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  • Writer's pictureMark Hordes

Assessing your Sales & Services Orgnization for Optimal Performance, Health & Growth

Updated: Apr 19, 2019


Mark Hordes

Mark Hordes Management Consultant, LLC 713 416 1781

It’s common knowledge that at least once a year you should visit your

physician, insurance agent, stockbroker, CPA and attorney to potentially

rebalance your life at the start of a new year. So why do so many people fail

to follow this common-sense idea when it comes to assessing your business


One could assume that perhaps common sense is not very common. Clear

planning, prevention and pure self-interest are usually the payback for these

types of efforts.

Much like the professionals you reach out to each year on a personal level,

their trusted advisors and professional services consultants should also

provide you with much needed information to determine how your

professional services (PS) business is performing against best practices. The

benefits derived from gathering this type of information are many:

1. A clear picture about specific legacy services that are not selling, are

highly duplicative and should be rationalized, as well as which new

services you need to develop to be competitive.

2. Objective feedback from an outside source as to the gaps that are in

your PS business; you’ll learn what must change so that you can

target best or world-class operations with your business.

3. Realistic targets and metrics for improvement can be established,

based on the same targets and metrics other high-performing

professional services businesses use and consider in developing their

goals, objectives and revenue targets.

4. Internal stakeholders’ involvement can be fostered as you probe and

question those who have an ultimate stake in the future of your PS


5. More engaged customers because you understand their needs, wants

and expectations for the future; this gives you a strong foothold as

they ponder developing stategies for the future.

A case of disappointment

I recently learned of a software company that bears out the necessity for a

yearly professional services assessment and check-up. Fourteen months had

passed since the company had launched its new services business to support

a very profitable product-centered business.

A new organizational structure

had been put in place, new revenue targets had been established and several

staff members had been reassigned to new roles in the services business.

There was also the belief that people in other functional areas of the business

were well aware of the new company direction; it was assumed that

everyone supported the new vision and the urgency for such a change.

Originally, the services group provided feedback that the product sales force

was not fully positioning services with customers and that it would be a good

idea to interview customers. However, the sales force was quite adamant

that it was unnecessary to interview customers — as the sales persons knew

best what the customers really needed. They said they were selling

professional services, and to “trust them; all is well!”

The management team of the company had commissioned an outside

consulting firm to find out from employees how their current initiatives were

progressing. Several focus groups were conducted consisting of services

delivery employees, account managers and product sales professionals. To

management’s surprise, they heard some disturbing feedback:

• The product guys would not sell services, even if you put a gun to their


• Customers are quite upset that the only time they see company

management is when a billing problem occurs, never just to talk about

how they could better partner with them in the future.

• Consistency in delivery is a huge problem, with lots of quality

problems occurring at every point in the customers’ life cycle.

• Technical specialists and engineers are not being invited into pre-sale


• Very unrealistic expectations are being placed on the PS staff, without

adequate resources, support or skills training.

• The service organization is supposed to be partnering with sales, but

they are kind of at war with one another, and a review of the roles

between the two groups is way overdue.

Armed with this pre-assessment information, the management team

recognized that perhaps a more robust assessment process should be

undertaken in order to get a realistic picture on the state of their professional

services business. Therefore, a four-pronged approach was begun:

Step One: Interviews with the executive team

The first step in the renewed assessment effort is to have all members of the

executive team go through in-depth interviews. The goal is to determine how

the executive team views the strategy of the organization and specifically

what role the professional services group should play in helping to meet

those goals.

This particular company had 12 executive team members.

Other questions asked included:

1. What are the two or three critical business issues (problems that must

be solved or opportunities that must be capitalized upon) for the

executive team to achieve its strategic goals?

2. From a customer perspective, where do the executives feel customers

would place them on a 2x2 matrix that identifies four potential

options: vendor, specialist, total solution provider or game changer

(see figure 2). And how would they like to be seen by customers two

to three years into the future.

3. What are their thoughts on PS branding and how would they like the

marketplace to see them in the future?

4. What do you see as the PS group’s biggest challenges and services


5. What changes would they like to see in the services business by the

end of the current year and in two to three years?

The interviews with the executive team taught the professional services and sales

organization that there was very little consensus and alignment amongst the

executive team, and some very large gaps existed related to how best to

position the new services orientation to the marketplace. It also became

apparent that if the company pursued a total solutions approach, (some

executives thought that made the most sense), a different marketing and

sales strategy needed to be developed.

Others, however, felt that the

company should continue to position itself as a specialist, and the

investments and risks were just too high to make a move to total solutions.

Step Two: Additional focus groups

In addition to the executive team, it’s critical to get other players involved in

the assessment process. For this company, although some focus groups had

been conducted in the pre-assessment process, the management team

recognized that other important stakeholders needed to be involved as well.

Consequently, homogenous groups of CRMs, services business advisors,

consultants, marketing professionals and sales managers and directors were

included in the process.

In this particular case, ten things were learned from the focus group


1. The rationale for the professional services business change was not

understood and believed by most groups.

2. Communication about the change was not working.

3. Some very positive efforts had been undertaken such as training on

consulting skills and how to conduct client meetings.

4. The staff felt hopeful that with this new PS effort finally on

management’s radar screens, they would recognize that change was

needed and start to take some new actions.

5. The sales and the services organization had very similar goals, but the

compensation system and metrics were counter-productive to both


6. CRMs and account managers had been assigned to the wrong

accounts, and larger, more strategic accounts were not covered by this


7. Most groups measured customer satisfaction but not loyalty, quality

and team collaboration.

8. Field service technicians were being asked to help in business

development while out in the field with customers but lacked the

training and skills to do that effectively.

9. Focus group members were happy about the fact that the company

was trying to be more customer centric in all its actions and strategies.

10.The marketing group had 50 product people; yet, no one had

responsibility for services marketing. Consequently, very little services

marketing was taking place.

Step Three: Riding along on customer calls

The third step in the Sales assessment is to have the external

consultant accompany product sales professionals on customer calls. The role

of the consultant is strictly to observe the business development process in

action and provide feedback to management as to the overall effectiveness of

its existing business development efforts.

The company had 10 sales professionals, and this process was accomplished

over a four-week period of time with five high-performing and five averageperforming

product sales professionals.

Along with the positive outcomes observed in the sales-ride-alongs, some

services-specific areas for improvement emerged:

• The product sales force tended to position mostly support services to

the customer, leaving out more comprehensive service offerings such

as assessments, desktop migration and security in the discussions,

even when the customer asked about those services.

• Sales was quite adept at engaging customers in discussions about the

product but had a tendency to throw in free services to close any deal.

Sales lacked thorough knowledge about all the service offerings and,

consequently, only focused on commodity services that were easy to


• Much of the discussions with customers focused on features and

benefits around products; very little discussion focused on service

features, benefits and value.

Overall, the ride-along exercise proved quite valuable to the company in that

it helped it refocus its service business-development efforts. As a result of

this exercise, the following sales support was put into place: specific sales

training for the product and services group on topics like “How to Sell

Professional Services and Solutions,”; a method to better align with the

performance management system; and a redefined client engagement

process that had more technical and team support. Bottom line: Although

sales would often say, “Yes, we sell services,” the truth was that in too many

situations, services were given away to close product sales.

Step Four: Asking customers the right questions

The last leg in the assessment process entails conducting a “Voice of the

Customer” (VOC) market study, which involves interviewing customers. In

this case, 30 of the company’s customers at three levels of relationships

were interviewed: senior management, middle management and users of

their services. The resultant one-hour interviews were tape recorded and


The goals of the VOC process are to:

1. Gather quality information to help define and prioritize high potential

(high value to the customer and good profit to the company) services

that could be introduced quickly with minimum hassle.

2. Build a business case for the need for a stronger service emphasis.

3. Deepen and expand customer relationships.

4. Determine how customers currently use the services offerings.

5. Find out customers’ critical business issues.

6. Determine if customers are interested in new services.

7. Ascertain the value drivers and price points that the customers look for

in new services.

8. Identify their decision-making process — how they buy services.

9. Gather feedback on the importance and effectiveness of the services

the customer currently utilizes.

10. Look for any other areas of improvement or recommendations to

develop more of a partnership relationship with the customer.

What was learned from the VOC process was quite beneficial. Specifically,

customers liked the fact that the company reached out to them to obtain its

feedback related to critical business issues and how the company could move

more in a direction of becoming a trusted advisor and partner in working with

them. Customers also learned some significant gaps existed in how services

were delivered and supported.

Additionally, many customers expressed a

strong interest in the emerging services the company was considering

offering and wanted to learn more about them.

This specific feedback enabled the company to start new sales cycles and to

prioritize which of the potential new services to bring to market.

Post-assessment actions.

After all of the assessment information is collected and analyzed, an off-site

planning meeting is usually conducted. The goal of the meeting is to

understand how the services group stacks up against 10 areas of

consideration: strategy, sales, marketing, operations, delivery, talent,

culture, service design, markets and customers and to create action teams to

address low performing areas of service performance.

For this company the meeting lasted three days, and strategic sales,

delivery processes, business and people development initiatives were

undertaken as well.

A two-year master services plan emerged — with specific

strategic initiatives to address services and sales gaps as well as how the

new services would be launched. The process also served as a vehicle to

better align the executive team, and each executive became a process owner

for a component of the master plan with specific targets, objectives and


In addition, the organization developed a change management

communications plan to share the assessment findings throughout the

organization through a series of small group meetings organized to foster

feedback and rich dialogue across functional parts of the company.

Prevention pays off in the long run

Someone once said, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” Take

the time to conduct an effective professional services assessment at least

once a year, and your optimal professional services health will keep your

organization vital, healthy, agile and strong — even during turbulent times of



Mark Hordes is a well known key-note speaker, consultant, best selling

services author and principal with Mark Hordes Management Consultants


He is co-author of the best-selling services book, S-Business: Reinventing

the Services Organization. In addition to management and change

management consulting, training and VOC market studies, Mark conducts

health check assessments and reviews for his global organizational clients.

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