Selling value seems like an uphill battle in a downward trending market
I hear this statement often when working with sales teams.
“Greg, this market has become so competitive. Competitors are discounting prices and throwing in extras that just about squeezes out our profitability.”
Selling value seems like an uphill battle in a downward trending market as competition increases. The picture above is one way of looking at the market. There’s the surfer who sits on top of the industry with a high level of market share. Then there is the shark, who wants more market share and seems to be biding its time before attacking. I find our view of the market depends on whether we are the surfer or the shark. As the surfer our strategy is to defend. As the shark, we are certainly hungry, have less to lose and will attack at opportune moments.
Over the years, I’ve been on both sides of a competitive market. One thing I know for sure is that both the shark and the surfer need to follow some aggressive steps to survive, thrive and prosper in a highly competitive market.
First answer: “Why should customers buy from your company?
Next answer: “Why should they buy from you?” (that’s you personally)
After you figure out the real answers to those two questions, you need some way to tell customers and prospects about your answers. Word of mouth is great, but sometimes we can’t wait for it to work its way through the market. Help it out by writing and speaking. Every chance you get as a salesperson, you should build your personal and company brand by writing (blogs, newsletters, internal within your company and external within your industry) and speaking (industry events and your own company events). These are great opportunities to set yourself apart from the competition. Record them on video, audio and in writing so you can repurpose on social media.
When talking with prospects and customers, you are going to be challenged with information about your competition. When replying to these challenges, add qualifications to relay your advantages versus your competition:
– “Many customers tell us….”
– “Lately, customers have been impressed with our….
– “Based on reports, research or field results, we found our product performs in these critical areas ….”
– Customer compliment/acknowledgment: “They do a good job with that product and here’s where we expanded it further when we developed …”
Analyze your competition
There are several ways to do this. SWOT is a popular method. This is where you compare your S-strengths, W-weaknesses, O-opportunities, and T-threats from your competition.
Another great way to learn about your competition is to talk to their customers. Unless you have a brand-new product, prospects are currently buying from someone. It’s someone who they thought was the best choice in the market. Find out why they decided to buy from them and what makes them stay. This is a great way to understand your competition. Certainly, we can go to our competition’s website and learn about them. However, their loyal customer base will tell you exactly what they like and don’t like about them.
Develop your strategy
Once we have a solid idea of ourselves, our competition and where we fit in the market, it’s time to develop a strategy. While there can be many strategies for dealing with competition, below are three approaches for you to think about. They mostly depend on whether or not you are the market leader.
Head to Head: This strategy works best if you are the market leader or you have a strong competitive advantage in the market. You come out with comparisons, feeding and field trials. You take advantage of any opportunity to be compared to your competition. If you have been in the market a long time, been through the tough times and helped customers get through them, then you can rely on this experience to go head to head against competitors.
Change the Game: If you are not the market leader, you may need to change the way the game is played. This can also be called a flanking move if you prefer military terminology. Changing the game or changing the rules means you make a major shift in your Go-To-Market Strategy.
High end or Low end – by taking a product that is only available to the high-end customer and making a scaled down version that is available to more of the market. The reverse is also a way to change the game. Coffee shops have taken the inexpensive commodity version of the cup of coffee and made it a high end $5 product.
Faster and Easier – You don’t have to reinvent the wheel. You might just make it faster or easier to get. Dominos changed the pizza world with its 30-minute guarantee. Jiffy Lube perfected the quick oil change. Amazon is based on making it easy to shop.
Customized or Stocked Products: Are competitors inflexible? Do they sell all their products as-is or stocked products only? If so, would customers prefer to have some choices in what they order? Can your company figure out a way to allow customized products? I know this might be a production manager’s nightmare and the office staff won’t like it. However, it might be exactly what the market is looking for.
Bundle or Unbundle: This is a very simple strategy that again can be just what the market needs. If everyone in the market sells bundled products and services, offer unbundled services to test the market. The reverse can be even more impactful. If customers have to buy product X and then order service Y in order to get result Z, offer a one-step program called XYZ. Take the worry and stress of knowing when and what to order. Offer a solution instead of three products and services.
Once in a while, I run across someone who truly doesn’t worry about competition. They don’t worry about what the competition is saying, selling, nor how they are pricing. This is fine if you have a large enough market share or you have such a dominant position in the market you aren’t worried. However, this approach to me always seems complacent. As the Success Leads to Failure adage goes,
Success leads to Confidence.
Confidence leads to Arrogance.
Arrogance leads to Complacency.
And Complacency leads to Failure.
Fight the natural urge of allowing your success to lead to your failure.
Whether you are the surfer or the shark, keep swimming through the competitive waters that all of us work in!
Our journey continues through the remaining two Megatrends that are shaping the future of the Ag sales profession.
#4 Multiple Generations
Trend: No, this is not another “Millennials in the Marketplace” article. BTW (by the way), some of the Millennials are approaching 40 and it’s kind of old news. However, there is a generational trend that is going on in Ag sales that is affecting how you sell. Currently and for the foreseeable future, there are three generations you have to sell to. Previously, there were only two generations in the primary workforce. Today, with the speed of technology, people living & working longer, changing social experiences and the complexity of farming, we have three: Baby Boomers, Gen X, and Millennials, all on the farm making decisions. While there are some definite characteristics that fit each generation, don’t get caught assuming it fits everyone in a particular generation. I see examples every day where older producers embrace technology and younger ones don’t. While it’s helpful to know the basic generation characteristics, each sale happens one on one.
What should an Ag Sales Professional do? Connect and Communicate!
Connect whenever and wherever your customer is. That’s audio, video, hard copy/written, print media, direct mail, email, texting, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, trade shows, on farm, coffee shops, your own company events or your customer’s events. Wherever they are, they want you to find them. It’s never been easier or more complex to advertise and reach customers. Oh, and when a customer Google’s you, you need to show up on the first page, preferably near the top of that first page.
Think about a grain elevator posting their daily bids. They first need to be generated on internal Excel documents, then posted on their own website. Following that, they are texted, emailed, posted to the local Ag radio station as well as sent to several Ag web sites that track bids. The internet has allowed for inexpensive and more direct marketing, which is great. However, there are still large segments of our market that are not online, let alone on Facebook and Twitter. For this group, we still need printed marketing material, brochures, and product manuals. I think in a few rare locations; companies still fax things!
Is it all necessary? Try opening up a laptop in the snow on the tailgate of a pickup and running a PowerPoint presentation. Worse yet, try using words only to explain how your new software program works and what the different functions allow you to do for a customer. Sorry, but yes, it’s all necessary. Ignoring one of these connection methods makes it easier for your competition to connect with them.
Communicate in the way each customer prefers. I find it amazing when sales teams or customers claim we don’t communicate enough. Or they didn’t know about an event or promotion because “no one told them”. For internal salespeople, I like to remind them we spend nearly $500/ month on cell phones, data plans, I-pads, laptops, home internet service, anti-virus software, and program licenses so that we can communicate almost instantaneously. How much more communication do we need? I think the struggle is more often, too much communication and the difficulty to get through the volume. When he couldn’t get through to his sales team, our sales manager would send a certified letter to our homes when he wanted to emphasize a point. Early one November, we all got a letter from him that said, “Sales are slow! Put down your bow and sell some feed!” We got the point.
Our customers are no different. They have information overload coming at them on an hourly basis. So, they get selective at where they get their information. Find this out by asking early in the prospecting phase.
#5 DIY Mentality
Trend: The Do It Yourself (DIY) movement has swept through the auto and home repair business. With a YouTube video, Auto Zone and Home Depot, you can just about fix anything in your home or in your garage. With self-checkout, you don’t even have to talk to anyone at those stores. With Amazon or any online sales, you don’t even need to go into the store! Similarly, there is a wave of DIY approaching the agribusiness industry and we need to adapt as this megatrend unfolds. Increasing RFID card use is an example. Grain elevators can be built to do everything automatic except several parts of grading. Ag retail locations can use RFID cards to set up a completely autonomous fertilizer loadout system. Online offer systems allow for grain trading to go through a web site. While just about every company allows you access to your personal account with them online. The vast majority allowing for transactions to take place there as well.
A salesperson’s role used to be as the primary source of information – all information and ordering. The need to bring everything to the farm or agribusiness is no longer needed. However, there is a more important role for you to take on.
What should an Ag Sales Professional do? Embrace it, learn it and become proficient at it.
That recommendation is sounding familiar, but it applies to this megatrend as well. You can complain all you want and you can refuse to tweet, text, and email but that just makes it easier for your competition to pass you by.
You are the bridge: Again, as with the multi-generation situation, we find ourselves at the crossroads of technology. We need to maintain the old way of doing business before making the leap to the new way. As a sales professional, you are the bridge from the old way to the new. This is a critical role that you provide to your customer and your company. While there are fewer local offices and staff, fewer personal connections, roaming VOIP phone systems and online account access, YOU are now the link to it all. Your customer needs you now more than before. They don’t need you to come out and read a brochure to them. They need you to help navigate technology: yours and the industry’s. Show them how to switch from the old to the new way and make them better at farming, milling, manufacturing, etc.
Your company is also relying on you to understand when it’s time to employ new technology. None of it is free and painless to implement. I’m sure at some level, it all has a positive ROI. However, they need your help to understand if or when to make the investment.
The message of the 5 Megatrends in Ag Sales has really hit home with many of you and I think it’s too important to end here. I would like to talk with you about bringing this message to your entire team or association. We go through our daily work life and need someone to bring the message of where the ag sales industry is heading. Email me at Greg Martinelli to discuss how we can make that happen for you, your team or your association.
For more information on Ag sales training, coaching or business development, contact
And What you need to do to survive, thrive and prosper through them!
Megatrends can be defined as those trends that are universal to everyone in the category and viewed as permanent. In other words, it’s not a 3-5-year trend. A megatrend is something that will most likely not reverse.
A few words of caution about this article in general. Often, when someone writes an article like this, they seem foreboding or ominous or negative. They make it seem that farming is coming to an end. I feel the exact opposite. Growing up in agribusiness, I learned that volatility is opportunity. There is certainly enough negativity going around the Ag industry right now that we don’t need to add to it. Think about this for a minute. There are more people eating more food every day. Demand is not going away, but how we supply it will change. We just need to be smart enough to recognize the trends and change with them – before we are forced to. Again, I think there is a high demand for food as well as high demand for capable employees in agribusiness. Ask any agribusiness about their greatest challenges. Hiring and retaining top talent will be in the top 2 on that list.
#1: Tighter End User Economics
Trend: Tighter margins for the end user will eventually backtrack up through the vendor channel that sells to them. Crop producers are very near or below breakeven. Several livestock markets are in the same situation. Yet, there are plenty of producers that have equity built up and own their land/equipment, which allows them to be profitable. Tough times also allows for those in better financial positions to grow by merger & acquisition.
What should an Ag Sales Professional do? Get a better business sense.
Know your numbers: know your total ROI to the company. Sure, it’s important to know how many units you sell. However, somewhere within your organization, someone is calculating the ROI of the sales team. If you are not given actual margin dollars, ask. If that’s not available, ask for a rough margin estimate on your territory by unit. Once you know that, subtract out your cost. You cost roughly 1.25 X your pay + expenses. For example, you make $50,000 plus another $10,000 in expenses. Your total cost is around $75,000 (60,000 X 1.25). Now compare that to your territory gross margin.
Know your customer’s numbers: Understand the economics of whether or not a producer can afford your $200 bag of seed or your $300 bag of seed. If their ground and farming practices won’t net a higher ROI on the $300 bag of seed, you shouldn’t sell it to them. Just because their yield goes up, doesn’t mean they make more money. Same with a more fortified dairy feed ration or hog feed. Know their economics and do what’s right for them. Of course, the opposite of that situation is true as well. A cheaper up-front cost ($200/bag of seed) does not mean a higher ROI at harvest. That’s the tough part of your job – Getting that point across to your customer.
Lastly, pick your head up and look down range. What are customers in your market doing as a reaction to their economics? More cash rent, more ag lending, leaning more on vendor financing, selling their livestock and going into contract grower arrangements? What will this trend do for your business and how do you get in front of it? What products or services are they moving to? How can you dip your toe in the water and sell those products or services? What strengths do you and your company have in those areas that you can leverage?
#2: Fewer Local Offices & Support Staff
Trend: Your local office isn’t so local anymore. With the web, cloud storage, VOIP phones, and more customer accessible accounts, companies are deciding they don’t need local offices. Is it right or wrong? Does it save or cost money? That’s a blog “for a whole ‘nother day!” You just need to figure out how to adapt and prosper as these changes occur.
What should an Ag Sales Professional do? Learn & Embrace it
You can go to the bar after the sales meeting and complain all you want, but that will get you absolutely nowhere. Trust me, I tried it for years and got nowhere with it. Come Monday morning, you are still going to have to call someone 300 miles away to process that credit memo for your customer.
Jump in with both feet on the new program or newly assigned people. In all the years of mergers, consolidation and technology changes, I have found very few that didn’t have some upside. Yes, there was the inconvenience of doing it different than the old way. But, most of the time, there was a positive outcome. Those salespeople that did the best were those that just jumped in and didn’t dwell on it. So, go into the new program and “break the toy” as I call it. Hit all the keys, press all the buttons on the new I-pad. You won’t break it. Call the new person 300 miles away and learn about them. They have a family and work hard just like the local person does. Instead of calling up angry as every other salesperson in your company is doing, show some understanding and talk to them.
Customer Acceptance: This can be the toughest part of the change. You can change your attitude towards the change immediately. But it’s tougher to change your customer’s opinion of the change. However, guess who they are looking to for a clue as to how to react? That’s right, you! So, even though it’s tempting, commiserating with your customer about it will not help. If you truly can’t say something positive, then persist through it in neutral. Show them how to navigate the new program. “Yeah, it’s different and I was comfortable with the old way as well. Here’s how we get this done, now.”
#3: Fewer Salespeople
Trend: The total cost of outfitting a salesperson with a vehicle and all the electronics is increasing. Add in training & development and the cost of putting a salesperson in front of a customer goes higher. Now, factor in the cost of a salesperson who calls on either the wrong customers or customers that don’t value a qualified salesperson calling on them. And, we didn’t even count the first couple of years when a salesperson is getting up to speed on selling and the technical side of the business. Seems strange for a sales guy to say all that. However, that thought is going on whether or not I say it or you know it. Companies are looking at their sales team structure and challenging their Go-To-Market strategy.
Ag is very geographic with remote sales teams. However, does it make sense to have a salesperson who is naturally wired to call on 100 cow dairies twisting in knots trying to call on 1000 cow dairies just because they are nearby? Probably not. Doing so decreases their effectiveness at selling both. Customer segmentation and sales team alignment with those segments is an option.
Another aspect is the old incremental units sold to high volume low margin customers. These are large accounts that require we sell at a lower margin. Their volume helps to reduce cost per unit, hence the term incremental units. Does it make sense to field a sales force to sell to large operations, who don’t value the technical expertise of your salespeople? They simply want the price, the product and the logistics to fit their operation. I realize these accounts give you a large amount of unit and gross dollar sales, but at what net margin?
What should an Ag Sales Professional do? Increase your efficiency & effectiveness!
Find out if your company has done any customer segmentation work. If not, you need to do it within your own territory.
Figure out which segment you are good at. Large, small, direct to the farm, through a dealer network, through a distributor? Which do you like and which are you good at?
Once you figure that out, expand into that space with gusto! Be the greatest there is in your company and in your market at selling the 500-acre customer. If a 2000-acre customer comes along and wants to spend money with you, great. But stay focused on your target market. One important thing I forgot to say here. The market you decide to go after needs to be in line with what your company can service and it has to be big enough to sustain you and the assets that make product for them.
Lastly and maybe most important. For those customers you are calling on, figure out why they value you coming to their farm and calling on them. There was a time when the salesperson was the sole source of product knowledge and ordering. Cell phones, the internet and hundreds of local meetings later, most customers can do their own research and put in their own orders. How do you expand on that information and add more value? How do you help that customer get the most value from their operation by matching your company’s resources up to them?
Join me next time as we look at the last two Megatrends going on in the world of the Ag Sales Professional.
For more information on Ag sales training, coaching or business development, contact
All of us do, of course! Well, keep reading to find out how.
As you may recall, the once popular game show would award $1 million to anyone who could answer 14 consecutive questions correctly. One wrong answer and you went home with nothing. To help the contestant along the way, they were given three lifeline tools. However, a contestant could only use a lifeline once in their quest to the million. Those tools were:
Phone a friend
Ask the Audience
Only a few contestants in the decades of the game show ever went the distance to win the million without using a lifeline. Contestant after contestant, show after show, every one of them employed their lifelines. However, they had to be judicious in their use of their lifelines as they could only use it once.
In our sales game of Who Wants to be a Sales Millionaire, we are going to make it even easier. You will be allowed to phone friends. Yes, that’s right, you can phone not just one friend as in the TV version, but you are allowed to phone as many as you want. Polling the audience is also available as many times as you like. Combine both lifelines at the same time if you so desire!
Could you imagine how great that would be for the contestant if the TV version allowed lifelines to be used like that? That’s probably what it would take for me to get past half the questions that are asked on that show. Do you think contestants would use them? Of course! Who wouldn’t?
Why then, in the sales game do so few of us use our lifelines? Why don’t we phone a friend? Better yet, why don’t we just bring the friend to the show with us? Every business has an audience. But, does every business poll their audience for answers? If they do poll the audience, do they accept the answers they get or do they explain away how the audience must be wrong? By the way, the audience on the TV show is 95% accurate.
Who and How to “Phone a Friend”?
Literally, phone your peer – establish strong networks with your peers so you can reach out when you need each other.
Ride along on a sales call – Ask them to join you on a sales call that involves their expertise.
Your manager or other members of your leadership team who have experience with your situation.
The previous salesperson who had your territory if they are still available to talk with.
Department People: research, tech, operations, trucking, customer service. If you think the customer is struggling in one of those specific areas, then call your resident expert for help. Better yet, bring your expert out to meet with the customer. If that’s not possible, then maybe you and the customer can go meet them. Either way, most people are excited and feel engaged in the business when they can directly impact a customer.
Don’t be afraid to reach out and use your external network as well.
Trade Associations: These are great resources for support with your customer. If your customer is not part of the local association, then network them with several members who can help.
Peer vendors: No, not your competitor. If your customer is struggling, they might need the expertise of one of your industry connections like another vendor. As you network in your territory, you will meet other salespeople for sister products. It’s a good idea to learn about them so you can help each other out if the situation arises.
Your trusted customers: As you build your personal brand with customers, you build loyal trusted customers. I was in many situations where I could have one of my customers call another customer to help each other. One critical point on this method. You have to have a solid understanding of the competitive nature of your customer base and respect privacy when using this lifeline.
How to Poll the Audience!
With electronic versions and social media, it is easier than ever to hear from your audience. There are numerous apps and web sites that allow for surveys to be done electronically. Survey Monkey is an easy one to use. You can also send out mass forms to be completed and sent back in for manual tabulation.
The “Take out a piece of paper” Method: I employ this survey technique frequently with audiences. It’s a great way to get immediate feedback and involve your audience. If holding a customer meeting, don’t miss the opportunity to get real-time feedback on a particular topic. It might be about the meeting, but could also be about relevant products you offer or your customer service level, etc.
The Customer Advisory Panel method: This is effective for bigger decisions in your company or territory. Selecting several representative customers by segment, you gather them together for a discussion on your company’s performance. This group usually consists of your better customers. Often, you have a genuine working partnership with them. So, asking them to meet and spend time helping your company is also in their best interest as well.
The secret to Asking the Audience is to do something with the information you get. In my experience, companies are fairly good at asking for feedback. However, they typically fail miserably at doing any real work with the results. Too often, they will explain away the negative feedback or those recommended changes that don’t fit their opinion. Big mistake! While you don’t have to do every suggestion, you should follow up with a reply to those that spent the time to give their opinion. Secondly, try as hard as you can not to go into denial on negative feedback. After all, you know you aren’t perfect. So, hear the feedback, discuss it and then decide. And keep in mind, the TV audience is right 95% of the time. Maybe, your audience is equally as accurate.
So, here’s a challenge for you. Which one of your lifelines will you implement first? Which friend can you phone right now to help you with your most difficult customer situation? When will you have the next chance to be in front of a group of customers and could collect some feedback (ask the audience)?
Now, all you have to do is do it!
Good luck on your way to your “Final Answer” to become a Sales Millionaire.
For more information on Ag sales training, coaching or business development, contact
Had the great opportunity to share sales strategies with the many of the IL Farm Bureau Managers over a series of workshops. A great group to work with as they were engaged in the workshop to bring so many benefits to their members, 302,000 to be exact. Thanks for the opportunity!
The 10 most popular blogs over the last year and their 10 selling strategies
For those that don’t remember this tradition, David Letterman would end his monologue every Friday night with something called The Top 10 List. A very funny list for sure. In today’s article, I thought it important to review the top 10 blog articles from the last year. These articles and 100’s more are always free and available on my web site. Feel free to sign up and receive them by email each week as well, if you aren’t already. Enjoy them and I look forward to another great year of learning and sharing, Greg
Combining credibility, reliability and a self-vs-others mentality, we build trust to develop the relationship, dig deeper so we can help our customer. We learned how we can make deposits in the Trust Account, as well as how we make withdrawals.
We learned how to answer the top two questions on every customer’s mind…” Why should I buy from You?” …. “Why should I buy from your company?” You have to answer these questions before venturing out onto the farms or agribusinesses to sell your products. You need to know what makes you different than every other salesperson out there.
Don’t handicap yourself by failing to use all 5 senses in your selling process. Remember, you are trying to differentiate yourself. Use every tool in the toolbox. Lastly, we learn about the 6th sense in selling. And no, it’s not ESP. Click the link to uncover how important this sense can be to your success.
When times are tough, you will find yourself in more crucial conversations with your customer than ever before. Accounts receivables issues, customer service issues, and farm finances will all eventually lead to those tough conversations. Learn to handle them in a better way.
Step one on the road to improving your selling results is to establish effective measures. We uncover how just the simple act of measuring is often enough to make us do better. Think about how disinterested you would be if we didn’t keep score in a sporting event. Golf without measuring is just putting around on really nice grass. Football without measuring is called the Pro Bowl, and nobody watches it or cares about it. Including the players. So, we need to monitor, motivate and make sense of what we are doing.
We dispel the myth that salespeople have some natural born talent to be successful in sales. We learn how selling is a set of skills applied in an art form. You can learn to sell and enjoy it, especially in agribusiness.
For more information on Ag sales training, coaching or business development, contact
Want to know how to win more sales?Same as in baseball, beat the average
“I think you will enjoy the farm-life of Brian story at the end,” Greg
We’re all looking for a way to win more sales, be more effective with our customers and grow our business. To do that in sales, we have to compete. When you compete in sales, as in sports, it generates a lot of statistics. With home openers in the baseball season ramping up this week, I thought we needed to take a lesson from them to ramp up our selling season.
To compete and win, we don’t have to beat anyone by a mile. We would like to, but not necessary. We just have to continuously improve and beat them by a nose. Consistently improving over the average statistics will increase your sales success. No, there’s no guarantee, but the odds are in your favor.
Stat:50% of the sales go to the first salesperson to contact the customer.
Answer your phone, reply to texts, and reply to customer emails immediately. I am often amazed at salespeople who are on their phone constantly in meetings but can’t find time to reply to their customers or sales manager.
Don’t skip your sales calls. Physically being in the same place as your customer is vastly different than a phone call.
Follow up as fast as you can on leads. They were interested in a return call the minute they sent the email or phoned into your office. Ready, willing and able prospects with money in hand don’t get better over time. They just go somewhere else to get what they need.
So what if you look like you were sitting around waiting for a call to come in. There will be plenty of times when you can’t reply immediately and then you can look like you are in such high demand that you can’t call back right away.
Stat: Only 2% of cold calls result in an appointment:
Get a better prospecting plan. Find better prospects by networking in the industry and warm up your cold call. When you connect with your customers at industry events and places outside of the buy-sell relationship, they see you as being a part of their industry. This should at least get you the first appointment.
Give more free or introductory style offerings to gain more trust in your solutions. Prospects need to build their trust in you. The best way to do that is to build their involvement with your products gradually over time. Free content, trial runs, starter type products, and “gateway” services are great ways to engage a prospect. When we decide to spend our money, we all go to our research department (Google) and do our homework. We want to know if this is the type of person we can trust. I see salespeople struggle every day to take a prospect from unknown to a full product line customer in one meeting. In agribusiness, it rarely works that way. Build trust by keeping the ball moving forward with them.
Stat: The most memorable part of a presentation is the first five minutes and the last five minutes.
Pre-call Plan – memorable openings and closings rarely happen by accident. If you are worried about sounding scripted, trust me, you will regret how bad you sound if you don’t pre-call plan.
Launch with an impact – a statistic, a story or a bold statement. Separate the opening small talk with a story or bold statement that will set the stage for the selling discussion that is about to begin.
End with a bang – a story. Here’s an interesting statistic on a statistic: After a presentation, on average only 5% of your audience will remember a statistic you said. However, an amazing 64% will remember a story you told. Tell more and better sales stories.
Stat: Each year, you will lose 14% of your customers.
Develop a large list of prospects
Segment them into hot, cold, top, etc.
Start working on them consistently every day/week. Start with the highest priority prospects, which are those most likely to buy. Keep the ball rolling with the rest. And Never, Ever, Ever Drop the Ball. Did I emphasize not dropping the ball enough?
Stat: 80% of sales take five follow up calls. 44% of salespeople quit after the first call.
The main reason is the salesperson has no relevant reason to go back. They went in and presented on their products. Failed to get any insight into this particular prospect’s operation. The prospect gave a standard resistance/objection. Now, our salesperson is lost.
Step 1 is to search for a need. Don’t waste your first sales call by info dumping about all of your products and services. Spend as much time as humanly possible and socially appropriate for asking your prospect questions. The more you know about them, the more you can help them. And, the more you have to follow up on.
Then position your solution. Since you’ve diagnosed and they have diagnosed, everyone is waiting to hear what remedy you might have for their individual problems.
Then find ways to stay relevant… forever
Find new ways to connect with your prospects
The farm life of Brian and 8 sales calls
Brian is a fourth-generation dairy producer with 750 acres of crops as well. On any given day, he starts early in the milk house and gets a short break after the second milking for supper. On this particular day, he is running hard. In between milking, he has some field work he needs to get done to spread fertilizer as planting is right around the corner. Also, on this particular day, he met with no less than 8 salespeople. Two were planned meetings (crop insurance and his ag lender). Two were impromptu but necessary meetings (feed company nutritionist and current seed salesperson). While four were unplanned and in Brian’s mind, not necessary (two seed company salespeople and two agronomy salespeople). However, that’s been his life for many years as both a grain producer and dairy farmer.
As he nods off to sleep that night, he has all but forgotten everything those 8 people said that day, except for one thing. One of those unplanned seed company salespeople told Brian a story of a producer in his area that was dealing with water hemp in his beans in a whole new way. Tomorrow, when Brian gets to the feed mill, he plans to check with a few of the local coffee crew that hangs out to see if they heard of this new technique.
Three days later, Brian hasn’t had any luck asking around about this technique. However, he’s interested and wants more info on it. So, he puts a call in for that salesperson to come back out and talk.
Letting Go to Grow
To advance through the stages of a sales career, you need to learn the toughest and most important step of letting go!
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If you haven’t heard of how the monkey trap works, let me explain. The hunter places bait inside of a hole, which is big enough for the monkey to slide their hand into. However, the hole is not big enough for the monkey to get its hand out once it grabs the bait. The monkey will not let go of the bait in order to be free.
What does that have to do with sales, you ask? Lots. Two of the most popular business books are built on this concept. “Good to Great” by Jim Collins and “What got you here, won’t get you there” by Marshall Goldsmith. The whole premise of these books is letting go of what you know, what made you successful, and what is making you…YOU. Letting go allows us to grow, improve and move to the next or better place in our lives.
I recently had the privilege of writing an article for Feed & Grain Magazine,
The 4 Stages in Your Sales Territory. It covers the four stages we go through in sales over the course of our selling career. From Startup to Gaining Momentum to Full Throttle to Coasting. Read it to gain a better understanding of what every salesperson goes through. The one thing I didn’t discuss in the article is how to move from one stage to the next, which is the skill of “Letting Go”.
Just a few other analogies in life to understand letting go:
To successfully play tag, you have to let go of home base and run or it’s not much of a game.
To sail anywhere, a ship has to leave the safety of the harbor and head out to sea.
To swing, a trapeze performer has to let go of one bar to grab the next.
Ever go through the experience of selling your parents household items at an estate sale? Then you know all about letting go.
Ok, enough analogies, what do we specifically need to let go of in sales in order to move, improve and become great? The three toughest, most important and where I see countless salespeople struggle to let go of are:
I thought we were trying to sell more, not less. We are, but you can’t sell more if you are bogged down by low producing, high maintenance customers. We struggle terribly with this concept in Ag sales. We want to be noble and treat everyone the same, even the small guy. It’s a time killer. And in sales, time wasted means fewer sales and less opportunity to spend on higher producing customers. In Ag sales, we often have large geographic territories. This means we sign up customers in the far-reaching corners of our territory that take forever to get to. We intended to set up other customers in that area so it would be worth our time to drive all the way there. But, we didn’t. It happens. The problem is we feel a sense of loyalty to keep going back and we can’t let go.
Lastly, do a rough version of a time study. Sit down with your customer list and evaluate where you are spending the majority of your time. If it isn’t with the higher producing or highest potential customers, then let go. Quit spending time with the squeaky wheel customer that demands all your time and attention.
Beliefs: Not all of them, just a few critical beliefs to let go of:
Treating everyone the same: We already addressed it, but treating the small customer the same as the big customer will kill your time and sales productivity. Get over it and move on. Find someone who has done it and learn from them. Commission programs are there for a reason…to incentivize selling more. You do that by focusing on bigger or higher potential customers.
I have to see this customer on Tuesday, this customer on Wednesday…… Here’s my answer, “No you don’t”. When starting a coaching program with a salesperson, I always go through a time mapping exercise to find out where a salesperson is spending their time. The next step is to challenge them when I see it does not line up with sales generation or growth. Their excuse for not selling more is always…. you guessed it, “Time”. Since we can’t make more than 24 hours in a day, we typically have to reduce unproductive time by letting go of less productive customers.
I need to sell Mr or Mrs. Big: Again, here’s my answer, “No you don’t”. We all have them in our territory. I call them the “Wal-Mart Customer”. It might be the 10,000-acre producer, the 5,000-cow dairy or the 30 location Ag Retailer. They are big and everyone in your company, including you, wants you to sell them. Landing this account would make you the hero! Sure, go see them. Sure, give them the time and effort they are due. However, keep some perspective on these accounts. First, they are big and every competitor is chasing them as well. This typically means you are going to sacrifice margin in order to sell them. Sometimes, so much margin, you aren’t profitable. So much margin, you are “running for fun” and don’t make enough margin to replace the trucks and equipment you are wearing out selling Mr. and Mrs. Big. Keep your hand in the game of selling this account, but build your territory on the core niche of customers you are designed for.
Territory: The last area I want to cover on letting go is the most difficult. There comes a point when you have reached the peak, leveled off, gave it your all and need to let go of your territory. For some, it happens soon in their selling career. A few years in, they don’t have the same fire and energy towards selling and growing their territory they had in the beginning. When coaching and leading these folks, we often discuss the possibility that sales might not be the best career choice. I’ve had some of these turn into career change discussions. If they are good, hard-working people, then keep them in the company by connecting with other departments: production, purchasing, technical/research.
For others, the need to let go of their territory comes later in their career. The may want to move into sales management or might need to retire. These can be scary as they are new and different than selling. Being a good salesperson does not directly translate into being a good sales manager. They worry, “What if I give up my territory, am not good at or don’t like being a manager? Then what do I do?” Good question and you need to think about the possibilities before letting go. The question I ask an individual in this situation is, “Is staying in the current role, the right answer for you long term?” If the answer is something like, “No or I can’t imagine being in this territory another year or I need to make a change” then I encourage them to make the leap. Let go of the bait that’s caught them in the monkey trap.
I know letting go is not easy. It can generate a lot of fear and anxiety in our life that we just don’t need. So, we push the change aside and hang on to what we know. Our belief, “Better to be a known good than a potential Great…. because it might also be an epic failure”. However, once you do let go, the feeling of being free is unbelievable. You will free up resources that are allocated elsewhere. The most important of these resources is your time!
Additionally, it almost never turns out to be as bad as you thought it might be. Even if you completely fall flat on your face and fail, short of dying, you will learn an incredible amount about yourself and who you truly are.
So, my question for you today is, “What do you need to let go of? What are you hanging on to that is killing your productivity? What customer, geographic area, or belief has YOU caught in a monkey trap?”
Now figure out a way to let it go!
For more information on Ag sales training, coaching or business development, contact
What? We’ve all been told for years, “winners never quit and quitters never win”Learn to ignore that adage and start quitting to win!
A couple of months ago, I wrote the article, “Quit these 7 Behaviors to Sell More” for Feed & Grain Magazine. After thinking about it for a while, I found 5 more areas that quitting can help catapult your sales success.
Leading Salespeople quit spending time on unproductive customers, prospects, and activities.
Warren Buffet says “Really successful people say no to almost everything”. In selling, I interpret this to mean successful people have a lot of opportunities, distractions, product lines, customer segments they can spend time on. However, they get really good at saying no. The trick is to know which to say yes to and which to say no to.
The power of focus is critical when you have too many customers, too many opportunities and too many prospects for one person. Productive people aren’t given 25 hours in a day. They simply learn to weed out the less productive areas of their work. To do that, it may appear rude or uncaring, but this ability leads to their success. I find these people are continually challenging the limits on the least amount of time they can spend to get something done effectively. Thus, freeing them to go where it counts.
Leading Salespeople quit treating everyone the same.
Ever see one of that social media post that says, “I was raised to treat the janitor the same as the CEO”? I understand the message, but it in sales, this is 100% wrong. The sign is referring to respect for others, not for how you treat your customers. However, I frequently run into Ag salespeople who want to treat everyone the same. As if on a noble quest to prove they aren’t a jerk, they treat everyone the same. From the two-horse account up to the 2,000-cow dairy. From the 20-acre hobby farmer to the 2,000-acre crop farmer, these noble salespeople give equally of their time. BIG MISTAKE.
Yes, you respect everyone. No, you don’t treat anyone poorly because they are a smaller volume customer. But that doesn’t mean they get the same time, intensity of support nor level of resources your company offers. And YOU are one of those resources, which means you go more and do more for the larger contributors to your business.
Leading Salespeople quit making the same mistakes
Ever have that aunt or uncle that keeps marrying the wrong type of person? It seems they never learn and keep finding Mr. or Ms. Wrong. I see salespeople do the same thing. They keep selling the wrong accounts.
Who is Mr. or Ms. Wrong?
The kind of accounts that don’t pay
That don’t buy enough to make it worth your time
That drains your technical expertise but only buy a little bit. They spread their purchases so they can drain every company of support and expertise
The big account that drains your margins/profitability
The overly obsessed customer that dominates your daily life. Big or small, it doesn’t matter. You can’t get away from this customer physically or emotionally and they drain the happiness out of your day.
Leading Salespeople quit commiserating
It’s the weather! It’s the politicians! It’s the economy! You name it. We’ve all had those customers that groan and bemoan constantly about things that no one can change. Leading Salespeople figure out a way to either quit commiserating or shift the focus onto something they can affect. I’ve written many times on this and speak on it frequently in my keynote presentations. It’s so tempting to jump in, commiserate with our customer and feel connected with them.
Leading Salespeople figure out how to move past it and get onto those subjects or customers they can help.
Leading Salespeople quit doing things manually
Whatever you do that requires a lot of manual activity (typing, writing, filing, organizing, coordinating) can most likely be done faster by a computer, a temp or not at all. Don’t get me wrong, I am a huge believer in organizational skills. See my past blog “The #1 Salesperson Killer”. However, besides just being messy, the biggest reason that people don’t get organized is that it takes time. The urgent activities of our day rob us from organizing our sales activities to become more effective. To stop selling and take precious time to set it up electronic or heaven forbid use a CRM program, just doesn’t happen.
Leading Salespeople figure out a way to do it electronically. One of the best ways to do that is to borrow from your peers. During the sales workshops I put on, when I get to this subject, there are always two or three people on the team that already have an Excel program or an electronic system for organizing. Ask them for a copy. And If you are that person that created the electronic system, then share it.
Hiring a temp may sound like something only upper management does. However, in today’s Gig Economy, there are several online resources that are extremely inexpensive to use and they do great work. Fiverr is one that I have used. The name is in reference to most jobs costing $5. You need to clear it with your manager, but I find them very quick and easy to use. For example, assume you just got back from GEAPS, Commodity Classic or the Midwest Horse Fair. You have 100’s of contact information on little slips of paper because your company didn’t have a way to collect them electronically at your booth. What do you do? Sit at your desk and type them in? Dump them on someone’s desk in the office and make them do it amid all their other responsibilities? Or for $10 have someone enter them into an Excel spreadsheet and send you the file when done?
As you drive down County A or Route 4 today, take some time to think about your focus, your activities and your customer list. Are there customers, places and activities you need to quit in order to move to a higher performance level? Which of these five areas is a place where you can quit, so you can sell more? Pick one and start there. Good Luck!