More people than you think!
Driving down Highway 26, I was “stewing” in my emotions. By that, I mean I was angry, upset, disappointed and frustrated. All at the same time. How you ask? I just came off a bad sales call. I failed to prepare for it the way I should have and the customer didn’t make it any easier on me. It was a flop and I had only myself to blame. Jumping back in my car, I had two phone messages on my “car” phone. A customer order that was supposed to be delivered had not shown up yet. That customer left me an angry message that questioned me, the company, our brand promise and probably a few other things as well. The second message was from a livestock producer that was sure our products were the cause of his death loss in his animals. He wanted me on the farm immediately, with a check in hand and a truckload of new product. Sound familiar? Ever have one of these days?
Ag sales professionals spend most of their time alone in their car. With customers spread out over counties and states, you get a lot of windshield time in between farm calls or agribusinesses that you call on. When not in your car or in front of a customer, you most likely are in your home office. It can feel like you are all alone in your sales journey.
When you get in one of these moods or have one of these days, ask yourself, “Who’s in my corner?”. Unless you are a sole proprietor, you have many more people in your corner than you might think. You have a whole team of experts right at your fingertips. Internal resources that are there for you. But, you have to take a proactive approach to involve them. I get it. You are busy and need to go sell. I couldn’t agree more. However, selling is tough at times and with our customers under more financial pressure now than in the last 10 years, you need to bring everything you have to the battle. The battle to beat your competition. More importantly, bring the experts in your company that can help your customer win his battles.
Who’s in Your Corner?
The Obvious Three – these three members of the team are commonly in direct contact with your customer. Consider them the vital members of the corner team.
- The Production Team – It’s essential that you are in frequent contact with the key members of the production team. This will save you more times than you can count. From getting a product made correctly to rushing an order to fixing any of the multitudes of errors that will occur. Late orders, wrong orders, loading errors or “glitches” in the system – They will all happen. Aside from phone calls, farm calls and maybe delivering a small amount of product, you will not be the one to “make things right”. The production team will. Visit them in their environment. Certainly, develop a sound relationship with the manager, but also connect with key players on the team. In feed, that’s most likely the pellet mill operator. They are an extremely important part of your product quality. In grain, it’s the scale operator. They have their hands in controlling the line at the dump pit and grading.
- The Distribution Team – They are an extension of the production team and you should get to know them just the same. This might be slightly tougher to do as freight is a constant moving target; truck sizes vary within your fleet, deliveries can take much longer due to traffic, on farm issues and driver capabilities. Persist in continuously trying to understand the delivery capabilities of your company. You will need it. When you do, it will be an emergency with no time to stop and teach learn how it all works.
- The Customer Support Team – This is the third set of employees that will have direct contact with customers. In many cases, they talk to your customers more than you do. Sit with them. Get to know how they do their job, the limitations, the irritations, how the customers might benefit if changes were made or how you might be able to facilitate that change.
Accounting– What a joy it is to know that someone in this world lives to fulfill this role. We need to embrace these members of the team. Many will ignore or put them down as they sit behind a desk and “just crunch numbers”. Embrace the fact that someone is happily keeping the books straight. I have been pleasantly surprised in how interested they are in the customer’s business. There’s certainly value in sitting with them to understand the accounting system. If you do, concentrate on the order entry and invoicing system for starters. However, there is greater value in inviting them to ride with you on a few farm calls. Trust me, they will love it and so will your customers.
Marketing – You could call marketing the “idea” man. Ever had a friend like that? The one that thinks up things for you to do. Well, that’s what marketing does. They come up with and develop the ideas for the sales team to execute on. Who better to spend time with than the people that decide on the products and programs you offer? Get them in front of key customers in your market. Even if they had a farm background, this part of the team needs to see today’s customer in this geography. Here’s a possible conversation I might have had – “I understand that you milked cows 35 years ago by hand, but you’re leading the equine department in Texas. This is a slightly different environment than what you might be used to.” I’m paraphrasing of course but you get the point. Ask them to join you in the field or to a trade show. If you have a key customer or a great trade show, go through the management channels and ask members of the marketing team to join you for a day.
Research – Not as urgent or critical, but it’s good to know the research team and projects that they can share with you. Members of this team will frequently be involved in customer issues when there is a regulatory type of event. You may run into product failures due to toxicity or mycotoxins or bad genetics or crop/animal diseases that you need help with. Many of these folks will be involved in that issue. At least put a name with a face so you can speed up the communication process when emergencies happen.
IT – Often the largest department in any company. Today’s business runs on computers throughout the entire company from vendors to customers. The IT team needs to understand what the customer sees and the environment they see it in. Agribusiness is an outdoor sport and has extremes due to seasonality. Computers and software have to work in these busy times under various weather and physical conditions.
Law Department– Unfortunately, not all business transactions turn out perfect. Most of the time, it doesn’t require your attorney’s involvement. However, it can and at some point, in a long career, will require legal assistance. Today, sit down with your company attorney and get to know some of the most common areas to watch out for. What areas cause most of the legal issues? Is it collections? Is it a misunderstanding of a signed contract? Is it a lack of obtaining a signed contract? Is it vague promises or verbal agreements?
Managers and Senior Managers– Even if your peers think you are being too friendly with the manager, I think it’s important to get them out in front of key accounts. Especially, the large accounts that might want bigger opportunities with your company. A large dairy might want to expand into another part of the country and would like to talk with your senior management team about your products in the new location. It’s also another way to show your customer how important they are that you bring members of your management team to see them.
Some suggestions on how to build your corner:
- Start involving them today. The more you get them to know and understand, the more help they can be. When the emergency situation happens, this early contact with your team will speed up the whole process of resolving it.
- Bring your customers to your corner team. Offer your customers a tour. If your facility is not the greatest, maybe tour a different company location that is nearby. If the customer is really important, offer to take them to your headquarters office. These are great for giving a customer the leadership’s perspective on where your company is going. Frequently, I run across people who did this type of trip to the main office and still talk about it 30 years later.
- Keep an open mind as to who might be interested in connecting more with the customers. Think outside the box to bring more people and resources to your customer. Be inclusive in your thought process. If someone doesn’t want to be involved, they will tell you. However, if left out, they will feel slighted and worse, you have one less expert as a resource for your customer.
Congratulations, you now have an all-star team in your corner. When those bad days happen out there on territory and you’re driving down County Highway A, reflect back on your support team. Think about all the people that are in your corner counting on you to succeed. Wanting you to succeed. Why? Because you took the time to form a relationship and you involved them in the heart of the company – the customer!
Make your next meeting memorable by bringing in a speaker who’s been there. Contact me to find out how Greg@GregMartinelli.net
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