Part 2: After we Re-open and then possibly quarantine again
Welcome back to the journey towards Re-Opening Agribusiness. If you missed part one of this series, please go to Re-Opening Agribusiness Pt 1. The key message was the Stockdale Paradox and these 5 considerations for selling in agribusiness during quarantine:
- Forced Technology
- Do without
Let’s jump right in to those considerations for when we re-open!
After we re-open selling in agribusiness:
- A Soft Open- and a possible second wave:
If you are in retail, you understand the concept of a soft open. Prior to the grand opening day of a new retail store, they will have a soft open. This means they open their doors for business but still need to get the bugs worked out. The store owner never knows what might go wrong when they open up a brand-new store, turn on all the electricity and fire up the registers and computer systems. We need to look at the re-open of selling in agribusiness the same way. We don’t know what will happen with Covid cases when we start meeting face to face again. We really need to be mentally prepared for a resurgence, which might put us back into quarantine. Keep the Stockdale Paradox in mind here. Be confident that we will eventually re-open, but be prepared for the possibility of a second quarantine if cases spike.
We all want to just go back to life as it was prior to Covid. So did our parents after the depression or after WWII. So did we after 9/11. But the truth is that will not happen. We are going through a life and world changing experience. We will never look at the food supply chain the same way. Will we ever shake hands again? When someone sneezes in public, will we wonder if they have the virus? If you were a farmer, would you allow random salespeople to just drop by your farm, shake hands, and walk through your facilities? My guess is producers might use this opportunity to limit who stops by. If so, we will need to be aware of points #3 and #4 below. In addition, we need to remember our increased need to be Concise and have Purpose as discussed in part 1 of this blog.
- Developing the soft skills of sympathy and empathy
It seems every aspect of life today is polarized by political party lines or by protests for/against. Covid and quarantine are no exception. People want someone to blame for bad things and it becomes easy with the massive social media industry. Whatever your personal opinion is, selling is not the place for you to express those opinions. Unless, you feel comfortable alienating a portion of your business, leave your politics at home. Instead, this is your time to develop sympathy/empathy for what your customers are going through. Even the toughest of your customers might be going through the most difficult mental stress imaginable. Don’t let stoic outward appearances stop you from touching on this subject as you get back out on the farms.
You can use the “I have a friend” method to explore this area with your customers. For example, you might suggest that “many producers” are really struggling with the mental pressure of isolation during quarantine. Then let your customer respond. If no response, you might throw one more attempt at it with, “Is everyone in this area doing ok in your opinion?” These two discussion points will get most customers to open up on the subject. The key to keep in mind is that we can never guess what a person is going through. On top of the difficulty in farming economics, they have family/personal dynamics going on. While Covid may not have affected them, they might have close family or friends that were affected.
- Accepted technology – self-service
Here is the really great thing about technology. Rarely, if ever does a person stop using it once they learn how. Yes, there are exceptions, but think about it. Once you learn to go on line and purchase certain items, do you really want to go to a store for it anymore? Not unless you need advice. As Ag sales professionals, we need to keep this in mind. As the transactional roles we fulfilled become self-service, our role is now shifting more towards the consultative area. Once a farmer can go in and print his own invoices, grain unload tickets, or auto sign contracts, the need for us to spend half our sales call on these areas is no longer needed.
- Relevance – possibly the best outcome of all
Relevance is defined as being closely connected or appropriate. In agribusiness selling, it means you are bringing products and services tailored to this farm, which the producer needs to be aware of right now. This is the best thing to come from this situation because, we should have been doing this all along. It’s a more effective approach to selling. Customers are always busy but they will make time for relevant topics. Relevance dictates their time. Become more relevant and you get more time with your prospects/customers. Stop by to just “Check in” or “Catch up”, and you can expect to get less time. Don’t misunderstand the use of the phrase “Catching up” with “Catching you up on a few things”. I have used both of those phrases over the years. The difference is that, no matter what phrase I used, I always have a reason for being there. The more relevant and time sensitive my reason is, the more a prospect is willing to spend time with me.
- Sell – this will be your finest hour!
It’s very easy to get caught up in the emotion of an event like Covid quarantine and the tough Ag economy. There is also a lot of discussion that we shouldn’t be pushing our products during a crisis. Here’s my opinion, first and foremost, you shouldn’t be pushing your products at any time. You should believe in your products. Believe they help your customers in one or more of the three value components: Financial, Time or Emotion. If your products don’t provide a value in one of those areas, then rethink your offering or your targeted customer.
Secondly, it takes a dedicated level of determination not to get caught up in the media/social media amount of emotion. Bad news sells! Getting “clicks” and “likes” is easier when you blast out negative or inflammatory headlines. So, guard your emotions against this as much as you can. Some people do it by avoiding media altogether. However, this is our only link to the world at this point. Instead of going into a social media quarantine, you can become very selective in those articles you read and news sources you even open up. Your role is to bring a positive message on how you bring solutions to their problems.
I’m not telling you to bring a rosy message of “Cheer up champ, things are really going great”. That approach will fall flat with most producers. However, you don’t have to jump in on the negativity to fit in.
Instead, bring a “Things are not going great and here is how I can help” message.
Your customer is suffering on a lot of different fronts. Decide which front your product helps to reduce that suffering and bring your solutions to your customers. At a minimum, don’t increase their pain by coming out to the farm and regurgitating all the negative news that’s in the market. They have already heard all that on every news source they click on.
I will leave you with one final message. Tough times define. They define you and how much you believe in your products. They define producers and how resilient they can be in the face of unprecedented difficulty. You have the choice of letting this disaster define you as a source of solutions for your customers when things got tough or someone who disappeared when times got tough. It’s not selling as usual. It’s selling when selling is needed the most.
If this article helped you on your journey to being more effective in your selling, I ask you to share it with those who might also benefit from it.
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