“Forget job titles. There is no sales. There is no service. Choose wisely. There is only profitable service.”

“Which is superior? Sales or Service?”

I get asked this question, or a variant of it, a lot. It’s also a never-ending debate between field sales people and office staff (commonly referred to as customer service, technical staff and back office). Here’s my response: “ There is no sales. There is no service. Choose wisely. There is only profitable service.”

Forget job titles. Selling is giving a service. And giving a service is selling

As shared here, one year ago, selling is giving a service and giving a service is selling. The purpose of business is to create and fulfil demand. Structures, culture, systems, strategy, skills, staff and management styles are all investments built for this. Therefore, irrespective of your job title-executive, managerial, supervisory or clerical- you are either creating demand and/or fulfilling it. The rest is just details.

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What is profitable service?

So what is profitable service? Having a business orientation when selling and, equally too, when serving.

Selling cannot exist in isolation of service. Likewise, ‘service’ is useless if there’s no one to serve. It is common for salespeople to feel superior. “Without us you wouldn’t exist”, is a common refrain by them.  And some institutions overtly exalt this. “This is the team that brings in the ‘dough’” an executive will blatantly tell other staff.

Business exists to make a profit. Profit is money in the bank. This is precisely what “you’ve done your job” constitutes for the salesperson. Explicitly quantifying this where other roles like service are concerned is a hazy endeavour.

By the same token, businesses strive for long-term sustainable income. The seller can initiate the sale but only ‘service’ can sustainably accelerate it. For instance, the sales person for Safiri Travel Agency can get the LMYE Inc. account. But he won’t be there when the secretary at LMYE Inc. is buying the return ticket to Ghana.

Read: 4 practical ways to resolve Sales vs Operations fights

Viability of long term sustainable income will be determined by how the customer service agent handles the transaction.  This is not limited to her smiling, being polite and fast. No. It also includes being useful to the buyer by offering solutions only she can offer. She is the only one who can say: “May we offer you airport transfers and accommodation options while in Ghana, for your consideration?” That is profitable service right there.

Even drivers offer profitable service

The CEO of a popular travel agency cuts the red tape to maintain an aggressive open door policy with his drivers. He knows that the sustainability of the successful sale to the Mara, hinges on the experience the tourist will have with the driver deep in the wilderness. This driver is also offering a profitable service. There is a commercial attachment to it.  Tips, repeat business from the elated tourist, and new business (or none) from the resultant word of mouth.

Forget job titles. Make a customer, not a sale

Make a customer, not a sale” embodies profitable service for salespeople. The more now, when buyers have more or less the same access to information as the seller, thanks to the Internet.

Sellers are not exempt from profitable service simply because “they are the ones who bring in the ‘dough’.” Sustainability of the financial sector thrives on the little acronym, KYC. Know Your Customer in any industry because only the salesperson can let the wolf into the sheep pen. Once it is in, service staff are none the wiser. The wolf is a statistic in the system. In the insurance industry, claw back means recalling commissions from an unsustainable account. When this happens, almost always, the salesperson will (silently) admit that he compromised the sale at inception.


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