Climbing the Brand Ladder in Sales

The higher you climb, the lower the objections

Over the last six years of blogging and podcasting, personal brand building has been the subject over a dozen times.  The importance can’t be stressed enough.  You either climb the brand ladder or remain stuck on a rung you might not like.  The higher you go, the less resistance you run into in your selling approach.

Those at the higher rungs of the brand ladder will also enjoy more profitable sales, fewer price discounts, fewer bad customers, a better fit for their resources, and a reduced cost of doing business. 

Salesperson:  A fairly easy rung of the ladder to achieve: getting hired, showing up to work, and getting a stack of business cards.  There is nothing wrong with this rung.  We all start here.  As a newly hired salesperson, you fit this category.  You don’t really know the products, the services, how your company works, nor how your customer’s company works.    You may have grown up on a farm, but are not really sure how to read soil analysis reports to determine fertility.  You have a long way to go and possibly a short time to get there.

When you are at this level, you might say, I’m “the Pioneer rep for this area” or “the Farm Credit person for this area”.  That’s great.

It’s a great place to start.  You just can’t stay there.    Providing little support and expertise to a product opens us up to heavy competitive pressure.  Our customers can go online and find multiple sources of our products.  If you don’t provide some expertise, they will always look to find the lowest-cost provider.  With a sea of salespeople in the market, we need to rise above them and at a minimum, reach the “Skilled Salesperson” level.

Skilled Salesperson:  At this level, you might actually be called, “Agronomist, Nutritionist, Farm Financial Advisor, or Consultant”.  Congratulations on getting to this rung.  You are developing your technical skills to be competent in your field.  You are no longer just a salesperson with a price list.  You know how to use your products and services to improve the results for your customers. 

To me, this is the bare minimum for anyone venturing into the sales world.  Customers expect this level of competence in a salesperson.  If you are calling yourself an agronomist, with skills in balancing soil fertility, customers expect you to be skilled at it.  If not, it’s a good idea to let them know. 

Again, nothing wrong with being a skilled salesperson on the brand ladder.  It’s great to be known as someone who is competent at selling and using their product line.  Many salespeople, maybe even most, will remain here for many years or for their entire careers. 

Trusted Advisor:  Welcome to the greatest rung of the ladder.  You are now a significant part of your industry.  You’re regarded as someone who can be trusted by your company, your customers, and your trade association.  Customers involve you earlier in their decision process.  At lower rungs of the brand ladder, you only found out if they decided to buy from you after they already made the decision.  As their trusted advisor, you are brought in by your customer when they are weighing their options.

Since you are part of the industry and well-traveled within the geography, you are a resource for decisions outside the scope of your product line.  When you are trusted, customers might involve you in discussions on farm expansions, equipment purchases, or large farming decisions.  Your trade association asks you to help out on boards, panels, or industry conferences.  You write, speak or post on social media about important content within your industry.    

Remember, this all comes at a price.  The price to you is time and effort.  It took 3-5 years to become competent in your product line.  Then it took years to learn more about your industry than you really needed to.  You spent a lot of time on sales calls digging into other aspects of your customer’s operations.  You don’t just learn about feed and nutrition, but you uncover how it affects nutrient management plans for their row crops or their operating loan for fertilizer purchases.  You don’t just sell medication, but you find out how to get sick animals diagnosed faster and better medication options.  You go above and beyond what other salespeople do for your key customers.

The price it took to get you to the trusted advisor brand also comes at a cost for your customer.  You and your company invested heavily to get you to this point.  This should lead to less price resistance compared to your competition.  After all, your product comes with You as part of the deal.  There might be 20 different seed vendors in a given market selling many of the same genetics.  However, there is only one that comes with You.

How would you answer these questions?

  • Where are you on this ladder? 
  • Are you stuck? 
  • Have you put in the effort to reach another rung on your climb? 
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