The Self-Limiting Reality of Getting Technicians to “Sell”

Mar 24, 2020 • FeaturesManagementBBA ConsultingJim Bastonselling serviceLeadership and Strategy

Jim Baston, Principal Consultant at BBA Consulting asks if there really is a difference between selling to and serving out customers if the approach taken is both moral and methodical?

How do you view the efforts of your field service team when they make proactive recommendations to your customers to purchase products or services?  Do you view these activities as “selling” or “serving”?  How you answer this question will have a significant impact on the results of their efforts.



Most service managers that I talk to tend to speak about the product and service recommendations by their field service teams in selling terms.  It is interesting to note that most of these service managers say they are disappointed with the results of their initiative. I suggest that a major cause of their lack of success is because of the self-limiting nature of their perspective.  Here are the five reasons why a “selling” perspective can significantly limit our success.

Opportunistic/Short-term Focus. 

When the proactive recommendations made by our field service team are seen as selling they become “add-on” activities and we tend to see them from an opportunistic perspective.  “While you’re there have a look for other things that we can sell to that customer.”  We miss the opportunity to see the service value in the activity and include it into our overall service strategy.

Skills Development is Focused on Selling. 

When we view the activity by our field team as selling in nature, then it is natural to look to sales training to upgrade their skills to handle the new expectations.  Although these are important skills and can be helpful in many cases, they aren’t the only skills or even the most important.  The field service professional’s ability to build trust and maintain credibility is more important. 

Our customers will not act on a recommendation if they don’t trust the field engineer, regardless of how skilled the field engineer is in selling.  And, unfortunately, if we simply teach our field service team to sell, they may come across more like salespeople and actually diminish the amount of trust they have with their customers.

The Field Team Does Not See Themselves as “Salespeople”

Most field service professionals that I have met do not see themselves as salespeople.  Many actually resent the term being applied to them.  If they do not see themselves as salespeople, how do they react when we ask them to “sell”?  Chances are they will feel that the request is outside of their core responsibilities and will either fail to act as requested or only do so “if they have time”.

Measurement is Limited to Selling Activities. 

When we regard the field team’s role as selling, then we will tend to limit our measurement of the success of the initiative to factors such as overall revenues, small project work vs. contract base, number of proposals by field engineer, etc. Although it is prudent to measure these things, this limited focus may cause us to miss key measures that will impact our long-term success – for example, customer satisfaction and customer attitudes.  Measuring only sales related activities may also cause us to reward behaviours that encourage unnecessary “selling” activities that may also erode trust.

Difficult to Promote as a Differentiating Service. 

Many service companies that view the field service team’s proactive efforts as “selling” fail to capture and communicate the value of this activity to their customers. These firms typically don’t mention to their customers that they are encouraging their field team to look for more opportunities. After all, how do you communicate the value from the customers’ perspective of the fact that your field engineers are actively looking for more ways to make more money from them?

Let’s go back to the question I asked earlier: How do you view the efforts of your field service team when they make proactive recommendations to your customers to purchase products or services? Here are some questions to help you evaluate your own perspective. Do you:

  • Replace the words “selling” and “sales” with the words “serving” and “service” in your discussion of the proactive efforts of your field service team?
  • Position your field team’s proactive efforts as a service and ensure that each member clearly understand that their efforts are an integral part of the service that they provide and why?
  • Use your tools and employ processes and systems to support the field team’s proactive efforts in the same way that you have tools and systems to support the other services that they provide?
  • Talk about work generated by the field on how it serves the needs of the customer (rather than how much revenue it has generated for the company)?
  • Talk to your customers about the proactive efforts of your field service professionals and how it benefits them?
  • Ask your customers about their level of satisfaction about the value of the recommendations they have been provided by your field service team?
  • If you answered “no” to two or more of the questions, perhaps a little more self-reflection is in order.

Engaging the field service team in promoting products and services can provide a valuable service for our customers and create a significant and sustainable competitive advantage in an increasingly competitive service market.  We may be limiting our own success however, if we perceive these activities as selling rather than serving.