Deploying 'Secret Service Agents' to Increase Sales Revenue

Customer-facing service staff have a valuable role to play in increasing sales revenue, says Huthwaite business director, IT, Nigel Owen

Like all product and service providers, IT firms are not immune to global fiscal pressures. In recent months, the slow-moving market prompted Gartner to lower its 2012 IT spending forecast to 3.7 per cent growth, rather than its earlier prediction of a 4.6 per cent rise.

As businesses continue to cut costs wherever possible, IT product and service providers are under mounting pressure to find new ways to attract and revive sales revenue.

Compounding the issue is a shift in procurement strategies, as organisations continue to centralise purchasing to achieve the lowest possible price. The amount of face-to-face selling opportunities has also significantly decreased – moving sales people further and further from front-line business.

Increasing Sales Revenue with Service Staff

This changing sales landscape invariably requires a change in strategy for IT service providers if they are to increase sales revenue. With procurement typically choosing to buy on price and other short-term objectives, any longer-term objectives of the seller make negotiations much tougher. Also, less direct contact between end-user and seller compounds this conflict, making it harder to resolve.

A more strategic approach now being adopted by some IT teams is to make the most of the time that other client-facing but not sales-focussed colleagues get with influencers in the buying organisation.

In particular, non-sales staff such as after-sales teams, technical support, engineers and administrators are ideally placed to advance the sales process far more than the direct sales team. Each one of these potential ‘secret spies’ are picking up valuable sales intelligence every day – often without realising the value it could contribute to the sales effort.

A step-by-step sales approach

Crucially, this ‘sales through service’ approach does not mean turning service staff into sales people.

However, it is important to recognise that service and sales should not be an ‘either/or.’ Rather, it should be a continuum along which employees journey and can be encouraged to progress, as their recognition, willingness and capability to help the business spot and develop sales opportunities increases.

This journey starts with pure service, where customers get no more and no less than what they have asked for. This progresses to a position of sales awareness, where the service person starts to look beyond the immediate service issue and actively seeks to create, or at least capture, potential tangible sales value.

In the fully-developed sales through service approach, the service person will actively identify customer needs and start to offer solutions. Any additional solution identified in this way is sold, not simply given free to the customer.

The key is that each organisation and every individual can progress as far as their capabilities and willingness allow. In this way, service moves closer to sales, but only as far as each employee is both comfortable and happy to go.

Reward for effort

Most businesses have a long way to go in achieving this ‘one company’ approach to customer development as even the best and most motivated service staff continue to see their role purely in terms of meeting or exceeding customer expectations within the context of service provision.

For this reason, as well as creating awareness of sales opportunities, driving sales throughout the business and generating new revenue streams requires more formalised engagement between sales and service/customer support teams.

In the current climate, the constraining factor for this and many other change management initiatives is one of cost. Yet investing to nurture and utilise service agents to help deliver sales and business outcomes is a longer-term strategy and, rather than being adopted for immediate, short-term gain, should instead be given continued business-wide commitment.

For organisations that rise to the challenge, the potential benefits are an increase in sales leads and improved bottom-line performance with attractive and tangible benefits for the firm, its staff and its customers. In contrast, companies who continue to maintain a siloed, departmental approach will increasingly struggle within the purchasing process, with fewer opportunities to differentiate the business other than on price.