Spend Half Your Time Selling to Customers, Half to Your Company

Where do you focus all of your selling efforts?

The immediate assumption would be to respond by answering that of course you’re spending as much time as possible selling to your customers!

But there is a better long-term answer!

I got some of the best advice for my sales career as I started my first job out of Graduate School in 1975. I was about to start work for the Data Processing Division of the IBM Corporation. The night before my first day of work with IBM my uncle, Dick Salisbury, happened to be in town to visit. As a Vice President of Calumet Steel at the time he took me for a walk to offer me some coaching advice as I began my corporate career.

As a life time sales pro either selling or leading salespeople, my Uncle Dick offered that to be truly successful as a sales professional it was critical I spend half my time selling outside to my customers and to spend the other 50% selling within my company.

He said the only way I could achieve long term success as a salesperson was if the rest of my company and especially the customer service, technical support and administrative people were on my side and wanted to help me.

He shared with me how many salespeople continue to fight an uphill battle because of their over-sized egos, their unrealistic demands of staff, or because of the ways they’ve talked down to and pushed around their company’s support staff. He warned me that selling is never an individual effort but instead can only work if and when you have a strong and supportive team who wants you to be successful.

How do the various members of your administrative, technical and customer service support team feel about you? Are they excited to be helping you support and grow your customers?

Uncle Dick also explained that it’s not realistic to expect a member of your support team to want to go the extra distance for you and your customers unless they feel you’ve already gone the extra distance for them first.

How do the various members of your support organization feel about you? Are they happy to be helping you and your selling efforts?

What’s your philosophy of how you treat your extended support team?

Over my selling and consulting career I’ve always remembered my wise uncle’s advice. I’ve also observed how many others never seemed to understand how success in selling outside your company only occurs when you’ve already been successful selling or maintaining strong personal relationships within your company and support team.

Four Styles or Philosophies of Working With Support People

There are four distinct styles or philosophies of how salespeople treat and work with their support staff, which one of these four best represents the way you’ve been treating and working with your staff?

1. As “The Problem”

The first and worst of the four styles of treating and working with support staff is when you view, or they feel you view them, as the problem.

Several years ago one of my customers went through some tough financial times due to a significant downturn in their industry and were forced to file for bankruptcy so they could reorganize and find new owners.

As you can imagine, as they worked through their bankruptcy and their search for new owners, they were constantly short of working capital causing them to struggle to fill orders, to complete warranty repair work and to support their dealer customers. All the employees were stressed working long hours, not knowing if they’d have a job in a few months and worrying if things would improve under their new ownership.

When the sales reps called into their customer service department trying to help their dealers get product or answers they started treating their inside support team as a part of the problem instead of part of the solution. Now the reality was the customer service people were the most overworked and under the most hassles from customers and management. But because of the aggressive style the sales reps were using to try to get answers and solve problems from customer service, the customer service staff decided the sales team was no longer their friends and were no longer on their side.

Customer service continued to support their customers, but they also used the miracle of caller ID to let the salespeople’s phone calls just go directly to voice mail. Do all the members of your support team feel you and the rest of your sales reps are on their side?

2. As “The Servant”

While not quite as bad as treating support people as the problem, treating them as the servants or hired hands isn’t much better. I see too many companies where the sales force treats their support people as if they were the clerks or assistants they could just order around and make demands.

3. As “The Co-Worker”

The third style or philosophy of treating and working with support staff is to treat these people as co-workers or peers. This is a positive approach where the support people are treated with the respect you would give any co-worker. Co-workers ask each other for help instead of giving orders. They also work to build a personal relationship to help insure everything continues to run smoothly.

Treating support team members as co-workers means you work to build a personal connection or friendship in addition to your work efforts. It means you occasionally ask about their day when you call in and go out of your way to thank them for their help when they were instrumental in solving one of your customer’s problems.

4. As the “Behind the scenes expert and problem solving partner”

As strong as it is to treat the support staff as peers or co-workers there is still one more philosophy that’s even better and that’s to treat the support staff you work with as the “behind the scenes experts and problem solving partners.”

Treating these critical individuals as “behind the scenes experts” is more than just dealing with them as co-workers, it’s making sure they get the recognition for their expertise and ability to help your customers. This recognition is both within your company and from your customers. Treating support people as “Behind the scenes” experts means you work to recognize they bring unique skills and awareness to their job that helps improve your customer’s experience buying from your company.

When was the last time you wrote a letter or made a phone call to a support person’s manager to point out how they went “above and beyond” in their efforts?

Six Ideas to Implement

The pace of business has definitely picked up requiring everyone to work harder and to do more to satisfy customers. You now need the support and technical people within your company to do an even better job than they have in the past.

Consider these Six Ideas that can help improve the service and support you and your customer’s receive:

1. Separate the person from the problem when dealing with some customer issue or challenge. Dr Spencer Johnson, pediatrician and co-author of the “One Minute Manager” with Ken Blanchard was one of the first to identify that children, and really most adults, can’t separate themselves from their actions. He says if you tell your child she’s bad because she spilled her milk then your daughter, not having the maturity to separate herself from her actions, will now feel bad about herself.

When you have to deal with a customer problem, or especially a mistake made by the service department, be sure and separate your comments about the problem from the actions of the person you’re talking with, even if they’re the one who caused the problem.

Say things like ”you didn’t cause this problem but we sure need your help to get it fixed” or “I know everyone in service is overworked and are doing the best they can, but I sure need your help to get this fixed.”

2. Use your manager if you do need to complain. People tend to remember the one who has complained or yelled at them, even when your complaints were valid. You need the service department to be on your side. When you do need to complain, use your manager. It will be a lot easier for your manager to go to the service manager to complain about a lack of response or a problem with support and you can still maintain your relationship with the people needed to help with your customers.

3. Do something to provide recognition to the technical or service people who have done an exceptional job solving problems or helping your customers. Write a letter or send an e-mail to their manager. Mention their “above and beyond” efforts when in conversations with other members of your company, especially your company executives.

Everyone wants to feel loved and important but the inside people tend to get neither in the normal course of their work. What can you do to help make sure the people who are putting in the extra effort also get recognized for their positive contribution.

4. A suggestion or idea that can help improve the service and support you and your customers receive is to ask your customers to help identify and recognize the technical and support people who were the most help and value to them. Too many times I watch a thankful customer tell the sales rep how happy they are with the support efforts they’ve received, and the sales rep says thank you. Then the sales rep never says anything else to anyone else in their company.

While at IBM, Lenny, one of my mentors always said ‘the greatest formula for success in selling is to give the recognition to the support staff and give the commissions to the sales rep.’

5. Make sure you stop in and spend even a few minutes to visit and thank the technical and support teams when you are in the office. Attention is one of the best way to convey to someone their importance to you. When was the last time you ate lunch with the staff or shared a coffee break? Too many times the sales reps all hang with the other sales reps and the support team keep to their own as well. If they feel you respect and like them then they’ll be more likely to want to help out and go the extra distance for you and your customers!

6. Do something extra to say thanks to the people who are making you successful. When was the last time you sent a thank you note to someone who helped save one of your accounts? What about arranging to buy donuts one day for the support team as a thank you for their help with a big installation?

Remember that it doesn’t even have to be something expensive that you do, your efforts will be considered much more important in the long run.

Final Comments

So what have you done lately to help make sure the support and technical people you work with all understand how much you value and appreciate their efforts?

I’m sure you have done most if not all of these ideas at some time in your past. So now the question is how frequently are you doing these things, and would you increase the support and attitude your customers receive if you did more of these things on a more frequent basis?

Success in sales occurs when you act and communicate like a leader. And a leader knows they will only be successful when they have the support of their entire team. Consider increasing your communications, attention and time you invest in the people who make sure your customers are satisfied with you and your company.

We know you’re good, now the question is, are you good enough and committed enough to invest the extra time and effort to help make your support team feel like the hero’s they most likely already are?

Jim Pancero

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