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Why Technical Engineers and Customer Service Support People Hesitate to Sell?

By Joane Ramsey

Why Technical Engineers and Customer Service Support People Hesitate to Sell?

Have you ever been in a situation where too much information left you confused so instead of making a decision you walked away? I certainly have. This is how many people with technical expertise tend to interact with their customers. When working on projects, they love to share their technical knowledge in great detail, including all of the bells and whistles .

This is their comfort zone, the information they have that is theirs and they are proud of it. These are very intelligent, enthusiastic professionals whose level of detail is beyond the "need to know" of your typical customer.

This knowledge, however, is also something that can benefit a lot of companies when positioned in a way that helps customers understand how they can truly benefit from a better product or process, from a financial point of view. Most of the time the answer to the question that is on the customer’s mind, “How will this add value to my organization and make my working life easier?” is an untapped sales opportunity.

Therefore, helping technical people understand how to provide value to a customer and simplify how they express the knowledge they have is critical. It is also a golden opportunity to help your company increase sales. You see, technical people are not salespeople! They do not come out on location or troubleshoot over the phone with the intent to “sell’ a customer something. Customers are naturally more open to their recommendations because they don’t feel pressure to buy anything. It is purely psychological.

You may be asking yourself, so if this is the case, “How do I convince my technical people to sell?” or “How do I ask them to look for opportunities where a salesperson can follow up this warm lead?”

Recently, I have been working with one of my clients to help them unleash the salesperson in each of their Field Technical Service Engineers. This organization recognizes that their field service engineers are a great source to help increase revenue. These technicians are at the customer’s site, they have credibility, they are not the salesperson and they generally come to fix something that is broken, thus making customers happy at the end of their calls.

The company launched this initiative a couple years ago, but management is highly frustrated because sales are not where they had expected them to be. Their technicians are hesitant to sell.

As part of my approach, I asked if I could meet with some of the Engineers to gain their perspective on the new directive to “sell” and why it has not gained traction. I conducted 14 interviews. One of the questions that I asked was “How do you feel about selling?”

Their responses varied:

  1. I wasn’t hired to sell.
  2. I am not a salesperson.
  3. I don’t have time to sell. I am in and out of a customer. I have to meet a time frame to fix the problem and be out.
  4. I am not opposed to it, but I don’t know how.
  5. I am not comfortable approaching the customer with something for which I have little knowledge.
  6. I don’t like to “push” products to a customer.

Interestingly enough, when asked “How do you feel about adding value to the customer by offering them products that would save them money in the long run?” I got a totally different response. The answers may surprise you:

  1. I love to help my customers save money.
  2. I am not sure how to best go about it, but I would love to give it a try.
  3. I think it is a great idea because we are already at the customer site. Makes sense.
  4. I need to better understand what I would be offering to the customer that would add value so I can speak with them with confidence.
  5. I already do that by trying to understand what is going on with my customer so I can provide recommendations to make their lives easier.

It is mostly about positioning folks! When asked how to add value, technical people immediately buy-in because they don’t feel they are “pushing” something onto the customer. When asked to sell, they dig in their heels! Sounds simple? To some degree it is.

For technical salespeople, it is about helping them develop a process to “add” value versus “selling”. Technical people are processed oriented, and they are highly focused on what needs to be fixed. By helping them understand that they can add a tremendous amount of value to their customers if they take a few minutes to stop, look around the customer’s site, ask questions about what is going on around them and then simplify the highly technical information into something understandable and tangible to their customer; they will actually sell.

By helping them think through a process that will help their customers, technical people can become excellent salespeople. It becomes natural to them and they actually enjoy it. However, do not call a technical person a salesperson. Most of them do not appreciate that!

In summary:

  1. Positioning is key: Position the transition as wanting them to add value to their customers.
  2. Provide them with a “sales” process that helps them think through how they will add value to their customers. Position the training as “Creating Added Value to Customers”
  3. Make sure to do your due diligence and understand the current perspective of your technical people and what they see getting in the way of adding value.
  4. Look at your current infrastructure to ensure that there are no issues that will get in the way of them pursuing a sale. Issues such as allowing enough time for them to have a conversation with a customer, ensuring that they have time to follow up when necessary, integrating the expectation into their annual performance reviews, and setting clear expectations, among others.
  5. Allow them to enjoy developing relationship with their customers
  6. Celebrate wins! Broadcast their good work. It is motivational to others.
  7. Compensate for any “sales”: it could be monetary, awards, trips, etc. What motivates them?

Unleash the salesperson within your technical people! As a result you will increase sales, peak customer satisfaction and have more productive employees!

Good luck and let me know if I can help!

Published: May 15, 2015


Joane Ramsey

Senior Performance Improvement Consultant

A native of Brazil, Joane first came to the U.S. as a foreign exchange student with AFS. She returned to Brazil where she successfully ran and sold two different businesses. Returning to the US in 1992, Joane put her business ownership experience to work with a small manufacturing company running the day-to-day operations and facilitating sales with South American companies. She joined SEG in 1999, where her experience has helped her clients get the results they desired. Joane has a B.S. degree in business management from North Central College, where she majored in international business and Spanish.

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