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  • Michael Blumberg

The Fine Art of Selling Services

Managing a Field Service Organization (FSO) as a profit center has become a strategic imperative for many companies. In order to carry out this mission, field service executives must continually focus on top-line revenue growth. Yet, research indicates that nearly three-quarters of FSOs are struggling to achieve this objective. My personal observation is that they haven’t mastered the fine art of service sales and marketing. At issue, field service executives often confuse marketing with selling, and selling with marketing. While there is some overlap, the two functions are significantly different.

Marketing is Not Selling

Marketing is a set of processes, activities, and/or instructions a company utilizes to create value and customer demand for the products and services it offers. Basically, this is about turning a need into a want through promotional activities. According to Jon Janstch, of Duct Tape Marketing fame, marketing is getting someone who has a need to know, like and trust you.

In contrast, selling involves the fine art of persuasion. It requires that the salesperson utilize a planned, personalized communication to influence a customer’s purchase decision. Not only must a salesperson uncover a customer’s needs and wants, they must persuade the customer as to the merits of buying their product or service.

Telling is Not Selling

A common sales strategy that FSOs utilize is to involve field service technicians and managers in the sales process. The conventional wisdom is that since these people deal with customers every day, they are perceived as individuals the customer can trust for advice. As a result, they are in the best position to advise the customer on additional products and services they may need to purchase from the company.

This strategy is based on the premise that the field service technician/manager functions as a brand ambassador. Their focus is on building a relationship by solving problems, uncovering new opportunities, and telling the customer how their company can help. This seems more like marketing than selling. Indeed, the problem with this approach is that it often results in free consulting. In essence, the customers may not buy but instead rely on information their brand ambassador shared with them and seek competitive bids, or simply choose to do nothing at all. It also assumes that that service salesperson can spot opportunities and effectively open up a sales dialogue with their customer.

A Structured Sales Process

Field-service leaders can avoid free consulting, increase their prospects, and improve their team’s sales closing rate by implementing a structured sales process and training their service-sales people on this process. The sales process consists of three basic steps:

  1. Relationship Building: There are two critical aspects here. The first is bonding and rapport. This is how a salesperson gets a customer to know, like, and trust them. A sale cannot be made without bonding and rapport. The second aspect is known as an upfront agreement. This requires mutual consent between the salesperson and customer that each is open and willing to participate in a sales conversation. It also requires that when asked about moving to the next stage of the sales process, the prospect can provide a yes or no answer. Upfront agreements help salespeople know where they are in a sales process with a customer and keep the sales process from stalling or falling apart.

  2. Qualifying: Sales processes may break down if the salesperson hasn’t done a good job of qualifying the prospect. Qualification is more than just determining if the client has a need and budget. It’s really about understanding their pain (i.e. problems). The truth is that people don’t buy just because they like something; they buy to alleviate a pain they are currently experiencing or will experience if they don’t own the product or service. The greater the pain, the more likely they will buy. It’s the job of the salesperson to uncover this pain. Once done, the salesperson can discuss the budget that is required to resolve this pain. In other words, the “pain conversation” puts the budget discussion into context for the customer. Of course, understanding how decisions are made within customers’ organizations is also part of the qualifying process.

  3. Closing: The closing step involves two parts, fulfillment and post sell. Once you understand the customer’s pain, budget, and decision process then you can have a conversation about how your service will solve their pain, what the investment will be, and what it will be like to work with you after they accept your proposal. That’s basically what fulfillment is about. Post sell means confirming they are happy with the decision they’ve made.

Iterative Process

It is important to understand that the sale process may involve multiple, iterative conversations. This is because very few products and services can be sold in the first conversation. The failure of the salesperson to effectively address one step of the process may impact their ability to address the next stage and thus jeopardize the sale. If this happens, the salesperson must go back and repeat the sales process from where it failed. This may mean they have to review or revisit previous steps with the customer to get the sale back on track. It’s also important that understand that “speed kills” when it comes to the sales process. In other words, rush the sales process and you may lose a customer.

Think about your last conversation with a salesperson. If you purchased from them, chances are they effectively addressed every stage in the sales process. If not, it was probably because the sales process broke down. Also, evaluate your own company’s selling process and closing rate. Does your company follow a structured sales process or are service salespeople simply winging it? If you follow a process like the one outlined here, do you know which steps are working well and which require improvement? I

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