In my first sales job, I had a very tough product to sell: advertising for the worst TV station in our market. In order to earn our customers and deliver actual value for them, we had to hustle in a major way and get mega creative. Media buyers didn’t readily see the upside of placing ads on a weak station–in the same market, there were 3 other stations with triple or quadruple our ratings in most time slots.
There was a running joke between my colleagues and I that the sales reps at the top station probably stood idly around the fax machine drinking coffee and eating donuts and simply collecting those orders. It seemed like such a dream life being an order taker instead of the scrappy, nut-busting sellers we were forced to be. (Yes I did say fax machine. This was some time ago).
Despite my serious wishes for an easier sales life, today I wouldn’t trade those experiences for anything–having to sell in a tough market made me better. I was compelled to be persistent, create the right opportunities, and to really understand and know my customers and my market. Conversely, order takers are just standing there with a notepad ready to scoop up the easy wins, waiting for prospects to come to them.
Fast forward to today, in which the fax machine is all but dead, and I readily see the tragic downside to businesses having “order takers” on their sales teams.
Much of the time you’ll find that such salespeople were, once upon a time, “stellar sellers.” Or they might have begun their careers with the bright enthusiasm of a new business development hunter, but somewhere along the line the “bright” wore off, and they gave up that enthusiasm and drive to sag into the role of an order taker–a role that’s reactive or, worse, passive and not proactive.
Order takers are handicapping your growth potential. But what’s even worse, if you have one or more OTs on your sales team the rest of your performers can start to feel resentful and eventually your entire sales team’s results begin to slip. They see what’s allowed to persist and like a virus, bitterness and sour attitudes begin to infect not only your sales team, but operations, production, and the support crew too.
So, how do you know if you have real sales reps on your team?
Here are Five Signs indicating your rep is an Order Taker:
- They have minimal activities focused on business development and new opportunities. Is all their activity centered around existing customers? Are they taking current clients out to lunch too often? Do they talk about being too busy or too booked up to call on new customers – “How would I manage more customers if I got them”? Being too busy or consumed with existing customers is a recipe for a sales rep that will have declining results. Annual customer attrition rates vary between 10 and 30%. If your seller is chasing their tail “over-servicing” existing customers, they’re looking to pick off low hanging fruit to keep them out of the line of fire with directors or business owners. This is a slow death and sure to promise diminishing returns. Make sure your sellers are focusing on their new business goals and understand those new business expectations.
- Their conversations center around “Ops” instead of “Opportunities.” During sales meetings, are they talking about “Operations” instead of “Opportunities?” Whether they realize this or not, this is a distraction technique to disguise the lack of activity or business development efforts. I’ve observed many sales meetings where sales reps drag out painstaking details of a buyer’s process, a hiccup in the opportunity, or recount every aspect of a meeting with a customer. This distraction draws everyone into the conversation about internal operations, creating feedback loops, and obscuring those discussions about opportunities.To peel away this layer and reveal the order taker’s true nature, keep sales meetings strictly about sales opportunities: who are they, what are you doing, when are you doing it, and how are you going about moving prospects to opportunities and opportunities to new customers.
- There is always a hurdle or major obstacle that explains why they didn’t make the calls or set up the appointments with new targets. Pay attention to the excuses people give you. If their excuses have excuses for why they can’t or aren’t developing new business, the alarm bells should be ringing. Top performers should always be looking for those next opportunities and are hungry to move prospects and relationships forward. If you notice something is always keeping your seller from making calls or putting in the time to prospect (such as excuses two weeks in a row or they don’t make up the time and efforts) they’re stalling.Keep sellers accountable to their new business activities. If you don’t, you’ll never be able to keep them accountable to their new business goals. You’ll be stuck with the order takers that under perform with diminishing returns on their efforts.
- They emphasize discounting or lowering prices to keep current customers. One big red flag I see with reps that aren’t focused on new business is that they become consumed with discounting or lowering prices to keep existing customers happy. Obsessing over existing accounts and over-servicing them is a means to avoid prospecting and new business development. True, it is much easier to keep existing customers happy, however, it’s a given that businesses will close, competitors will out-sell you, and at some point, even your golden goose gets old (or cooked). Serving up discounts or lowering prices is the cheapest way to keep customers – in the short term. It doesn’t increase your value or give you any long term loyalty.Fixating on pricing is a short term game. That’s looking to secure the next order, not create long-term relationships with customers. If your reps are complaining about not being competitive enough or always looking to discount or lower prices, they’re not in it for the long haul. Keep your price integrity and let the order taker sink or float.
- They are hyper sensitive about territories and “their accounts” – defending their stake in any business that’s ever been on their list. This last sign is potentially the most irritating for a sales director or business owner. These actions are also some of the most destructive to the morale of the sale team and erode trust with managers. Order takers often claim “MINE!” on anything that looks easy or could be fruitful without much effort. In one of my sales roles, a counterpart would literally dig through orders from the walk-in retail counter and retroactively claim work orders from customers that worked for a company that had placed a one off order anytime within the past several years. That is the definition of an Order Taker!
Other examples of this behavior are staking a claim on large deals through the back door after a colleague has brought them to the table. “That’s my account” or “I worked with her at XYZ company” are all cheap defenses in an effort to get a slice of the pie without having done any of the baking. It’s frustrating to manage and even more frustrating to be a colleague of the “MINE!” order taker.
Keep those top performers happy and let them go out and get new business without fear of having it scooped out from under them by having clear and defined parameters around lead claims and accounts. Document how long a sales rep has to make something happen with a lead or what happens when an opportunity crosses territories. It will be clear that those order takers aren’t chasing anything that’s not already walking through the door.
Don’t let the “Order Takers” fake their way onto your sales team. And if you already suspect they’re there, create strong, documented processes that make it clear they’re negligent in performing their sales duties. Move them out of the sales role or you’ll continue to struggle to motivate and inspire your sales organization to perform.
Until next time, stop hoping, start SELLING!
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