You're in Services - So Why Are You Selling?

Tim Short

In a professional services role, you might find yourself doing more “selling” than you anticipated when you started on your career path. Services teams are supposed to provide value for their customers, a trusted advisor if you will - and pushing more product at them might feel contradictory what you are meant to provide. But in today’s economy, services teams are a critical element of the customer journey starting long before they come your way for product implementation.

Sales in Services - Does it Belong?

TSIA, leading research and advisory firm dedicated to professional services, addresses the subject frequently, but very clearly in their recent biannual event Technology Services World. As described by analyst Steve Frost, he demonstrates the introduction and growth the role services play in a sales cycle has become.

Tech Era

This is not to diminish the role of a sales team as it might seem on the outset - rather a specialization of skills and cooperation among teams. But this undeniable rise of services in a sales cycle means a few things for services professionals - they must learn skills to sell and they must adapt their thinking.

Some may argue that sales has no place in a services organization - that the pure form of customer success means they should not be incentivized or required to sell product. This conflicts with their fundamental role of being advocates and trusted advisers to customers and further than that, they are not equipped to sell. Services leaders, very likely, did not learn their trade by managing quotas and sales cycles. It seems intimidating to suddenly be expected to contribute revenue and track yet another metric of success. But the reality is the services people are the perfect ones to sell - they understand what customers need and have the credibility to recommend a course of action. The key to selling in services is to create value - not ‘sell products’ to customers. If you are providing value in what you are offering and have a mutually beneficial outcome, isn’t that the best kind of sale anyway? It starts with changing the perception of sales and understanding that we are all involved in sales to some degree, so the sooner we can embrace that and believe in what you are offering, the better position you will be to advise customers on what they need and admit when you don’t have the answer.

Changing the Perspective - Success in Services Sales

Adapt to Changing Business Needs

I encourage any services leader to rethink their selling strategy and instead of thinking of sales as the enemy, to understand the value they are providing. Putting it in terms of value creation allows you to focus on the benefit and the outcome, rather than dollars and quotas.

  • Mialignment with customer interest should be the first point to address. If you don’t believe in what you are providing then you probably shouldn’t be providing it. If you see the benefit of what you are offering, it becomes much easier and more natural to sell it.
  • A common thing I hear from services professionals that are adjusting to a sales mindset is that they are not equipped to sell - they expect sales training or have heard how complex a sales cycle and negotiation can be. Selling for services teams should always be about providing value and less about what the product is that does that.
  • Providing a service is what we are often ingrained with but in reality we are creating value. If we are no longer of value or there is no mutually beneficial outcome, then maybe it’s time to walk away from that deal.

This may be an oversimplification of a complex transition but it helps to get started in your role of selling as a services professional. I encourage all services professionals - even those not expected to sell - to understand their product and have credibility throughout their customers’ journey. Get involved early and advise sales counterparts what you see and how the customer experience should be a long term journey where you are the experts. Understand the business of professional services and don’t be afraid to contribute to the bottom line.

For more on the topic, take a look at our recent presentation The Art of Selling Services.