They need you now, more than ever before
Strategies for showing up and making a difference for your customers
Originally published in the winter edition of Wisconsin Agribusiness Association’s Magazine WABA Magazine
As the crowd of several hundred took their seats and the announcer began reading my intro, I had a thought on how to connect with this audience and get the message of my presentation to sink in and stick better. One word of warning. I highly recommend not changing your presentation on the way to the podium, but as this idea hit me, I couldn’t resist the thought of trying it.
“Raise your hand if you recently had a conversation with one of your farmer customers about how tough it is to make money in farming.”
Now, please understand that when a speaker asks a group like this a question, we understand that half the people in the audience won’t raise their hand at all. The other half will only respond halfheartedly. To my surprise, every single hand went up in the room.
“Good, that means you are in the right place. In the next 57 minutes, we are going to cover 7 strategies for you to employ with your customers immediately after you leave here.”
The premise of this presentation has been hitting it off with audiences for the last two years as selling to farmers has become a challenge. So challenging at times that salespeople don’t even want to leave the office to call on farmers. This is exactly the opposite of what your customer needs and the opposite of how to be a more effective salesperson.
I get it. It’s tough or tougher than it used to be. I’m out there as well when coaching salespeople in ride alongs and I see it firsthand. Farmers are unhappy. There are any number of reasons…. weather, politics, commodity markets, laws and regulations, and of course, farming economics. You name it and as an industry, we can complain about it. As salespeople, we make several mistakes when we run into this negativity. The first mistake is joining in the negativity. I didn’t realize how bad this was until I spent the majority of my time coaching salespeople. At that point, I could observe the sales interaction like I was watching a sporting event. It would all play out right in front of me. The farmer would start the negativity off with a weather comment. It’s always too dry or too wet. The salesperson has great intentions of trying to connect with the producer. So, she jumps in and commiserates with them. Sometimes, she even makes it worse by adding more negativity to the discussion.
When relating these stories, I can see the audience is identifying with the scenario I am describing. They can see themselves on their last sales call doing the very same thing. That’s when we jump into the real-world strategies to show up differently for their customers. However, before we do, I emphasize the point that your customer doesn’t need another salesperson to drive onto their farm and commiserate with them. They have all the friends they want at the nearest coffee shop to sit around and talk about how tough it is.
My message to the audience is clear, “They don’t need you for that. They need you to bring real solutions to their real problems. Even if they don’t say it. Even if they try their best to drag you down into the negativity!”
After we go through an understanding of how to recognize this behavior in themselves, we jump into the 7 strategies on how to show up differently on their next farm call.
Strategy #1: Keep them Moving:
Taking a lesson from any tough experience or protracted difficulty in your life, we know that if we stop moving, quit trying or mentally give up, we are doomed to fail. In my example, I bring in the reference to successfully completing an Ironman. This was one of the longest days of my life. At the instructional briefing the day before the race, they told us the key to completing the race was to “never stop moving”. It proved to be great advice as my thirteen and a half hours of pain played out the next day. As I struggled to even walk, I kept hearing those words of advice…. “Don’t stop. Keep running. If you can’t run, walk. If you can’t walk crawl. Get your food and refreshments at the aid stations and then keep moving!”
This is what your producers are going through. They are in their own thirteen-hour race every day. Do you really think they need someone to come along and tell them how bad it is? That would be like someone on the sidelines of a race with a sign that said, “I know your pain. This is horribly difficult and it’s probably going to get even worse!” Wow, what a revelation. Like that commercial, “Thanks Captain obvious”. Instead, we need people on the sidelines with support, motivation and most importantly, ideas to keep us moving. Your customers need you to bring ideas they can implement to keep moving:
Here are a few ways to help your producers instead of jumping into the negative quicksand:
- Be a connector: you know a tremendous amount about your industry. You go farm to farm all day long. You know what works and what doesn’t work. Bring some of those ideas to your producer.
- Be a trusted advisor: not just about your products, but what you have seen work in other places. Frequently when coaching a salesperson, they will tell me how great their relationship is with their customers. Great! Now is the time to use that great relationship to good use. Use the trust you have built up with them for their own good, not just to sell more of your products.
- Be a coach: no, not one that yells at the players on the sidelines and throws chairs across the court, but a business coach. When you see them making bad decisions, use the coaching model to walk them through their choices.
We moved through the rest of the 7 strategies and then went into the take home part of the presentation, which would help them implement these 7 strategies the minute they left the meeting. We debriefed as a group. While audiences are always a little reluctant to publicly speak out in a group of this size, it was great to have several share how they can make a difference for their customers.
We finished with this primary message,
“Your customer feels like they are stuck in the quicksand of negativity. Everywhere they turn, they can see negative headlines. When you leave here today, you make the choice. You will show up on your next farm call, with all of the tools you have at your fingertips…precision ag, computer programs, Apps, etc. You can take the easy way out and jump into the negativity with the producer. Or you can use your tools and resources to implement one of the 7 strategies.”
If you have a team or an audience that needs to hear this message, please reach out and contact me. We have too many salespeople with sales call reluctance due to farming economics. Bring real solutions to your sales program today and get more salespeople on farm, working with customers!