Assessing your Sales & Services Orgnization for Optimal Performance, Health & Growth
Updated: Apr 19, 2019
Mark Hordes Management Consultant, LLC
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
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.
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.