Finding your hidden salesforce
The hidden sales force
I was on train recently when I overheard a conversation between two people who could be identified as working for a leading technology business from the security passes they were still wearing around their necks.
It was clear that one was from sales and the other from technical support – how do I know – the give away was when I overheard –
“The thing is Rob, the customer expects me to tell her that we will deliver on time and it will be fully functional this time, but then I’m from sales so she’d expect me to be bullish. On the other hand you are not sales and when you say something it’s more likely to be believed”
to which Rob responded
“You might be right – and I’d like to help but I’m not a salesman and don’t want the customers to think I’m one or I’ll lose any credibility I’ve got”
I’m not going to address the whole issue of trust in this article (though there is plenty that sales teams can learn about how to be trusted just as much as ‘non sales’ people). What interests me is that even one of our leading technology companies has not yet managed to harness the power of their ‘hidden sales force’.
Sales managers and directors increasingly report that their sales teams are getting less face to face selling time than ever. On the other hand technical service and support personnel with client facing responsibilities are getting more air time with influencers and decision makers. If that air time is to contribute to an IT company’s sales efforts the business needs to help all customer facing staff to recognise that they have a very real opportunity to help.
This is not about turning service and support people into sales people. It is about ensuring that they are commercially aware enough to recognise that can make a significant contribution to identifying and developing sales opportunities. Not only does it make commercial sense to harness the power of service and support personnel to help in the sales effort, it is also a differentiator. When customers feel that technical service and support personnel are closer to their commercial realities and critical success factors (all things the best sales people will understand) – the whole relationship between customer and supplier is improved.
Most service and support personnel are totally committed to ensuring that they help their customers to resolve technical issues. I’ve seen this at the development stage of a new technical solution and in the resolution of technical problems where they will go above and beyond the call of duty. Technical people are motivated by fixing the problem they are faced with. To maximise their commercial potential they often need to be helped to appreciate that next level of service they can provide is to go beyond the immediate technical issue and create or at least identify potential revenue opportunities. Sometimes they need to be commercially aware enough to sell a new solution not give it away free as ‘part of the service’.
Who sold you this then?
In the conversation I overheard, Rob the ‘non sales’ person, seemed to have a view that his credibility would be lost if the customers thought he had started to ‘sell’. There is wide spread belief amongst non sales people that ‘selling’ is not something they want to be associated with. They often have an image in their mind of stereotypical sales people who have the ability to persuade and maybe even manipulate customers into buying solutions that that are not in their best interests. Some like to keep a distance between themselves and the sales team in the customers mind – I’ve been around long enough to remember a training film featuring John Cleese entitled ‘Who sold you this then’?
When technical staff realise that ‘selling’, if done professionally, is something they can be good at and be proud of then they will willingly participate in a company’s sales effort. After all, selling is about focusing on customers’ needs and creating real value for both companies. Technical staff need help to see the bigger picture and recognise that selling is not about a personality change, and that it is about developing certain skills and behaviours.
If technical staff are to willingly engage in helping with the sales effort they need to be part of a business where there is a business development culture across the company. Many IT companies have a long way to go to achieve this though some are doing it really well and seeing the benefit.
Even when senior managers in an IT business buy into the idea of having technical staff more commercially and sales aware; most of the technical staff continue to see their role as one of customer service rather than having an understanding or desire to identify customers further needs and wants. Too often, though there will be interaction between technical support staff and sales, they will operate in silos and in extreme cases totally independent. There is a clear correlation, according to a recent study, between a company’s culture and its technical staff’s attitude and approach to sales. Leadership, management and coaching the right skills and behaviours all play their part.
Worth the effort
For organizations who make the effort it can seriously accelerate profitable growth. Increased commercial and sales awareness delivers more opportunities (leads), better solutions, more profit, better margins and better customer relationships – a virtuous circle.
Developing a companywide business development culture and focusing on helping people in the organisation who are unnatural sale people to acquire the right skills and behaviours is becoming an imperative for technology companies who want to stay ahead of the competition and differentiate.
In a world where price can end up being the only differentiator IT companies need all the help they can get, that help is often already available within the business – the hidden sales force.
Share this article
By David Tovey
David Tovey helps sales teams, business owners and professionals to build amazing business relationships, win more business and accelerate profitable growth.