A client called recently with a major worry. “We have a big problem with our customer
service representatives (CSRs) not getting along with our sales people. Our CSRs are not being supportive of the new
sales associates that we just hired,” she shared. “If our company is to survive, we need these
new sales associates to be motivated and productive and I’m worried they may
quit. Can you do anything to help?”
Ah yes, the old customer service vs. sales professional smackdown
– a frequent source of headaches for many business owners. So why does it happen and how can it be
The simple answer to why these breakdowns occur relates to
behavioral style. Behavioral styles are
the natural ways that individuals process information, make decisions, solve
problems, and relate to one another. We
all have behavioral preferences and there is no such thing as a “right” or
“wrong” style. That said, certain styles
do have competing preferences and, unfortunately for my client and others like
her, clashes in behavioral style – particularly between sales and customer
service professionals – are both common and can be detrimental.
One tool for assessing personal behavioral preferences is
the DISC assessment. It is the
brainchild of William Moulton Marston, who also created the lie detector and
the Wonder Woman comic book character. Fascinated
with the way our personalities affect workplace performance, in 1923 he developed
an inventory of personal behaviors and classified these behaviors into four
basic categories: Dominant (problem
solvers), Influencer (people
oriented), Supporter (team players),
and Controller (process oriented) – hence
the acronym DISC.
According to Target Training International, Inc. (a company
that developed a commonly-used DISC assessment), three quarters of successful
sales professionals are either highly Dominant,
Influencers or some combination of
the two. These behavioral preferences make them
wonderful at what they do – they are friendly, establish relationships easily and
are confident, enthusiastic, articulate and strategic. They are also competitive,
extroverted, have a high sense of urgency and are able to handle adversity with
optimism. This makes them natural born
sellers. They also are not detail oriented
and require frequent change and personal interactions to be happy.
Meanwhile, most CSRs are natural Supporters and Controllers,
opposites from Dominant and Influencer types. CSRs are organized, structured and
methodical. They are logical thinkers,
detail oriented, good listeners by nature and are very private. They don’t like change, are introverted, have
a low sense of urgency and need time to process information and make
decisions. They are the ones that get
And this is where the conflict arises. While the sales professional has a high sense
of urgency and is willing to take risks, the customer service representative is
committed to processing all that is on his or her plate in an orderly
fashion. The CSR is naturally risk averse
and is made uncomfortable by the fast-acting, fast-talking sales
Despite these differences, the two rely upon each
other. Without the vitality, confidence
and energy of the sales professional, there are no orders and revenue. And without the CSR’s eye to detail and
commitment to process, sales professionals would be forced to execute their own
orders – something they are behaviorally ill-equipped to do.
Fortunately, there are some things business owners can do to
help bridge these differences and ensure their teams function well:
style – Most conflicts that exist between sales people and CSRs relate to
behavioral preference, not personal animosity.
The CSR’s lack of urgency isn’t because he or she doesn’t care, nor is
the sales professional’s “dump and run” an act of disrespect – instead each is
simply hard-wired to be this way. By understanding these traits about each
other, your team can begin to appreciate both the differences and strengths that
each behavioral type brings to the company.
differences – I have yet to meet a CSR that would be happy prospecting for
new clients. Likewise, few sales
professionals would be fulfilled by the detail work required of the CSR
position. Try to change the dialogue
from conflict to appreciation. When sales and CSR teams have the opportunity to
express their appreciation of each other, it leads to deeper recognition and
3. Learn to
flex – Encourage your teams to flex to accommodate the style of each
other. How can your CSR accommodate the
sales professional’s difficulty with details?
How can sales people accommodate your CSR’s seemingly low sense of
urgency? They can’t change each other (despite their greatest efforts), so they
should learn to accommodate each other.
steps 1-3 – Don’t make
conversations about style a one-time occurrence. Use them every time important conversations
occur- either in conflict or in celebration.
Understanding style is a powerful management tool. With a better appreciation of behavioral
strengths, weaknesses and differences, your sales and customer service teams
will transform. I guarantee it.
By Claudia St. John, SPHR, SHRM-SCP, President – Affinity HR