As published on Forbes.com
For an upcoming workshop I am conducting, the CEO wanted to shift his team from being order takers to being more of a sales-driven organization. I asked why he wanted his team to make the shift to being salespeople. He said, “Right now, our people focus too much on price. We’re reactive. We need to get our people out in front of customers and referral sources to earn attention and sell on value.” My impression is that sometimes we can get caught in the trap of definitions. If you understand the difference, you can determine which sales persona might describe you or your organization. Let me share my definitions for Order Takers vs. Salespeople vs. Experts. You’ve got the power of social media at your disposal to agree or disagree with my definitions.
When the customer determines what they want to purchase, and contacts you to place the order, you are an order taker. The order taker might ask questions about quantities or add-on products. They have probably been taught to “up-sell” additional products. The order taker does not care if you are ordering the right item. If you call the order taker at a clothing retailer and order two items: One in size medium and one in size large, the order taker is not likely to ask if you want one of them gift wrapped, or if you intended to purchase two different sizes.
In a face-to-face sales environment, the order taker asks the customer what they want to purchase, and when they want it delivered. The bad news for order takers is that their work can often be handled quite efficiently by technology. Amazon and other well-run online businesses have made taking an order very simple. My wife and I will often think of something we need and “Amazon It.” From my smartphone, I can find and order and item in seconds. In some cases, it arrives the same day.
When you already know what you want, an order taker is all you might want. The problem with order takers is that they generally sell commodities. Commodities are generally distinguishable by price and delivery schedule… and ease of ordering. If you can’t compete in all three areas with exceptional results, then avoid following an order taking strategy.
We think of traditional salespeople as those who can “sell ice on the frozen tundra.” The traditional salesperson can take you to the top of the mountain, and show you the lush green valley below. They will help you realize that you need something that you were not sure you needed moments prior. In essence, most of us think of salespeople as people who convince others that they need whatever it is they are selling.
Effective salespeople know how to uncover needs, create urgency, and map a path from customer needs to your solution. The salesperson sees their job as “selling stuff.” One of the proudest moments for many salespeople is the time they convinced their customer to purchase something from them when there was a better alternative for less money. High-fives abound.
Over time, we’ve become skeptical of the traditional salesperson. Most customers have been lied to enough times that they’ve become gun shy. The most effective salespeople, however, have evolved into our next category, experts.
Subject-matter experts operate with utmost integrity. In fact, salespeople often cringe when the expert tells the customer that they might be better off with a different solution than their company is selling. Subject matter experts love working with clients to uncover their challenges, and then devise a solution that uniquely addresses their needs… regardless of the source.
Subject matter experts will not up-sell to increase the size of an order. However, they will suggest things that will enhance the results for the customer. The fashion expert won’t sell you ugly shoes to go with an outfit. But, they will suggest an accessory that will make the outfit memorable for your big event.
Experts often know more about the subject area than the customer. They know what it takes to produce results, and how to avoid risk. They know which other products or services will create a multiplier effect (1+1=3). Experts are the people you want in the room when a big issue comes to the forefront.
Depending on your business, you might fit into one or more of these roles. If you are trying to determine which of these is the most powerful for your team, ask a simple question: If you were the customer, which one would you want working with you? If you don’t fit the description, then you’ve got some work to do.
It’s Your Turn
Which of the three categories has proved to be most valuable to you in solving important issues? What made your experience remarkable?