Do you really care how your customer’s day has been?
By LeNell Smothers

Back when my liquor store LeNell’s Ltd was open in Brooklyn, NY, my staff and I would make frequent jokes about the difference between a salesperson and an order taker. Often the level of unprofessionalism was highest among the big corporate distributor representatives who liked taking your order but not working for a sale. They seemed to think that you needed them and their product more than they needed you. Examples of reps exhibiting order taker behavior include things like talking to us in the store without removing sunglasses, leaving us schwag logo’d with products we had never ordered (aka cleaning out the trunk), mailing monthly deals that had nothing to do with any product we sold, and dropping a price book through the security gate when we were closed.

Back then, I got annoyed with lazy distributor reps who thought that making a sales call simply meant dropping off a price book. Then my fiancé Demián and I opened our bar Casa Cóctel in Baja California Sur, Mexico where something as simple as a price book and some product choice is warmly welcomed.

We got our liquor license through the grace of one of the major beer companies that owns quite a few licenses, knowing that this means we can only serve beers from that company’s portfolio. We were told we were not authorized to serve draft beer even after we offered to pay for all the equipment and to pick up the kegs ourselves. The reason we were given was that we were too small for the company to make money off of our draft service. We were also told we could only sell certain beers in the portfolio. It took several weeks of chasing before we were finally informed of what beer brands we could purchase and for what price. We took a look at the company’s website to find out what brands are produced and asked why we couldn’t purchase some items like their non-alcoholic brand, explaining our commitment to responsible bar service and the importance of service to designated drivers and recovering alcoholics. “Politics,” was the order taker’s answer, leaving us shaking our heads in amazement.

Our soda experience was a Laurel and Hardy “Who’s on first?” skit. We asked for a pricelist of products available in our market. “Just tell me what you want,” replied the order taker. We tried again to explain that we had no idea what all they sold in this market and perhaps a list might help. “Tell me what you want, and I’ll tell you whether we have it or not,” was the answer. This occurred with the largest soda company in the world.

I will never forget one salesman who called in advance to make an appointment with me while I was in business in New York. He was on time, brought product for us to try and knew his product well enough to answer all our questions. He took notes on our meeting including names of my staff, and followed up not just to make sure we ordered and all was well, but he also sent a very personal thank you note. I asked him later, “What makes you so different?” He answered, “I was trained by an old pro who even taught me to never park in front of a customer’s store leaving the best parking places for their customers.”

Perhaps a return to thoughtful, responsive sales service would even improve the bottom line of even the biggest corporate giants. Order takers hardly know details of their product line and have no interest in your personal, individual needs. Sales people know their product and the competitor’s product in addition to knowing you and your competition, too. Sales people actually care how your day is going. As my grandma
might say, “They don’t make ‘em them like they used to.” Perhaps they should.