Donald B. Stephens is a 30-year senior customer service engineer with the Xerox Corporation. In this post, he discusses the hurdles that prevent technicians from selling products — and how he came to acknowledge that, like it or not, sales is part of the job in field service. 

“If I wanted to sell paper or supplies, I would have gone into sales!”

It’s the mantra I’ve lived by throughout most of my career. Even when I was told all I had to do was call the sales 800 number, hand the phone over and receive credit for the sale, the same stubbornness kicked in that helped me find the problems previous technicians missed. I would smile and promise to try my best, knowing full well that I wouldn’t.

I wasn’t alone in my obstinacy and eventually, much to my delight, my company ceased all attempts at having service techs sell supplies. But I’ve recently fathomed something about my role in field service: I’ve been working in sales all along.

Don’t get me wrong. Teaching your service force to upsell equipment or sell supplies can increase revenue, and there are a few technicians that excel in such endeavors. But I would advise field service leaders to keep in mind these four stumbling blocks that prevent their technicians from selling:

Cut From a Different Cloth

It takes a special mind to repair complex equipment, manage parts inventories and shortages, work independently and keep customers satisfied — all at the same time. When a new product hits the market, technicians look for the defects they’ll inevitably have to fix, and they’re likely to point those out to a potential customer. How many Hummers do you think GM would have sold if sales people had said, “Yeah, it’s a great SUV, but it guzzles fuel like a drunken sailor”? Some people are great at sales and some are excellent troubleshooters. Rarely do the two meld into one.

Don’t Expect Service to Clean up a Salesperson’s Mess

A tech once told me, “It’s sales’ job to promise the world. It’s our job to bring them back home.” The problem with this philosophy is that customers who expect the world aren’t happy with home. One of the keys to customer loyalty is to sell the right equipment for the right situation. No one knows a customer’s needs better than the service tech. Creative managers will find ways to encourage communication between sales and service. Wise salespeople will do it on their own.

Difficult to See That Service Equals Sales

It has taken me nearly thirty years to realize that service is sales, so you can take it to the bank that most of your service force doesn’t understand this fully. Every time your techs interact with a customer, they “sell” your company and its products. That’s why it is so important for managers to train their workforce on how to communicate effectively with customers. Consider how you felt the last time you had a surly waiter at a restaurant. It’s the same principle in field service. Poor customer service diminishes a good product. In today’s highly competitive marketplace, a service tech who understands his or her role completely can make a huge difference.

Even More Difficult? Understanding That Management Equals Sales

This principle isn’t always obvious. Sure, managers sell the company the same way technicians do, but their role in sales goes deeper and is more difficult. When a new program or process comes along, managers need to sell it to the service force first so techs will believe it in and, in turn, sell it to the customer. This can be difficult with technicians who’ll likely see through smoke and mirrors. Keeping morale high is essential for employees who see customers every day, so managers must be honest and direct — and remind service technicians often that they are there to sell your company.