Is Sales a Customer Service?

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In our customer relationships, it is common to segregate sales activities from those we call service. In most organizations, the sales departments are completely separated from customer service or other post-sales activity. And CRM professionals and consultants themselves always mention that CRM consists of marketing, sales and service activities which, seems to place each of the three as an independent discipline.

Since Kotler and Armstrong, started to discuss an expanded concept of the product as “something that can be offered to a market to satisfy a wish or a need” at the end of the last century and the beginning of this one, sales activity began to have its centenarian paradigms questioned.

(Ed. Wow. I might have said “old-fashioned views” but that’s just me.)

Since the early twentieth century, the common view of sales has been a salesperson´s individual ability to convince the customer to buy something. Now, companies must understand customer habits and need satisfaction, and nourish expectations by each of its customers in relation to the value they seek when acquiring its product.

Today, nearly two decades after their work, in times of internet when a large part of the information consumers need is public and they have free access to it, it is time to review the role of the sales organization in the customer´s value cycle. The purchase itself has become simply a transaction. But not the sales process. That is a response to the need to understand customer demands, guide them in the assessment process, and ultimately support them in understanding their value proposition. What we call consultative sales or solution sales, previously restricted to specific business niches, has expanded to a large part of business in general. More elaborate sales processes have arisen in response to a more sophisticated buying process.

While a customer recognizes a need, evaluates solutions, selects and negotiates the proposition, sales teams investigate the motivations, demonstrate that their products or services meet these motivations, and finally remove obstacles that still leave the customer uncomfortable. It is, indeed, a service rendered where the salesperson is not offering only a product, but a set of factors that will meet the customer’s needs or solve their problem.

Given this perspective, marketing and post-sales activities start to have their service connotation: they are responsible for aligning and promoting the features of their offerings to the expectations and needs of their customers and markets. Meanwhile, post-sales or service organizations integrate more closely with sales and marketing to ensure the delivery of what was sold and the service to the customer based on their needs and motivations that made them purchase the product or service in the first place.

Kotler and Armstrong’s ideas led to changes, some of them radical, in the ways of doing business from product development to commercial practices. However, they weren’t yet sufficient to break important paradigms in the enterprise’s customer relationship processes and structures. Departmental boundaries have been broken for a long time. But companies are still lagging behind in recognizing that. CRM systems still reflect this past. Selling can very well be a customer service, while the post sale becomes a sales process for other products and services as well as marketing activities. This is business, not departments.

Functional specialties must yield to business processes. These are, indeed, the growth thread. Think about it before taking the next step!

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