My company of 12 has decided that my customer service team (of 3) is also going to absorb the responsibility of being the sales team. We do not have any formal sales employees at the company - just one biz dev director. Despite that, we are attempting to grow at a frantic pace, with a goal of over 1200 new accounts by the end of the year (double the last timeframe's pace).

My risk is if I cannot sell these duties with passion and urgency to my team, I can picture two of them quitting. They have told me openly that they "hate sales". I do not want them to quit and can see them as great salespeople.

Feasibility of the decision aside, what's your best strategy for teaching my old and happy-with-their-answering-the-phones-only dogs some new tricks?

I am all ears. Like a basset hound.

misstenacity's picture

First up, my first strategy is to take my top performer and put into writing all of the skills that he already has which make him a great sales person.

I finish up the letter by saying, "I need your help", and reinforce my opinion that this is a job that he is great at already, whether or not he thinks of himself as salesey.

US41's picture

[quote="misstenacity"]My company of 12 has decided that my customer service team (of 3) is also going to absorb the responsibility of being the sales team. [/quote]

Customer Service and Sales people have almost nothing in common in terms of natural strengths.

I think you are asking some supportive, reserved types to pretend they are driving, influential, assertive types.

I recommend acknowledging that people have native talents and that as adults, these do not tend to change. Reserved people will not aggressively sell for you, but they will intake support requests. Assertive people will not be still and wait for repetitive support requests, but they will kick in doors and get your company's growth moving.

Hire people who have the strengths that the job requires. Don't put a fish in a desert or a bird underwater.

Adults do not change who they are. They can behave differently, but if you ask someone to engage in behavior that makes them have an anxiety attack, they will walk out with all the training you gave them.

I recommend two books:

First Break All The Rules and Now Discover Your Strengths - both by Marcus Buckingham. They cover this topic in depth and are excellent reads.

AManagerTool's picture

41 is correct. Big surprise there. However....I disagree with the premise that misstenacity has an option. She has been thrown under the bus with an assignment that is a real stinker. MissT, I'm going to assume that you already "managed your bosses expectations" with respect to this change and the message was "make it happen". This is actually a plumb assignment if you look at it differently. Your boss already knows that this may not work out so well and you can look like a champ if you get the thing working even to mediocrity.

I once worked for a company of 10 people and the president(owner) was the legal department, sales department and his wife was also sales + customer service. I was engineering + product development, facilities maintenance and anything else including trade show organizer + temp sales guy at the three big trade shows every year. It was far from optimal but it did work. If sales targets were 100%, we made due with 80% because it was what it was and the owner knew that fact.

When I need to move my team to do something unpleasant, I find that honesty is the best policy. Explain the situation. "Team, we have 12 people in the company and no sales staff to think of. We have 25% of the entire companies headcount locked up in this room right now. Management has given me the task of producing sales as well as customer service. I plan to do the best that I can to make that happen. I'm asking you for your help. Lets examine the situation and what will probably happen if we don't all pull together on this." And then tell them the scenarios as you see them. "If we fail to produce sales, they will assume that we cannot do this with the current mix of staff and want to change the team so that it can be done. They aren't going to want miracles or us to break sales records, I mean like, right now they got nothing so anything is an improvement...blah blah blah"

I have had success with that approach. You don't need to sell the truth. If your relationship with your staff is good, they will want to help you succeed. There will be push back and drama. Expect it and meet it with reality and truth.

Once the process is started, manage it like anything, coaching, delegation and one on ones. You may not have sales team of the year, but you will have met expectations. You can try to get sales team of the year down the road.

Good luck.

US41's picture

I agree with AManagerTool. He's giving you the right advice as to how to handle your boss's request. You don't really have any options with regard to the decision itself.

But I do want to discuss the decision itself for those of us who might find ourselves in similar situations in the future and make such a decision.

It's not just that these people are being asked to do something different - like asking accountants to take some phone calls and help people. Sales is an assertive activity. The closest thing to it is hand to hand combat. You are going into someone's personal space and daring them to knock you out of it.

For people not hard wired to do sales, it is terrifying before beginning and nauseating after starting. Those of us who can do it don't see it that way - it is just another job that needs doing. Those not inclined toward it, however, will react as though they have been asked to dive into a pit of tarantulas.

I've seen a customer service team converted to a sales team. It was a blue collar operation with a very young group of people working there. They were all introverted, supportive types and none were interested in sales.

* 50% of the team resigned over the following few days
* The boss's car was damaged in the parking lot
* One of the regular salespeople was hit in the face in the office for chiding a conscript about his results

Sales is like sky-diving. You are not asking for a stretch when you ask people to do sales. You are asking people to jump out of a plane. Some people groove to that.

Sales is a very public act, also. When you fail at it, you tend to fail on stage. Great sales people are OK with having their results public and other salespeople giving them grief about their abilities - like professional athletes. People who are not wired this way may interpret such behaviors as bullying or abusive, and they may react as though they are under attack.

You could find yourself with a management challenge far beyond asking people to stretch themselves. Prepare yourself for some interesting conversations in the future.

Conscripting folks to do work is always a bad idea, imo. When you conscript people, you lose the high ground. Instead of them asking for the job, now you are begging them to do it. When you do that, they have an entirely different emotional dynamic and will always be able to say, "I never asked for this. I didn't apply for this job." Executives may handle this sort of thing OK, but people working line jobs are going to donkey-kick like crazy.

To my mind, the solution to the problem "How do I convert to a sales staff?" is:

1. Create the jobs internally
2. Post them internally and mark other jobs to be eliminated
3. Give everyone a chance to ask for the sales job
4. Convert those who ask for the chance to convert
5. Those that do not, fire them
6. Hire in salespeople from outside to replace the jobs you fired with sales staff

Volunteers give better performance than conscripts. Volunteers do not fall back on excuses like "I never asked for this" or "This isn't fair - I didn't want this job".

This topic interests me because I see it happen a lot where I work. I see teams repurposed and people moved forcefully into different roles: project manager to manager, manager to analyst, analyst to project manager... and all three are very different jobs. These people who are drop-kicked into their jobs invariably flounder until someone who understands strengths finally gets the team and puts people into jobs they want and at which they can succeed.

jhack's picture

US41 is right about asking people to change jobs, and especially to sales.

One more facet: sales is mostly about failure. Most prospects don't buy. Most cold calls are rejected. Some folks are OK with this. Engineers and support teams, however, take rejection and failure hard (their standard is six sigma!)

Putting people into sales who are not naturally inclined is generally ineffective. Some close a deal, feel the rush, and transform. Most others, unfortunately, are just sick and exhausted. Michael Jordan was a mediocre baseball player.

One last thing: sales people are often categorized as "farmers" or "hunters." Support folks are more likely to be successful farmers. The book "solution selling" is a good template for this style.


misstenacity's picture

[quote="AManagerTool"]I once worked for a company of 10 people and the president(owner) was the legal department, sales department and his wife was also sales + customer service. I was engineering + product development, facilities maintenance and anything else including trade show organizer + temp sales guy at the three big trade shows every year. It was far from optimal but it did work. [/quote]

Thank you for that chime-in - it definitely seems like the small firms are the minority on this forum.

With all of the hats you and the owner were wearing - I wonder was the titles and roles of the other 7 were.... unless you sold a product and they were production (?)

I have taken all of your comments (thank you to you, as well as US41 and jhack) to heart and will let you know how I proceed, ideally in real-time.

As a side-comment, I noticed that the responders were all those I've met in person. I love the relationships that can be created from a MT conference!

AManagerTool's picture

1 Receptionist/telephone person, 4 product assemblers, 1 Shipping/receiving guy and another to make raw material.

It was one of the best places that I ever had the privilege to work. I learned so much there and they pushed me to get my degree, clean up my worrisome ways and get a better job. Fantastic people! Really! PM me and I'll put you in touch with the owner. Maybe he can help give you some advice from that perspective. It's been 16 years since I worked there and I still look for excuses to call them.

It can work....It's gonna suck, people might quit but with a company that small you have to make due. Small companies can be a meat grinder. No resources, lots of duct tape holding everything together, really low pay, scant benefits, people doing jobs that they are ill suited for and a really great family environment (sometimes).

TomW's picture
Training Badge

I keep thinking about this issue.... to me, asking a non-sales person to do sales is like asking an accountant to do structural engineering work. Hey, it's all math, right?

It's one thing to ask someone to take on more responsibility within their field. It's another to ask them to do something they have neither qualifications nor interest in. It might take a lot more than a memo or a nice meeting top convince them to take on the role, if you can at all.

As US41 pointed out, you're asking someone, possibly afraid of heights, to strap on a parachute and jump out of a plane. You may need to find people suitable for the new roles other than the ones you have.

lazerus's picture

At a previous position, I was responsible for developing new lines of business. My idea was similar to this: the CSRs would cross-sell the new product when they had a customer conversation (this was a company with about 35 people).

The idea never developed because I suggested we give the CSR a commision, to which my boss flat out said no way.

The result was that the new line of business tanked. Selling, like any other org function, takes resources. All bosses want "everyone to be a saleman". Especially at small companies. That works great in theory. I would be more motivated to do more work as a CSR if I got rewarded for it. Maybe you could convince your boss to compensate your team for increasing sales.

kklogic's picture

I'm going to play Devil's Advocate here.

Why is Sales a sacred cow when it comes to job responsibilities? I'm currently doing MANY job responsibilities that I am not well-suited for because we are short-staffed. I had no choice. I don't enjoy these duties. I am a strategic person and these are - ugh - task-driven duties. So, how is it any different to ask a CSR to cross-sell something*?

*reminder - this opinion is stated for discussion purposes and may or may not not accurately represent my true, inner opinion :D

TomW's picture
Training Badge

[quote="kklogic"]Why is Sales a sacred cow when it comes to job responsibilities? [/quote]

I don't see it as one. I see it as a role that requires certain skills, no different from executive management, brain surgery, or computer programming. Some people excel at it, others are very poor at it. Most who excel have specialized training in it.

Any time you put someone in a role that their skills and interests do not match, they are going to do poorly in it. Just as I would not want my accountant doing my brain surgery, I would not want my receptionist doing my selling.

AManagerTool's picture

I think sales is absolutely different from most professions. Most of it has to do with personality. It can be taught. Zig Ziggler teaches it. I'd love to see statistics on it though.

As John points out, it's a profession that's built on rejection. You need to have callouses on your spirit and be able to kick down doors when you need to. It's not a sacred cow but there are few other professions that require the ability to take a punch in the ribs and smile again and again.

Overall, it's a bad idea to make people sales people who aren't suited for it but the world if chock full of bad ideas and that list is not getting any shorter despite 2.2 Million years of Homo whatever evolutionary development. Considering that list, it isn't even in the top 1000 bad ideas for this week alone.

The way to get better sometimes is to make mistakes

TomW's picture
Training Badge


do you see putting someone who does not belong in sales into sales as being different from putting someone who does not belong in some other field into that other field?

HMac's picture

[quote="misstenacity"]What's your best strategy for teaching my old and happy-with-their-answering-the-phones-only dogs some new tricks?

I am all ears. Like a basset hound.[/quote]

Dear missbassethound,

Sorry I've taken so long to chime in; maybe you've moved on to other things.

Just so you don't think this is my usual Hot Air and Opinions - I've actually spent time developing and delivering sales training and customer service training. I've been a salesperson, a sales manager, a National Sales Trainer, and I've had my own small frellance training business.

A couple of observations and questions:

You mention that you've been opening accounts with only one business development person. That makes me wonder if this is not so much "selling" as it is order-taking.

Does you company define "selling" as making outbound contact either by phone or in person? So will your team of 12 be expected to [i]prospect[/i]: to identify and to contact potential buyers? Are they going to be following up on inquiries generated by advertising? Are they going to be offering additional services to existing customers who call in?

I ask this because these differing circumstances make for really different selling conditions.

[list]If a group of customer service reps are going to be tasked with outbound, hardcore selling - then you have a disaster looming.

But upselling and cross-selling additional services to existing customers can be a good fit for customer service - if it's a legitimate way to help customers get more value.[/list:u]

There's a lot of baggage to the term "[b]SALES[/b]" - a lot of negative connotations, used car guy images, etc. And nobody - nobody - want to be "sold to."

But that's all beside the point - I'm trying to figure out how you might be able to achieve what's being asked of you.

I don't know enough about your specific circumstances to know what you're being asked to ask you team to actually do (and if there's anything you want to do via private message, I'd welcome it).


AManagerTool's picture


You da man! This is what I was thinking was going to go on. Answer sales line, take order, upsell! Answer cust service line, arrange support, upsell...etc. I kept thinking why is everyone so upset over this. Thanks for probably clearing it up.


do you see putting someone who does not belong in sales into sales as being different from putting someone who does not belong in some other field into that other field?[/quote]

Your analogy has flaws. Sales is like poker, easy to understand how it works and anyone can play but it takes years and the right combination of experience and personality to master. Saying it's like making an accountant do brain surgery is a bit of a stretch don't you think?

lazerus's picture

This is a great discussion. IMO, a CSR can and (maybe?) is obligated to treat every customer contact as an opportunity to upsell/cros-sell. But then, I'm into marketing, so what do I know re: sales? And they can be compensated accordingly. Not cold-calling or hardcore selling, but simply providing addt'l information to the customer, when appropriate, which might help them. If not, no biggie. BUT, now they know. In new business development, I heard way too often from our top 10 clients: "Oh, I didn't know you guys did that!"

People in sales do posess a unique and valuable personality type, one probably not measurable in DISC terms, according to this article from the [url= 2006 Harvard Business Review[/url]:

[quote]We have to admire salespeople’s resilience in the face of endless rejection, their certainty that things will work out in the end.At the same time, we’re repelled by what their job can do to them. (Think Death of a Salesman and Glengarry Glen Ross, dramatic portraits of hollowness and moral capitulation.)

Just what type of person goes into sales, and how do salespeople cope with their jobs? For insight into these questions, HBR approached G. Clotaire Rapaille, a psychologist, anthropologist, and marketing guru who researches the impact of culture on business and markets. In particular, he studies archetypes – the underlying patterns in psychology that illuminate the human condition – and shows organizations how to use those patterns to sharpen their sales and marketing efforts. He points out, for instance, that a keen understanding of the Great Mother archetype has helped Procter & Gamble achieve great success with Pantene hair products. By promoting nutrition – and reminding consumers that hair must be nurtured– the Pantene brand appeals to the maternal instinct.

Rapaille says that salespeople have their own archetype: They are Happy Losers who relish rejection and actually seek out jobs that provide opportunities to be turned down. That, of course, has implications for how they should be managed. Rapaille’s research shows that the leading motivator in sales is not money; it’s the thrill of the chase.“Hold huge company meetings where you give a salesperson the gold medal of rejection,” he advises. “Jonathan sold 500,000 computers last month, but he was rejected 5 million times! It may sound ludicrous, but this is the way to get fire in the belly of your sales force – particularly in America, where beating the odds is highly prized.”[/quote]

misstenacity's picture

I agree this is a great discussion, and I appreciate the intervention that was made on behalf of "just what is so lofty about sales?".

For the record, my team is one that has been encouraged to upsell when we are running promotions, but those instances are minor, since there is only one level "up" to go. And, our team has handled incoming calls from prospects before, just not outgoing.

The main new task which is daunting is [i]calling[/i] prospects in a couple of categories:
1) They've expressed interest verbally to someone (trade show, etc) but never called or emailed.
2) They've emailed interest and need follow-up selling.
3) They have received a postcard (or many of them) and we'd like to entice them to be a client so we want to proactively hound them.

Category 3 is really the only super-salesy group of calls, and our team's involvement in those is still up in the air.

What is happening is that we have over half the company busting out 10 hour days trying to get all their "balls" attended to, and at this time of the year CS is slower and it is definitely perceived as "not fair" that there is idle time spent by [i]anyone[/i] in this overly busy company. (This is my interpretation of the mandate, fyi)

I hope that clarifies things and makes it a little less "under the bus" dramatic. The discussion has been amazingly helpful and enlightening, and combined with the SWOT podcast and the Urgency ones, I have tools to get the rusty wheels moving.

Keep talking, though! :D

HMac's picture

Thanks for the context.

If you dig in around numbers 1 and 2 (far better use of resources than #3), here are some things to think about:

* Scripts, scripts, scripts - and let them continue to evolve with new calls, new objections and new circumstances

* Make it a team effort - get people together to talk and strategize a LOT - especially to share best practices with one another

* Track and reward success - if there's no monetary commission, be straight about it when asked. Don't get sucked into "it's not fair" discussions. It is what it is, and the company needs this effort in order to grow (which means creating opportunities and protecting jobs). But that isn't to say you can't be rewarding success with small things: Starbucks and Target cards, pizza lunches, etc.

* Recognition, recognition, recognition - post results. Buy little trophies and have fun presenting them ("hardest call," "biggest sale," "Most time on phone," etc.)

* Coaching - customer service reps are generally used to being monitored and being coached, often by having someone sit with them plugged into an additional headset. Do a LOT of coaching as you roll this out.

* Be genuine. This is probably most important. Explain how this helps the company. Admit if it's causing stress. Be proud of learning new skills.

Have fun with it. Aim for success. Success if fun.


cwatine's picture
Training Badge

Wow, how could I miss this excellent thread.

I have been in exactly the same dilemna and in my opinion, sales developement and customer retention have to be separate team, even in a small company.

To be short : I own 2 companies for a total of 30 people.
We have just changed our organisation from two business units (with each one its own operations+sales) to two operations and a sales development force for both.

That is to say : separate sales developement and customer rentention

Why? Because in company 1 we have tried for years to ask the same people to do both and it never worked. Company 2 had things separate from the beginning and the turnover was +20% each year. So we decided to use the model of C2 for the group.

Sales development and customer retention are too different to be taken care of by the same people. If you ask them to do both, they will always do only one thing (retention, taking orders, farming) or quit because they will get bored.
When you ask your sales rep or customer service why he didn't develop sales he will have a good reason (I had to help this loyal customer, so I had no time for this prospect)

So we have split things :
- one sales guy joined the new "sales developement" team (and got under the new commission system : paid on signed new contract NOT general sales volume)
- one became technical consultant for our existing customers (in charge of helping them use our products)
- we are on the process of hiring two new sales guys ("hunters" profiles) and one sales assistant was hired for the new team
- one customer service operator joined the new "sales developement" team because she had the right profile
- the other cust service operators kept their positions with goals of increasing customer satisfaction and loyalty and they dont do offers and cold calls anymore

The system works better because people use their strengths only. They do what they are good at. They are more focussed.

And, it only works well because their managers (operation and sales devt) communicate together on a day to day basis.

Sales development team "gives" new customers and new sales to the operation centers, then they hunt the next propect.

Operation centers give technical and service support to the new aquired customer.
They also give testimonials of customer satisfaction to sales dvt so they have more selling arguments.

This has given a fantastic new energy rush to everyone in the group. We get many more new sales projects and our customer satisfaction has never been so high.
Globally, we have only one person more.

Another difference between order taking and sales development is that in the first one you "react" to customers demands while in the second you "drive" the activity. It is very difficult to do both. Nearly impossible to say : "oh, I will put this customer on hold because I have to call some prospects".

Is there anyway you could split things inside your team?

AManagerTool's picture

Your enlightenment came through experience.

[quote]Human beings, who are almost unique in having the ability to learn from the experience of others, are also remarkable for their apparent disinclination to do so.
-Douglas Adams[/quote]

corinag's picture

Misstenacity, I wouldn't want to be in your shoes. Looks like you're caught between a rock and a hard place. I would urge caution with not giving people a choice about their professional future.

Here's why:
I had an unpleasant experience with multiple hats. I was hired for a marketing position, and all seemed dandy, until the third week. There was a marketing vacancy at one of the companies in the group (not mine), and since the owner/CEO didn't believe in HR and loathed recruiting firms (after an experience in which staff was poached), she asked me to help, as both the most knowledgeable, and thus able to evaluate credentials and skills of the candidate, and the most experienced (as a hiring manager in previous positions). I did well, and soon that marketing job became: help me find three new sales people, then CSR staff, then reception staff for the other company, where customers often came calling, then administrative staff for our headquarters and so on. 3 months into the job I was recruiting full time, and the boss introduced me to someone as "our internal recruiter".

It was awful, because:
1. I felt the company had chosen for me a path that I did not desire, without bothering to ask me if that was ok with me.
2. As this was not my profession, even though I had some ability, it was a struggle to perform, in a situation where others, specially trained, would have done significantly better (with the added consequences upon my self esteem)
3. It was hard to balance the requirements of the two different hats I was wearing, and there was an uneasy, and not very productive, tradeoff at all times.

The end of the story is that after being unable to change the situation, I quit, and found a company in which the career path was mine to choose, and branching out into new areas / roles was a mutually agreed course.

For your sake, I hope that your staff will not experience the same difficulties, but it's good to be aware of the pressures they'll be under: feeling constrained, feeling inadequate, and being unable to do both sets of tasks adequately.

In my country, this shifting of roles or doubling up of hats is encountered with some frequency, in small and medium sized orgs., and wherever I've seen it done in such an unequivocal manner (you'll have to start selling / from tomorrow you are assigned to this dept. etc.) it always caused discontent, not only for the people who were affected, but for the other staff as well, who began to fear that they soon may also be placed in a similar circumstances.

TomW's picture
Training Badge

[quote="AManagerTool"]Your analogy has flaws. Sales is like poker, easy to understand how it works and anyone can play but it takes years and the right combination of experience and personality to master. Saying it's like making an accountant do brain surgery is a bit of a stretch don't you think?[/quote]

Not really. Surgery sounds like poker too: anyone can do it, but it can take years to master ;-)

My point is that sales IS a professional skill, separate from other skills, that not everyone has. If you expect an employee to do it, it has to be treated like a professional skill, not just something that they will pick up on the fly. It's not something that anyone and everyone can do just because they are asked to do it.

cwatine's picture
Training Badge

There is also a big difference between developping sales and maintaining customer retention.

Each one asks for complete different sets of skills, profiles, incentives, rythm and organization. A customer service operator can't do both at same time.

This is why I suggest, if you have no opportunity to hire, to create a complete new profile and "hire internaly". In your team, there may be a good profile.