Prospecting is not a side hustle

It’s a primary role for every Ag Sales Professional

The problem:  Working with Ag sales teams over the last 30 years, there is one common theme that runs through every one of those teams.  Most salespeople prefer to call on current customers at the expense of prospecting.  It doesn’t matter if they are selling agronomy, tractors, crop insurance, feed, or Ag software.  One of their biggest weaknesses is prospecting for new customers.

I understand their reasons.  Cold calling on farmers can seem pushy or intrusive.  At the end of a prospecting day, a salesperson can feel the whole day was wasted as not one prospect was sold.  Meanwhile, your current customers were calling or wanting you to help them.  Prospecting is a long game and salespeople have immediate pressing concerns from their current customers.  Unfortunately, this means prospecting goes on the back burner.  It gets treated like a side hustle.  Like something to be worked on when everything else is taken care of.  Unfortunately, everything else is never taken care of.

Some of the reasons or excuses we use:

  • I need to go see my current customers.
  • I’m not good at it.  So, I spend my time working with current customers and let word of mouth will bring me new customers.
  • Marketing will create inbound leads for me to follow up on.
  • I don’t want to be pushy, salesy, or intrusive.
  • It’s hard to find farmers and seems like a waste of time to just drive around hoping to find them.
  • Farmers are busy and don’t want to see a salesperson.  Ever use any of these to just keep driving past the driveway?  I know I have.
    • It’s planting
    • It’s fungicide season
    • It’s harvest
    • It’s the holidays…It’s right before the holiday.  It’s right after the holidays.  It’s Friday afternoon. 
    • It’s good weather and they are farming.
    • It’s bad weather and they are taking care of their livestock.
    • It’s morning, they are doing chores.  It’s late afternoon, they are probably done for the day.
    • Grain prices dropped.  They aren’t in a good mood and don’t want to see a salesperson.
    • The hog, dairy, or beef economics are bad right now and they are not in a good mood.

I’m not saying some of these aren’t good reasons.  There is a time and a place when prospects shouldn’t be called on.  It just can’t be all the time.

Prospecting needs to be prioritized or a salesperson will allow it to dwindle to almost non-existent in their sales day.  The main thing to remember is that prospecting is a long game. 

With any good customer relationship, you want them to have some sort of loyalty.  If they will switch from their current supplier to you on your first call, they might not be the most loyal customer to have.  If we spend months or years selling a customer, we certainly don’t want the kind of customer that would switch to our competition on the first sales call.

The long game of prospecting:  It takes a certain amount of time and sales calls to:

  • Understand their operation.
  • Understand how your products and services can help them – more than what they are currently using.
  • Build trust in you, your company, and your products.

If you try to skip any of these items, you will struggle to make the sale.  You will feel like you have a good relationship but just can’t make the sale.  The farmer will spend time talking with you, learning from you, listening to you, but never taking that final step of buying from you.

The solution:

  • Get it right in your mind first. 
    • The sale is not going to happen on the first sales call
    • Prospecting may feel fruitless at the end of the day, but the results will happen if you persist.
  • Keep herding the relationship along over time.
    • The purpose of the prospecting sales call is to get the next appointment. 
    • When you plan your prospecting call, start with how you will get back on the farm for the next call.  That drives your focus for this call.
  • Most importantly, maintain a healthy prospect funnel
    • Your prospects need a certain amount of time and understanding before they can buy from you.  If you rush it, they will turn you down.  A healthy and moving pipeline of prospects allows you to let them take their time.  While they are waiting or taking their time to decide, you have many other prospects to work with.

Every single day, our customers and our prospects are changing.  They retire.  They switch to our competition.  They go out of business.  They start new business ventures.  They get mad at their current suppliers.

All are reasons to remember that we may not have a customer for life.  Our current customer base can go away for a variety of reasons.  This is a good reminder to always be prospecting!

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