Part 2 – Organize Your Way to Success in Your Ag Sales Territory

Sales Territory Organization

Last week, I spoke to the importance of getting organized in your territory.  I broke that organization into five categories.  Those five categories of organizational skills are:

Customers, Technology, Supplies/Equipment, Seasonality and Geography.

See last week’s blog for the info on Customer and Technology tips on organizing your Ag Territory

  1. Supplies/Equipment –  Most Ag Sales People office out of their home.  Obviously, you need a quiet place with good internet. It’s unprofessional to have the kids screaming in the background as you try to talk with prospects or your webinar keeps dropping as you lead a call.  Get organized however is best.  Once you are set on a quiet place and have good internet service, the next step is to organize your office.  The good news is that all of the supplies to organize are inexpensive.  Office Max or Depot are everywhere and file folders, binders, organizers, storage bins, etc. are all inexpensive and save you time.

However, as Ag Sales Professionals, most of our time is spent in our other office – our vehicle.  Here’s your opportunity to get really productive and stop wasting time.  Be prepared to conduct business from your truck just as you would from your office.

  • Forms & Marketing material: With most companies, there’s a hand full of forms that need to be completed to sign up a customer.  Those need to be on you always.  The basic product or service presentation materials, brochures, a price list or bid sheet if applicable, the latest promotion, the hottest product or topic information you are talking about.  Last but not least, a leave behind.  Something tangible that the customer can hold onto from your call.  Bottom line, have what it takes to sign up a customer and have it organized so you have the latest versions of the proper paperwork.
  • Product Samples: A picture is worth a thousand words and a sample is worth a thousand pictures.  Again, it’s something tangible.  People love samples.  The best part is they will typically not throw them away and they don’t fit inside of a file folder very easy.  I can remember leaving a feed sample with a dealer and seeing it sit on the counter for weeks.  It was a conversation piece for customers and employees.  Eventually I had to remove it and bring a fresh sample, but it generated interest well after my sales call.
  • Backup: Be prepared in case all technology fails.  As you set out in the morning, think about what you will do if your computer crashes, your phone service isn’t working and your kids took your I-pad out of your truck to search for Pokémon at school.  All your left with is what you have in your truck or computer bag.  What would you do?  Things to have:  If all your forms are online, bring a hard copy with you just in case.  At least one copy of your presentation.  If no projector or laptop, you can at least give the presentation from your copy or make copies when you get there.  Chargers, chords, flash drives – keep an extra set in your truck in case you leave them at home.
  1. Seasonality – Most of Ag is seasonal. To be organized and professional, be ready to ramp up when the customer is ready for you and back off when they don’t have time for you.  I once observed a sales person giving a presentation to a farmer while the farmer was underneath a piece of equipment working on it.  That customer was checked out on the sales person.  Plan for the seasonality and how or what you will do during those different times.  Ask yourself – “Where are my customers at throughout the year?” and “How best do I reach them?”  For grain producers, planting and harvest is certainly a busy time of the year.  However, with auto steer systems, producers have much more time to get their I-pad out and search the internet or make phone calls than they did years ago.  Tailor your time, communication and sales/marketing efforts around those seasons.  When answering the question “How do I reach them?”, look for choke points and time wasters.  By choke points, I mean those places where you know you will see them…in line at your elevator, at the annual trade show, auctions, sale barn, county fair, etc.

Weather plays a big part of seasonality.  Keep it in mind as you plan your territory.  Rain to grain farmers is a driving force on where and when you can reach them.  Planning a customer meeting in January in Wisconsin was always a toss-up on the weather.  With livestock producers, know how the inclement weather in your area affects them and what they do.  For example, you don’t call on pheasant farms during or right after a major snowfall.  They are clearing snow from top nets and don’t want to see you unless you want to join in and help.  Last note on weather, please keep safety in mind.  This is Ag sales and not an organ transplant.  Your customers will understand if you don’t venture out on really bad days.  Give it a rest, spend time in your office getting organized and get back at it the next day.

Opportunistic Seasonality Events– I think I just made that term up but it does have significance in Ag sales.  By opportunistic seasonality, I am talking about those once in a while or once in a lifetime type events – floods, droughts, farm bills passing, etc.  Tailor your time and efforts around these events and show customers your relevance.  In January-March of 2012, our crop insurance team was hard at it calling on customers and getting their crop insurance signed up prior to the deadline.  It was tough as always.  Farmers typically had an agent they were with and wanted to stay.  Fast forward 3 months to Jun-Aug of 2012 as the drought spread across most of the part of Indiana I was covering.  We held meeting after meeting on nothing but how to use your crop insurance most effectively.  Producers that previously didn’t even want to talk about crop insurance if you drove up their driveway were now driving to our meetings to find out how to implement the program.  So, look around for these type events and ask yourself “What do my customers need from me during this event?”

  1. Geography – This one is tough. In Ag sales, we cover a lot of ground, have a lot of windshield time and need to know how best to organize to be effective.  This is often the single biggest time drain on people that I have coached.  Here are some tips:
  • Get a learning system: Radio is great, talk radio is mostly great but gets old really fast.  So, go to your local library and start checking out books on cd.  They’re free and you can just about learn anything.  At roughly 30,000 miles per year and roughly 50 mph, you will have 600 hours of driving time or the equivalent of 15 working weeks.
  • Know where things are: Best place for coffee, cleanest bathrooms, where you can get internet and the App Gas Buddy are on top of the list of things you need to know.  With this app, you can easily save yourself a small fortune in gas by searching the area for up to the minute prices.
  • Pick your route. I have to admit my resistance to GPS when it first came out.  Mostly because it didn’t update, took you on some crazy routes and was bulky to use.  I let go of that bias as map programs improved and are great for routing your calls.
  • Challenge yourself if you are driving a long way for a small return on the opportunity. Can you go another day, when you have a few other visits in that area?  Again, if weather is an issue, challenge the safety of going that day.
  • Use anchor accounts in each geography. Anchor accounts are those key accounts in a part of your territory that you need to see routinely.  Schedule other calls around those anchors.
  • Lastly and probably one of the most difficult to do is consider turning an account over to another sales person on your team that might be closer. I know it’s tough to do, but talk with your sales manager about it and see if it makes sense.  Who knows, someday, there might be an account in your area and it makes sense for you to have them.

As an Ag sales professional, getting organized is one of the single most important aspects of your productivity.  The geography and the weather/seasonality of the job will reduce your time in front of viable prospects/customers if not managed well.  To your customer, being organized shows them that you are a professional, you know what you are doing and will not waste their time.

Good luck and please share any ideas you might have on being organized.

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