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The Old School of Sales and Service

Quick. What do you think of when I say “sales”?

Unless they are salespeople themselves, most people tell me they think of a slick car

salesman in an ill-fitting suit, spouting a line like: “What would it take to put you into

this car today?”

When people think of sales, they associate it with being hustled and taken advantage of.

They think of dealing with a salesperson as an adversarial relationship. The very word

sales can prompt sleazy connotations, and people become automatically defensive in

order not to be taken advantage of.

If they are of a certain age, some people think of the hustling character played by Alec

Baldwin in Glengarry Glen Ross and lines like: “Coffee is for closers.” That's the movie

adapted from David Mamet's 1984 Pulitzer Prize– and Tony award-winning play in

which sales guys fight for a Cadillac El Dorado (first prize) or a set of steak knives

(second prize). The third prize is getting fired. In such a testosterone-fueled environment,

the hapless customer is just a mark. Glengarry Glen Ross is so iconic in American sales

circles that many salespeople quote from it liberally. I've seen clips from the movie at

several companies' sales conferences. And it's no surprise that it powerfully reinforces

the average customer's unease with salespeople.

How about when I say “customer service”? What comes to mind?

Many people describe the experience of calling a toll-free telephone line, only to be told

“Your call is important to us” and then being forced to endure a frustratingly long wait

“due to higher than average call volume.” When an actual person picks up on the other

end of the line, it may be difficult to understand the accent of the outsourced

representative in a far-off foreign land.

Or if it is a face-to-face encounter with someone in customer support—an airline ticket

counter, say—the majority of people tell me they anticipate that indifference will prevail,

if not outright rudeness.

But in today's always-on world of the web, these old-school approaches to sales and

service need not be the norm. Modern businesses recognize that buyers have access to

real-time information on any product or service that interests them and are thrilled to

wait until they are fully educated before finally reaching out to a sales representative at

their chosen company.

Smart companies understand that people have choices of whom to do business with,

and they are transforming the way they sell and service customers.

At the same time, the web is a vast supermarket of customer information and

intelligence. If a buyer is wondering how to use a product or wants to know if others

have experienced the same problem and can suggest a fix, an encyclopedia of firsthand

knowledge is easily at hand. People tweet their frustrations with the services they use,

providing a perfect opportunity for brands to engage in customers' time. Yet most

organizations still force customers to use the antiquated telephone and make them wait

on hold for a representative rather than engaging them with digital tools at the precise

the moment the customers need help.

The best companies recognize that real-time engagement on social networks like

Facebook and Twitter not only make customers happy because their problems are

instantly addressed, but also provides guidance to future customers with the same

concerns via public discussions. Such attention to customers' needs serves to brand

those companies as ones that others will want to do business with.

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