There is a tendency to see landmark court rulings as heralding change in the way we do business. The case of BSkyB vs EDS was no exception, with many experts quick to warn of the impact this will have on sales throughout the IT industry.
Many are now complaining that the judgement will mean higher prices and more red-tape in the sales process. Reactions have suggested that this will place a burden on sales people to be more honest, with some seeming to imply, as a result, that this is the end of an era where deliberate misrepresentation was acceptable.
Companies that do not operate honestly will quickly find that they do not last long. Not because of such court cases, but because it is impossible to keep winning business if you are not trusted.
This is clearly not the case for most companies. As a global IT trade association, CompTIA consults widely within the industry and our experience has been that companies in fact care deeply about being able to live up to their promises.
It would be unfair, as someone not directly involved, to make judgements about this specific case, but it is clear that mistakes are sometimes made that need not have been. Despite people’s best intentions, from time to time companies find themselves in a position where agreements cannot be met and they end up losing business – damaging their reputation or facing expensive legal bills.
Communication and understanding
The lesson here is a broad one about improvement through communication and understanding, not of knee-jerk reactions. Making undeliverable promises, well intentioned or not, is not conducive to building a successful company, but wheeling out disclaimers and overcompensating on price is not the answer either.
Sales people are not unscrupulous, but they are human. They are driven by targets to deliver products and services of which they do not always have direct experience. Unnecessary regulations and checklists will not help anyone, and may risk stifling staff creativity. What is needed is to educate staff about what they are selling.
There are few industries where this is more important than IT, where a highly technical product is often being sold by non-specialists to non-specialists. The buyer has no choice but to go by the salesperson’s word and decide whether they trust the company or not. Organisations will find that employees with sales skills who are genuinely knowledgeable about the product they are selling are worth their weight in commissions and profits.
This is exactly what CompTIA’s members have been telling us for the last year. Sales people do a great job, but by better understanding the product or service and the issues around its implementation and the realities of using it, they can dramatically improve their sales rate and increase customer satisfaction. In response to the consultations, we recently launched our Strata Technology for Sales certificate to allow sales people who do have the appropriate knowledge to prove that fact to their customers.
The rewards for getting this right are huge, and this case has shown that sanctions for getting it wrong can be equally high. But this is nothing new. Organisations have always had an interest in delivering what was promised on time and on budget in order to secure repeat sales and maintain a good reputation. That all starts with the sales people.
The high-profile BSkyB vs EDS case is likely to be a catalyst in a general trend towards increased honesty and quality customer service than a sudden about-turn. This certainly fits with CompTIA’s experience.
The lesson here for the reseller sector is not one of honesty or procedure, but of understanding. Organisations do not need to be panicking about this decision, or implementing stifling guidelines that their sales people must follow. What they should take from it is an opportunity to improve their sales processes so that they can offer, and deliver, the best results.
Train sales people about what they are selling and get them talking to the technical people. This will help them inspire trust in both new and existing customers, and increase your sales and your revenue.
Matthew Poyiadgi is European vice president at CompTIA
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