Selling is giving a service. You want a plumber with some basic understanding of electrical work. We want elastic skills as employers but shun them as employees. Strange.

Selling is giving a service and giving a service is selling. It is the perception that selling and service are mutually exclusive that is the bane of many organizations.

Organizational structures are designed for specialization. But, the rapid, technologically driven evolution of the corporate, over the past decade, and the growing necessity to accept that Customer is King in practice, not just on paper, is changing that. In the former, for instance, IT and Finance are finding a lot of fluidity in their hitherto distinct silos. Tragically, in the latter, there is still a struggle.

Service is selling

Many employees still see themselves in customer service or selling. Some, like technicians, assume they are neither. “My job is to install the software.” Yet you will interact much more closely and longer with the customer at his time of need than the salesperson.

This is much akin to the house help who tells you “walikata stima” (power was disconnected) only after you get home in the evening and ask why it’s dark! This tragedy is driven by traditional thinking. “My job as a waiter is to serve the customer with what he ordered. Getting the customer to the hotel is not my business. It’s sales’”. How archaic and myopic.

Selling is service

Asking the customer what (not if) drink he’d like is a sale; how I serve him, will determine whether he will come again (a second sale) or refer another customer (another sale); it may also ensure he doesn’t return (a lost sale), and bad mouths us (several lost sales). Even KRA is serving/selling today with terms like ‘forgiven’ and ‘payment plan.’ How then is serving distinct from selling?

I know. It’s because we cling on to the defunct definition of selling: those people at the bottom of the food chain who go out there to exchange our product or service for the customer’s money. And because I am not that person, even though I interact with the customer, I do not sell.

Read: Mr. Branch Manager, is your branch an operations or sales centre?

Employers are demanding elastic skills

Wake up call: anyone interacting with the customer (even in accounts) is selling. If there is anything employers are demanding today more than ever, it’s elastic skills. That you are my cab driver, I should expect that you understand mechanical work; you want a plumber who will sort that simple wiring problem impeding access to the leaking pipe, and not the one who tells you to get the electrician to sort the wire then call him back; you are delighted to find a house help who’s exceptional cleanliness equals her love for your children. We want all these elastic skills as employers but shun them as employees. Strange.

Selling is service

What about sales people? Salespeople at one time had the upper hand. They were the sole repository of information about the product, company and the market. And they could successfully wield this over the client. As last week’s piece observed, that’s not the case today when buyers have more information than sellers.

Today, to thrive, one must make a customer not a sale. Aim for a marriage, not a fling. Patience, integrity and education are what will carry the day. These qualities smack of “service”, not “selling”. “Go watch this movie,” my DVD seller tells me; “I know you’ll like it; pay me next time you come by. If you don’t like it, you won’t pay for it.” Or, my barber advising a customer who wants a cut just like his friend’s: “Shaving your hair like that will make your scalp itch unbearably. Hair looks the same from outside but differs immensely within. Yours grows in a spiral fashion from the skin, thus favouring this other hairstyle which is what I recommend.” Both these sellers are seamlessly giving a service.

Irrespective of department, you are dealing with demand; whether creation or satisfaction is irrelevant-it’s demand. To remain relevant, emulate the doctor. Is he giving a service or selling?

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