How To Turn Order-Takers Into Upsellers

Last Updated Jun 27, 2011 3:01 PM EDT

There's a big difference between order-taking and selling. Here's an email from a Sales Machine reader who wants to increase his average order size through upselling, but doesn't yet have people with the right skill set:
I am the founder-owner of a small business that sells fresh organic soup. Our customers are supermarkets and delis, and I have two lovely colleagues who ring our customers weekly to get the orders.
What I am looking for is some advice for these team members as to how they can sell more in these weekly phone calls. At the moment they just take orders, rather passively. They have no Plan B for customers who take less than usual and no upselling method.
Any ideas? For a small company such as mine, selling just a little bit more to each customer would make a big difference to our bottom line!
Turning order-takers into sellers requires some retraining combined with creative marketing.

Your first step: have your order takers ask more questions. At this point, you clearly know very little about what's going on in your channel. You need to know two things:

  1. Why has a particularly channel partner ordered less this week?
  2. What would induce a particular channel partner to order more?
I strongly suggest that you have your personnel add those questions to the conversations that they have with your channels partners.

In all probability, the reason that a channel partner typically orders less is because its own customers bought less on the previous week. But is that just the result of a normal variation in demand? Or has something changed in the retail environment that is reducing sales?

For example, if sales are down at a particular deli because there was a big layoff in that town, that one thing. On the other hand, if sales were down because that deli moved your product to a lower shelf where it's not as visible as it once was, you can try to convince them to feature your product more prominently.

The second question is just as important. While you're likely to get answers like "more demand", you want to engage your channel partners in a discussion about what kind of demand creation efforts are most likely to be effective.

For example, you might want to do some kind of promotion on your packaging (like a clip-off coupon or a mail-in rebate). Or you might want to offer specials for a given week in order to get more people accustomed to buying your product, thereby creating long-term demand.

Once you've decided what to do, then you have something that your order-takers can say in order to increase a purchase. Example: "We're doing a special promotion on our chicken broth, with a clip-off coupon; you may want to order more this week, because people tend to buy 25 percent more when we run these promotions."

In other words, you need to train your "order-takers" to engage more closely with your channel partners so that you know what's going on. And then you need to provide them with some simple tools that allow them to make the case, with the channel partner, for making a larger order.

Best of luck!

READERS: Any other suggestions?