Mess with Success

3 Ways to continuously improve your selling success

The old saying is, “Don’t mess with success”.  Another version of that is, “If it’s not broke, don’t fix it”. 

This advice is often backed up with singular examples where a company messed with their success and failed.  New Coke is the shining example of how Coca-Cola changed a 99-year-old formula in 1985 and created what some call the biggest marketing nightmare.  Before we condemn the marketing team on this one, we have to remember that Coke was losing market share and was trying to stem the losses.  Secondly, they changed the formula back to the original and sales surged.  Thirdly, if I’m not mistaken, anyone who was around when it happened, still remembers it.  I’d say it was a tremendous marketing success, judging by the number of impressions. 

How does this affect you in your sales territory out there calling on producers and Ag buyers?  Well, if you stay in sales long enough, you are going to find yourself in the same situation as Coke.  After three or four years, you are going to figure out who your best type of customer is.  Small producer, large producer, traditional farmer, progressive etc. 

You are going to feel more comfortable and have more success with these types of customers.  That’s great!  And you will try to repeat that success over and over again, which is great as well.  However, the world we sell into changes constantly. Competition steps up their game.  Those ideal customers change.  The economics of the industry change.  Often, these changes are subtle and before long, our sales begin to slip.  The difficult thing for salespeople to do is trying new approaches, trying to sell to new customer segments, or selling into new geographies.  We think, “If my sales approach is working on large producers in Rock County, it should be fine for small producers in Jackson County.”  We go to Jackson County; run into some rejection and we head straight back to where we had success in Rock County. 

While it’s good to have the cash cow products and the cash cow part of your territory, you need to be like any large company and have a research department in your sales approach.  Most large manufacturing companies have some form of research and development.  The main part of the company is running at full speed, making products, and making revenue.  However, down in the lab, the research department is creating new products and services. 

That’s exactly how you can view your sales approach.  Keep having success with your proven approach, but nourish a small research department on the side.

What does a sales research department look like?

#1: Start by taking a different route to and from customers.  On some of my common routes, I knew the exact fastest way to get from one to the other.  I’d run that same route for months, maybe years.  Instead, take a different route.  You might be surprised at what you see.  You might catch someone at their bin site or feeding cattle that you have been trying to meet.  You might see a new piece of equipment or barn on a farm and it gives you a reason to stop in.

#2: Dip your toe in the water:  Research doesn’t mean you change your entire product line and sales approach in one day.  Run a sale or try a unique approach in a portion of your territory where it won’t do much harm.  After a few years, I would approach some of my best customers and work with them on a beta version of whatever idea I had.  They enjoyed being on the ground floor of the creative process on new promotions and new products.  They also provided great advice on making it better.

#3: Travel:  Most ideas are not completely new.  Besides reinventing anything wastes a lot of your time.  Traveling around to other sales territories within my company gave me some of the best ideas for anything from products to promotions, product quality issues, marketing angles to objection handling.  I know it’s easier now with Zoom, but it’s not the same.  Go see it first hand and ask detailed questions.  Many times, the success is in the small details.  I could explain golf in a few sentences, but you really don’t understand it until you see it or play it yourself.

If you don’t have a nationwide company to travel around to, visit other geographies and view the processes from the outside.  You might visit a similar company to yours and shop their business as a customer would.  When I’m traveling through an area, time permitting, I will stop into an equipment dealer, agronomy retail location, or feed business.  Once in a while, it’s a wealth of knowledge about how the industry operates in different parts of the world.  Visiting family in Georgia, I stopped into an equipment dealer that had a sign, “We will be open as late as needed during peanut harvest”.  Visiting with a counter person, I learned a lot more about peanut, sweet potato, and tobacco production from an equipment standpoint. 

If you are committed to continuously getting better at your job and being able to help your customers more today than you could yesterday, then you’re going to have to adapt.  You’re going to need to try new approaches.  To do that, you will be messing with your success formula.  And if you make a mistake, like our friends at Coca-Cola, you can go back to the safe area without much difficulty

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