Thursday, July 9, 2009

ITILized sales

An ITIL Foundation Certificate pin on a shirt.Image via Wikipedia

I've always wondered why I never saw the word "sales" in the Information Technology Infrastructure Library (ITIL) standard. Does the word make the framework seem less of a standard for IT? Does sales sound too American for the British? Maybe I can understand that the previous two versions of the standard let the concept slide some because of the focus on the operational side of the house. But it's version three. Three... as in a big increase over the last version when you talked all about the help desk and now we're past that.

ITIL is now more about business than it has ever been. It danced around the IT silos for quite a while before it decided to finally break down the barriers and just talk business in general while imagining itself in an IT rich environment. It's what I would call a MBA in five volumes. Just about every topic in business management is covered in there from entrepreneurship to finance. It would even make a detailed template as a business school curriculum. Advertising and marketing are covered under demand management. But where is sales? And does ITIL have anything to say about it?

Sales is a functional area that isn't noticed much. The IT department doesn't need sales because the business always comes knocking. But now there are other suitors and the internal IT department is having to compete with outsourcing and web services. Sometimes they just play the role by talking to the other folks, more like a matchmaker instead of a real relationship. These IT departments need some marriage counseling because they've lost the understanding of the business. ITIL is that counselor that will help them regain their honeymoon status I feel but it will take some work.

The sales manager role plays the biggest part in the key process area known as Service Level Management (SLM) which is where we find the biggest sales influence. One of the problems with identifying the sales role in the SLM process is that it is talked about in context of the IT service catalog only. That means that the IT services are "sold" to the internal business consumers and there is no real contract needed. Instead, it's replaced by a document that sets the expectations of the service -- a gentlemen's agreement called a service level agreement (SLA). But some web service companies are nothing but IT services without an internal consumer and therefore the customer is not a part of the business at all. That makes the IT department deal directly with the public and the SLA then has to be a legal document or, in ITIL terms, an underpinning contract (you Americans ignore the word underpinning).

ITIL talks about the business service catalog (a sales brochure) which is what services are offered to the external customer and about the technical service catalog, which is what most IT departments understand as THE catalog of services. In fact, service oriented architecture (SOA) is all about how to juggle the distributed nature of a technical service catalog. But the role of the service level manager never extends over into the business area and stays on the safe IT side.

I tend to think that it's a good idea to talk about the SLAs that the business side also must manage. The goals all line up. Some of the objectives of SLM are to together with the customer
  • clarify expectations
  • define and agree to services
  • set targets for services
  • improve communication and relationships
  • improve customer satisfaction in service quality
  • proactively improve service when within costs
To me, that sounds like some important goals of a salesperson. I can't think of any important things that have been left out and there's more there than most sales organizations really do. So if the goals of the salesperson are similar to that of the nameless person who does the service level agreement process, there should be other things that the salesperson can take away from ITIL that makes sense, yes?

Yes! How about:
  • measure and monitor service performance
  • product service reports
  • conduct service reviews
  • review any agreement that affects the SLA
  • document business relationshps
  • handle all complaints
  • log and distribute compliments
This puts a customer focus on the sales person as never before by adding a strong metrics component and quality tasks. The relationships are very important here and the focus, as in all ITIL processes, is to make the customer happy. This is nothing more than what Sales 2.0 keeps telling us, that the customer relationship is paramount and to use metrics to manage the process. It's just that Sales 2.0 has abandoned the IT department for the web and fell in love with Web 2.0. IT managers can bring some real impact to the sales department but they will have to learn how to walk the walk and talk the talk.

So get out there and talk and walk some of the good practices of ITIL when looking at your sales processes. You will find that they mirror the current best sales practices which in our world is now called social sales, social media marketing, or Sales 2.0. That's because they work and sales has found out the power that information can have when there's no barrier between them and the IT department.

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