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 foot soldiers in the war to get in front of customers and get them to buy.  The wild creativity is left up to marketing, R&D, engineers, or maybe product managers. 

Like guided missiles, we salespeople have but one mission: Go sell!

However, that’s not always so easy.  There are a lot of guided missiles out there calling on farmers.  All dressed in jeans, a company embroidered shirt, and driving a pick-up.  We need some way to stand out from the competition.  Some way to actually find and connect with potential customers.  Some way to get an appointment.  And some way to get our foot in the door. Or in this case, our products on the farm.

That’s where Sales Innovation comes in.  The great part about sales innovation or more specifically sales innovation in agribusiness is that we don’t have to reinvent the wheel.  Good or bad, our industry is often a generation behind the rest of the world when it comes to implementing changes.  Ok, maybe not a generation, but 5-10 years at least.  This gives the smart salesperson a chance to borrow a lot of great ideas to become innovative in their approach to making farm calls.

One of the biggest concerns I hear from Ag sellers is that they don’t want to be salesy.  They don’t want to be “that” salesperson that farmers hate.  They want their customers to want them to make sales calls on them.  When this subject comes up, I always ask these salespeople, “Ok, good.  I agree.  So, what do you do differently than the other salespeople out there calling on your producers?”  Their answers are disappointingly the same. “I don’t push product.  I build relationships.”  What they describe is called a professional visitor.  They show up and try to become friends with their prospects. 

I understand the thought process and the approach.  The problem is that our customers don’t need more professional friends.  They really need someone who can bring new ideas to their current operation.  Your dealers, producers, or Ag retailers are currently using a solution to their problems

Try using some Sales Innovation to stand out in a sea of salespeople.

Sales Innovation ideas:

  1. Hollywood – Storytelling:  they are the masters of this critical selling skill.  We love stories all the time.  I’d even say, we get addicted to good storytelling.  The new habit of binge-watching is proof.
  2. TV Commercials – Selling on Emotion: in 30 seconds, we see a great story played out with emotion as the ultimate result.  Look at any insurance commercial.  They are all emotion-based: you love your 16-year-old child enough to give them a brand-new car, but you worry about their driving skills and wrecking the car.  So, you go to XYZ Insurance to get peace of mind.
  3. Police, CIA, FBI, Attorney’s – questioning skills: again, they are some of the best at getting hostile people to answer questions.  If you don’t think we have hostile situations in Ag sales, try being the 6th seed corn salesperson to call on a producer in one day!
  4. Travel:  This is a great way to innovate, especially if you work for a nationwide or worldwide company.  Every year, I would make one trip across the country to ride along with another salesperson within my company.  I also mandated this as a sales manager to those I led.  If you don’t have that privilege, then I suggest you use the power of social media to connect with someone in another geography as they won’t see you as a direct competitor.  Develop the relationship and offer to visit them or have them visit you or both.  Trade associations are great places to find people.
  5. Other industries that are further down the path than we are.  We are not the first industry to struggle with multiple software platforms that do very similar things.  We are not the first to launch autonomous equipment.  One really close industry to us is the food industry.  They are often a step ahead.  Their innovation is often exactly what is needed on the agribusiness side.
    • Software – what were their go-to-market strategies and why did they work? 
    • Customer acquisition and retention:  This is an issue in a world of supply shortages.  How does the cell phone industry deal with acquiring and retaining customers in a market that is flooded with suppliers and switching incentives?
  6. Other times in history:  Now is a great time to go find one of those more experienced salespeople or producers and ask them how they survived the 80s?  At a 16% interest rate, I’m sure Ag lenders saw a whole new side of lending back then.  They had to become much more involved in the total farm budget and the decisions such as grain marketing, new equipment purchases, etc.  How did those folks survive through it?  Did they rely more on neighbors and borrow equipment?  Did they simply go without?  How did they work with their vendors?  Could you mimic that in today’s marketplace? 

There is an old sayingNecessity is the Mother of Invention”.  Well, there is a lot of necessity right now in agribusiness selling. The need for innovation in your approach increases as times get tougher for your customer.  OR when times get tougher for your company. 

Last thought on this.  Don’t confuse innovation with technology.  I probably even did this just a little in this article.  However, sales innovation can be very simple, non-technology ideas as well.  We’ve all heard the classic example of the Russian astronaut who used a pencil to write in space instead of an $80,000 pen that writes in zero gravity.  You can do the same thing. 

I like to think I can do the same thing with 3X5 cards to enhance a CRM program. 

Reach out if you’d like to hear about it or any other Sales Innovations for your team.

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