In my years as an Executive at IBM, one of the key factors that affected Customer Satisfaction was the existence of a Technical Sales Organization. A technical sales organization is different from customer service. Customer service gets called after the product is purchased and being used. Technical sales are involved in the sales process before the customer buys. In fact, Technical sales is often a key element of the sales decision process.  At IBM, the Technical Sales organization was and still is a key factor in ensuring customers will be satisfied after the implementation is completed.

Computer and the software that ran on those system, especially the ones that run the Fortune 1000 organizations worldwide are complex computer installations, made up of mainframes, and distributed systems of many varieties, personal computers and mobile devices. Every organization computer system looks different.

In order to ensure any recommendation for a new system that will integrate with the existing systems or an upgrade to a component of a system will work correctly, a study of the existing system is needed, often with the extensive help of the customer’s organization.

When a new product is announced, the sales organization needs to understand what the features and benefits are, who might buy it, and how to  justify the expense.

Pricing the system is often a complex problem. What size of machine(s) and what combination of software are needed to run the volume of work expected by the customer? Could the customer properly evaluate the workload (ie will they know what questions to ask)? That’s where technical sales are called in to help.

Sometimes customers buy a bigger machine to consolidate work of many smaller machines. Sometimes customers are going through a merger or acquisition, and have to pull together disparate systems. IBM’S technical sales team was able to take this kind of data and provide guidance and recommendations to customers on how best to proceed.

IBM provides  tools, education and processes to help with the efficient operation and  productivity of the Technical Sales organization.

1. For a new product announcement, the product development division has to produce guides for the technical sales organization on factors to consider when gathering input from the customer on their existing system(s).

2. The development organization runs tests to determine how fast each of IBM’s machines works with a given list of software and how to estimate how big a customer’s machine(s) needed to be in order to accommodate the expected workload.

3. If the product or products have special requirements such as prerequisite software or software that is very current or, for hardware, cooling and power requirements, these need to be provided to technical sales for discussion with the customer.

4. In addition to providing information, the technical sales specialists needs to have education provided on the technical details. Education courses are provided for the technical sales organization that is separate from the training provided for the sales team. While the sales team are made aware of the kinds of considerations the technical sales team would have to work on, the details are covered in specialized technical workshops.

5. Due to IBM’s size, the number of technical sales specialists could be very large in any geography. As a result, a technical sales  support organization was created to provide guidance and answer questions posed by technical sales team when working on  proposals with the customers and sales team.

If your organization has any of these complexity characteristics, consider creating a specialized sales force that works side by side with the regular sales organization to help create the proper solution for the customer, eliminating surprises and unforeseen problems. Proposing a solution to a customer creates expectations; that the solution is the right size and will work technically.

Ensure your customers expectations set correctly. That’s the key to customer satisfaction.

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Adele Berenstein

Adele Berenstein is an Experienced Customer Satisfaction Executive, recently retired from a Large Global IT Organization after a long productive management career including Sales, Marketing, Services, teaching and education center management and most recently, 19 years in customer satisfaction management. She turned around divisions with customer satisfaction problems, implemented measurable improvements and management systems, and implemented programs to prevent problems from ever affecting customers.

One Response to “A Technical Sales Organization – An IBM Customer Satisfaction Best Practice”

  1. Frank Brinkman Says:

    Adele,

    We are of one mind on the value of a Technical Sales Support team for Clients. These professionals are the first line of customer satisfaction team. There are innumerable times when the Technical Sales Specialist was able to provide information to the Client avoiding a dissatisfaction and resolving their problems. I would go so far as to say this team solves more problems than Development Technical Support resolving defects. Yes, defect support is absolutely vital, but the Technical Sales Support provides the skills to the Client to avoid known problems.

    My respect grew over 15 years of working with this world wide team. I salute them for their extraordinary results.

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