If there is an issue plaguing sales organizations large and small universally, it may be role clarity. The issues may be accelerating due to the continued Taylorism we apply to roles, slicing them ever thinner, or maybe it’s been a problem all along, exacerbated now by today’s challenges. Whatever the cause, service issues seem to find their way to the highest level of competence inside the sales organization.
The operations team makes a mistake that sneaks by whatever quality controls are in place, or the client struggles to produce some result. The issue comes to customer service, and they struggle to handle the issue effectively, especially when the problem is systemic, and the client is angry. The customer service person, struggling to please the client, escalates the problem to the Account Manager of the customer success team. When the Account Manager of Client Success person struggles, they hand the issue off to the salesperson or Account Executive or whatever title you prefer, the person who is accountable for the outcomes they sold—and who is now responsible for the task, whatever that may be.
This broad generalization describes why all the people in the chain above have taken one step to the left, occupying the role of the person who appears before them in the chain. Naturally, when it comes to difficult customer conversations, the salesperson may be the person with the greatest competency to resolve the issue, as well as being the person who may indeed be necessary for the large, systemic challenges their business experiences, as well as the issues that occur when the client doesn’t do what is required to produce the result (for more on this conversation, see The Lost Art of Closing: Winning the 10 Commitments That Drive Sales).
Many of the issues, however, are not systemic challenges or the client’s failure to do what they promised. More often than not, the problems are the day-to-day routine challenges. Salespeople end up looking up an order because the client couldn’t get the answer they needed from the customer service person or Client Success Manager fast enough. Salespeople end up producing reports because someone in the chain of players above doesn’t know how to generate the reports.
The challenge for the salesperson and the sales organization employing them is that their focus needs to go toward opportunity creation and opportunity capture. It’s not that they can’t play the critical role on the systemic and strategic challenges that come with execution, but that they should be reserved for a position in line with the function you want them to play for your clients. If you want them to be consultative, a peer, and a trusted advisor, you may not want to confuse your client by also having them be the person who chases down orders and prints reports, something that happens when you allow service issues to find their way up to the highest level of competence in handling client issues. Instead, reserve that for the biggest, nastiest, foulest, and most strategic challenges.
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