Should Technicians Sell to Your Customers?

I attended a very interesting session at WBR’s Field Service USA 2017 Conference a few weeks ago.  It was billed as an “Oxford Style Debate: Should Technicians Sell to Your Customers?”  The debate about whether technicians should sell has been around for decades.  I know that has been a hot topic of discussion since I’ve been in the industry and I started working as a consultant in 1985.   While the topic has been discussed in countless articles and conference presentations, this was the first time I’ve heard it presented as an open debate.  I found it refreshing because it gave conference participants the opportunity to ask questions and challenge conventional wisdom which helps in formulating one’s position on a subject.

Arguing for technicians as sales people were Tom Vorin, VP of Customer Services, ISCO International and Ron Zielinski, VP, Global Customer Service Coherent.    Arguing against Technicians as salespeople were Andrew Kovach, VP US Lifecycle Services, ABB and Chris Westlake, VP & GM of Services & Electrical Businesses, RK.  Each side did an excellent job in presenting their case.

The argument that Vorin and Zielinski presented was that companies who have technicians sell create additional value not only for their company but for their customers.  In other words, their customers appreciate the fact that their technicians can identify new products and services that help improve their situation and/or business.  Since they already view their technicians as trusted advisors, customers are more likely to listen to technicians’ suggestions than if a sales person approached them directly about buying more products or services.  Basically, technicians are perceived to be objective when advising customers of their options and thus carry an air of credibility around themselves.

Kovach and Westlake’s argument against technicians as sales people centered around three issues. First, technicians are not comfortable in a sales role. If they like to sell, then they would have pursed a career as a sale person.  Second, putting technicians in a sales role can hurt the brand and jeopardize the level of trust that already exists.  After all, customers are not stupid and will quickly catch-on that they are being sold too.  Third, and most importantly, technicians must stay focused on their job of solving problems and keeping customers happy.   Anything else is a distraction and disruptive to the customer relationship.

Of course, each side had an opportunity for rebuttal and the audience had a chance to express their opinion and vote on which position/argument they favored most. The vote occurred before and after the debate.   Although a larger percentage of the audience were in favor of technicians selling before the debate occurred, Kovach and Westlake changed several people’s opinions about whether technicians should sell.  Ironically, after the debate Kovach and Westlake revealed it was staged, that they were asked by the conference organizers to take the against position, and that they do involve their technicians in the sales process.  Basically, they have them identify opportunities and refer them to the sales force.  In describing the sales role of technicians, Vorin and Zielinksi also implied that their technicians work in a similar capacity.    Both sides agreed that the “debate” was all in fun and it provided a fantastic opportunity to present ideas on the best way to involve technicians in the sales process.

In case you are wondering, I agree that technicians should not be selling to customers.   However, neither side of the debate was really arguing that technicians should sell.  They were basically suggesting that technicians can play a role in the sales process by uncovering customer pain points, identifying solutions, and referring business opportunities to the sales force.    Quite frankly, unless, a technician has a sales quota, can overcome objections, and close the sale they are not actually sales people.  I also think that if their compensation is not based in part on some form of sales incentive or commission for closing business then they will never be fully committed to sales.

However, I would not argue for placing technicians in a direct sales role as it could be disruptive or damaging to business.  On the other hand, any company that is passionate about growing their top line revenue, increasing customer satisfaction, and improving their market share needs to adopt a “sales” oriented approach where everyone in the company plays a role in the sales process.  That’s why I agree with the proposition that technicians should be play an important role in uncovering customer pain points, identifying solutions, and referring business opportunities to the sales force.   Bear in mind, the systems, performance metrics and processes need to be in place, and the proper training and coaching needs to be provided if they are going to realize success in this role.

I’d love to read your perspective on this subjective. Do you think technicians should sell to customers?  If yes, please share your experience in the comments section of this post.   Let me know what works and doesn’t work.  If you want some advice or suggestions on how to make it work then schedule a free consultation today.

Still looking for answers?

Treat salespeople like the valuable assets they are

sales people 3

With so much merger and acquisition activity occurring within the High Tech Industry, I thought it would make sense to understand how sellers should deal with their most valuable assets, their salespeople.  I posed this question to my friend and business partner, Joe Vanore at Everingham & Kerr, who gave me permission to republish this article from the company’s June/July 2014 newsletter….

Knowledgeable, experienced salespeople with strong customer relationships are worth their weight in gold — or perhaps the premium paid to acquire their company. So the last thing you want to do as you integrate your acquisition is alienate this valuable group of employees. Instead, focus on convincing sales staff of your merger’s merits and involving them in the planning process.

Thwarting the competition

As soon as your deal is announced, competitors are likely to contact your target’s customers to persuade them to jump ship, claiming that your combined organization will be too big or bureaucratic to effectively serve them. Competitors will also attempt to recruit your best salespeople.

Act quickly to thwart competitors’ efforts and reap the benefits that attracted you to the transaction in the first place. Help salespeople communicate the deal to customers by preparing a script that explains expected changes and how customers will benefit. Include FAQs and provide the name of a person in the organization who can answer questions your sales staff can’t.

Face to face meetings

Also be sensitive to the morale in the sales department. It’s not enough to communicate upcoming events via e-mail. CEOs of both organizations need to meet face-to-face with their salespeople as soon as possible to address rumors, reassure employees of their job security and discuss potential opportunities within the merged organization. Keep these presentations short and spend time listening to employee concerns.

Salespeople will — above all — want to know how the deal will affect them. For example:

  1. Will the sales forces of the two companies be combined?
  2. Will salespeople now be expected to sell the other company’s products or services?
  3. Will compensation and benefits change?
  4. How will the new sales department be structured, and who will manage it?

 

If you don’t know the answer to a question off hand, promise that you’ll respond as soon as possible — then keep your word. Following these meetings, salespeople can return to their work and communicate a consistent message to existing and potential customers.

Financial Incentives

Even the most loyal employee will consider a competitor’s offer if the price is right. So consider financial incentives, if you hope to retain top sales producers (and their customers) and encourage staff to cooperate with new colleagues and share knowledge.  Offering retention bonuses and rewards for maintaining and increasing sales — in addition to existing compensation plans — can help. Make such incentives easy to understand and clearly achievable. While interim bonus programs may be expensive in the near term, they can prevent sales from dropping off during the merger process. And they will help you generate far more long-term revenue to offset the immediate cost.

Ask the real experts

Because they work in the trenches, salespeople may have cross-selling and other ideas. Create a temporary sales leadership team to evaluate possible downside risk and increased sales potential. The team should include two to four seasoned salespeople who focus their efforts on retaining customers and maintaining sales during the integration.

There are many ways the team can help accomplish these goals. It can serve as a clearinghouse for customer concerns and employee confusion over the future of product and service offerings. Team members also might have ideas for new product and service offerings or combinations. Sales leaders can be valuable in identifying and monitoring at-risk accounts.

A fragile link

Although all personnel affected by a merger deserve honest communications and an opportunity to voice their concerns, it’s particularly important to keep salespeople in the loop. Your sales staff is your direct link to customers, and this link can be broken if it’s not handled with care.