From Order-Taker to Sales Consultant

Three ways to transform your team to help your company stand out from the pack—and help make the sale

By Nick Fitzgerald, BPI Lumber & Engineered Wood

Standing out in a crowded, hotly competitive field is never easy—regardless of the field. When your business is selling to lumber yards, differentiating your sales effort can be even tougher.

Typically, lumber yards make their purchasing decisions based on price. Most of them will call around to five or six different wholesalers and go with the lowest number.

So what can your sales team do to stand out? How can you kick your organization’s sales efforts into high gear turn order-takers into true sales consultants? Here are three ideas:

#1: Start a conversation

Sometimes all it takes to move the needle on a sale is the beginning of a conversation. If an email, call or text comes in from a lumber yard looking for a quote, start by training your team to not just respond to the quote with a number. Anyone can quote a price—even an app can do that. A simple follow-up question (“How does that price look to you?” or “How do I compare to other quotes you’re seeing?”) might mean be enough to catch the attention of the person shopping for a quote. Have your sales team memorize a few key phrases that help get the conversation flowing.

You can take this concept even one step further by emphasizing how your organization can go the extra mile in meeting—or, better yet, exceeding—a customer’s expectations: In addition to quoting a price, maybe prompt your sales team to offer expedited delivery by first thing the following day, or whatever might make your response stand out in the minds of the buyer. Even if your price is a little bit higher, your willingness to go the extra mile in terms of customer service might make all the difference.

#2: Be more analytical

Selling is about more than just responding to a potential customer’s question with a price, and hoping they bite. Your company’s sales professionals need to look in-depth at a quote, and work to understand what the customer is trying to accomplish. If the salesperson understands the application of the product, maybe he or she also can suggest some alternative solutions.

This is really the definition of consultative selling. When a potential customer calls looking for a price on a particular lumber item, your sales pros should respond by asking why the customer needs the product and how it’s going to be used. Maybe that simple query will spark a thought about a new product you just got in last week that other customers are using for the same application. Here again, just opening a dialog that extends the interaction beyond a transactional exchange about price can go a long way in helping to engage the customer and close the sale.

Analyzing the customer’s specific application can also help your sales team “value-engineer” a solution. Maybe there’s an opportunity to suggest the combination of a few different products to address a customer’s unique challenge, and your insight can help the customer engineer a solution out of products they may not have heard of before. All of this enhances the value of what your company is selling, and solidifies your organization’s reputation as a problem-solver.

But to truly be able to understand and analyze an application, your sales team has to ask question. If a lumber yard calls and asks for a quote on engineered wood products and your salesperson simply quotes a price, he or she is missing a prime opportunity to engage and be a true sales consultant. 

#3: Take the team approach

Another key way to transform your sales effort from order-taking to consultative selling is to team sell. Team selling—also known as system selling—means bringing in an expert who can add another layer of intelligence and analytics to the conversation.

The whole conversation changes when a salesperson takes an engineer—or someone else who’s an expert in what the customer is trying to do—in to a sales call. The selling ends, and the exchange becomes more about an expert giving advice to the customer. It doesn’t come off as though you’re trying to sell something, but rather as sincere advice. This approach can change the whole dynamic. Salespeople can learn from this approach, too, and eventually become experts themselves.  

The unifying characteristic for all of these approaches is doing something extra to stand out. In an era when a request for a quote might be a simple email or even a text message, wholesalers have to take steps to differentiate their responses.

So are these the kinds of skills that can be learned, or are they innate? It’s most likely a little of both. Let’s say you’re learning basketball: There are some people who have to keep training and training and training to get better, and there are some people who have natural talent. It’s up to you to evaluate the skills of your team so you can provide them with the right level of leadership and guidance to put these tactics into practice. Some people might need to be reminded over and over to ask questions and drill down to get more information, and for others it might come naturally.

The goal of your sales team should be to become the market experts that your customers want to speak to not only first, but also last. You want your team to be the only option the customer remembers.

Build Negotiation and Memory Skills at Wood Masters

At NAWLA’s Wood Masters course, October 25-26, immediately prior to the Traders Market in Las Vegas, you will learn more about program selling, memory training and advanced negotiation skills – essential skills for sales professionals. Wood Masters is intended for professionals with three or more years of experience or those who have successfully completed the Wood Basics program. View the agenda or register now at

About NAWLA (North American Wholesale Lumber Association)

NAWLA is the association that delivers unparalleled access to relationships and resources that improve business strategy and performance through sales growth, cost savings and operational efficiencies for wholesalers and manufacturers of forest products and other building materials that conduct business in North America. Learn more at

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