Inside Sales Best Practices

Support is the Sequel to Sales

Christopher Tuttle

There’s lots of reasons movie sequels often suck—but regardless of the actual symptoms, the root cause is generally the same: the creators forget that the audience must have a reason to care AGAIN.

Characters have to evolve in new directions to remain interesting. Plots can’t just retread old developments. If we wanted to watch the same movie twice, we’d just watch the original.

There’s nothing worse than sitting through a sequel “retread” feeling like you’re being had—”This isn’t taking me anywhere, it’s a waste of time”—and if the creators screw up badly enough, it can damage the the entire collective experience.

Take, for instance, the generally reviled Star Wars Episodes I, II, and III. By all accounts they achieved financial success, but in some ways their blatant artistic failures demeaned the entire George Lucas enterprise. Episodes IV, V, and VI suddenly don’t look so “magical,” or meaningful, or worthy of praise.

So what’s the point of all of this?

Namely that in business contexts, customer support is the “sequel” to sales. If support teams aren’t “keeping the magic alive,” re-inventing value and connecting with the vision of the client, it casts a pall across everything that came before it (not unlike Hayden Christensen’s acting).

In some ways, the transition from closing a sale to implementation & support must resemble Part 2 of a trilogy—it has to keep up the momentum of Part 1 (The Initial Sale), set up and solve new and evolving challenges, while remaining true to the original intent. It has to ensure that there is room for growth, and that the client/audience is ready and able to reach a satisfying conclusion in Part 3 (Long-term Potential & Customer Growth).

So how do you build a support team that can do this?

  1. Empower your support team. Nothing kills the momentum from the sales process faster than a support rep who has to
    • Constantly haggle with the legal team over a minor contract point.
    • Fight with management over lost “training hours.”
    • Fight through IT roadblocks to get that one key system integration done.
    • Find creative work-arounds for fixes that should already be in place.
    • Beg for better internal tools to speed up their own work.

    Every problem your support rep faces is ultimately passed on to the client—and the client has zero control over fixing them.

  2. Measure the right metrics. If customer satisfaction is the real goal, find the measurements that actually correlate to it. Too often, organizations talk about creating “great customer experiences,” but don’t use metrics that give employees the incentive to do it (see The Madness of Metrics on CustomerThink.com).
  3. Institute performance rewards. In addition to correct metrics, give your support agents reasons to meet them. Sales tracks the ROI of what they do to the nth degree. Well guess what: employees instinctively keep a tally of their own “internal ROI” within the company. When mediocrity is rewarded equally well as excellence, guess which one takes root?
  4. Provide as many customer contact channels as you can. The days of sitting behind a “Request Support” Web form are long gone. Phone and email support are de rigeur standards now, but are your support agents listening where your customers are? Web forms, Twitter and social media, user forums, community sites, and custom support portals might also need to be in the mix.

In the end, a well-managed sales-to-support transition gives customers real peace of mind, and adds value; they see your support organization not as an expense, but a key component in achieving strategic goals. When bungled, it’s never pleasant, always painful, and often fatal to the customer’s long-term viability.

 

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