Asking High Value Questions to Grain Farmers, Livestock Producers & Ag Buyers

“How are you evaluated?”  Those four simple words turned out to be the most important learning moment with our largest customer.  It changed the way we presented products and how we thought about the products & services we offered.

Go through any good sales training program and you will be instructed on asking questions.  They will train you on closed probe versus open probe and how/when to use them.    There’s the standard get-to know the business type questions…” How many cows are you milking, sows are you farrowing, layer houses are you feeding, who does your nutrition work, etc.”  These are basic questions that you should already have an idea of the answers, but you want to confirm them.  The next layer of questions gets a little deeper into the organization and gets you a little closer to discovering if there is a need…. “Any issues you are looking for help on? Production issues, health issues, yield problems, etc.”  You can ask some discovery type questions around any new technology or major industry events…” Do you scout your fields with drones now?  Think you will be able to control weeds with the new regulation on XYZ herbicide?” This will give you insight into their bias on current industry trends.  If they reply that they think drones are the newest technique for the government to spy on us, you might want to tread lightly when bragging about the way your new combine can gather remote data without the producer even knowing it.

Those are the basic sales questions and definitely need to be asked and understood as soon as you feel comfortable asking them.  Without them, it’s tough to truly position a product or service properly to a customer’s need.  The next and more interesting questions are those High Value Questions that have the potential to

  • Shift the relationship to a whole new level of understanding
  • Initiate deep thought, discussion & reflection
  • Stimulate change in the customer’s operation or your own or both

As consultative sales people, we are all looking for an advantage and to make a deeper connection with our customers.  High Value Questions are a critical element of speeding up that process.

Back to “How are you evaluated?”  We had been calling on this buyer from a large retail chain of stores for years.  We spent most of our calls talking about products and how we can better serve the end user of the products, how we can better serve the retail store, etc.  Those were definitely important areas and were the same thing every other sales person from every other Ag company came in and discussed with this buyer.  It must have become monotonous for him as every day, appointment after appointment, the same discussions went on.  Then one day, for some reason, one of the members of our team asked a most basic question nobody had thought about asking.  She asked, “How are you evaluated as a buyer?”

Keys to asking High Value Questions:

  1. You have to earn the right to ask it:  This is the most important aspect.  We asked this Ag buyer this question after many years of working with him.  Not that you have to wait years, but you need to have a high level of trust built up before asking some these questions.
  2. You have to be extremely aware of knowing if you went too far with the question: This can be subtle from visual clues to the answer they give you.  Or the answer they don’t give you.
  3. Let the question resonate: Some buyers think on their feet really quick and know the answers off the top of their head.  Other times, especially if they had not thought about it, they need time to process the question and think deeper about their answer.  If you sense this, let it go and visit it later in the meeting or maybe not until a future meeting
  4. Have a reason for asking the question: You should be prepared in case the farmer replies with “Why do you need to know that?  Or Why do you ask?”  Even if they don’t ask, they might be wondering why you asked.  So, always tie the question back to the direction you were going with it.  Be open to the fact that the answer might take you in an unknown direction with this customer.  That’s ok as that is why it’s a High Value Question.  But don’t get caught asking a question and not know why.  Makes you look like you’re just being nosy or prying.

After asking our customer “How are you evaluated?”  the answer gave us insight as to several important factors we would include in future presentations to him.  Obviously, we still had to sell products and services that worked for the stores and end users, but by including information on his evaluation factors, we found one important way to deepen the relationship and standout from the crowd.

Join me on future blogs when I run through some of my all-time favorite High Value Questions and the answers that led to increased sales and deeper relationships with my customers.  Sign up at and connect with me on LinkedIn.  Along with High Value Questions, I’ll also discuss the advanced technique of asking Grain Farmers, Livestock Producers and Ag Buyers questions by making a statement.  Titled “A guy could…”  Taught to me by one of the great sales managers of our times.

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