It’s All About Perception – Are You “Selling” or “Serving”?

Jan 19, 2021 • FeaturesmanagementBBA Consultingfield service managementJim BastonLeadership and StrategyCustomer Satisfaction

Jim Baston, continues his series that looks at how to encourage your service technicians to see generating revenue in the field not as a selling, but instead as a fundamental part of their role in providing the best service they can to their customers... 

In my last blog, I wrote of the opportunity to stand out from the crowd by helping the customer recognize that they are better off for having engaged us. Our techs play a huge role in this. They are in the best position to recognize the opportunities for improvement and typically have the trust and ear of the customer.

However, the success of our efforts to engage our field teams in revenue generation depends on two key factors. The first is that the customer must see value in our technicians’ efforts. The second is that our technicians must see their proactive recommendations as an integral part of the job that they do. Achieving both of these outcomes relies on how we, as managers, define what the technicians are doing when they make recommendations to customers about a particular product or service. Do we regard the field service team’s efforts as “selling” or “serving”? Our perception of their actions can mean the difference between outstanding success and mediocrity.

Let’s start with the “selling” perspective. Many service organizations appear to take a “selling” perspective. You hear it in the language that’s used. Managers talk about getting their field service team to “sell”. They use terms like “up-selling” and “cross-selling”. Unfortunately, a “selling” perspective can have a negative impact on our ability to fully engage our technicians in promoting our products and services.


A selling perspective is centred on us – the service provider. The focus is on how the customer can fulfill our needs. It arises from the question, “How can we capitalize on our field service relationships to win more business from our customers and increase our revenues and profitability?”

This can be problematic for a number of reasons:

Firstly, it can appear to suggest that business development is an opportunistic tactic rather than an integral part of the service strategy. As such, it can be perceived as an add-on to the tech’s main responsibility. If it’s perceived by the technician as an add-on to, and not part of, their main role of providing service, then the tech may regard making proactive recommendations as optional and not enthusiastically participate.

Secondly, skills development tends to be focused on selling. Maslow famously said: “If you only have a hammer, you tend to see every problem as a nail.” When we see the task as “selling”, we may conclude that the solution to improve our techs’ performance is to provide them with selling skills. Unfortunately, some of the sales training for techs has been adapted from sales programs developed for salespeople. Such programs often include topics that prove uncomfortable for the technician – closingtechniques, overcoming objections are just two examples that come to mind. As a result, the technician may not see much relevance to what they do every day in the training and some may even resent being considered a “salesperson”.

Thirdly, a sales perspective has the potential to negatively impact trust with the customer. Our technicians typically have high levels of trust with our customers, partly due to the fact that they’re not there to sell the customer anything. If we try to turn our technicians into salespeople, then the customer may perceive that the technician is “selling” to them. When this happens the customer becomes confused about the tech’s role and that foundation of trust is eroded.

Fourthly, a selling perspective is difficult to communicate to our customers. How do we communicate to the customer about our techs’ proactive efforts in a way that shows value for them? Can you imagine if we said, “We’ve asked our technicians to look for more products and services to sell to you so that we can get more money out of you”. Somehow I don’t think this will resonate well with the customer.

When we see the proactive recommendations by our field service team as a “service” rather than a “sale”, we set the stage for enthusiastic engagement by our field service team and welcome acceptance by our customers. That’s because the focus changes from being centered on us as the service provider to being centered on the customer and their needs. Whereas the focus of the selling perspective is on how to get more money out of the customer, the focus of a service perspective is on how we can deliver a higher level of service to the customer through the recommendations of our field service team.


When we take a “service” perspective, identifying opportunities to help the customer becomes part of the service rather than an add-on to it. Skills development considerations broaden to include all that’s needed to facilitate the techs’ efforts to share their recommendations with their customers rather than limited to “selling” products or services. The techs’ efforts can add to the trust they have built by demonstrating the value of their recommendations from the customer’s perspective. And, it becomes easier to differentiate because we can discuss it with the customer in terms of what is in it for them.

The “service” perspective positions the tech’s recommendations as part of their job – as important a part as their ability to repair and maintain the equipment they service. We enhance our service and add significant value when our field service team makes recommendations to help our customers to be measurably better off.


On a scale of 1 – 10 (“10” being “promoting products and services is an important part of the service that we provide”, and “1” being “promoting products and services is not part of my job and should be done by others”), how would you rate the general view of your field service team of the role of promoting products and services?

  • What are the factors that caused you to give the score that you did?
  • What steps could you take to increase your field team’s score to a “10”?


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