Today’s field service technician must be adept at a variety of skills — sales included. But it’s not just the field techs who must adjust to their expanding roles. The rest of the organization, including traditional salespeople, must adjust to the ever-expanding technician job description. I spoke with sales expert Mark Synek, a principal at sales and marketing consultancy Sales Benchmark Index and former VP of sales at Cintas, about how to get everyone at the company on board with the tech-turned-salesperson trend — and why technicians are often in the best position to sell.

How does a company ‘sell’ the need for technician salespeople to the entire organization?

Mark Synek: The way to sell it to other people in the organization is to ask what they care about when they purchase something. If I were selling the concept to the CEO, for example, I would ask what he cares about when someone shows up at his door. He probably wants the technicians to be on time, efficient and professional and to clean up after themselves.

What the CEO cares about with their businesses, however, often isn’t what the end user cares about.  A brand-new van, good tools or a great sales organization isn’t important to most consumers. They usually don’t care about what companies spend so much time trying to develop, whether new GPS technology, a better widget or a filter that only has to be changed twice per year. Customers want a solution to their problem, and the technician is perfectly positioned to understand the customer’s problems better than anyone.

So companies often don’t know what their customers want, or how they want to buy?

Accept that you may not understand what the customer wants — and go ask them. We do a lot of work with companies that have been selling to the same clients for years. When asked what the client cares about, they’re quick to answer. But then we speak with the actual customers and, very often, what they actually care about isn’t aligned with the company’s selling process.

The legacy sales model is still prevalent, especially in service industries. Companies have sold a certain way for years and assume they know how their customers want to buy. But they don’t. Consumers’ comfort level with the Internet and with doing things on their own is evolving really quickly, and sellers are evolving really slowly by comparison.

Are direct sales forces a thing of the past now that technicians are increasingly assuming that role?

I’d defer to the customer. On the higher end, there are certainly customers that demand the high-touch interaction of a direct sales force. The problem with direct sales forces, of course, is that they’re incredibly expensive to operate.

Asking technicians to sell is only part of the equation. How else are companies restructuring given these changes?

Companies are re-evaluating their entire sales and marketing spend. In many cases, companies are shifting assets away from sales and spending more on marketing. According to our research, consumers have already made 60-70 percent of their decision of who to choose and what to buy before they even engage with a sales rep. As a result, price is often is the only lever salespeople have left to pull, which is why companies are shifting resources away from traditional sales and into marketing and to getting found on the Internet.

What’s your best advice to get technicians selling?

I spent 16 years in sales at a business services company, including three years as VP of sales. Even years ago, we were constantly trying to figure out how to get our drivers to engage more with customers. It comes down to two things. First, technicians must be observant of their surroundings. Secondly, technicians must think about how the buyer makes a purchase decision. If technicians are able to think in terms of what the customer values, they’re more likely to identify opportunities to sell — even if they don’t have formal sales training.