Here’s the scenario: Senior management has bought into seriously selling services and wants to get moving on it. When advised by a services expert that selling services is “way different” from selling products and requires special actions to succeed, they respond that they have a good sales force, and a good sales force can sell anything—just tell them what to do and back it up with solid incentives. They decide to kick off this initiative at the annual sales conference. See if this situation strikes a chord:
The Big Boss strides toward the podium and gazes out upon the entire sales force huddled in the banquet hall, awaiting word on the new launch. The Big Boss soberly rolls into the presentation, banging the drum of doom about lackluster performance, the challenges of the marketplace, and the potential wrath of stockholders if things continue as is. The figures formulated by the consulting firm hired to build this case spell out the problems (in PowerPoint, naturally) in cold, hard figures. The message is clear: Sell more, better and faster—
change or die.
But just as quickly, the atmosphere changes. The Big Boss dramatically stops the presentation and smiles broadly at the audience. Then, on cue and as if choreographed by a TV producer (it probably was), the balloons drop and the band begins playing something like “Back in the High Life Again.” (Note that if the meeting is in Las Vegas, live animals come on stage.) Next, animated slides (yes, more PowerPoint) proclaim the dawn of a new era, the Golden Age of “Total Value Solutions” (or something like that—they all sound the
same, don’t they?). TVS, as it is quickly dubbed, will be the touchstone, the compass, the blueprint for trekking the treacherous path from the abyss and leading the company back to its former greatness and beyond. As the four-color glossy listing the new expectations of the sales force and the new compensation program is passed out to everyone in the hall, sellers are asked to stand up and swear their personal allegiance to the “Six Selling Steps to TVS.”
On the outside, the salespeople smile broadly, nod their heads, and quickly start using new TVS catch words, enthusiastically applauding the visionary leadership at the front of the room. Ace Flanagan, the company’s top product seller starts a standing ovation.
On the inside, the salespeople are quickly doing two things. First, they do the math on the new compensation program. Their rough calculations show that even the big percentage spiff on selling services is small potatoes when looking at total compensation. Yes, it would be nice to make a few extra bucks, but it is probably not
worth the effort. Second, they are weighing the seriousness of what is being said. If you meet your product quota, no one will slap your wrist for not making your services number, will they? This is a product company, right? Besides, this looks like just another Program-of-the-Month. The salespeople decide to talk the talk and wave the flag when asked, but keep a low profile and do business as usual. “This too shall pass” becomes their unspoken mantra.
As the year goes by, an obviously frustrated senior management continues to beat the drum of TVS, but sales of services hardly improve at all. Extra bonuses are promised, threats are made, but at year-end nothing much has changed, and the promise of selling services is lost. The grandiose launch has been a total failure. Furthermore, senior management has lost some credibility, while the product-is-everything culture has been solidified even more. What was supposed to be a game-changing venture ended up being the Flavor-of-the-Season that sales accurately anticipated.
What went wrong? In a perfect world, all of us in business would behave altruistically, taking care of the customer first, the company second, and finally, our own needs. The business case for seriously selling services is strong. But in reality, that’s not the way it works. Although everyone may cross their heart, swear allegiance, and drink the Kool-Aid at the global kickoff, it will take much more than that to change selling behavior.
Salespeople, indeed all of us, behave in ways within some ethical boundary that maximize personal gain as easily as possible with a minimum of hassle and stress. This is not a question of values, but a fact of life. I know, I know, there are cultural and situational factors that impact the degree to which altruism is practiced, but it is a reality nonetheless.
For example, in organizations that primarily reward sellers on gross sales, sellers are highly motivated to do whatever it takes to sell the product at the possible expense of everything else. So would you if your desired lifestyle depended on it. If they don’t sell services, oh well. If they give away services, big deal. Getting the product sale is the prime consideration. Why should they change? For the good of the services organization?Forget it. For the good of the company? No way!
GIST: If you want to change selling behavior (in this case, selling services and not giving them away), you must address all the factors that impact seller motivation.