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News & Blog


Posted: 24th June 2015

When I make presentations to schools, I always ask the audience whether they have a clear idea of what type of job they want to do when they start work.  I then ask them if they want their future job to be in the world of “sales”.  Regardless of how many hands go up to the first question, they all tend to go down when asked if they are going to be “salespeople”.sales

When coaching people who work in Customer Service roles, a growing topic for the coaching is where the person sees themselves as working in customer service, and are given sales targets (usually to identify and refer a certain number of prospects).  In these instances, the coaching is always on how the coachee doesn’t want to be in “sales”, rather on whether they can spot someone who would benefit from the products or services their organisation offers.

Why is this? Is being a “salesperson” such a terrible career choice? Of course it isn’t.  I believe the issue is people’s perception of what being in “sales” is.  When people hear “sales” they immediately picture an aggressive sales person (usually male) who once they have their foot in the door, refuses to leave.  The media report on mis-selling scandals, and the focus is again on a salesperson who has sold something that either wasn’t asked for or wasn’t needed.

We need to have a shift in our thinking about “sales”, because everyone has a part to play in sustaining and growing the amount of customers we have.  As managers and team leaders, we need to help our people understand that the first part of sales is to deliver the product or service so well the customer continues to use us, and subsequently refers the organisation to their friends and colleagues.

Try this quick activity:

Think about the last item (a product or service) of “reasonable” cost that you purchased.  Now think about these questions:

  • Having made the decision to buy, why did you decide to buy from the organisation you bought from?
  • If you had previously bought a similar product or service, did you buy from an organisation you had bought from before?
  • YES: why did you decide to use that organisation again?
  • NO: why did you decide not to buy from the previous organisation?

Chances are, when you look at your answers to these questions, your answers will fit into one of four categories:

  1. Quality (of the product or service)
  2. Cost (the actual price you paid, plus any time you would need to spend)
  3. Time (when you would receive the product or service)
  4. People (your relationship with the people who you bought from)

All of these categories are important in influencing your purchasing choice, but which of them was most important?  The answer is it depends on the situation: if your budget is tight, then Cost will be most important, if you need the product really quickly then Time takes priority, and in all purchases we have to make sure we at least reach the minimum Quality required.  All of these choices are generally “conscious” ones, which is we think about them and make a deliberate decision based on logic of what we need.

Yet most purchases are actually made for emotional reasons, and then supported by logic.  Emotional reasons include how the purchase will make us feel, and whether it gives us “peace of mind”.  Emotional decision making is largely “unconscious”, that is we act because of a “gut feel”, without necessarily analysing reasons. And it is here that the role of People in the sales process play their part.

In an episode of the comedy Only Fools and Horses, Del-Boy asks a surly till operator at his local supermarket “did you sue them”? When the operator sighs, looks at him with a bored expression and asks “who”, he simply replies “the charm school”! Del-Boy then tells Rodney and Uncle Albert, “next time we’ll shop at the mini-mart, they may be more expensive, but at least they smile when they take your money”!
excellent customer service

How many times have you decided against purchasing from a company, just because you didn’t like the person you were dealing with?  More importantly, how many times do you think your customers and potential customers have decided not to deal with your organisation, purely because they didn’t like who they were dealing with?

Whether we like someone or not is rarely logical, it is an emotional decision. And that decision influences our view of the other person for a long time.  Most people then transfer their feelings of the person to the organisation where we met them.  If Del-Boy wanted a different, friendlier, till operator at the supermarket, he could have simply chosen a different aisle, but instead he chose a different company.

We get frustrated at an individual, decide to move our business somewhere else, hence experiencing personal “pain”, such as higher price shopping elsewhere, or inconvenience in travelling somewhere else. We do this for two reasons:

  1. We don’t want the other person / organisation to “win” (in fact we want them to lose).
  2. By making the other person lose, we feel like we “won”, which makes us feel better about ourselves.

As well as losing our custom, we then tell our friends and colleagues the story, usually embellishing the details to justify our actions.  Our friends and colleagues are then less likely to use the company you’ve dished the dirt on.

All because of one interaction with someone who did something that upset a customer.

So what can we do? Well, we need to ensure that customer service and sales are linked in everyone’s mind.  All staff need to see a clear path between their role and existing customer retention and new customer acquisition (most people will need help to do this by the way).

Start with yourself. How does your role affect customers? What are the small but important things you must focus on to ensure customers feelings about you, and hence their feelings of the organisation, remain positive? Here are three simple things we can all do to begin with:

  1. Never say “I’ll get back to you as soon as I can”. Always give a date and time you will return a call, and ensure you always return that phone call before the time agreed, even if it is just to say “I’ve not got an answer, but I will continue checking and will call you back by…”. This stops the customer from feeling neglected, and calling and re-calling your organisation.
  2. In face-to-face contact, always make eye contact with new people joining a line, whilst you serve the person in front of you. This acknowledges the fact you know they are having to wait. People don’t want instant service, but they definitely don’t want to feel ignored.
  3. If something goes wrong and you fail to deliver what you said you would, never justify this to the customer by blaming low staff numbers or high work volume. Simply apologise, explain how you’re going to put it right, and put it right. To quote the proverb: “if you’re going to bow, bow low”.

There are lots more tips and techniques, and opportunities to develop your approach to enhancing customer service and increasing sales in the range of training courses I deliver through the Edinburgh Chamber of Commerce.  Whether it is about improving the customer experience, or improving the sales skills for new and/or “reluctant” sales people, there are courses to help you retain and grow your customer base.  Delivered as open courses, or in-house courses where the content can be tailored for your situation, if you are looking to develop a “sales and service culture” please get in touch with the training team on 0131 221 2999(option3) or email them

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