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Sales vs. Customer Service: Natural Conflicts in the Workplace

Sunday, February 18, 2018   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Rachel Moore
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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 resolved? 

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 things done. 

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 professional. 

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:

  1. Understand 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. 
  2. Appreciate 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 improved morale.
  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.  
  4. Repeat 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 Group, Inc.

Claudia St. John is president of Affinity HR Group, Inc., NPTA’s affiliated human resources partner.  Affinity HR Group specializes in providing human resources assistance to associations such as NPTA and their member companies.  To learn more, visit

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