Selling to the Laggards

5 Ways to sell to the reluctant customer

Are you familiar with the technology adoption curve?  It’s the 5-stage bell curve depicted in the picture above.   Developed in the 1950s by Everett Rogers, it breaks customers down into five categories by how they adopt new technology:

  • Innovators = 3%
  • Early Adopters = 13%
  • Early Majority = 34%
  • Late Majority = 34%
  • Laggards = 16%

(One important note. The term Laggard sounds like a fairly negative term.  I’m using it as that is the actual term used by Rogers in his research.  I mean no disrespect towards those customers that are described in that category of the bell curve.)

Just about every industry is affected by new technology.  We are all trying to become faster, better, and always with an eye on increasing the ROI for our customers. 

However, as salespeople, we struggle to get our customers to adopt this new technology.  Yet. we are responsible to go out and explain all these new and better ideas to our customers.  The struggle for us is that many of our farmer customers are not ready to jump on board.  Sticking with tradition is kind of a cultural norm for many of our customers.  In the bell curve, the Late Majority and Laggards make up 50% of customers.  You could argue that number is much higher with our customer base. 

Precision Ag, carbon sequestering, robotics, and data mining, are three of the hottest areas in Ag right now.  Farming is a very technology driven industry.  But technology adoption by farmers and livestock producers ranges wildly.  I am often working with sales teams that struggle with this challenge.  “Farmers in this area just don’t see the value in any of the newer technology.”

Here are five ways to help you when selling to this type of customer.  

  1. Make the complex simpleMISS = Make it Simple

We have all heard the phrase KISS, which stands for keep it simple.  In the case of new technology, we have to first Make it simple before we can keep it simple.  Often, salespeople love to explain all the complicated technology to their customers.  It’s often wordy, confusing, and full of features.  Remember, nobody buys features.  They buy what the feature does for them (the benefit).  They don’t care how the little box communicates with the super-fast satellite.  They just need the screen to tell them where to spray even when it’s bad weather. 

The Laggard is already skeptical.  When you load your presentation with technical jargon you got from the vendor it just confirms to him that he can’t understand the value.  We do all of this with good intentions.  We want to explain it all and show him the science to prove it’s real and it’s better.  However, what they want is the simplest and easiest way to understand it all.

2. Put a guarantee on the box

The Laggard is reluctant for several reasons.  The big reasons are cost and risk.  To alleviate these worries, explain how everything can be returned to the old way with one phone call.  In many cases, this is not possible.  However, if there is a way to return the products or cancel the service, then explain how easy it is to do so.

3. Make it fit

The videos or testimonials of your new technology are often on large scale farms and show large ROI equations.  It might be row crop operations in Illinois or beef operations in Oklahoma.  Our Laggard customer struggles to identify with these videos as they milk 80 cows on 200 acres of crops.  If possible, encourage your marketing team to generate another set of videos or ROI brochure material for the smaller operations.

4. Wage mental warfare

The decision to change or not is a battle that goes on in the mind of every producer we sell to.  “When to commit and make the improvements?  Will it actually pay off or will I waste money, get poor results on my crop yields, lose my herd?”

Here are some thoughts on this:

  • Walk them through their fears.  Ask them, “What do you think is going to happen?  What is the downside of implementing this change?”
  • Ask them about previous changes, “How did the last change go?”
  • Build social proof of the benefits of making the change.  Who else in the area is using the technology?  Obviously, only share this info if that customer allows it.  If not, you can certainly say that ten producers in the county are using it already. 

5. Demo – Demo – Demo

This group really needs the opportunity to crawl-walk-run.  Let them dip their toes in the water first if at all possible.  A demo is one of the greatest ways to do that.  Pictures and videos are great.  Nearby farmers that can offer a testimonial are even better.  However, when a customer actually gets to experience the new technology is the best way for them to understand it.

Final thought: One critical point that needs to be understood by every salesperson.  Changing for the sake of change is not a good reason.  New technology is great, but not for every customer.  Often, I work with salespeople who are so enamored by the new technology that they fail to understand this.  They want every farmer in the world to see get the benefits of the technology.  Keep in mind, just because you can get TV on your watch, doesn’t make it a good idea.

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