John O' Gorman

A Better Way Of Asking For The Order

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Some sellers display a surprising reluctance to ask for the order. Others are not so shy, but ask for the order in a way that can put the buyer off. In this article we examine the best way of asking for the order.
Purchase Order

The Trouble With Closing

Closing techniques from the ‘always be closing’ school are struggling in the face of lengthening buying cycles and formalized buying processes.

Nobody asked for the order!

‘Nobody asked for the order!’ exclaimed the professional buyer. It was the close of a long day of back-to-back presentations from sellers.

‘They were all enthusiastic about their products and clearly wanted to learn more about our needs’ the buyer continued. ‘But they all left without asking for the order, or even without asking what was going to happen next’ he added.

But is the experienced buyer mentioned above right to be surprised that ‘nobody asked for the order? Has ‘asking for the order’ suddenly gone out of fashion?

Sellers have come to grips with the reality that in most cases the buyer will not be hurried into a premature decision by anything that the seller might say, or do.

In respect of the complex sale the rush to close has been replaced with the desire for greater engagement, consultation and collaboration.

Professional sellers are hesitant to close until they fully understand the buyer’s needs, engage with the buyer around defining the optimal solution and build relationships with those making the decision.  That can lead to buyers making the following surprise remark:

‘In pitches and real meetings some salespeople seem to be happy, if “the meeting went well” (that is it was harmonic). Only about 50 % end by asking questions like: – ‘Do we have a real chance?’, ‘Can we expect an order?’ or ‘What do we need to do to win your confidence and a first order?’  Avoiding asking the obvious won’t impress the buyer – it suggests a lack of drive!’

‘Consultation’ Versus ‘Closing’

One of the consistent findings of our years researching buying is that crude or premature attempts at closing can be damaging to the sale.

Do you leave meetings with potential customers without asking for the order?

Buyers can spot a closing technique miles off and can use it to get greater leverage over the ‘always be closing’ seller. Any seller who has attempted to close a deal in time to be included in this quarter will know only too well the impact on the sale price.

Of equal concern to sellers is that inappropriate closing can damage the sellers credibility and damage trust.

These concerns aside we believe ‘asking for the order’ is more important than ever. However, some ways of asking are better than others.

A New Approach To Asking For The Order

Even if the buyer wants your solution then it is likely that he, or she will have to follow a number of internal steps and procedures before a purchase order can be issued. So, simply asking straight out for the order is not enough. It too easily leads to a response such as ‘send me in a proposal’, or ‘we will have to see competitive quotes’.

In asking for the order, the seller needs to be cognitive of what the buyer, can and cannot do. The seller needs to know not just how much the buyer wants to buy, but any obstacles that they will need to overcome before they can.

In the context of modern buying the most effective way to ‘ask for the order’ is:

‘How do you want to buy?’

It is a question that is quickly followed up by:

‘How can we help you to buy?’

These are questions that need to be asked more frequently by sellers. They are a mix of closing pre-qualification and helping the buyer to buy.

Do you ask the buyer how he, or she wants to buy?

The ‘how do you want to buy?’ question can be said tongue in cheek to test readiness to close, or with a pen paper in hand to gather information on buying process and procedure.

Asking ‘How do you want to buy?’ recognizes the internal requirements of getting the purchased sanctioned. Asking this question can help identify/clarify:

  • Paperwork and procedures
  • Budget parameters
  • Competing priorities and projects
  • Potential internal resistance.

Insider Knowledge On How To Close

Nobody knows better than the buyer how to get the money for a purchase, what internal approvals will be required and so on. So, rather that corralling the buyer through a set of steps from your sales process, or snowing them under with information/documentation, stop and ask the buyer what is really required. In this way the seller can access insider knowledge on what will be required to close.

How do you get the buyer to help you to close the deal?

The seller can be tempted to present the buyer with a business case, or cost benefit analysis as a matter of fact. A better approach is to start by asking the buyer ‘what should a business case look like for your business?’

‘How do you want to buy?’ has a long list of subsidiary questions, including:

  • What steps, analysis and paperwork will be required?
  • Who do you want on the buying team?
  • How do you want to present this to your CEO/Manager?
  • Who needs to be brought onside?
  • How high up the organization does it need to go for approval?
  • What other initiatives does it support, or integrate with?
  • What budget will it come out of?
  • What heading does it go under?
  • What should it be called and what language is or is not to be used?
  • Have there been any lessons from buying similar solutions before?
  • Was a decision like this made in the past and what lessons were learned?
  • What strategic initiatives are associated with the purchase?
  • What do you want the business case to look like?
  • How do you want to engage with procurement on this?

Building The Internal Momentum Of The Deal

It is all too easy to let salesperson do all the running, but as sellers know only too well they are sooner or later going to have to pass the baton to the buyer. After all it the buyer is going to have to get the purchase across the line, with all the sign-off and paperwork required.

Do you tell the buyer, or do you ask them how they want to buy?

The seller is unlikely to be in the room when the buying decision is made and particularly when it gets signed-off. If the seller has been doing all the running then the risk of the buyer dropping the baton at the crucial handover point is increased.

Ideally, closing is not something that sellers do to buyers, it is something that buyer and seller do in order to get the deal sanctioned – to win over all the stakeholders, to prize budget from a competing project and to get all the internal approvals required.

Asking ‘how do you want to buy?’ is aimed at enlisting the buyer’s full creativity and resourcefulness in getting the purchase sanctioned and building the internal momentum of the deal. It is also a test of:

  • How much they want your solution?
  • How much power the buyer you are dealing with really has?
  • The buyer’s commitment to and resourcefulness in navigating the buying process, securing budget.

Asking ‘how do you want to buy?’ is also aimed at encouraging the buyer to:

  • Go about the decision in a thought out and deliberate manner.
  • Consider any potential internal obstacles that might be faced.
  • Overcome any past negative buying experience.
  • To engage effectively with procurement.

One Response to A Better Way Of Asking For The Order

  1. Martin Lindeskog December 20, 2012 at 6:59 pm

    John O’Gorman: As an experienced purchaser, it was great to read your insightful post. I will show it to my fellow members in the Supply Chain Management association in Gothenburg, Sweden.

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