Over 154 Years of Service to the Furniture Industry
 Furniture World Logo

Customer Service-Oriented Salespeople: The Most Effective Way to Practice Side-by-Side Buying

Furniture World Magazine


Peter A. Marino, Ph.D.


Volumes of books have been written on how to be effective salespeople. Many of those books suffer the same flaw. They merely imply, but do not expressly state, four basic facts of selling: (1) selling is a predicated on a structure; (2) selling is predicated on the concept of side-by-side buying; (3) selling is a collaborative effort that involves everyone within the organization, regardless of each one’s job description, and (4) the organization’s mission statement makes it imperative that selling be a collaborative effort. Salespeople cannot circumvent those four basic elements of selling without seriously impeding the organization’s ability to be successful.

An organization hires personnel defined within a complexity of job descriptions. Selling is one of those job descriptions. While I have long bought into the view that the role of salespeople is twofold: (1) to help customers make a buying decision that is best for them and the organization for which the salesperson is employed; it goes without saying that such a decision is also best for the salesperson; (2) to see to it that the customer’s purchase continues to leave him or her feeling as happy with that purchase as he or she expected to be satisfied with it.                                                          

Salespeople alone cannot fulfill the collaborative role called for by the organization’s mission statement. No sale is ever made without the direct or indirect help provided the salesperson by individuals with job descriptions different from that of the salesperson. For while each job description must be different from that of any of the other job descriptions within the organization, no job description can be consistently successful without the help of those who share different job descriptions. Each job description has to be different for the same reason that each word in a dictionary has to have its own meaning. Nevertheless, that does not free those whose job description differs from others’ job descriptions from working collaboratively. The ongoing success of every organization depends on that collaboration.                                                                                           

An organization’s mission statement is essentially different from a job description. In the first place, job descriptions are designed to work within goals both short and short, each one with a dateline. A mission statement attaches no datelines to its goal. The very raison d’être of a mission statement is designed to be a never-ending goal, a dream much like that expressed by Martin Luther King’s in his “I have a dream” speech. Were an organization to realize its dream, it would have to come up with a brand new mission statement.

Equally essential to every mission statement is that it must make customer service the basis of its conception. To do that, an organization must conceive customer service as a living organism made up of three kinds of customers: The buying customer, the internal customer, and the external customer. The buying customer needs no further explanation. The internal customer was best described, in my opinion, by Karl Albrecht in his book, The Only Thing That Matters: “Everyone in the company who picks up a check.” In the same book, he writes, “The whole organization should be one big customer service department.”

The Thesis and the Purpose of This Book

Because I chose to focus on how salespeople can best fulfill their role of helping customers make the best mutually beneficial buying decisions, I simultaneously chose to limit the thesis of this book to demonstrating the best way for salespeople to work collaboratively with others in the organization. The purpose of this book is make it easier for salespeople to fulfill a role that will never be easy.                                                                   
Chapter One: The Only Thing That Matters

Non est saepius in uno homine summa salus periclitanda reipublicae.
One man is not worth saving when he jeopardizes the safety of the republic.
-Cicero’s First Oration against Catiline

The introduction you just read aims at making two sound points: One, no matte the size or the nature of a business organization, if it is to live up to its mission statement, each of its members, regardless of each one’s job description, must work collaboratively. As the author of the book, The Only Thing That Matters states, “the whole organization should be one big customer service department.” Two, implied in that author’s statement is the second point: No mission statement is worth retaining unless its primary aim is to promote excellent customer service, whether those it serves be referred to as customers, clients, patrons, patients, or students, regardless of whether the service the organization provides its buyers is tangible or intangible. 

Yet, the aim of this book is not to understate the importance of each job statement. After all, unless each member of the organization fulfills his or her job statement, the organization’s mission statement will founder like a sailing vessel without sails. The organization’s job description is that vessel’s sails, the organization’s mission statement, that vessel’s rudder.

Moreover, in spite of the collaborative efforts of all the organization’s members, those efforts do not change the fact that those who direct those collaborative efforts are the managers. Every manager’s chief role is to give direction to the organization’s employees, a role handed down to each manager by the owner or owners of the organization. Managers are not given the choice of directing their employees; they are ordered to do so. Employees are not given the choice of following their managers’ directions; they are ordered to do so. Nevertheless, managers who wish to be respected as leaders must win their employee’s buy-in, and not just their compliance. A later chapter will list the attributes of a leader.

It must also be pointed out that this book casts a special focus on the role salespeople are to play together with the collaborative efforts of all the other employees in the organization. No salesperson, unless that salesperson happens to be the owner who is the sole operator of his or her own company, should ever boast of having made a sale all by himself or herself alone. And even then, as we will be pointing out, that owner requires suppliers whom we will be referring to as external customers.

ChapterTwo: Several Kinds of Customers

Karl Albrecht, I believe, was the first to write about two kinds of customers: internal customers and external customers. He defined internal customers as everyone that picks up a check. As we will soon see, there are some internal customers who do not pick up a check. He defined buying customers as external customers. I chose not to follow Karl Albrecht’s use of the words “external customer” to refer to the buying customer. The reason I so chose is based on my discomfort with linking the word “customer” with the modifier “external.” In my opinion, so wedded is every organization to the word “customer,” that organizations would be wise never to view the customer as external, either literally or metaphorically. Besides, when it came to finding the proper word to describe an organization’s suppliers, I chose the word “external” to do just that. Today, I refer to the following kinds of customer: (1) the buying customer, (2) the internal customer, and (3) the external customer. I have broken down internal customers into those who work for hire and those who work as volunteers. Hospitals, in my estimation, are the primary examples of volunteers. There they abound.

As for external customers, I refer to two kinds: (1) the organization’s external suppliers, and (2) the organization’s internal-external suppliers. Banks, in my estimation, are the primary examples of internal-external suppliers. They are internal because they are part of the same matrix; they are external because they supply information to their fellow banks.

How reconcile the title of the book, The Customer Comes Second, written by Hal Rosenbluth and Diane Mcferrin Peters? Do buying customers ever come second? Yes, but only in the order of time, never in the order of importance. Why is that true?

In the order of time, whenever either an internal customer or an external customer fails to provide a buying customer with the proper service, the buying customer comes second. But even then, in the order of importance, the customer comes first. I used to tell my salespeople that if they didn’t think their customers were their most important asset, they should try selling without them!

To be continued...