How to Use Influencer Selling

Who influences your customer’s decisions?

It’s an easy question.  Who or where do your primary customers go to in order to determine which products and services they use?” 

A combination of events led me to a concept that hasn’t been emphasized in sales training enough.  I call it “Influencer Selling”.

First, we all understand “Influencer Marketing”, which is really just a new name for an age-old marketing strategy called Celebrity Endorsement or plain old advertising.  If Pat Sajak says ABC Insurance company is a good company, then it must be a good insurance company.  The trust in a celebrity is transferred to whichever product they are endorsing.  Currently, the Kardashians are very effective at this.  They have a large following.  When they recommend a product (often, their own product), brand image grows as well as sales.  Like them or not, it is very effective.

Agribusiness has their own celebrity style endorsements.  Celebrity might be the wrong term.  Maybe, a better term would be “Expertise Endorsements”.  Their opinion of products, services and farming practices help drive your customer’s decisions.  As an Ag sales Professional, you need to know who your customers listen to or follow.

In the grain marketing business, there are several nationally known advisers who have influence.  Five or more come to mind right away.  In addition, the major grain companies have their own team of experts who customers might follow.  As a grain buyer or grain marketing advisor, you want to know which one your customers are following.  All of them have some form of a newsletter.  If a customer subscribes to an advisor’s newsletter, that is a key piece of information for you when working with that customer.  Early in your conversations, I think this is a great question to ask a prospective customer.

An easy style question might sound like, With all the newsletters, grain marketing advisors, and industry experts, which one of them do you find to be most helpful to you?”  Once you understand that about this customer, you now have a much deeper understanding of how they make decisions.  This makes it easier for you to help them market their grain.

As a good grain marketer, you are certainly following the national advisors.  When one recommends selling, you can now reach out to that producer and ask if they are ready to follow “their expert’s” advice and sell grain.  This is nothing new to those of you in the grain business.

It’s also nothing new to those of you in the feed business.  If you are in dairy nutrition, there are several universities (UW-Madison, Cornell and UC-Davis) with faculty that are regarded as experts.  Dairy owners follow them in order to decide on nutrition or dairy production practices.  In horse nutrition, Texas A&M certainly has expert status.  Along with universities, there are a handful of private companies and industry consultants who are regarded as having this expertise as well.

Again, it’s critical to understand where your customer looks for validation on their farming decisions.

Recently, while working with several agronomy and equipment dealer sales teams, I stumbled upon this discussion in our breakout sessions.  In one session, I asked an agronomy team about how their customers made decisions on which products, services and farming practices they use.  The look on their faces told me, I had found something that needed much more discussion.  So, I rephrased the question, “When your customers want to know if a particular product is effective or not, or they want to determine the return on a particular service you offer, who do they look to as the expert on this subject?  When you want to know what a word means, we go to the dictionary (on Google of course).  Who is your customer’s dictionary on herbicide rotation, micro nutrient effectiveness, tillage practices?  Right now, there is serious doubt about the availability and price of spring nitrogen supplies.  Many retailers are recommending Fall application.  However, there is a risk of loss and volatilization.  Who does a producer look to for the best advice on this subject?

We had a great discussion and decided they really didn’t know who their producers were following as experts.  Some thought it was neighbors, coffee shop buddies, maybe an extension office.  One mentioned that he was regarded as the expert they come to.  “Great,” I remarked, “If so, you have become that Trusted Advisor which we all strive to be for our customers.  Hold on to that trust as it’s very valuable in your selling efforts.”

The next week, I was working with an equipment sales team.  There is a lot of volatility and disruption in this part of agribusiness.  Primarily due to a lack of inventory.  Additionally, there is some expertise needed in the area of precision farming and the wild world of carbon sequestering.  Knowing a few nationally recognized names in the tractor world, I asked this group the same set of questions.  “Who do your primary customers look to for proof of a product’s performance or a farming practice’s return on investment?”  This group was also at a loss for answer to this question. They struggled before also mentioning neighbors, the coffee shop crowd, and a few mentioned they were the experts who customers look to.

This applies to every market segment in agribusiness:  Ag lending, seed genetics, utility equipment, fencing, software…..  If you are in these market segments, I’m sure you know who the experts are.  Follow them.  Even if you don’t think they are experts.  Even if those experts are dead wrong at times.  That’s not important.  What is important is that your customer thinks they are important.

Don’t be afraid of the answer not being you or your company’s agronomist, nutritionist or technical expert.  The most important part of this selling skill is to understand your customer’s decision process.  So, start asking your best customers first.

Final thought:  If there truly is no one in your market segment that is regarded as the unbiased expert, this is a great opportunity for you in your career journey.  There are a thousand steps in that journey, but it begins with the first step.  Then consistent steps towards whatever expertise you aspire to be known for.  A great subject for another day!

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