Time Management for Ag Sales Professionals

 “I can’t…” is often the problem

Prior to any sales training workshop, I have attendees fill out a self-assessment.  On it, they rank themselves from weak to strong in many different selling skills.  Then, I interview several of those salespeople to get a better understanding of their role, their territory, and their challenges. 

These skills are both working “In their business and working “On their business.  Working “In” their business is a list of skills on how to ask questions, prospect, overcome objections, etc.  Working “On” their business involves territory management, time management, customer segmentation, etc. 

Of all the skills, Time Management is the most common weakness among those teams.  Yesterday, while interviewing a salesperson for an upcoming workshop, I realized the struggle for this person could be summed up in the first three or four words of almost every sentence.

When we got to his self-proclaimed weakness of time management, almost every sentence started with, “I can’t…”.

Here are just a few of his:

  • I can’t seem to delegate.”
  • “I can’t get the trucking, production, accounting, marketing departments to understand….to follow up….to do their job…”
  • “When a fire breaks out with a customer complaint, I can’t just ignore it”
  • “I love farming and love to be on the farm.  That’s where sales are made.  I don’t have time for all the other stuff.” 

As I worked with him, I emphasized the importance that no one manages time.  We manage priorities.  Just like every person in the world, this salesperson has 24 hours in a day.  It’s all about what you choose to prioritize and get done. 

Almost every high-performing salesperson loves to work “In” their business.  They love being on-farm and selling:  Scouting fields, walking cows, evaluating equipment trade-ins, helping farmers with their crop insurance planning, or diagnosing any typical customer problem.  We love to help our customers and that is a great thing.

However, if you prioritize those activities to 100% of your time, then working “On” your business will suffer at the expense of your priorities.  It’s that simple.  You can certainly tell me that the sale is made when you are face to face or “belly to belly” as the old timers used to say.  While true, you still have to somehow service those sales.  And I would tell you, many high-performing salespeople hate this portion of the job.  They despise paperwork, internal communication, or updating their CRM program.  This background service work can be tedious and frustrating.

Most high-performing salespeople do not enjoy drawing a detailed diagram of their customers’ grain bins, feed bins, or fertilizer storage.  Nor do they enjoy coordinating that information with the delivery drivers.

And if I ask them the reason, they would most likely tell me, “Time.  I just can’t get it all done when I’m out there driving from farm to farm, dealer to dealer, retailer to retailer taking care of my customers!”

And I 100% agree with them.  They can’t!  But it’s not time that is the problem.  It’s priorities.  They are using the excuse that they have to be on-farm to get their job done.  They are using that excuse to do what they love to do.  Once they realize that working “On” their business is just as important as standing in front of a farmer, their time management problems drop significantly. 

Here are some Can’ts, that I give them to think about:

  • You can’t sell what you can’t administer, produce, and deliver. 
  • You can’t buy grain if you can’t figure out how to pay for it.
  • You can’t sell anything without multiple forms of communication, both internal and external.
  • You can’t administer a sale if you continuously drop the ball in your follow-up skills.

Important note:  The opposite of this situation is also true.  If you are struggling to get out of the office and call on customers, examine your thoughts on time priorities.  Are you using your own list of, “I can’ts”?  I run into this situation as well when working with a sales team on their productivity. 

Their list of “can’ts” might be:

  • “I can’t prospect because I’m spending all my time taking care of my current customers”
  • “I can’t get out of the office because of all the paperwork…updating CRM…..fighting fires…..doing everyone else’s job….”

Again, examine these thoughts and challenge whether they are true.  Here are a few reasons for these types of thoughts:

  • Fear of cold calling and prospecting.
  • Perfectionism.  You struggle when any mistake is made with a customer.  So, you micromanage every aspect of an order.  In crop insurance, this comes out when you insist on entering all of your own information. 
  • Struggling to delegate for various reasons.

So, what are your “I can’ts?  What is it that you tell yourself that prevents you from managing your priorities?  Now, challenge your thoughts on time management versus priority management. 

One of the best ways to do this is to network with your neighbor.  Call that similar salesperson on your team that seems like they are getting everything done.  Ask to ride with them and learn how they manage their priorities. 

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