Company mergers occur almost daily. While such moves both scare and excite employees, one thing is almost always certain to happen: culture change.

A merged company typically adopts the acquiring company's processes, products or organizational strategy. The change means learning a different way of working and thinking.

That's what a product-based sales team experiences when a company decides to offer services. So how can you help a sales team change?

Current Marketing Challenge

How do you train sales to sell services?

I just suffered a big setback when I tried to train my product sales force to sell services at my company. We did a pilot in Texas, and the consultant we used had no hands-on experience selling services and tried to teach a 10-day course in two days, using old field-training, basic-sales stuff.

The feedback on the course was horrible! How could I have handled this differently? What experiences have readers had selling services when they previously have only sold products? What is the best way to train your staff to sell services?

—James, VP of professional services

Management won't be surprised when employees don't buy into the change. Furthermore, sales teams have more challenges today than in the past, because customers have become choosier about their wants and needs. However, businesses can take steps to ease the pain of change, based on the following reader suggestions:

  • Adjust your compensation plan.
  • Train the sales force.
  • Offer, don't sell.

Next Marketing Challenge

How to develop management skills and sell them on a resume.

Click here to offer your advice or here to ask a question.

Adjust your compensation plan

Selling services requires a different approach from selling products. Similarly, compensation should change to fit the service model, as Free Yee, president of FoundPages, explains:

In my 20 years of sales experience and management, I've noticed two things—sales people sell what sells, and they sell what pays them more, faster. So to move to services, I've tried to make it easier for them to sell services by bundling/packaging, for example, and by making sure the compensation plan for the service offering was attractive, if not more attractive than for the product offering. Usually, sales can sell services, but they (like everyone else) start the day off selling what they did (or sold) yesterday.

If a company wants its sales team to sell more services and fewer products, your compensation and performance package makes a great motivator.

Train the sales force

The service offering is new to the sales team, so training is a must. The members of the sales staff need to understand what they're selling, and training helps accomplish this. Training not only helps them understand the offering but also changes their attitude about the change, as Andrew Bleiman, director of marketing intelligence at Dieselpoint, Inc., says:

At my last company, we transitioned from a product to a service over the course of three months, but not without significant push-back from our sales force. There are some obvious methodological differences between selling a product versus a service. Most importantly, when selling a service, you're selling a relationship. Some sales people can be very compelling at selling a product but are simply not the type of people that a potential client would sign up for ongoing interactions with. This means the transition might mean parting ways with some people.

However, in our experience, the biggest challenge we faced was the perception of the salespeople that a service was more challenging to sell than a product, resulting in a defeatist attitude. Confidence (not cockiness) is essential in sales, and this perspective was potentially deadly. The key to turning them around was in-field training. Our sales force partnered with members of sales management and a select group of capable and undiscouraged salespeople showed how it was done in the actual environments they would be selling.

The second step is to have the retraining salespeople lead their sales calls in the presence of a manager (a capable consultant would also work), who critiques them on their presentation. As it turned out, for us, selling a service actually resulted in higher close rates than the product model. We share these metrics with the sales force quickly and regularly to quantifiably address their concerns.

Offer, don't sell

Building on the idea of selling a relationship, try offering rather than selling for a similar effect. Rather than force the sales message, focus on working with the client. Sandi Covert, director of government marketing with InsightMAS, looks at selling from the perspective of helping:

Before coming to the consulting firm I am with now, I sold items. My best advice is that your people need to understand you don't SELL a service. You OFFER the service in a way that says you are here to HELP! This appeals to the emotions of the contact and helps grow a relationship from not trusting to trusting. Selling services is all about developing a relationship.

Change often comes with backlash and negative attitudes. Working with the sales team and taking its needs into consideration strengthens the relationship between sales and the company. Since your company is moving to a service-oriented business, a building-relationships approach works well for both sales and potential clients.

Have patience, as it takes time to make a change and get others to adapt, but follow these guidelines to get results that excite everyone in the company.

Next Marketing Challenge: Can You Help?

How do I pump up the management volume?

I have six years of advertising/marketing experience and am looking to advance into a management position within my field. The roadblock I seem to face is that I do not have any direct management experience. Both the graphic designer and temp we have report to me on a daily basis, but not on paper. I also lead various projects/initiatives.

I don't want to embellish and get in over my head, but is there a better way to address my management experience on my resume or when interviewing? Or can I do something to gain the experience I need to advance into management?

—Sharon, consultant

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Hank Stroll ( is publisher at InternetVIZ, a custom publisher of 24 B2B e-newsletters reaching 490,000 business executives.