The Other SaaS: Service as a Sales Process

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As SaaS (software as a service) has become ever more popular, it has spawned numerous changes to normal business practices. One notable bit of fallout is that customers are less likely to interface directly with a company's representatives, instead conducting their business through Web sites or even social media.

Additionally, the subscription movement in which customers subscribe rather than make outright purchases is also driving the trend. Subscriptions are cheap relative to an actual purchase, and they are usually time-limited, so the risk of making a bad decision is small, empowering people to make quick purchases.

But customers still interact with vendors and each other through social media, email, phone calls, and simply by leaving digital breadcrumbs—trails of their use and consumption habits. All of this adds up to additional demands on customer service, because service is becoming the primary interface for many customers.

Vendors are discovering that getting a customer off the phone with a quick fix or bit of advice might not be ideal in many cases because customers are reaching out for more than service. Although the sales team is still essential for bringing in new business, increasingly, lines are blurring. The service team is taking on the cross-sell and up-sell responsibilities and inside sales is answering service requests. Therefore, it shouldn't be a surprise that we are innovating new processes and giving a name to another SaaS—service as a sales process.

There are good reasons to view service this way. For example, by its nature, the service group is more likely to have at its disposal customer records containing all information about products purchased and past issues, whether they are with products and services or information about other issues, such as billing and payment. Also, despite the trend of deploying service systems on mobile devices, there are still huge numbers of servicepeople tied to desks and workstations who can access all of this information, and that's a good thing.

You might say that modern sales systems enable much or all of this, and I would agree. There's virtually no bit of customer information that a salesperson cannot access these days through a mobile device, but I think the sociology or atmospherics are wrong. Salespeople prepare for meetings with the objective of either closing a deal or at least pushing the ball up the field, so they review customer information differently. Then, too, just because they have access to all the customer material is not the same as saying they use it, even if it is pushed to them. So, admittedly, sales has a different mission, and the mission dictates a different use of information as well as of mobile technology.

The service mission is a bit diverse. Stripped bare of the need to get off the phone or keep service costs manageable—old-school memes that should be of diminishing importance because there are better ways to do this—the service mission aims at keeping customers in the fold. Whether you call it a good customer 

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