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Profit from Selling through Technical Support

According to John Ragsdale from the Technology Services Industry Association (TSIA), services revenues are outpacing product revenues. He asserts that the focus must shift from service optimization to generating additional revenue from the support channel. In order to develop a profitable revenue stream from technical support, our thinking must evolve from deflecting issues to maximizing opportunity.

Many technology companies sell high-priced products. Developing a support-driven revenue stream does not mean that selling during a service call should replace those high-ticket field sales, but rather offering extensions of value based on the reason the customer called. These potential sales offers can include:

• Maintenance renewal reminders and managed service options
• Preventative maintenance and upgrade options for hardware
• Expanded feature adoption for software, as well as additional user licenses or new versions
• Additional offers may include training courses, user conference registration and other activities that serve to align brand affinity with customer interests.

One of the prevailing reasons for proactive selling from the technical support channel is the change in regulations intended to protect consumers from unwanted interruptions. An example of this is the “Do Not Call” registry which limits the ability for outreach. Instead, we must be prepared to take advantage when a customer actually calls us. By maximizing the opportunity presented during the call, we can reinforce the brand as well as the value the brand provides by offering a fuller solution in the context of the conversation.

Companies who have made the shift from a cost center to a profit center have learned some core lessons—some of which may seem counterintuitive, but prove this is a viable option for companies to take. They’ve learned that:

• An offer made in context of the service interaction is not perceived as selling.
• Talk times do not increase except for the time used for the actual offer extension.
• When employees hear “yes” often enough, they stop thinking of extending offers as selling and regard it as an integral part of serving the customer.

Five Components for Making a Successful Transition

A poll taken during a recent TSIA webinar on this topic found that, of attendees, the top three barriers to success included poor preparation and training (59%), a team not motivated to sell (15%), and inexperienced management (13%). Making the transition from support to sales requires a change management initiative that considers five core components. If you only address one or two, the impacts from those will skew the impact and advantages that could be provided by the components left unaddressed.

Team selection:
Making the transition from support to sales may require a different hiring strategy. This being said, the one thing that may surprise you is that traditional sales experience is not a true indicator of success. When bad behavior must be retrained, it’s very difficult to get agents to change. In fact, it’s easier to train an agent with a good profile, even if they have limited sales experience.

A good profile includes support competencies, such as product knowledge, integrity and ethics, customer service orientation, solid communication skills, interpersonal skills and a positive attitude. While assessing support competencies, it’s also critical to keep an eye out for sales competencies, such as problem solving, the ability to listen and adapt, influencing skills, tenacity and resilience, social confidence and a results orientation.

If you can find an agent with solid support competencies and some of the sales competencies, you’ve got a person that’s trainable for selling through technical support. One thing that can help is to include role playing within the hiring process.

You’ll want to establish a comprehensive training program designed to blend skills and product training. This should include sales modules plus technical content for the creation of a complete program. By setting agents up with the skills they need, they’ll gain the confidence to sell competently and the ability to match offers to the customer’s context.

Sales coaching training is not often provided in a services environment. It’s important to recognize that sales coaching is not about pushing agents to sell, but about creating an enthusiastic selling environment by providing visibility into performance, modeling top performers to help under performers, and controlling performance variation. Unexpected agent rewards can be the best motivational tool for developing enthusiastic and proficient sellers. It’s always better to think carrot, rather than stick, when the agent’s enthusiasm will be apparent to the customer on the other end of the call.

Program Measurement:
Making the shift to a support environment with a sales component requires the establishment of timely and well thought out metrics. For example, if there’s too much pressure on average handle time (AHT) to keep calls short, the metric can have an adverse effect on the agent’s ability to present and close offers.

There are three metrics that carry a lot of weight for the sales component:

• Offer rate – the number of offers made per hour
• Close rate – the number of people who accept the offers made
• Stickiness – the number of people who follow through with the offer acceptance, compared to the number of people who have buyers’ remorse and change their minds

However, it’s important to realize that making the transition is an iterative process that requires graduated metrics that evolve along with your agent’s skill sets. The best approach is to start simply and benchmark as progress is made. Consider the following structure:

• Level 1 – Basic quality scores and offer rates
• Level 2 – Effectiveness at conversions
• Level 3 – Orders per hour as compared to revenue per hour
• Level 4 – Advanced metrics based on average order value, conversion rate, and revenue per hour

Sales Program Management:
Good program management is critical because customer service management is what will keep business. A sales champion role is an investment that’s recommended. This person should be in the role full-time and focused on motivating teams, balancing sales and metrics, and managing required competencies. By coaching the appropriate behaviors and establishing an enthusiastic environment, selling becomes a value-added service to customers, rather than a burden your agents must carry.

The quality assurance team should also be involved directly with the agents to help them understand which behaviors count, to recognize and reinforce behaviors, provide updates according to performance, and ensure regulatory compliance. These analysts spend time reviewing calls and mapping patterns of behavior that result in the best outcomes.

To motivate agents, it’s important to incentivize them appropriately—as is true in all sales environments. The key to ensuring your staff makes this transition is to reward only above average performance. This may sound harsh, but rewarding mediocre performance will reinforce the continued delivery of lackluster sales efforts.

Two ways of incentivizing performance have proven effective. The first is to present a program that clearly identifies achievements that must be made to earn an identified incentive. The second is to provide bonuses for high performance that comes as a welcome surprise to the agents who earn them.

It is important to realize that 50% of compensation will usually be paid to your top performers who will constitute approximately 10% of the overall team. This higher compensation will be obvious to others through the ways they dress, the cars they drive and the lifestyles they lead, and should serve to motivate others to stretch to reach this level.

An Investment in the Transition Pays Off

Achieving the future state of higher satisfaction with sales from support established and tied to performance is a process that takes time. It’s also an investment in improving customer loyalty and expand share of wallet by providing additional services within the context that’s relevant to each customer along with the perception that your company is offering a fuller solution. It’s time to harvest the benefits of the high customer satisfaction your technical support services have already created by maximizing the opportunity provided by each call with a profitable sales component.