How to Boost Sales

Why are service sales in the limelight now?

In the wake of the recession, companies are struggling to maintain flat service revenues, while prices of service contracts are actually depreciating. Businesses are now realising they will have to do more to stay afloat, let alone grow. Markets, customer needs, budgets and decision makers are changing so service providers need to adapt. The key difference between companies whose service sales are flat and those that are growing is ‘customer focus’.

What’s the issue with common sales practices?
 Sales tends to follow a push approach; service sales presents characteristics and benefits of the service offering to the client, identifying a few ‘hooks’ as to why they may be interesting. Often, however, sales will not be talking to the decision maker who may have different needs. But in most cases the sales approach is reactive rather than proactive; the customer calls in with a query, or just before their warranty expires. 

Which are the typical encounters service sales people will experience? 
 Often, service organisations will encounter issues related to their client’s ‘budget’. Actually, increasing competition means the services are no longer competitive or don’t adequately meet the clients needs.

The issue here is that the sales approach isn’t customer driven; there’s a lack of attention to the customers’ critical business issues. Consequently, a common vision with the decision makers for how to really address critical business issues can not be developed. This vision is essential because it defines the value of the offering and the urgency to do something about it.

We recently worked with a global service provider who had developed a series of new services they couldn’t sell. This was partly because they weren’t selling to the decision maker, and also because they didn’t really understand the critical business issues of their customers. Subsequently, they didn’t develop a vision on how their clients could use their services to solve these issues.

We see the same trend in many industries; organisations under pressure to reduce costs and so, more willing to take on risk and conduct maintenance themselves. They are reluctant to take on contract coverage. In order to sell ‘solutions’ our client first needs to understand the value of the services and how they help to address customer issues.

What would a more customer centric sales approach look like?
 The key is to begin with an open conversation about the critical business issues at hand and assess the urgency to solve them. Next you can jointly develop an understanding of the root causes of these issues. Only then can you agree a common vision of how to move forward. During this conversation you should not only ask the right questions, but also provide your client with new insights.

Importantly, one needs to understand the challenges not only of your client, but also of the entire company. Look at the bigger picture; understand the pain points, challenges and ambitions, including those of their stakeholders.

In doing so, you help your client to articulate his problems and relate to them. Once you’re able to agree a way forward, your client is receptive to applying your value proposition. This would also be the time to tell them how your company can support them in applying it.

With this approach the decision maker will:

  • understand the urgency of the issue
  • want to take prompt action
  • prefer your company over the competition
  • understand the full value of your offering and appreciate its price

How to develop a customer centric vision?
 Understanding of your client’s industry is key to asking questions and providing feedback that are grounded in knowledge. In doing so, you’ll gradually build credibility - to the point where you become their ‘trusted advisor’. This puts you in a position to jointly develop a common vision and plan. The sales person that manages to redefine their client’s vision for the future will be their preferred services supplier.

Getting insights into the customer’s business and building your credibility as a trusted advisor cement your chances of winning the contract.

And the stakeholders and their needs?
 Understanding the stakeholders is part of getting insights into the customer’s needs. Stakeholder perspectives may be different to that of the client’s but still need to be considered because they are key in the decision making process.

How do you reach the decision maker?  The first step here is to actually aim to reach them. Service providers often content themselves with speaking to lower level managers while they should be aiming as high as possible. How successful do you expect the lower level manager to be in selling your proposition to the boss?

Speaking to the actual decision maker also provides valuable new insights, as decision makers often hold a different perspective on their business.

Here, you need to do your homework to understand how to speak to the decision maker; what are his/her challenges, what insights and solutions can you bring to the table to capture their attention?

Finally, what are the key steps to develop a customer-centric service sales approach?

  • Create an understanding of the need to change. Involve everybody in service sales to see and understand the challenges and need for change. Then you can discuss the direction of how to improve.
  • Implement a customer centric sales process: Give your sales people skills to develop insights into the customer’s needs and skills to develop a vision to address them.
  • Disseminate that knowledge across your entire organization.
  • Train your people

Put in place management functions to make sure the new sales approach is followed.

Is ‘work harder and cut costs’ the only option?