Re-Opening Sales in Agribusiness

Re-Opening Sales in Agribusiness


Part 1:  The Stockdale Paradox and what to do during the crisis

Just as the world re-opened in 1946 following the Great Depression and WWII, we will re-open as well.  And just like 1946, our lives will never be the same.  Not in our personal lives, not in our work lives and certainly not in agribusiness.

However, before we throw away our masks and rubber gloves, we need to understand the Stockdale Paradox.  Shot down over Vietnam in 1965, Admiral Stockdale spent over 7 years as a POW.  One of the interesting concepts that came from one of his quotes is called, “The Stockdale Paradox”.  The two main components of the paradox are balanced realism and optimism.  He explained that those POW’s who were so optimistic about being released by Christmas or the New Year, would eventually suffer mentally when it didn’t happen.  On the other hand, giving up hope was not a survival tactic either in his drastic situation.  He is quoted as saying, “You must never confuse faith that you will prevail in the end — which you can never afford to lose — with the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be.”

Most of us are no where close to the dire circumstances which Stockdale faced for those 7 years.  However, we too must believe deep down that we will prevail through Covid.  While holding onto that thought, we must also face the brutal facts of our current reality when selling to producers.  When Covid struck the US in late Feb and we quarantined, we set our hearts on the month of March.  April showed up and the Covid curve was still going up.  So, now we set our hearts on May.  With the thought of re-opening, we are reminded that the 2nd wave of Spanish Flu in 1918 took far more lives than the first.  Which brings us back to the Stockdale Paradox – have faith that we will prevail, but face the brutal facts that this may not end in May, Jun or even July.  The brutal facts might also be that we re-open and Covid spikes yet higher.  Are you prepared as Stockdale was for this prolonged recovery? Beyond May, Jun, Nov or even Christmas?

Our paradox is; There are 7.5 billion people in the world that want to eat every day.  Demand requires that someone produce, process and ship that food.  So, we know the world is relying on the farmer to prevail in the end.  However, we are stuck at home, unable to physically call on our customers.

We also know that what you do as a vendor, supplier and trusted advisor to those farmers is what makes it possible for them to feed the world.  Think about the old adage, “Nothing happens until someone makes a sale”.  Everything a producer needs, in good times and in bad, has to be sold.

To anticipate the re-opening of selling in agribusiness, let’s first get some perspective on where we are right now.

During quarantine

  1. Purpose: We no longer just jump in the pick up and head out for a day of cold calling by just showing up.  Developing more of a purpose for a sales call, requires us to have a plan.  Pre-call planning has always been a weakness for many sales people in agribusiness.  We love to get out there, roll up onto the farm and just “wing it”.  Not anymore!  Hopefully, better planning continues even after we re-open.
  2. Concise: Again, with a purpose and good pre-call planning, we are more likely to meet the customer requirement of “Get to the Point”.  With less time on politics and gossip, we will stick closer to the agreed upon agenda for the sales call.  The end result is more time, which allows for more sales calls.
  3. Forced Technology: This might be the best outcome of this whole situation.  Farming and some producers can be extremely technical.  Just visit the Info Ag conference and you will see just how technical farming can be.  However, a large segment of our market struggles with using basic technology.  Quarantine has forced many Ag salespeople and their customers to use the available technology.  Here’s my advice for those that are reluctant and holding out on embracing technology:  Just Do It!  Jump in and embrace it!  You are not being asked to build computer programs, just use them.  It’s all point and click.  If you can use your TV remote, you can use the majority of software out there.  Age is not an issue either.  It’s an excuse.  I didn’t grow up with computers and I’m able to navigate just fine.  Neither did my 90-year-old father in law who became computer savvy in his 60’s.
  4. Do without: This component of the crisis is a bit unusual and needs some strategic planning.  As the quarantine went into effect, several things occurred.  We made less or no sales calls at all.  Customers still figured out what to buy (“Just send me the same thing I got last year, month, week”).  Agribusinesses held less internal meetings and no conferences at all (“We can do it through Zoom if we have to”).  Some agribusinesses even went the next step and furloughed employees or reduced staff.    While these are necessary and effective measures for a short-term crisis, the trap is that some companies will decide to continue to operate that way after they re-open.  I call it a trap because it seems effective at first.  Sales continue despite not calling on customers or having meetings or spending on marketing.  However, eventually it catches up to them.  I have seen a salesperson not prospect for months, by living off their current customer base.  Eventually however, their prospect funnel runs dry, then they lose some customers and soon are on a steady decrease.  We are on a temporary hold right now for the face to face meetings only.  There are still plenty of ways to prospect and call on customers.
  5. Sell: Yes, I said you should be selling.  I’m going to go one step further and tell say that you should be selling more now than ever before.  As a matter of fact, I made a short video to emphasize it.  For video version:  They Need You Now More than Ever Before”.  For the blog version: They Need You Now More than Ever Before.

Think about what selling really is.  Helping a customer find a better way to accomplish their job.  Right now, with low producer margins in most of Ag, who  doesn’t need a better way to do the job of farming crops or growing livestock?  If you have a solution to their problems or a better way to accomplish their job, then why would you hold back from sharing that with them.  If you don’t, you shouldn’t be out there even without a crisis.  Selling face to face has stopped for a while, but your customers still need you to sell.


Join me next week for part 2 of this article.  I will expand on both the “During” strategies listed above and the “After” strategies of selling in a Re-Opened Agribusiness world.

After we re-open selling in agribusiness:

  1. A Soft Open- and a possible second wave
  2. Developing the soft skills of sympathy and empathy
  3. Accepted technology – self service and the gig economy
  4. Relevance – possibly the best outcome of all
  5. Sell – this will be your finest hour!


To receive this weekly blog and not miss out on sales insights, use the links on the right side of this web page

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.

Take a look at the newest book on the market written specifically for you!

A Season for Sales:  Your Guide to Ag Sales Success 

The only book written specifically for the Ag Sales Professional, by an Ag Sales Professional!

Subscribe to the Podcast
Receive My Free Weekly Blog

Related Blog Posts

Sales Innovation

Sales Innovation Borrowing from everywhere to improve your selling skills Innovation is not typically associated with the sales team.  We are most often depicted as

Read More »