Let’s face it, selling is now part of the field technician’s job description. But managers can now train their employees in the field — many of whom don’t consider themselves natural salespeople — to sell effectively? We spoke with Alex Alexander — professional service strategist and founder of Alexander Consulting, and the author of Seriously Selling Services: How to Build a Profitable Services Business in any Industry — which looks at how organizations can train technicians to sell, the importance of reinforcement and the sales advantage field technicians have compared with traditional salespeople.  Here are some of his insights about how service technicians can make the transition into sales.

Why is it so important for technicians to sell effectively?

There’s nobody that has more impact on future purchases of service or products than field service engineers (FSE). They’re seen on a more continual basis and have at least a dozen times more trust than the salespeople, so it’s a no-brainer. Field service engineers are the hidden sales force within a company.

I’d rather try to train a FSE on how to sell service than a traditional product salesperson any day. They catch on more quickly and once they see that it is in the customer’s interest to sell — and after you give them some skills to get them comfortable and competent — they’re more than dangerous.

How can organizations train their technicians in the field to be great salespeople?

The most important factor, by far, is reinforcement. That starts before the training begins. You need to change expectations, rewards, and recognitions. Service management needs to have it in the management goals that they’re responsible for getting technicians up to speed. Conduct weekly calls or gather everyone together quarterly to reinforce. Heck, at least have webcasts to reinforce the training and to allow people to share what’s been successful. Really simple stuff like that is the key to making it work, but it often gets lost in the bathwater.

What are the top techniques managers should use to train technicians in the first place?

The first has to be to make it clear that selling is not evil. If done professionally, there’s no difference between selling, servicing, advising and fixing. It’s all the same and is aimed at making the customer more successful. That should be the definition of selling. You’re going to have 25-30% of people who won’t buy in. That’s OK. There is usually a smaller group who gets it. It’s that big group in the middle that you need to appeal to. Management needs to explain that it’s good for the customer, the company and the technicians themselves because it opens up all kinds of career opportunities. Technically competent people with strong interpersonal skills can write their own career paths.

The second component is communication. Technicians must ask questions appropriately to get the customer to open up and to engage. They have to communicate what they’re doing, why they’re doing it and what the benefit will be, while at the same time making recommendations.

The rest of the training should address building the trust that technicians already have, and leveraging that to make customers more successful. It’s not rocket science; it’s just a systematic approach to moving the program ahead.

Any pitfalls management should avoid?

Common mistakes include not spending enough time on training, conducting training groups that are too large and focusing on dumping information without actual practice. It has to be focused on real-life issues, and technicians must have a chance to practice and to transfer training to real-world situations.

One caution is that you want technicians to be assertive and professional and to make recommendations that are beneficial for everyone, but once the customer sees them crossing that line [from technician to salesperson], they’ve lost all credibility.

It’s also really important upfront that sales teams know this is not a threat. The top sales folks love it — once they understand it. The bottom sales reps are the ones who are scared that someone will find out they are incompetent. Management must communicate with key stakeholders — and sales is one — to make sure that salespeople don’t think things are being taken away. Once salespeople see that technicians are making them more successful, they’ll come out of the trees to get more.

More from Alex Alexander: Year-End Reviews: Why Field Service Companies Are Doing It All Wrong