The Who and Why of Selling

The 2 questions you need to answer before stepping on the farm

On day one of any sales career, never leave the office until you have a good answer to the following question,

Who do we sell to?”

Don’t go to a single farm until you understand the answer to this question in detail.

I have asked that question to several hundred Ag sales professionals over the last eight years.  You would be amazed at the answers I get.  The most common answer is of course, “Farmers”. 

Often, they look at me like I just asked the dumbest question in the world.  They think it’s obvious if they sell fertilizer, seed, feed, or combines that they sell to farmers.  And of course, they are sort of right.  I dig a little further by asking, “I understand that you sell to farmers, but what kind of farmers?”

Again, they look at me strangely sometimes and ask, “What do you mean?”.  So, I show them some pictures of dairy operations, beef operations, or row crop producers.  The pictures range from the extremely large operations to the smaller farmers.  Then I ask again, “Who do you sell to?  Which type of dairy operation or row crop producer do you sell to?  Which type is your company designed to serve?”  This gets their thought process going.

Start with WHO!

The reason the answer to this question is so important is that too many salespeople are given a territory like I was.   My instructions were, “Go sell to farmers in Wisconsin!”  It’s usually a geographic territory based on the ability of the company to deliver or serve the customer.  So, maybe you were given a county or two to sell into.  Maybe, you were given a state or more. 

Then, you went out and did your best to find farmers in that geography.  Big and small, you tried to sell them all.  You found success and failure along the way, but you struggled to figure out who the ideal customer is.  Who are we designed to sell to in this market?  Who sees all the value that we provide and buys at full margin?  Who achieves a higher ROI (return on investment) by doing business with us?

Rarely do I run across a salesperson who was given clear answers to these questions.  So, they fumble along in their territory and hopefully figure it out.  If you don’t know the answers, I encourage you to go meet with your manager, peers, and marketing team and have an engaged discussion on these questions.  Figure out “Who” you sell so you can answer the next most important question in a salesperson’s life.

Now answer WHY!

After discussing the answers to the “Who” question, I want you to ask the “Why” question.  That is,

Why would those farmers (the Who) do business with us?”

What makes us uniquely positioned to sell that specific group of farmers? 

Again, as most of us began our sales career, we really didn’t have a good answer to that question.  Our strategy was to just go out and spread the good word about our company and its products. 

I happened to be lucky enough on day one of my sales career to discover this question.  While it didn’t feel lucky at the time, it was a great lesson so early in my career.  A prospect hit me with an emotionally charged “Why” question.  Walking into this prospect’s office, I introduced myself and my company.  He paused and asked, “Why would I ever want to do business with you?” 

That question stopped me dead in my tracks.  I ended the sales call as soon as I could and made a mad dash back to the office to meet with my sales manager.  I had to have an answer to that question before I went back out again.

You might be thinking this happened because I was new.  And, you would be partially right.  After working with hundreds of Ag sales professionals, I assure you that even experienced salespeople struggle with this concept.  I have worked with some very experienced sales teams, with 20 or 30 years of selling in their market. They too struggle to answer the “Why” question. 

Often a bad answer or no answer to that question is what gets them into so much price resistance. 

For clarification, I’m not suggesting that the targeted ideal customer is the only one you should sell to.  If a customer has the ability to be a customer and we agree, then by all means, sell them.  However, it’s the ideal customer that sees the value in what we offer.  They are the ones who won’t challenge us on penny-for-penny price exceptions.  You and your company offer something more valuable than they can get from your competition.

While we may sell many types of customers, it’s the ideal customer that we target.  That we spend marketing budgets on and launch products/services for.  They are the ones we can build a business on. 

So, who is your Who? And Why should they do business with you?


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