7 Challenging Customers

Do you recognize any of these from your customer list?


Previously, I wrote about the 7 farmers you will meet in your territory.  Today’s update on that article is a deeper dive into the 7 challenging customers you will meet in your territory.  Over the course of 25 years of selling to farmers and leading sales teams that sell to farmers, these 7 stood out as some of the more difficult challenges faced by Ag Sales Professionals.  They were the personality types that salespeople would call me on and scream, “What do I do with this customer?”  As a salesperson, I too ran across several of these types as well.  It’s difficult to see as these situations develop over time and soon you realize you are spinning your wheels and wasting time on activities and accounts.  Not all of them require a change but a few will kill your productivity, morale, and engagement.

  1. I Think I’m Big – but not really: This customer is a wanna-be large account. And maybe someday they will be.  But today, they are not.  The problem comes in when they want your time, resources and pricing as if they are a big account.  In the beginning with this customer, we are afraid to burst their bubble and tell them they are not a big account.  So, we cater to their desires a little.  This feeds their ego even more and they start to really think they are a big account of yours.  Spend your time wisely here, early on.  You don’t have to completely ruin this image, but you do need to be fair on pricing to those accounts that are big.  You also need to be aware of the amount of time you can spend with them.  Balancing a ration for a 7-cow dairy might seem noble, but is it time well spent?  If you said yes to this question because they are going to be big someday, great.  By great, I mean today you buy our standard-off-the-shelf 38% Tip Top Dairy Feed.  When you get “big” we’ll start balancing rations.
  2. I’m Big – and I know it:  This account truly is big and they truly know it.  If they are reasonable, they will want special concessions or considerations.  That may come in the way of pricing, time spent, services provided, etc.  Certainly, these are good accounts as long as they are “reasonable” requests.  I put reasonable in quotes as it is a gray area.  If you are new to sales or have been chasing Mr. Big Account, you will often go back to your sales manager and tell her you need to accommodate all these requests to keep their business.  Maybe true, but always think through the true cost of providing these extras.  Not just the actual cost of doing them, but the opportunity cost of time/resources those activities take from other customers.  For example, let’s say your big account requires you to keep a large supply of bagged inventory in your warehouse.  Maybe this takes up 15% of your warehouse.  There’s a cost to warehousing that your production manager can easily calculate for you.  Additionally, there is the opportunity cost of being able to use that warehouse for other products that you could use to sell other customers.  These are all gray area determinations and you have to keep an open mind that at some point, that large account might have just taken all your profitability and growth away from you.  Secondly, with one decision to quit you, they can take you from the top of the sales leaderboard to the bottom.
  3. Emotionally Distant – hello, anybody in there? They seem to be loyal.  They seem to be buying consistently from you.  They don’t seem like they need or want anything from you.  When you try to dig deeper into what they want from the sales relationship, you never seem to uncover a way to get deeper.  Often, you decide they are in the “S” profile of the DISC assessment.  This can be tough for those of you in the “D” or “I” profile.  You’re full of energy and want to grow together with your account.  Yet, you get no response from this person.  Stay the course and be consistent.
  4. Crazy – Sorry, I mean High Maintenance to be more PC (politically correct). This is the account, big or small, that you quickly realize will consume your life.  They call, they text, they connect on Facebook, they want access to you everywhere and anywhere you are.  They may have crazy requests that seem perfectly reasonable to them.  I’ve seen these types of customers take over a sales person’s life and actually require intervention to get them back to a normal or balanced life.  The first step is for the salesperson to recognize it and apply the discipline to not allow it to continue.
  5. Rock Solid – my go-to account: Finally, a good one to call on.  This is that account that you could call bomb proof.  You can be as open as you want to and they still love you.  Trust is high on both sides.  The importance of this account is that it can feel like a shelter in a snowstorm.  When you’re out there getting beat up, this account can be a welcome relief.  Just be careful you don’t set up camp too long here.  Recharge your confidence batteries and then venture back out into the storm.
  6. The Babysitter – holding their hand every step of the way: Similar to the High Maintenance account, this account requires a lot of attention when doing anything new or even the first 5 or 6 times they do something.  Keep an eye on them when you make major changes in how you run your business, especially when it comes to software or accounting processes.  They may silently switch on you due to the difficulty of the change
  7. The Ignored – caution, they might not want to be ignored: Another account type to be aware of and keep your eye on.  The reason they are ignored is that they seem happy with you and your products.  They have no complaints and no additional requests.  They might be on the “S” part of the DISC scale.  While you are glad they are happy and don’t require a lot of attention, please stop short of ignoring them.  By that, I mean regularly check in and spend a little time digging deeper with them on how happy they are with your products.  It may take more time while asking questions or even asking the question several times before they answer you completely.

Each one of these could certainly take a whole article to describe and discuss methods of working with them.  Maybe for another day


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