I was talking recently to the CEO of a small software technology business and a member of the Inc. CEO Project about some of the issues he was dealing with inside his company. One of the big decisions that he was contemplating was to begin expanding the role of his sales force. Rather than just focus on selling new business, he was thinking of having his salespeople follow their customers into an ongoing relationship. They would serve and support those customers, and potentially upsell them over time. He wanted the higher service levels but was mostly interested in the opportunities for upselling.

From this CEO's perspective, the move made sense because he figured he would be getting twice the value from his people while also serving his customers. He also figured he would be getting the maximum productivity out of his people this way and not missing any opportunities to sell more services.

But, after talking through the issue with him for a bit, I suggested making this move wasn't a great idea at all--both for the company and his salespeople. In fact, it might even eventually sink his business.

Let me explain how I came to this conclusion.

A Lose-Lose Scenario

Good salespeople are hard to find. And this CEO had one superstar in particular who accounted for something like 60 percent of his total sales. And yet this CEO was contemplating shifting this star salesperson into a service role with each sale he made. He would own those accounts going forward.

That meant that as he sold more and more accounts, he would need to spend more and more of his time servicing those clients and less time selling new business. Eventually, that would add up to a lose-lose situation for everyone. While this would be offset somewhat by the ongoing sales opportunities, these were generally smaller than the original sales.

Time Value of Money

Let's say this salesperson creates $5,000 an hour in revenue for the company winning new business. But, when he's serving existing accounts, and winning an occasional upsell, he creates more like $1,000 an hour. Right off the bat, we can see that this person's time is more valuable when he's selling. But, as he wins more accounts over time, he spends more and more time on service and support--and not selling.

Quite simply, that's not the best and most valuable use of this person's time. That doesn't even begin to account for how he might feel if he's motivated by the commission he might earn by winning new business.

When you look at it this way, the company and the salesperson lose. And, if this person is really good at selling but falls short at providing top service to his accounts, the client might lose as well.

Cheap and Free Becomes Expensive

This is actually a common dilemma for many companies. On paper, it makes sense to use your sales team to support clients--especially because retaining clients and reducing churn is so important.

But where this equation falls short is that you can hire people who are really good are serving customers and accounts--they love building long-term relationships. And you can actually pay them a fraction of what top salespeople cost. These are still valuable employees, but they are easier to find than top salespeople.

You Need to Train the Team

The skill that my CEO friend was really after was the highly developed ability the salesperson had to find opportunities within existing customers. This was complicated by the fact that the customer success team really didn't like to sell. 

He made two moves that really helped. First, he changed the language for the customer success team from selling to "helping." In other words, the team was no longer trying to sell, they were trying to help friends and clients by solving more problems. This appealed to the service mentality of the team and allowed them to do what was needed.

He also taught the team exactly what kinds of problems their firm was excellent in solving.  This gave the team the tools to point to opportunities when they found them. If they couldn't do the commercial negotiation, a salesperson would help with that part of the process, which was highly efficient.

This is why you want to separate sales and service--especially as you grow as a business. You want to put people into the roles they are skilled and gifted at--and where they return the most value to the company per hour they work.

The key lesson is to not make the mistake of moving salespeople into service because you think it would be cheap or even free. In actuality, that could quickly become one of the most expensive decisions you could ever make.