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Order Taker Or Solution Creator?

by David Brock on January 11th, 2012

The other day Seth Godin offered a short post on Sold or Bought.  It offered an interesting perspective, but he didn’t go far enough on selling.  We can further refine this view in a number of ways.  One of the major splits I see is sales people who are really order takers versus solution creators.

Order takers focus on their product.  They can be very customer service oriented.  But the quality of their interaction is very different from a solution creator.  In prospecting, they call the customer asking about their use of widgets, their satisfaction with their current widgets and whether they need new widgets.

When they find a customer who needs a widget, they are very good about providing the customer all the information about their widget and why it’s better than other widgets.  They can even read through their lists of features and benefits.  They ask the customer if they have any questions about the capabilities of their widget.

They can be very customer oriented and very polite.  After they answer the customer’s questions, they ask for the order.  The customer probably isn’t ready, so they call them back a few days or a week later and ask, “How are things going?  Do you have any more questions about our widget?  I’m delighted to answer any questions you might have about our widget.  When do you think you will be making a decision?”

Then they wait.  They forecast it in closing, they say the order will come in any day now, and they wait.

They call a week later, “How are things going? Do you have any more questions about our widget? I’m delighted to answer any questions you might have about our widget. When do you think you will be making a decision?”

Then they wait. They slip the close date another few weeks or a month.

Then they call again…..

I see order takers in all industries, selling all kinds of things–products, services.  They could be big ticket items.  Order takers worry about their order and are oblivious to what the customer is trying to achieve.

Solution Creators are different.  They’re idea people, they’re results people–not just for themselves but for the customer.  They help their customers envision a new future.  They help their customers think about their business differently.  They help their customer change and improve.

When they prospect, they never ask about their needs and requirements for widgets.  They talk to the customer about what they are trying to achieve.  They present ideas, “Have you ever considered what might happen if you did this…..?”  They analyze the customer and say, “Do you realize if you did this, you might improve this much in these areas?” 

When they engage the customer they talk about what the customer is trying to achieve.  They don’t spend a lot of time on what their solution does, it’s features or capabilities.  They know it’s not about the product but what the customer is trying to achieve.  Instead they focus on outcomes and results the customer will achieve.  They quantify these results, so the customer can clearly understand the impact it will have on their business.

They create a sense of excitement and urgency in the customer to change.  When the customer slows down, they refocus the customer on opportunity costs, on what they are missing by delaying a decision and implementation.  They focus on when the customer will achieve results, not when they will get the order. (But they know when the order has to come in for the customer to achieve the results in the desired time frame).

They don’t compete on features, advantages and benefits because they know they rarely lose because of a feature.  Instead the focus on results the customer will achieve.  They focus the customer on achieving those results and not whether they are missing a certain feature.

Order takers are being threatened with extinction.  Prospects and customers can get information about products elsewhere.  They can get answers to their questions in other ways, without the annoyance of someone constantly asking for an order.  The value order takers used to create is no longer needed because customers and prospects have more efficient means of getting that information.

Solution creators are treasured.  Customers need ideas.  They are often so busy, they are blind to opportunities to improve.  Customers welcome solution creators because they create value.

Things are bought and sold.

There are order takers and solution creators.

Which are you?  How do you know?

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12 Comments
  1. Natalie Brown permalink

    HI Dave,
    I enjoy your posts. Today I am compelled to comment. Since there are plenty of “order placers” out there asking for feature and benefit discussion, there are still cases where you must be an “order taker”. Asking visionary questions and results directed conversation with the wrong audience will get you nowhere. I just finished reading the Challenger sale and I do not like the “all or nothing” tone of these types of books/blogs/training sessions. The answer in sales is ALWAYS…It depends! I think adoption of challenger sales is already out there and having a visionary discussion to point out the opportunities your customer may have overlooked, or misunderstood is a noble goal. To achieve that goal, way more than sales training is needed. Marketing alignment is needed. Alignment of your corporate focus to the market and to your customer’s market are critical. If that message is not articulated properly AND to the proper person, the sale has totally missed the mark and time is wasted. I think there is an argument for Selling to Zebra’s in the mix here too. Since knowing your audience is one of the oldest principals in selling.
    I plan to continue the feature and benefit discussions which enable an “order placer” to decide what to buy from the “order taker”. Similarly, I plan to continue the opportunity/ideas/solutions discussion where it makes sense for my company and for my clients.

    • Natalie: Thanks for the outstanding comment! I couldn’t agree with you more. Too often we pundits try to paint the world as “black or white,” where the reality is very different. The most effective approach to dealing with your customer is to deal with them with where they are at, in a manner that is responsive to their expectations. It could be a features/function discussion, it could be something else. The discussion will change based on where they are in their buying process.

      Great sales people will be very nimble–adapting what is most appropriate to their customers, but having the whole portfolion of skills, approaches, and strategies available to them.

      Thanks for reminding us that “one size doesn’t fit all!”

      (By the way, Happy New Year!)

  2. Hi David,

    you really do write a good post.
    The only thing I’d like to add is that to be in a position to know what the customer is trying to achieve and focus on outcomes, results and opportunity cost sales people have to first ask the right questions, in the right way and listen.
    As a salesperson you don’t want to interrogate prospects but you need the “lay of the land” to ask questions that open their mind. My belief is that genuine curiosity used to get me through, that and a genuine desire to help. According to the SPIN Selling model I probably asked too many situation questions but people kept answering me and that often led me to ask questions they hadn’t heard before…but the curiosity and desire to help got me through the first stages.
    All the best

    • Thanks for the compliment. Absolutely agree on the questioning strategy. Actually we need to move from questioning to conversations.

  3. David;

    I liked most of this post – until the conclusion.

    “Order takers are being threatened with extinction. Solution creators are treasured.”

    I don’t think this is true.

    Order takes are necessary for their skill in screening/qualifying. These skills are needed even more with complex products.

    Solution creators are necessary for putting together different parts, like a jigsaw puzzles, to create a whole.

    Neither supplants the other.

    • Michael, that’s a fair critique. In many sales situations, having efficient and effective people processing orders, providing final advice to the customer, making sure they are ordering/configuring the right products is very critical. Thanks for calling it out. Regards, Dave

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