Managing and motivating delivery staff who also sell:
Using delivery staff as sales people is a well established practice in some business sectors. Professions such as accountants, solicitors and architects typically do not have dedicated sales people so the selling role falls to the practitioners who also deliver the service. It is common that the “professions” feel that the classic sales role would not sit well with their customer base so using their delivery staff to acquire new business is seen as the only option.
A typical model in the professions involves the senior partners functioning as rain makers, creating opportunities with new potential customers (clients they would call them) which they then pass to more junior staff who then build the relationship.
This practice can also be found in many other business sectors, for example; consulting and some aspects of the pharmaceutical industry. Another application of the model is found in service sectors where, for example, field engineers were re-trained as “sales engineers”. This arose when companies realised that their customers often talked openly to their regular engineers whilst perhaps feeling more guarded when talking to rarely seen sales people. As with the professions, the initial contact process to create the customer in the first place would have been done by someone other than the delivery staff.
When using delivery staff as sales people there are a number of key issues to be considered:
- Do you expect them to hunt for new business or just farm existing customers and relationships created by others? In the examples above, the practitioners and sales engineers are farming relationships and customers created by others such as the rain makers.
The main distinction between hunting and farming lies in the relationship between supplier and buyer. If the buying organisation is an established customer; ordering what you make or using the services you provide, the relationship can be farmed. If on the other hand they are still a prospect; they have not yet bought anything from you, then the required selling approach is hunting.
- If you do want delivery staff to hunt, you must decide which elements of the selling cycle will be their responsibility. For example, do you really expect them to do the whole job commencing with the initial cold telephone call and if you don’t how will this be done?
- How will you avoid conflict between two equally important roles; delivering what the customer has already bought and the time required to look for new or add-on business for you? The issue of conflict may also occur to the customer who may see your delivery person as a temporary addition to their team but also sees them working in the interests of your organisation – while not unreasonable from your point of view, the customer may feel differently. The opposite can also happen when the customer assumes your delivery person is partly there to develop the relationship but finds them less than effective at passing on opportunities.
- Another point of potential conflict arises when the prospective customer likes the person they meet and wants to “buy” them when in reality you know a colleague would be more available or appropriate to the assignment. Most delivery staff do not deal easily with this and typically are unable to “sell” around the situation.
- If your staff have a KPI to keep their delivery diary full, this may lead them to “sell” themselves when in truth a colleague may be better suited to the assignment.
- How will you reward the selling component of their combined role without adding to their sense of conflict?
Regardless of your approach to the above issues you will still have to decide how you will manage and motivate your people as they deliver their dual role.
- If the selling role you expect your delivery staff to undertake is farming then there is a reasonable chance that it can be successful. The relationship with your customer will of course be professional but also probably quite relaxed and non-combative. Most delivery staff will be comfortable in this environment and should be successful provided they have the appropriate competencies for the role, have been trained in sales skills and your proposition, and have a set of processes to follow when wearing the selling hat.
The key management issues to consider will be; ensuring that your people are spending appropriate amounts of time on both roles, they are following the processes, and through those processes you are able to spot potential issues early. Time must be set aside to actively manage and coach them. You also need to decide who manages their selling activities; will that be the manager normally responsible for delivery to the customer or will they have two managers; delivery and sales? Neither approach is ideal; compromises will have to be made to support them when time or priority conflicts inevitably arise.
- If you want your delivery staff to be hunters then this presents an entirely different set of challenges. The main challenge arises from the fact that the competencies and personal characteristics of a typical hunter are very different to those of a typical delivery person and it is unusual to find one person who is good at, or wants to do, both. Also, how will your delivery staff gain access to new prospects when they will typically not have the time or skills to do a new business selling role so will typically stay in their comfort zone?
It may be that your organisation is receiving sufficient inbound enquiries to achieve your new business goals. You will still need to decide whether your delivery people will be the first responders making that first appointment or whether you will have someone else to filter and shape those enquiries qualifying those that are suitable for a meeting. If you are not getting enough in-bound enquiries you may need to consider the rain maker model or using someone (internal or external) to generate appointments for you. In terms of management, the key things are as before; they need the time to sell, the skills to sell and you need to set aside the time to manage and coach them. If the initial response to inbound enquiries is done by someone other than your delivery staff then you also need to manage that part of the process to ensure only properly qualified situations get through to the delivery staff.
- Anyone who performs a dual role is at risk of feeling conflicted especially when the two roles are of equal importance. The situation will be compounded by customers who behave as though they “own” your delivery staff and hence do not understand when your people are doing things for you. Also, almost without exception, your staff will have a bias to one role or the other and typically the delivery role as that is what they chose to do as a career so in the subconscious the selling role will feel secondary. This last point is often made worse when the manager also comes from the delivery side of your business.
The key management challenge is to ensure you have chosen the right people to wear two hats. Then, everything that happens in the business, every message that is communicated, must reinforce that you want them to do this dual role and that it is important to the success of the business. If the dual role is to be managed by the delivery manager you must ensure that person is fully bought in to the concept and that they will not be biased when allocating tasks, managing time and supporting their staff in both roles. It is also important that at an early stage in the engagement with a new prospect that they understand how you operate and that the delivery staff do wear two hats.
- The final point to consider is how you will reward your staff for their dual role? Rewards, both financial and soft, are key components in the mix that will help your people to be successful. In most companies new business people are rewarded through bonus or commission gained from their selling success and this could be applied to the selling component of their role. However, there is a risk that the financial reward for the selling component can increase any sense of conflict that already exists and it may also distort the way the people allocate their time to each role. If the selling role is pure farming then applying a financial reward for gaining add-on business will typically work well as the person perceives the new business as a natural result of them doing their delivery role well.
The management challenge is to ensure the reward scheme is well designed and is fair and balanced across everyone involved in selling and delivery and that it does not compound the potential for conflict.
Some words of warning!
When working with a management consultancy some years ago we were tasked with helping their 12 senior and principal consultants become more effective in their selling role. To cut a long story short, 3 people took readily to the role and were happy to go hunting, 4 were OK with farming, 4 wanted nothing to do with any aspect of selling and the final one left the company to avoid being involved in any way at all.
In the majority of cases that we see, using delivery staff as sales people does not work well and this is especially so when they are expected to generate new business. Some years ago research was done looking at the effectiveness of consulting businesses and it was apparent that those who employed professional sales people grew faster and more predictably than those who tried to use delivery staff to sell.