October 2011

October 5th, 2011 by Jennie O'Reilly

This week I saw an interesting email from Huthwaite Fleming – about the relationship between Customer Service and Sales.  In it they posed an interesting question – ‘ Is service the new sales?’

This got me thinking.  There is a lot out there at the moment about the relationship between sales and customer service, commerciality and relationship management – call it what you will – and though there are of course some crossovers between these two, they are fundamentally different (and often opposing) realms within most large organisations. 

Historically at Steps, we have delivered both customer service skills training and sales force effectiveness training.  However, more than ever before we are now being asked for the former.  Why?  I believe it’s because businesses are recognising that in order to drive forward commercially, there are behaviours, attitudes and a service ‘language’ that needs to be explored, understood and owned by all in the business (and particularly those on the front line.)

More than ever, in this crowded marketplace - relationships, empathy and an emotional resonance are key drivers when individuals make buying decisions.  Referral, recommendation, advocacy and other forms of ‘affiliate marketing’ leave buyers with a trusted contact they can approach – moreover, a personal contact – often bypassing the ‘sales’ side entirely.  ‘Nurturing’ new business is a critical part of the sales process – but it’s this kind of emotive language that has seen the sales function morphing into the service realm, leaving the word ‘sales’ sometimes sounding like a nasty word, associated with images of a suave 20-something in a cheap suit. 

This is not to suggest that sales teams are now redundant, of course not. There will always be unique skills required of sales professionals - not least, sharp negotiation skills (which coincidentally, we also provide training in!)  But my view is that sales as an art has to now begin to embody some of these service characteristics if it is going to continue to thrive and drive results.  There has been talk of a move from Unique Selling Point to Emotional Selling Point (cue Disney, Tesco, McDonalds), brands are looking to social networks for recommendations (‘likes’) and referrals (‘shares’) and even going so far as to allow buyers to define the brand itself (Windows, for example). 

What emerges is a strong sense that buyers are in the driving seat.  Sales teams can attempt to drive the commercial traffic – but the successes (and often the successful purchasing decisions) come from the management of those relationships and the ‘service’ provided to individuals and businesses that choose to engage with an organisation, both on and offline. 

When I think about this question in the context of our work at Steps, it seems from our experience that service is the new sales.  This is what clients are asking for – and I guess that makes sense.  After all, sales forces can only be effective if they are armed, not only with an understanding of the preferred ‘consumer experience’ (as defined by their organisation) but also – critically –with a realisation of the service behaviours they need to display in order to deliver this experience successfully for clients and customers. 

Register online and have a look at the Huthwaite Fleming whitepaper.  It makes for interesting reading…


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