7 Instant Ways to be a better Ag Sales Professional
Do these now to gain an edge over your competition
In a world of commodity sales, we are all trying to stand out and differentiate our products and services. Often these are the exact same products and services offered by others in the market. While we can’t always control competition, we can control how we sell. Here are 7 ways to differentiate yourself as a trusted resource in your market:
Answer Your Phone
- If they are calling, they want to talk now. Unless you are with a customer, answer the phone.
- Customers remember who answers their phone calls and who screens them or in some cases, never calls them back. When they get busy and need help, they call the salesperson who picks up.
- “But Greg, what about work life balance, and I am not taking calls on weekends or nights….” I get it and I agree. However, here’s what I think. If a customer or prospect never calls me at 8:00 pm on a Saturday night, but suddenly does so, I’m going to answer. There is obviously a problem. And that’s what we are out in the field to do, solve customer problems. If it’s not a problem, or not an emergency, then I will very quickly screen this customer’s future Saturday 8 pm phone calls.
- This exact situation happened to me. After 12 years of calling on a prospect, he called me late on a Saturday afternoon. That’s right, 12 years! He was very upset with his current supplier of 30 years and wanted me to be in his store on Monday to become a customer. The call lasted 3 minutes as a I looked at my phone calendar and confirmed a meeting time on Monday. Glad I answered my phone. By the way, he never called me on a weekend again.
- If you are in the middle of something and absolutely can’t answer your phone, see #2 and #7 below.
- If you can’t answer your phone, there is a great new reply mechanism on your smart phone that allows you to respond immediately with a text. Most replies tell the caller that you are busy and will call them back
- Here’s the secret to this, call them back immediately when available. Finish your sales call and call them back. This will absolutely set you apart from your competition.
- One of the major generational complaints or complaints in general about salespeople is communication. We don’t answer or reply. When we do reply, it’s too slow. Or, it’s not in the preferred method. By that, I mean if a customer calls, then call them back. If they text, text them back. If they send you a LinkedIn message, then reply with a LinkedIn message. If you want to change the form of communication, then you can always ask, “This is more than I can put into a text, would you be available for a phone call on this?”
Be More Transparent
- We are undergoing some of the toughest supply chain issues in history. Customers understand this. Let them know as much of the true situation as you can possibly share. Let them know this up front.
- However, don’t lay it on so thick and negative that people see you as part of the problem and not a potential solution.
- My ammo story is a great example. As you may know, the world is out of ammo. About a year ago, I wasn’t aware of this situation and wandered into my local sporting good store to resupply. The guy at the gun counter must have been extremely tired of this situation as he never looked up from his very important paperwork and went on for 3 minutes about how, “there is no ammo, there’s no ammo on the way and I probably should have called before ever coming in to the store.” Wow! I left without making any purchases and haven’t been back to the store. At the next store, the guy at the gun counter explained what was going on, when their delivery trucks came in and how I “might” be able to get a box of ammo. I called for three weeks and went in five times before finding the ammo at one of their stores in a different state while travelling for work.
- Transparency means explaining the situation and then offering a best solution to the customer. They will remember it for a long time.
- Become a student of your industry and your customer’s business.
- Ask more and better questions of everyone you meet in the industry: customers, peers, managers, other vendors. Ask How based questions.
- Be curious and interested
- The decision process is more important than the decision. “I use AAA Corn Seed” is a decision. Most salespeople stop there. The more important thing to understand is “How did you decide to go with them?”
Know the Past, Understand the Present, Focus on the Future
- Ask about your customer’s past history with farming practices related to your products. This is especially true if you are new to the industry or your products are well known and been around for a long time. It’s likely that your customer has had experience with them.
- Next, dig into what their current situation is. Is the past history relevant today? Has the situation with their farm or your company changed since then?
- Lastly, take a future approach to the situation. You are not here to make one sale. You are also not knowledgeable enough to start making recommendations about this specific farming operation until you understand more about them.
Challenge the Norms and Kill some Ducks
- The Norms = “That’s the way we always do it”. It’s a challenging agribusiness world right now: supply issues, input costs, employee issues, trade wards. Challenging times require us to challenge what we do.
- Ducks = any activity, service or product that doesn’t add value. And no, that doesn’t mean stop doing weekly reports or entering calls in CRM. These can add value in certain cases. Again, challenging times means volatility. Volatility means we may need to focus our efforts on other areas and simply can’t continue to do everything we did in the past.
- No news is not good news. Get on the phones and let customers know what is going on. Ever been to a doctor’s office and sit in the exam room for 20 minutes waiting for the doctor to come in? Sure, me too. Wasn’t it nice when a nurse popped in and updated you once in a while on the situation, let you know they haven’t forgotten you? Of course. It didn’t change the wait time, but it certainly reduced the stress of a bad situation.
- Many of you are dealing with low or no inventory, manufacturing and delivery issues. During planting and harvest peaks, employee limitations keep us from meeting the needs of every customer at the exact right time.
- “You can’t staff all year for the peaks of planting and harvest”. Well, I guess you can but it wouldn’t be profitable nor last long.
- Get in front of your customers and communicate early and often.
- Let them know the importance of forecasting, early ordering, etc. It’s more important now than before. You are not the only one they are hearing this from.
- Every time you think there might be a tight spot for your customer, ask about their flexibility on date and amount needed. It might not be an issue, but to get by in an emergency situation, this information might be very important.
- Lastly, overcommunicate internally: production, accounting and customer service need to know what’s going on in the field. You also need to know what is going on in their world. What are they seeing on their end? What are vendors telling them about supplies? Empty bag supply isn’t an issue to a salesperson until 30 SKU’s go out in the same bag and same color tag. Your facility knew this long before the customer called you to inform you that the entire semi was plain white bags. And yes, that happened.
Try one of these tips today. Start small and see how it improves the sales approach you have been using.