The 12 Days of Christmas for the Ag Sales Professional

On The 12th Day of Christmas, My True Customer gave to me

Well, it’s Christmas time and I thought we could use a version of this old song but with a twist for all the Ag Sales Professionals out there.  By this afternoon, hopefully, we will have parked the pickup, read or deleted all the emails we needed to (not this one) and put our phones on silent for some family time. 

I started to think of what a true customer gives you.  As a trusted part of their team, you are rewarded throughout the year by your customer.  No matter how enjoyable or maddening it might be at times, it’s important to take a moment to reflect on what a true customer gives to us. 

Merry Christmas and we’ll talk next week on how returning polyester plaid pants and bright white golf shoes I got from my Uncle Paul one Christmas taught me a lesson in how liberal a return program should be to both maintain customers but not give away profits.

            On the 12th Day of Christmas, my true customer gave to me

Twelve Months of Business Nothing says I value you as a vendor like 12 months of doing business with you.  Ag is very seasonal and has some very commodity oriented/price sensitive sales structures.  We may do business with a customer on only a few products or a few times of the year.  Working with them all 12 months is a gift (I know – You earned the business, but just roll with the song)

Eleven Customer Complaints: Yes, even complaints are a gift.  Selling feed and ever get a fines complaint?  Selling seed and ever have the wrong product get delivered to your customer?  Selling precision Ag and ever have your custom spreader download the wrong shape file?  Selling grain advisory information and ever have your advice not turn out to be as on the mark as needed?  Those are tough complaints, but better to hear them than go unsaid and lose the customer.  (if you answered no to the grain marketing question above, please call me immediately.  You are a genius).  Think of that complaint like that friend you have that tells you that you have something stuck in your teeth.  Or when your wife tells you that your clothes don’t match.  It’s a gift.  It’s her laughing that hurts though.

Ten Ready ReferralsIt’s a very good feeling when a customer thinks enough of you as their sales person to recommend you.  Advertising and marketing are important but Ag is a small community.  It gets smaller after you’ve been in it for a long time.  So, word of mouth recommendations are critical.

Nine ACH Payments:  While 12 months of business is great, you know that getting paid is great too.  It’s part of the sales process.  Selling your products and services in a way and an amount that allows your customer to make a profit.  Ag sales are long term relationships.  Customers rely on you to help navigate doing business with you and your product line.  Don’t overload them with 4 tons of turkey starter in October or add in 4 different fungicides when you can but can get by with one.  Or get a grain producer involved in a grain transaction they don’t completely understand or opens them up to more risk than they want.  Eventually, it will catch up to you or they won’t be able to remain in business and pay you.

Eight Competition TipsIt’s a moment of trust and acceptance when a customer tips you off to how you might be losing the competitive edge.

Seven Forwarded CustomersAnother trust moment when your customer trusts you enough to forward one of their customers to you to help solve a problem or make a recommendation.  If we ever meet, ask me about one of the strangest customer calls I got in 24 years of Ag Sales from a senior horse feed customer about adding soy products to her horse feed.

Six Newsletter Opportunities:  Being a part of their newsletter means they value your input to their customer.  Sure, it might mean they have writer’s block and need to fill space, but they could ask someone else, like your competition.

Five Speaking OpportunitiesSame as the newsletter gift.  Giving you a chance to get up in front of a dealer’s customers is an acknowledgement from your dealer that they trust you to present good information and value your input.

Four Major Business Changing Moment DiscussionsImagine your customer bringing you in on the decision or the personal struggle to make a big decision in their business.  Examples – Should we or could we double the size of our dairy herd?  I have a business partner that is stealing from me and I don’t know whether to buy him out or not.  We’re looking at buying or merging with a business, what do you think?  All moments of trust and acceptance of your value as part of their team.

Three Employee Referrals:  I find it a high compliment when a customer of mine recommends a person to seek me out for potential employment opportunities with my company.  Your customers deal with many vendors:  sales people selling feed, seed, crop inputs, distributor sales people.  They often hear ahead of time when someone is unhappy with their current employer and will help that person by recommending another company to sell for.  I was involved in several of these situations over the years.  Some turned into employment and some were just opportunities to help this person out.

Two Business Planning Sessions:  Getting a seat at your customer’s board of directors is a big compliment and gift.  Sometimes that board of directors has just been me and the producer at his kitchen table.  Sometimes, it’s a panel of talented advisors that are formed officially to help the business.  Either way, it’s an honor to be there.

One Christmas InvitationIt wouldn’t be Christmas without a warm Hallmark style ending.  But, it is truly an honor and a gift to be close enough with your customer that you are brought in even closer than just a vendor relationship and get to be a part of their company party.

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