think carefully through the consequences (especially the unintended consequences) that may result from the new behaviors of service people and deal with them before you go live.


Insight #3: Make sure that the support systems and resources are in place to follow through on the opportunities identified by service

Identifying new opportunities that aren’t followed up because sales people don’t have the capacity or interest quickly leads to frustration and loss of interest by service people. On the other side, not generating quality, valid leads creates equal frustration and wasted effort for sales people. These two issues were raised by nearly all organizations that had launched a program and discovered that not qualifying leads and/or not following through on qualified leads were surefire ways to quickly kill a program.

Insight #4: Train service people on new skills and behaviors they will need in order to identify valid new opportunities and enhance their relationships with customers

Karin Hamel, Senior Manager of Service Excellence at Schneider Electric who led the roundtable discussion on this topic pointed out that, “This process is not about upselling, it’s about proactively helping the customer.” The new skills required therefore are more about thinking and acting proactively, understanding customers’ unstated needs and engaging customers in discussions about their business challenges and opportunities.

Insight #5: Align sales, marketing and service

Initiatives to leverage service in order to generate new business opportunities can easily generate mis-alignment and even conflict between sales, marketing and service. Contradictory communication with the customer is clearly a potential disaster. But internal conflicts can also cause serious damage to relationships within the supplier that can spill over to the customer side.

Leveraging service to generate new revenue opportunities is too good an opportunity to be ignored. Companies such as Schneider Electric, Automated Packaging Systems, Mettler Toledo, Marcor Purification and others provide good examples of how a well thought out program can generate millions of dollars in new business.

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