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Service in the New Sales

Service is the New Sales

I’ve sat through my share of keynote speeches and presentations. They usually begin with the speaker laying out his or her unique qualifications or expertise in the particular subject matter at hand.  So here we go…

I was a dog food palletizer. Hill’s Science Diet dog food to be exact. I would get the orders on a piece of paper then pull the dog food from pallets and put it on different pallets. Canned food on the bottom. Then the 40lb bags. I was very very good at palletizing dog food. My career path was pretty much set.

Then the bass player in my band moved from Sacramento to San Francisco. This created a need for a replacement salesperson at K & K Music in Sacramento. It was 1988. I was 100% commissioned sales…and have been ever since. I have not had a real “salary” for well over half of my life. If you are reading this, it is pretty likely I have sold you something.

(Side note. I wrote the tagline for K&K’s radio ads. “What does K&K stand for? Quality and Commitment!”)

On every credit application I have ever filled out, in the job title box I always write “SALES.”  Yeah, I own a business. I am the CEO. That is neat. Yeah, maybe I design CRM software. But in that box, when push comes to shove, SALES is what I do. The way I do it makes me uniquely qualified to write an article in my own newsletter that I pretty much write for myself because I love doing it.

Service is the new sales. I have been pitching products to you for a long time. We used to talk about “quality”. That is funny. Nobody claims that their product is of high quality anymore. EVERYTHING is high quality now. Microwave Ovens don’t break. Show me a broken microphone, please. Good luck. Stuff just works now. When you are at Costco looking at the row of TV sets, the only difference seems to be the size. When we get into a discussion about gear, it is pretty darned nuanced. “My stuff is unicast. That dumb multicast stuff is pure junk! You need 802.X!” Nuanced.

So, what is the difference between YOU and your competitors? The difference is how you deliver on the promises you make. It is not the generic quality of your thing.   It is the total package.  On the wholesale side where I live, it is pretty hard to make a bold promise. I don’t build the box. I don’t even ship it. I just tell you it does a thing and then I sit at home on a kitchen chair with my hands clutched in front of me rocking back and forth saying “I hope it works. I hope it works. I hope it works.” I did my best to make sure the stuff I was pitching you did what I said it would by reading, testing, and getting trained. But I didn’t build it. I just had to pick good suppliers and then hope… and “hope” is not the best strategy.

This worked for me.  For 25 years or so. Right up until it didn’t. Three years ago, I realized that in order to keep fulfilling my promises, I needed to get dirty. I needed to really actually do things. Not vicariously. Not in a simulator. So, I went to job sites to help. And guess what! I was no help at all. This stuff is super hard and I was super bad at it. I didn’t know when to use a relay versus a GPIO. I didn’t know how to terminate a DB9 connector. I was afraid of ladders and lifts. I was a DSP and Control trainer dispensing continuing education credits like a gumball machine…but when the rubber hit the road, I was a sales guy in a cosplay hard hat and vest. Might as well have been a plastic fire-man hat or the plastic pilot wings you got your kid.

Then the skies opened up with a shining beam of light from the top of the Salesforce Tower and Andrew Stanley joined our team. Andrew went to Cal Poly. At Cal Poly they make the students do actual stuff. Andrew came to us knowing how to do stuff. Andrew came to us as an investor as well. Andrew knew how to do it and was willing to invest in what used to be MY company all alone. He knew how to do things, but we needed someone who knew how to get it DONE. That is a different thing than doing it. So along came Tom. Together, Andrew and Tom were doing it and getting it done for a little company called AVDG for a long time. They did it so hard and so good that someone came and bought the whole shootin’ match from them…someone named “Guitar Center.”

So, Andrew and Tom came and invested in this operation. They knew that if we could fulfill promises for integrators by…uh…INTEGRATING, we could help our factories grow market share. Our factories could grow their market share even if their product was missing some key feature that the other guys have. We knew it would work because the other guys don’t have the U.S. And we show up when things are not going the way you expected. We make it work because that is what we do. Maybe it isn’t 4K 60fps, but the image is on the screen and you got paid.  We got it done.

So, when you have a choice between a few different boxes that have a network jack on one side and some sort of AV connector on the other, how are you going to decide which one to use? The cheapest one? The one that comes with a free T-shirt? Maybe the one that comes with a team that will show up to help. Maybe you pick the one that has people surrounding it that have used it in real life…and are not afraid of ladders.

We did not invent this. Cardinal Health changed the way pharmaceuticals are distributed not by getting cooler-looking trucks or bigger warehouses. They discovered needs for new services for their customers, and they filled those needs…like helping hospitals dispense medicine IN the hospital…not just showing up with medicine on a pallet stacked up like bags of dog food.

It is no coincidence that our service brand is FarmAssist. I modeled it after Cardinal Health. I heard about the Cardinal Health model in a keynote speech once. They used to palletize drugs. There were other drug palletizers out there and Cardinal was losing market share on price. So, boom. They came up with a way to solve the big problem of drugs disappearing in hospitals. And their business went crazy.  And they did not have to give the service away to get the business.

And we don’t give service away either. We indeed do give support away. We promise to support you using our stuff. We will always support you. But if you need more than support, we are there for that too. We will show up in a real hard hat and vest and work. Real workers…not kids in fire hats.

So, this is our plan. It is our strategy. We have not abandoned the “hope” plan…but it is more of a plan-b now. The plan is to make you a promise, then show up and do it. Just like the best of you do for your customers. If you are buying from a vicarious cosplay plastic fireman-hat supplier, that is your choice.

For our company, Service is the new Sales…