One way you can stunt your growth as a salesperson or sales organization is by spending more time than necessary serving your clients. While taking care of your clients is critical, exceeding your own roles and responsibilities to take over your colleagues’ obligations will prevent you from producing the better results you’re capable of.
Each part of a business is responsible for certain client outcomes, and everyone must do their part. When one person takes on a responsibility that belongs to another function, they don’t produce the results required of their own role and function. When a salesperson does work that belongs to Marketing, for instance, Marketing won’t provide another person to make up for the work the salesperson missed.
Walk into any reasonably-sized business and spend a couple hours observing people in different roles and different departments. You’ll find every department dealing with a certain set of client-related problems, some more challenging than others.
Human Resources is struggling to recruit and hire the people their company needs to serve their clients. Accounts Receivable department is trying to collect the payments their clients owe, sending documents, or correcting invoices. Customer Service is helping clients with their problems. Sales is solving the problem of acquiring new clients and creating new opportunities. Crossing the line between roles will confuse your clients and alienate your colleagues, sending the wrong messages about how your organization works.
Why You Don't Trust Your Team
While you are reading this, in fact, your company is struggling to help some of your clients. And if you’re in B2B sales, that client is also trying to help their own clients or customers. Every company, no matter how big or small, faces problems and challenges creating the outcomes their clients need—even the ones with CEOs named Bezos, Musk, or Cook. Yet many salespeople and sales leaders would rather take over their colleagues’ work than trust them to do their jobs.
If that fear sounds familiar, chances are that it stems from two revenue-reducing beliefs. First, you might perform a function that belongs to someone else on your team because you are afraid that a problem will cause you to lose your client, even though your clients are mature businesspeople who have no expectation of perfection. Second, you might allow yourself to move from a strategic resource to a glorified customer service rep because you want to avoid the hard work of consultative sales.
Your Lack of Trust Makes You Anti-Consultative
Your client will evaluate you based on the value you create and how you interact with them, so every choice is critical to your success. Agreeing to do customer service work—work that legitimately belongs to other roles in your company—will cause your client to treat you as a customer service representative. When they have problems, you get the call. It's good to be liked and trusted, but it also matters why you are liked and trusted. You should never consent to doing small tasks that belong to other functions because it lessens your stature, making you something less than a peer. The salesperson who chases down the missing shipment, pulls the report, retypes the invoice, or picks up the client's dry cleaning isn't positioning themselves appropriately.
The value you create comes from helping your clients make good decisions for their business and improve their results. These are your primary functions as a consultative salesperson. The client who wants you to fix their invoicing or shipping or customer service problem may initially call you because they know you and know you can help. But it might also mean that they don't see you as a peer, something that will prevent them from treating you as a strategic partner.
Redirect those transactional calls calmly and professionally, because your consultative role requires you to create the highest level of strategic value for your client. When you create transactional value instead, you may help your client with some small task, but in the long run you will diminish your impact and your results.
How Your Lack of Trust Harms Your Teams
You may be taking care of your client's problems because you believe your team is inadequate, incompetent, or understaffed. For that matter, you may be right! But here’s a tough lesson that only comes from experience: the more you do the work for another department or person, the longer they will remain inadequate, incompetent, or understaffed. The longer you pick up the slack, the longer those challenges will persist, meaning your well-intentioned efforts are actually making their problems worse.
Without the experience of struggling, suffering, and failing, that department or colleague will not get the needed investments of time, energy, greater resources, more oversight, and the leadership to produce better results. The best thing you can do is to make sure that tasks and responsibilities outside your role find their way to the department or employees that own them.
How to Treat Your Sales Team as a Strategic Team
You can always take a call from your client regardless of what they need, even if it’s just a missing invoice. When you take that call, however, don’t fix the problem yourself. Don’t even write down the missing invoice date and forward it to Accounting. Instead, tell your client that you are going to call Accounting and have them contact your client to take care of their problem. Then tell your client that you'll follow up with them in some reasonable time and have Accounting call you to let you know they took care of the invoice.
You want to train your clients to contact the people who are responsible for the outcome they need, and you want to remind your team that you are not a customer service rep, report generator, accountant, or any other function. Treat your team like you want to be treated: as a respected professional who works within certain professional boundaries. Your job is to acquire clients and create new opportunities. Unless your accounting colleagues will make cold calls for you while you hunt down that missing invoice, don't do their work for them.
When you’re doing transactional work, you’re not doing strategic work. When you are not helping your clients improve their results through your insights, experience, and your advice, you fail to meet your professional obligations—and you invite your competitors to meet them for you.