Bruce Fox Blog

How to Make the Transition from Order-Taker to Sales Leader

Posted by Kristina Hublar on Feb 26, 2019, 8:11:00 AM

Estimated Read Time: 12 Minutes


How to Make the Transition from Order-Taker to Sales Leader

Order-Taker – it’s not an endearing term, yet it satisfies the job description for many in the promotional products industry. From the Swag-Getters to the Branded Products Retrievers, our industry is flooded with people who just take orders without any question or real thought behind why their customer wants those tchotchkes.

Dave wrote a blog a while ago – Welcome to McPromoland, May I Take Your Order? this hit a little too close to home for some. Why? He called out many promotional products companies for being no better than a fast food joint.  

“If you are showing pictures and taking orders by number, and there is no personal relationship with your customers, then you are operating a McPromoland.”

If you wish to continue to be an order-taker, then you can go about your day. There’s no need to continue reading; however, if you understand that the industry needs to do and be more, then we may proceed.

It’s a sad reality that many distributors fall into; the inability to differentiate themselves beyond price and building a true relationship with their clients.

Promo Pop Quiz

Let’s take a quick pop quiz. No, it’s not a quiz about how many McDonald’s are in North America or how fast Amazon is expanding. This is a quiz any distributor can take. However, if you’re honest with yourself, it will be rather revealing.

  • When was the last time you spoke with your client without discussing current projects?
  • When was the last time you asked why your client wanted those products they called you asking to get?
  • When was the last time you saw your client face-to-face?
  • Do you regularly check in with your clients, beyond project updates?
  • How many questions do you ask when discussing a project or campaign?
  • When was the last time you researched a prospect or client and suggested ideas based on what was going on with them?
  • When was the last time you had an in-depth conversation about your client’s goals and needs before offering product ideas?
  • Do you track your results? Do you even discuss or show KPIs and ROIs?
  • When was the last time you could truly be called creative or innovative?
  • Do you set realistic expectations and reasonable timetables?
  • When was the last time you had a true strategy for your campaign?
  • Do you walk in ready to give a sales pitch or to have a conversation?

I’m not going to grade you on this quiz, but I will give you a benchmark to grade yourself against.

Promo Pop Quiz Benchmarking

Many distributors like to compare themselves to marketing agencies, right? Then, as someone who was the client contact and primary project manager at a true digital marketing agency, here’s how we would be able to answer this…

  • When was the last time you spoke with your client without discussing current projects? Every month we had an in-depth meeting about current projects and if there were any industry, company, or marketing goal changes. We would discuss what was going on with them, what’s coming down the pipeline, and so on. However, monthly was the minimum, clients would regularly discuss subjects not fully pertaining to current projects in our bi-weekly phone calls, too.
  • When was the last time you asked why your client wanted those products they called you asking to get? Why” was one of the most frequent questions asked when working with clients. Asking why digs into the thought process and strategy. Asking why they wanted a website update, run certain ads, host an event, or even buy some promotional products – it provided understanding and clarity into the conversation. Then we could better guide, assist, discuss, and provide insights – that’s what we were there for after all.
  • When was the last time you saw your client fact-to-face? If they were near us, a minimum of once a month. We had some clients a few states away, for them we would video conference on a monthly basis (minimum) and visit them in-person when we could.
  • Do you regularly check in with your clients, beyond project updates? Bi-weekly, if not weekly, depending on what was going on. In addition to the big monthly meetings.
  • How many questions do you ask when discussing a project or campaign? So many. I lost count because the questions progress as the discussions deepen. However, we always come in with at least 10-15 to get the ball rolling.
  • When was the last time you researched a prospect or client and suggested ideas based on what was going on with them? Research every client or prospect. Otherwise you won’t have the knowledge or understanding to have a fruitful, engaging, or productive conversation. Besides, many prospects and clients expect it now. Also, keep abreast on what is going on with your clients. It doesn’t hurt to surprise them that you’ve been following the news about them (it makes it look like you’re doing your job!).
  • When was the last time you had an in-depth conversation about your client’s goals and needs before offering product ideas? Every month at a minimum.
  • Do you track your results? Do you even discuss or show KPIs and ROIs? Yes, we were always tracking results. We used these metrics to measure the campaigns and ourselves. We would regularly show the data to clients, whether to recommend changes or to show the results (negative or positive).
  • When was the last time you could truly be called creative or innovative? That’s a bit more subjective, but we’ve had some creative & “out-of-the box” campaigns and ideas. However, sometimes the most obvious can be just as effective. You just have to have a creative take on it.
  • Do you set realistic expectations and reasonable timetables? You have to. Otherwise nothing will get done right. I suggest training your client to understand what is reasonable and do-able, versus what is the exception to the rule or not even possible.
  • When was the last time you had a true strategy for your campaign? Every campaign should have a strategy or plan behind it. Such as, are you utilizing promotional products to get website traffic, phone calls, or for a quirky social media campaign? Plan out the best way to execute towards those goals (and evaluate how you did) – that’s having a strategy.
  • Do you walk in ready to give a sales pitch or to have a conversation? The answer should be conversation 95-99% of the time.

So, how did you do? How do you stack against a typical marketing agency?

Now, I know that some clients are cyclical and don’t appear until X time of the year, but who says you can’t grow their business into more and talk with them a few more times in the year?

And, yes, you are busy, but that doesn’t mean that you just take orders and disappear into the fog until it’s time to reorder or if until they have another need (if they even remember you when they have a need).

No, the point I’m trying to make is that you need to be more than an order-taker. You have to approach your clients and prospects like a consultant. Be the sales leader and lead them to the best solution for them.

Transitioning from an Order-Taker into a Consultant

A sales leader or a consultant, in this case I’m meaning they are the same. Both are listening before pitching products. They both have engaging conversations with the client and regularly check in.

Although, a sales leader might tend to focus more on the sales side, and a consultant might be more of “anything that helps the client, even if it’s not me” mindset. You can pick which ones best suites your mindset, but in the end, both are more respectful and willing to listen, converse, and assist the client than an order-taker.

So, how do you transition from being the typical order-taker?

It can be gradual or abrupt, depending on how much you want to change at a time. However, your clients will start noticing soon enough.

I suggest blocking off specific times or days of the week for:

  • Research
  • “Wellness Checks” with your clients
  • Planning

In addition, here are a few tips and ideas on how to make the transition:

  • Listen more, talk less
  • Ask more questions
  • Stay on the phone longer
  • Ask to meet in person (if you can)
  • Ask what is going on with them and their company
  • Ask if anything is coming down the pipeline
  • Research the industry and company before the meeting or phone call
  • Watch for news or stay up-to-date on what’s happening for your clients
  • Ask why and other probing questions
  • Strategize with your clients
  • Track results and regularly present your findings
  • Provide creative and insightful solutions to their problems
  • Ask what their goals are
  • Help them towards their goals
  • Change the conversation from “how fast can this be here” and “how cheap can you get it” to meaningful experiences and unique products/ideas
  • Be personal, not transactional
  • Be proactive and not reactive
  • Create a personalized experience that only you can provide

There are many more ways to show that you’re more than an order-taker. Some you will discover as you go along this path, others we can help you with. Reach out if you’d like to learn more about how you can deliver unique solutions to your client, all the while transitioning from an order-taker into something more.


Kristina Hublar, Digital SpecialistKristina Hublar is your friendly neighborhood Marketing Specialist at Bruce Fox, Inc., which means she is the person behind the keyboard for the social media, emails, website, and other marketing efforts. She’s been at Bruce Fox for a little over a year, but is an Indiana native. In her spare time, you’ll find her plotting her next road trip, bobbing along to music while crafting, spending time with loved ones, or with her nose in a book. 

Tags: Sales tools for distributors, Challenges faced by distributors, Objections posed by distributors