In today’s world, regardless of the sector you are selling into, your competition has more than likely become more aggressive and global in recent years. Your buyers have unlimited access to information on your competitor’s latest offer and, like it or not, your products and services are being commoditised or substituted at the speed of light.
To add to your nightmare, your customers are also far more willing and able to switch supplier if they are not satisfied with what you supply to them. Sadly, this is generally true in both the business-to-business (B2B) and business-to-consumer (B2C) world.
Add incremental value on a daily basis
We have a saying that, once you win an important customer or contract, if you are not adding incremental value to the relationship on a daily basis, you are unwittingly (albeit probably unintentionally) getting one day closer to losing that customer as soon as the contract allows them to move to another supplier.
From the customer’s perspective, it seems that as soon as you sign up with a supplier, despite all of the statements on their website about putting their customers first, you have to threaten to leave or complain to a supervisor before you can get through to somebody who is willing to really understand your needs.
How many times, as consumers, have we contacted a service provider (both in our personal and professional worlds) with either a problem or a need, only to find that the person at the other end of the phone (or live online help session) tells us about their company policy or why we can’t have what we need?
We often feel that the person we are dealing with is ‘programmed’ with an attitude and procedure that is defensive and totally disinterested in our world. Instead, the person we ‘speak to’ tells us that we can’t have what we want and seems to want to get rid of us so that they can move on to the next customer.
Equip your front line people
For any successful company, it is imperative that all front line people are equipped with the right knowledge, skills, attitudes and behaviours that will enable them be able to proactively add value (for both buyer and seller) to every one of its customer relationships.
Put simply, your company needs its service people to be champions for the company and its capabilities. They therefore need to be equipped with soft consultative selling skills.
The solution they sell could fix the customer’s problem or concern(s), or it could be a different product, the next product up, or a service package that enables the customer to get more out of the product that he or she has already bought. Regardless, this requires consultative selling skills and a commitment to align the right solution to clearly understand the customer’s needs on every call.
I would argue that, in order to delight customers, your service people should not only ‘sell’ the right solutions on every call, but they should be trained and motivated to up-sell and cross-sell whenever there is a genuinely and ethically valid opportunity to do so.
Many will say, “Ah, but our service people have to be careful as we operate in a heavily regulated industry!”
Well, that’s fine. I’m really not saying that they should sell additional products and services that the customer does not want or does not need. However, if an existing customer has a problem or genuine need that one of your products or service could solve, then why not offer that product or get a sales person to follow up?
Consultatively serve the customer’s need
My point is that service teams should be comfortable with asking open questions to understand the customer’s problems within the context of their wider lifestyle or their business operating environment. This not only makes it clear that your service people genuinely want to understand the customer’s problems and that they care. It also
gives you the right to discuss other solutions that could solve some of the wider needs that you have uncovered.
When used professionally, sensitively, ethically and with a genuine intent to solve problems and create value for the customers (while complying with all regulatory requirements, of course), a consultative selling approach to service development will simultaneously improve customer satisfaction, customer loyalty and your company’s turnover (as well as margins).
Oh and, by the way, it’s OK for service professionals to dislike the term ‘selling’. Let’s call it consultatively serving a customer’s need to ensure that the customer is delighted that he or she can save time and money, as well as realising the additional benefits of coming to one company for a ‘one-stop-shop’ solution.
By implementing a service development initiative that encourages a consultative approach to serving customer needs and is aligned with the company’s sales strategy, you can help your company’s service teams to make the transition from the role of fire-fighting with complaints and dissatisfaction to the role of proactively understanding the customer’s needs and ‘up-serving’ and ‘cross-serving’ on every call to make every relationship a value-added experience for both the buying and selling parties.
Written by: Steve Eungblut, Managing Director at Sterling Chase
Sterling Chase delivers integrated sales and service development programmes that enable sales and service teams to develop more effective and efficient processes and approaches for ‘Winning Big Together’. Click here to find out how Sterling Chase can implement a joined-up approach to sales and service development for your organisation or contact us on
(+44) 0845 371 3099 for a free consultation.