“Hi, may I take your order?” is a perfectly acceptable question if you are working at a fast food drive thru.  If you are in the sales profession though, being an order taker  is like putting the cart before the horse.  It won’t get you where you need to go (a close!), lessens the value we provide, the size of our sales and our professionalism.

My oldest son recently started working for a pizza restaurant.  He told me he was trained to answer the phone with a “Hello, would you like to try a quesadilla today?”  He thought it was silly.  First, because if someone was calling in an order wouldn’t they know what they wanted?  And second, they were offering something not expected in a pizza place and it seemed to confuse the caller!

It got me thinking…how often do we do that as sales professionals?  Do we offer or agree to quote a solution BEFORE exploring what they need? Unfortunately this happens, even with the best of intentions, more often than we think.

In more than half of the needs assessments I have been in the last 10 years, the sales manager or president of the company tells me that they need their sales people to be more proactive and do less order taking. These leaders know that sales results increase, customer loyalty levels are strengthened and everyone makes more money when we follow a good sales process that includes identifying needs, wants, challenges and opportunities BEFORE offering a solution.

Sound like a rookie error?  Its’ not!  Many experienced sales professionals fall into the trap because they’ve “been there and heard that before” so it’s easy to skip some of the steps in selling and prematurely offer solutions.

How do we get out of the order taking department and set ourselves up to give the greatest value?  Tips for promoting yourself out of the drive thru:
1. Prepare.   This is a tough one because the preparation is for something that “might” happen, not a specific call in front of you.  Preparation is proactive in thinking and planning through what to do when a prospective buyer contacts you for information or a price quote.  If they start with telling you what they want, prepare how you can acknowledge that information and then turn the discussion back to asking them for more information.
List out the potential ways this might happen.  An email, a phone call, at a networking event, etc.  From your experiences, how does the conversation usually transpire?  I’ve had people at networking events ask what I do and when I say “We help companies increase sales 5-25% in 60 days or less with our sales skills training.”  They respond by saying “We need that, can you send me a proposal?”   Really, that happens!  Or they might say “Send me some information.”  Not really a request for a quote and still an opportunity to dig in and make sure that what we send is going to be useful.
2. Ask questions. Asking a follow-up question such as “Do you want fries to go with that burger?” isn’t what I am talking about.  I’m referencing open ended questions that allow the other person to explore and clarify what they may need or want.

An example, a prospect called me and said “I heard you train sales people.  Can I get a quote for training my sales team at our national meeting this year?”  Wow, a nice call to get…sort of.  I could give him a quote, but if I don’t know exactly what they need to accomplish, the likelihood of him seeing value in what I quote is low.   I needed more information – and  more than how many, when, and where.

Instead I said “Yes I can.  And to make sure I give you useful information , can we back up a bit and discuss your team and what you want to accomplish?”  Of course, he said yes and we spent 45 minutes sharing really good information.  Together we identified that he really had a specific need that was clarified during our conversation.  Then we were able to quote him exactly what he needed.  And they said yes.
3. Paraphrase the information they share with you and draw a bigger context around the situation. Example: They say “I want more space for our family.”  Your response might be:  “Tell me how you want to use extra space in your house…”  Or “I need my sales team to produce more.”  Response: “You need higher production from your sales team, what percentage of your team is currently performing at an acceptable level?”
4. Stop making assumptions when they contact you.  Two tips on assumptions:
We can assume that what a prospect tells us is thought out and the final answer, but if we ask good questions, we help them discover facets they hadn’t thought of and more value in the solution you provide.  Its okay to say “I don’t want to presume to know your specifics, if we can go through some background it will allow us to focus to save you time going forward.”
They may assume that we already know enough about them to just jump into solutions. And sometimes the people we know best assume we have more information than we really do.

Let’s keep the horse before the cart (or the needs analysis before the recommendation).  Taking orders is so outdated, let’s put things IN order during our sales calls.