A high performance service sales force

As a matter of fact, the service sales staff need to evolve their skills and competencies and move away from being simply order takers to truly being concerned for the customer, listen to their needs and become their trusted advisors - As this topic requires a lot of analyses we can go into it at a later article.

One of the most challenging and complex aspects of such a transition is developing people and achieving a change in their behaviour. At the same time, this is crucial for success. Without successful change in competencies and behaviour, new sales processes, approaches, tools and sales management systems will not deliver much results.

Companies often spend a significant amount of money for training purposes, whether that is for continuous competency development or as part of a change programme. Too often, they see that this investment results in little value. As a matter of fact, about 85% of the total training expenditure actually goes to waste. Not to mention the opportunity cost of not achieving the desired change. The usual phenomenon is that after attending a training, people very easily go back to their old habits.

For example, a major healthcare equipment provider had recently changed organisation structure with the purpose of having one consistent approach and behaviour towards the customer. They used to be organised in various silos (product groups, services etc.), which was making this vendor very hard to do business with and failing to deliver a consistent and differentiating customer experience.

In order to achieve their goal, they restructured their organisation significantly: They set up regional multidisciplinary teams, which were completely responsible for any business with their customers; Performance management, targets, processes and systems were changed; People were trained. However, after all these changes they realised that customers were not noticing any difference. The reality was that in daily practice, the behaviour of people had not changed.

This brings us to the questions that are troubling most manufacturing companies:

  • How can you have an impact on actual behaviour and see sustainable change and improvement?
  • And how can you get a good return on your training investment? 

There is a lot to say about how a people development programme can improve the effectiveness of training. For example, it should target gaps in competencies and behaviour, it should have clear measurable objectives, motivation etc. For the purpose of this article we will focus on:

  • Turning the “knowing” into “doing” and
  • The power of the team

Turning the "knowing" into "doing"

Too often, people development does not go much further than learning new theories, models, approaches and gathering knowledge. However, in practice it seems to be quite difficult to really start using this on the daily job. It is not easy to envision exactly how good application of a theory looks like in your particular environment. Plus people typically have a biased picture of how they really act and behave.

For example, another major healthcare equipment provider had been training their service sales people on value selling. They could see that competition was becoming fiercer, with more discussions on price and more discounts. Therefore, value selling was considered to be an adequate measure to fight that trend.

After an assessment of the practices used by their service sales people they realised that they would only use value selling when closely fighting with competition. In addition, value was still articulated with features instead of customer value. Sales people would try to articulate value through arguments like “we only work with certified engineers”, “we invest a lot in R&D”, “it’s a good business case…just imagine if you save 2 minutes per day….you already break-even”. This goes to show how the sales people not only did not fully understand the value of value selling, in terms of continuously differentiating their company, but they also were not able to relate to the value perception of their clients i.e. what job do your customers have to do, what are their challenges in getting this job done and how can your company make a difference.

This problem was resolved by working on elements such as:

Motivation

  • Establish a better understanding of customer needs and expectations and hence a better understanding of how you as a sales person can be more relevant to and appreciated by your customers
  • Establish more clarity about the aspired performance improvement of the business and individuals, making clear there is a good reason to change practices and behaviour.

Capability - Turning the training programme into an action-based training

  • Extensive role playing and examples of real life cases from their one daily practice
  • Honest feedback for each individual during the role plays.
  • Each individual assessing their own strengths and weaknesses and discussing how they will work on their weaknesses
  • Discussions on envisioning how their acting should and should not look like. Hence providing each individual sufficient practical understanding of the theory and their performance to confidently and consciously try to apply the new skills on the job and be able to reflect on them afterwards. Without this, the learning curve on the job will be disappointingly low.

Environment

  • Providing service sales people with specific tools, like an advisory guide related to the key customer segments, which describes their typical jobs to be done, challenges or pains and how their service offerings would solve these.
  • Making it an important issue among the leadership and a topic to be discussed at meetings
  • Applying measured KPIs and making them known to the rest of the team
  • Further developing service propositions to become more customer-centric value propositions.

The power of the team

One of the reasons for individuals to fall back into existing, longstanding habits, instead of applying the new skills is that they would be one of the few team members attempting this. And the truth is, it requires quite a lot of effort from the individual to go against the grain.

The advantage of the best practice people development programme is that it creates momentum and arousal and hence rapid results, by focusing on complete teams.

An example from our recent experience is from a major manufacturing company, which has achieved accelerating service growth by applying an action-based service sales development programme. During the training days, a team of service sales specialists and managers work together on agreeing how exactly to work from now on. They define very concrete commitments between them with regards to results, what concretely will be done differently the next day and how to support each other. Moreover, they discuss what is needed to improve daily practices, how to solve hurdles and tackle all issues needed in order to achieve people development and sustain it. In addition, service sales people are being coached on the job by more experienced colleagues or their managers. Besides periodical reflection on practical experiences and how to improve, the coach will also join customer visits to observe and provide feedback. Of course, these coaches have been trained for this coaching role and are being coached themselves as well. Lastly, peer review sessions are employed to provide team members with honest feedback.

So this coaching, peer reviews and all other activities within the teams not only accelerate the learning curve, but they also catalyse the change by making it important and top of mind for everybody. All are in the same boat. No way to duck for it. And actually… it is fun!

To find out more about People Development follow the link.

If you want to explore this topic more, then you can also join our upcoming Service Innovation Project titled “Boosting Service Sales”. This Project - based on the Service Capability and Performance (SCP) Standards - will focus on the challenges faced by manufacturers today in selling advanced services and has the purpose of helping you overcome these challenges by: Providing you with all knowledge, practical tools and experience needed to successfully develop a best in class service sales model and give your topline a boost.

To discuss your specific challenges with regards to changing your people’s behaviour contact us today.