Use Persistence, Empathy, and Genuine Optimism
We’ve all heard someone in a meeting say, “We need to double down on our efforts to get the job done”. Whenever I hear this, it always makes me think, “What if we triple down or quadruple down? Why just double?”
Selling is tough today. As always, customers have many options when buying our products. We need to bring every possible advantage to our sales approach. Every week for the last six years, I have sent you a blog and podcast telling you to use a particular skill to help you sell. Most of them were about only one particular skill or tactic.
Today, I want you to use three complementary skills to make your sales approach more effective and more enjoyable.
Not pushy, annoying, or obnoxious. These are the first things that come to mind when I tell training groups that persistence is one of the critical skills to become successful in sales.
Persistence begins by becoming a better student of yourself, your company, your industry and most importantly, your customer. The more knowledgeable you are in these four areas, the more you will have to offer.
To differ from being pushy or annoying, persistence involves finding new and better ways to get back in front of your customers and prospects. Again, this begins by asking better questions in the discovery phase of the selling process. The more you uncover, the more ways you have to help your prospective customer. Jumping too fast into a sales presentation on your products is the number one reason salespeople have no reason to overcome objections or follow up later.
- Do your homework and a pre-call plan before your sales calls. This allows you to ask better questions. Better questions allow you to have more reasons to follow up. More follow-up is effective persistence.
- Network outside the normal selling scenario. Go to trade shows, coffee shops, industry events, conferences, etc. Anywhere your customers gather, you go. Even if you don’t want to. Even if it’s in your work-life balance time. If you get the chance to meet outside of a sales situation, you are becoming part of the industry.
- Plan the follow-up call in your pre-call planning. When you sit down to plan out your sales call, think about the most likely outcomes or the outcome you want. Then ask yourself, “How will I get to that end result? How will I get to the point where I can ask for a demo or free trial or ultimately an actual sale?” Your answer is your sales call agenda. It’s much easier to set up the next meeting when you’re standing in front of a customer than it is to track them down later.
Now that you are comfortable with persistence and how it differs from being pushy, let’s bring in the second skill in our triple threat of skills
“The ability to understand and share the feelings of another” is the Oxford dictionary definition. In sales, it’s when you see your customer’s situation or emotion and you actually can feel that same way. You see them happy with their crop yields and you are happy as well. You see their fear and pain as they struggle with death loss in their swine heard and are fearful and feel the pain as well.
That’s great if this comes naturally to you. If not, then you will need to practice.
However, there is another use for empathy in your sales approach.
Think about your prospect and how often they are called on by a salesperson. In agribusiness, we call on our current customers monthly. We might call on prospects 8-10 times per year. That means for every product line a crop or livestock producer buys, they will have 5-10 salespeople calling on them each month. This can feel like an armada of white pickups going up and down their driveway. And what does our prospective customer really think?
“Great, here comes another salesperson cold calling on me who starts the conversation about the weather, the bad growing season, or the pandemic. Another salesperson with a presentation that will be a data dump all over the place.”
Here’s your moment of empathy. It might go like this in a cold calling scenario,
You drive up on the farm in your white pickup. You exit your truck with a binder and some brochures, dressed in a logoed polo shirt. Our producer just stops and leers at you.
You could say, “Hey, you know what you probably need today? Pause for a few seconds as this has probably caught his attention. “Another seed salesperson with an armful of data to tell you how great their seed genetics are!” This can get a couple of responses. First and best, it might get a laugh. Second and worst, they might tell you to leave. If they tell you to leave, they probably were anyway. This comment has broken the ice many times in my career. It lets the customer know that you know how they feel. Most importantly, it disarms them from needing to keep their guard up because they don’t want to be sold.
Take any selling situation or struggle that you are fearful of and turn it into a moment of empathy for you and your prospective customer.
So far, we employed persistence by showing our ability to bring useful and relevant information to our prospects. Through empathy, we have differentiated ourselves from other salespeople by showing that we understand how the producer is truly feeling about the sales call. The last element in our trifecta of skills is to use genuine optimism.
That’s right! I recommend optimism in your approach. Why? Because we love to go negative.
First, remember that customers like to buy from people they like. However, to be likable, there is one big problem you have to get past. Your strong desire to get caught up in the negativity that is rampant in our industry.
There is no shortage of bad news in agribusiness. It’s almost a way of life or our culture to be negative. One of the reasons might be that it’s a very physically demanding business with high risk and often low ROI. At $700 per acre to plant corn, a 1000-acre farm involves a lot of working capital with the opportunity to sell just over break-even in many years. Everything and anything can affect this negatively. Weather, commodity prices, input costs, politics, etc. It’s not hard to find the bad news in farming on any given day.
That’s where you can offer an exception to the norm. I’m not saying to radiate sunshine and rainbows every day. I just want you to offer a different perspective than the normal dark mood that hangs over most sales calls. Obviously, there’s a time and place for it. Too much or at the wrong time and you might not be taken seriously.
Ways to bring lighter moments to your sales calls:
- First, don’t participate and by all means, don’t initiate it. I know you want to connect with your customer. You want to show them that you know how tough it is to farm. You want to commiserate. Don’t!
- Find respectful ways to get the subject off of anything negative that neither you nor your customer can change. This includes almost all politics, weather, regulations, or corporate business decisions. Unless you are talking about how those things affect this producer’s farm, find a way to shift the subject.
If you truly enjoy what you do, find ways to make it equally enjoyable for the customers you work with. Keep in mind that customers like to buy from people they like. They have plenty of negative people, negative TV, and negative social media in their lives. Be the exception.
Take a few minutes today and begin to implement a combination of these three skills. Try to find places where you can add persistence, empathy, and genuine optimism to your selling approach.