Just remember how to do the tough stuff
It’s often said that tough times don’t last. If so, neither do good times. Be ready to shift your selling skills when the change happens!
Is selling ever really easy? Well, it depends on your industry and your view of the process. Right now, in agribusiness, there are many segments that have low inventory and high demand. Equipment and many service-based companies are in this category. If the phone rings and you have the product in inventory, it’s sold. Add to that dilemma, the reduced employee headcount. That means fewer salespeople, sales managers, or department managers to follow up and work with customers.
This all leads to a scenario that is easier to sell into versus the previous 10-15 years in agribusiness.
Easy times allow us to loosen our belt so to speak. We spend more on marketing, pricing programs, and services to help take the load off our company. Within a territory, we might get lax on our selling skills. We might neglect following up with prospects who hesitate. After all, we have two other customers interested in buying right now. We might skip the key selling skill of asking great questions and positioning our products to our customer’s needs. Again, that might work while sales are occurring faster than you can manufacture or service them.
The purpose of this article is to let you know that times change. Inventory catches up and your customer’s (farmer’s) profitability changes as fast as the board of trade changes. Alternatives to your much-desired product are invented. Government or industry regulations suddenly ban your bestselling product. The fed raises interest rates and Ag lending gets tougher.
Over a career, tough times in selling will arrive. Over the last several years, many of the teams I worked with were young enough that they actually had worked their entire career in the good times. In an Ag lending group, the fed had lowered or had not changed the interest rate for their entire career. In the 2010s, a group of grain originators had spent their entire career during the ethanol boom. They were accustomed to $4 to $6 corn. Originating grain at $6 is a much easier endeavor versus the 1990s when it remained in the $2 range. Recently, in an equipment dealer workshop, several on the team had only been selling for the previous 18 months. In all of these situations, salespeople were lulled into a mindset on how to sell. They think, “This is great! Easy sales, big commissions, my manager and the company are happy. What a life!”
Please understand this is not a doomsday prediction. Enjoy what you have while it lasts. It may last a long time. Just keep one eye on the future as developments can happen quickly. The phones stop ringing. The quote requests drop off, and customers get a little grouchy.
Try to notice it early and shift your behavior back to how you used to sell. Crank up the cold or warm calling skills. No inbound calls? Start making outbound calls. That phone works both ways as on sales manager told me. Follow up faster. Start asking more questions of your customers and prospects. The result of your questions is to better match your products to their needs. Tighten the belt so to speak. As margins narrow and total revenue drops, spending becomes much more strategic. ROI is scrutinized harder. You might not be able to attend every trade show or run every marketing campaign you once did.
Above all, please don’t constantly remind everyone on your team about how much you used to spend in the good old days. We get it, you used to be able to give away free trips and Ping golf clubs to customers every week back in the 70’s. (true story for another day). Those times are gone, just like the 70’s. Let it go and get back to what you know how to do.
And if by chance you are new and haven’t developed or had to use those skills, I highly recommend mentoring with someone on your team who can help you. Of course, I also recommend training and coaching. You can start by reading or listening to my weekly article and podcast.