Building the Bridge Between Service and Selling

This should not come as a shock: Markets are becoming more competitive and products are rapidly commoditizing.

Against this backdrop many organizations remain committed to their growth strategies. They have recognized that success depends on both retaining customers and increasing revenues. And therein is the dilemma: how to acquire new customers and increase the number of products and services purchased, while maintaining the high level of service customers have come to expect. At a time when most consumers feel "like a number," this has great appeal. If your company can build the bridge between superior service and results-producing selling it will have created a unique competitive advantage.

Service vs. Selling
In a pure service culture, organizational and employee behavior is contingent upon your service teams' skill at dealing with customer inquiries. In order to achieve significant growth, organizations must enhance their ability to identify the specific wants and needs of their customers and demonstrate how their products and services can provide a solution. This will provide more value and build stronger bonds of loyalty. If an organization does not proactively seek to increase the value created in every customer experience it will find organic growth difficult.

Some progressive organizations have made significant investments to improve the proactive, needs-focused selling behaviors of their service team. Others have chosen to emphasize a more reactive, cross-selling approach. Whatever their choice and despite their best efforts, these investments have generally produced very little in the way of bottom-line results. So you may want to know ...

  • Why are service organizations resistant to sales development initiatives?
  • Does service have to suffer in order to develop a growth culture?
  • Why is it so difficult to build a bridge between service and selling?

Transformational Change
The successful transformation from a pure service culture to a growth culture is challenging. Many organizations have shunned the notion of embracing a sales philosophy for their service team, believing it may not be in the best interest of their customers. This resistance to change is somewhat understandable. For decades consumers have been wary of salespeople trying to persuade them to buy their products since many salespeople are more concerned with making a sale than fulfilling a customer's needs. This is evident in consumer surveys conducted by the Harris and the Gallup organizations that routinely ask consumers to rank the most trusted professionals to give advice. Salespeople typically are ranked at or near the bottom of the list.

Although leaders may still be committed to growth, they appear to be resigned to the idea that executing a growth strategy will force superior service to take a back seat. Many have come to believe that building the bridge between a service and selling is too difficult, too expensive, and/or too traumatic to their cultures. In our experience, to successfully transform a culture, you must implement solutions that engage the hearts and minds of your employees. They must learn to embrace the definition of selling and service as one and the same. When you define selling as identifying and fulfilling the needs of customers, you can achieve consistent results and your service team will embrace selling as an ennobling act that creates value for customers. You are now on the path to transformational change.

John P. Kotter, the renowned change expert and author of the best-selling book, The Heart of Change (Harvard Business School Press, 2002), states that the key factor in a successful change initiative is the behavior of people. This is why organizations must implement strategies that impact their people at the emotive level. As Kotter points out, without changing an employee's feelings, her behaviors will not be sufficiently altered to overcome the many barriers to large scale change. Therefore, it is critical to engage employees and influence their feelings if you hope to achieve buy-in. If selling is redefined as doing something for someone, your team may give themselves "permission" to create value by more effectively meeting their customers' needs. Impacting people at the emotive level is essential to changing their attitudes and beliefs about selling because skill development alone will not produce sustainable behavior change.

Competitive Advantage
As the competitive landscape becomes more difficult and products sound more and more alike, the effectiveness of the selling efforts of your service team is still one of the keys to successful revenue growth and customer loyalty. The customer experience in some organizations has always set them apart. Those "moments of truth" with your customers can be your competitive advantage, and leveraging them can become the foundation for your growth strategy. If you can build the bridge between service and selling, you will enable your team to find and close sales opportunities while they are delivering extraordinary service.

Once your team consistently approaches service and selling as two sides of the same coin, you will have solidified your commitment to maximizing the value you create for customers. And the more value you create for customers, the greater your competitive advantage. It's really that simple.

About the Authors
Walt Zeglinski ( is the CEO and Chief Client Advocate for Integrity Solutions (, 1-602-253-5700), a performance improvement company that helps clients create value for their customers. Walt has over 20 years of experience in the corporate performance industry, successfully diagnosing and implementing practical solutions for complex business challenges.

Bill Kowalski ( is Integrity Solutions' Senior VP of Client Development. His background in change management and performance improvement has helped private and public sector corporations around the world.

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