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Can Customer Service Representatives
Become Proactive?

Copyright MMII, by Dave Kahle

Q.  How can we get inside sales to do some proactive sales activities each day? We want our inside salespeople to use some of their time to shift into the proactive mode to make outbound phone contact to existing and new business.

I wish I had $5.00 for every time I came across this issue. I would have retired years ago. Let me answer it in two ways.

First, how do you get inside sales to be proactive? Answer: You don't.

It is far easier to refloat the Titanic than it is to get a group of essentially reactive customer-service-type personalities to change their mode of operation to make proactive phone calls. That's because of the personality of the typical inside/customer service person. Generally, the people who fill these positions are very reactively-oriented. By that I mean that, if a customer calls them with a problem, they will knock down walls to fix the problem and help the customer. They are great helpers and problem-solvers. That personality characteristic is one of their strengths, and one of the reasons they are good in that job.

However, if you ask them to make ten phone calls to people who are not expecting the call - proactive calls, in other words - the typical customer service representative will lose sleep the night before worrying about it. And tomorrow, when they are supposed to do this proactive calling, they will discover that the amount of other work they have to do has swollen up and crowded out the time that they had dedicated to proactive phone calls. They rarely get to it because "other stuff" gets in the way.

So, the first answer to the question of how you get inside sales to become proactive is, "Don't bother trying." You will be swimming against the current, expending great quantities of time and energy trying to make something work that is probably not going to work. You'll find yourself and your inside sales people becoming increasingly frustrated. And this frustration can spill over into other portions of the job, poisoning an other wise positive work atmosphere.

Instead, hire someone who can be totally dedicated to proactive work. Keep their job description pure: no reactive work, only proactive calls.

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There is a rule here: When a person has responsibility for both reactive and proactive calls, the reactive will always swell disproportionately, crowding out the proactive.

As an alternative, it is possible that you have one customer service person who is a bit different from the rest, whose personality leads you to believe that he/she might actually enjoy proactive calling. If that's the case, then consider creating a new job for this person and having him/her do all the proactive work for the department.

Now, it may be that the circumstances of your situation will not allow you to hire a new person and or create a new position for an existing employee. If that is the case, then you need to consider my second answer.

Second: How do you get inside sales to be proactive? If you must, then be guided by these guidelines:

    1.  Make the proactive task extremely specific. Your directions should not be, "Call ten people and see if they need anything." Instead, the task should be, "From 3 PM to 4 PM every Tuesday, call the ten people on the list I give you, and make this 50-word presentation which I have written out, word for word, for you."

    The more specific the task is, the more likely it is to happen. The more general is your direction to them, the more likely that they will find it difficult to follow.

    2.  Train them in the task. Don't expect that they automatically know how to do what you want them to do. Hold a two-hour training session. Have everyone role-play the phone call several times. Identify all the possible responses. Create strategies for each. Get them to memorize the script.

    By first doing this kind of training, you are accomplishing two things. First, you are improving their skills in the specific tasks you've assigned to them, making it more likely that they will accomplish it effectively. Second, and maybe even more importantly, you will have enhanced their confidence in their ability to do this, and altered their self-image in a positive way. If they see themselves as being competent at this, if they really believe that they can do this successfully, they will be much more likely to attempt it.

    In our "Sales Power for Non-Salespeople" training seminars, for example, we spent much time just working on their self-image, understanding that if they harbor a negative image of their ability to do proactive work, no amount of management intervention will help.

    3.  Measure and publish their progress. Keep track of how many calls each person makes, and how successful each call is. Share those numbers with everyone in the group. This adds to the perception that they can, indeed, do this thing that you want them to do, because they see that their colleagues are doing so successfully.

    4.  Reward all success. When someone has a successful call, praise that person in front of everyone. Lavishly reward them for doing what you asked them to do. Success begets success. Make a big deal of every person's success so that they all feel more capable of doing this part of their job.

Transforming essentially reactive customer service people into proactive sales people is a task that is harder than almost anyone anticipates, and is, in many cases, next to impossible. Typically, the managers who want to make this transformation are sales managers who have years of sales experience. To them, making some proactive phone calls is no big deal. Everyone can do it.

That may be true from their perspective, but it is not true from the point-of-view of the customer service representatives who may be asked to do something that is difficult and threatening for them.

Dave Kahle has trained tens of thousands of B2B salespeople, sales managers and business owners to be more effective in the 21st Century economy. He's authored nine books, and presented in 47 states and seven countries. To access Dave's training, insights and tools online, visit The Sales Resource Center. Visit www.davekahle.com to check out a seminar near you.

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