Patiently Selling in an Impatient World

4 Ways to win sales by being patient

“I need it today!  Call me after planting! Is tomorrow too soon to have it delivered?”  There doesn’t seem to be a lot of balance sometimes to customer requests in today’s world.  They either need it right now or want you to leave them alone.

It’s really not their fault.  Agribusiness, just like every other industry became accustomed to Just-In-Time inventory.  And availability at almost any hour, any day, anywhere.  After two years of the pandemic, inventory problems, and inflation, customer service departments and salespeople struggle to remain patient in a world that is vastly impatient.

Here are 4 ways to remain patient with your customers and increase sales.

  1. Be Prepared: 
    • You know when binge season is in your industry.  For agronomy, it’s almost all the time, except for a few days in the winter and a few in late spring (maybe).  For animal production, it’s the build-up to the big holiday consumption times: Thanksgiving turkey, beef in barbecue season, Easter ham. 
    • As much as possible, schedule the downtime just prior so you can recharge your batteries, get your administrative and production processes in good shape and mentally relax for the upcoming busy period.
    • Proactive:  Reach out to customers to get tentative orders or actual orders.  Find out from your vendors and customers what substitute products they are considering?  Shift internal inventory to make sure it’s in the right place
    • Let your customers know it’s not business as usual today.  To help them get ahead of the rush, you need them to make decisions earlier than normal.
  2. Ask a lot of questions:
    • Don’t automatically assume a customer that puts in a short notice order needs it right now.  Ask
    • They also may not need the full order quantity they normally get.  Ask
    • Remember, your customer is looking for a solution to their problem.  Even if you have a bad solution or no solution, remain positive in your efforts to help.  This goes a long way towards follow-on sales. 
    • Ask questions of others on your team, from other departments, from other geographies (if you are in a nationwide company).  See what they are experiencing with this situation.  Please don’t reinvent the wheel multiple times within your own company.
  3. Be Easy…Flexible:  How easy is it for your customers to do business with you and your company?  In today’s time condensed-24-hour availability, customers have a much lower tolerance for difficulty in their lives.  Be easy and flexible where you can.  Where you can’t, charge for it. 

For example, let’s go back to the short notice order situation.  I don’t know of an agronomy, grain or feed business out there that doesn’t struggle with same-day orders.  These kill production schedules, disrupt distribution, and reduce admin productivity.  Not to mention drive up costs.  So, how can we be easy and flexible in this situation?  It takes time and the support of everyone at your location.  First, you allowed it to go on for a long time.  So, you’re not going to solve it in a day without losing customers.  Get the right shipping timeframe down that you can live with and that makes the most sense for customers in your market.  Most often, that’s 24-48 hours in advance.  Can you live with orders in that time frame?  Can your customers live within that time frame?  Are competitors roughly in that time frame?  What is the cost of same-day orders?  This is not an exact science, but you can rough it out.  Find your worst offenders.  You know who they are.  They call every Friday at noon and need a delivery before the weekend or “their animals will starve…their crops won’t get sprayed.”  If those customers are critical to your business, then put some folks from your team around them and see if the short notice orders can be remedied.  If those customers are not critical to your business, then certainly help them understand the impact they are causing in your business and draw the line on allowing short notice orders at no extra charge.  On their next short notice order (this is the most important part), everyone on the team needs to know that customer will be charged a higher rate.  If one person on the order entry team waivers, you will go right back to the old habits of ordering last minute.

Important considerations:  The customer that orders on time for 10 years straight and then suddenly makes an emergency last minute order, should not be treated the same as the customer above.  Likewise, during the heavy planting or harvest season, customers are overloaded, and again, ordering in the normal timelines might not be possible.  Those are understandable circumstances and need flexibility applied.  Just make sure it doesn’t continue after planting or harvest.

4. Over Communicate:  This is a common theme that I bring up in any stressful situation.  Customers losing their patience is a stressful situation.  They become unpleasant.  The act out.  They aren’t their normal selves.  They demand more and expect you to be near perfect in your execution.  If you have a zero down day policy on your tractors, then they expect a loaner combine within the day.  Well, you only have so many loaner combines.  In this market, it might be zero.  Yet, customers expect you to deliver on that promise. 

Should you? Yes.  Can you always? Of course not.  Don’t react to this situation by hiding behind voicemail or “I didn’t see your text”, “I didn’t get your email”.  At a minimum, answer your phone.  Better yet, be proactive and call customers with status updates as best you can.  Even a bad status update is better than no update.  Even an unknown status update is better than no update at all.  Trust me.  Customers will appreciate it in the long run.  When they calm down, they will realize you stuck with them and didn’t flinch on communication.

Finally, I wouldn’t be doing my job if I didn’t tell you to remain calm and breathe deeply.  If it’s too overwhelming for you, take a moment to remove yourself.  Above all, just do your best.  That’s all anyone can ask of you.  

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