You Make the Call!

How an NFL commercial can help you develop your team!


In the mid-’80s, several companies ran ads during NFL games called, “You make the call”. They were short clips of some incredible football plays that were somewhat gray areas for the referee to make the call.  Hence the name, “You make the call”.  They would run the first clip of an unusual play and ask you the question…”Was it a touchdown?”  “Did the player have possession of the ball?”…”Was it a complete pass or incomplete?”

Great debates would break out as viewers would argue for their version of the correct call the ref should make.  A short commercial for Amex or IBM would run and then you would be told the actual call on the field.  One person would feel vindicated as the ref picked their correct call, while the rest of the viewers would feel robbed by a bad call.

Not only was it entertaining and competitive to make the call from the comfort of your couch while watching it in slow motion, but these commercials were also learning experiences for viewers.  We learned how to look at multiple views of a play, how to understand the multiple outcomes a ref could call and finally how difficult it must be to ref at full speed in a game.

In our own world of selling to farmers and agribusiness buyers, we run across some equally confusing situations, which don’t always have a clear correct answer as to what needs to be done.  As Ag sales professionals, we get to make the call.  Sometimes without the benefit of instant replay and a challenge flag.


  • You Make the Call: Customer doesn’t like your salesperson

Over the years, I would occasionally receive a call or have a customer approach me and ask for a different salesperson to be assigned to their account.  In some companies, this is an easy fix.  They feel the “customer is always right” and allow them to choose who they want to work with.  While other companies, draw a line in the sand and only let you work with the rep they assign to you.  Too much of either approach is probably not the best route.  As with the football play on the commercial, this problem can be even more complex than it appears.

          Factors to consider:

  • What is the actual complaint about the salesperson? Is it fixable, personal, permanent or temporary?
  • Is this the first time you have heard a complaint about that salesperson?
  • Is this the first time that customer has had a problem with any salesperson?
  • Are they just shopping for a salesperson that will give them a better price?
  • Is it geographically possible to assign a new sales rep? Bringing in a salesperson from Virginia to cover one Illinois customer doesn’t seem to make sense.
  • How big is this customer to your business? If it is the Wal-Mart of customers, then maybe it is worth sending someone in from afar.
  • Have you talked with the salesperson in question?
  • Will this impact their commission, territory performance, etc.?
  • If you take this account away, will the salesperson feel unsupported, relieved, frustrated, lose confidence?
  • What has been your past history when this happens with other salespeople in your company?


As you can see, this is not as clear cut as it may seem.  There are numerous aspects to consider.


  • You Make the Call: Your customer is gaming the System

By gaming the system, I mean they are using a loophole in a program or promotion to take advantage of your company.  To game the system, customers might take the words of your salesperson completely out of context.  Maybe you forgot to put a limit on the “Buy 1 Get 1” promotion flyer.  Maybe you forgot to mention no returns on custom made products.  In your opinion, they knew.  In their opinion, the rules don’t prevent them from taking advantage of the situation.

As a general rule, the business typically pays the price for these so-called errors.  We try to fix the error so no further customers take advantage of it.  Additionally, future programs and promotions will include some form of a boilerplate with fine print that allows the company to not pay or revoke the program whenever they want to.  However, this doesn’t eliminate the judgment call you have to make.

We had a customer take advantage of us on a bin program once.  We provided them with a grain bin if they sold us grain for several years.  This customer even signed the paperwork agreeing to the program, but never delivered us a bushel.  His excuse was that our salesperson told him he didn’t have to.

         Factors to consider:

  • Is this the first time this customer has done something like this?
  • How big is the total financial loss to your company?
  • How big is the total financial loss to the customer? Did they already sell it to their customers or use the product?
  • Can the product be returned or corrected?
  • Is there a chance your salesperson presented the program incorrectly?
  • Are the rules and limits of the program or promotion vague?
  • What is the financial cost versus the relationship cost of this one case?
  • Is it worth losing the customer over? I’m not implying the answer to that question always has to be “no”.  Sometimes it’s “yes”.


  • You Make the Call: Your customer is lying or spreading negative gossip about you or your company.


Here’s another gray area that puts you in the same position as watching that NFL commercial.  What do you do?  You can decide to ignore it, “Sticks and stones will…” etc.  Hoping it will go away.  You can charge in and confront the customer, telling them how wrong they are to do those things.  Again, either extreme requires some consideration first.

This problem has become even more important in the age of social media.  One person can reach out worldwide, instantaneously, with pictures and videos to create a brand image nightmare.  Learning to handle this well is important.

Presenting a nutrition seminar once, I had a woman in the audience that became unusually angry about feed companies that produced pellets and used generic terms on their ingredient labels.  While I tried to continue my presentation, she hi-jacked the situation by continuing to press the issue.  She was convinced, we were ripping customers off and selling poor quality feed made from “floor sweepings”.  The more I tried to compartmentalize her issues and move on to the rest of my presentation, the more insistent and angrier she became.  Finally, I allowed myself to cave in and I squared off with her in the meeting to explain how wrong she was.  I knew the facts.  I had worked on the formulas, bought the ingredients and saw the ingredient analysis as well as the finished feed analysis.  I sold the product and saw horses that performed on it as expected.  So, I was not going to allow the audience to hear just her side of the story.  The result?  I proved her wrong.  She disagreed.  The audience felt weird that this occurred.  She left the room and told another salesperson at our booth that I was wrong.  She sat across from our booth for the next hour or so and stared me down.  This was years before the concealed carry thing.  So, I probably should have been more worried.

        Factors to consider:

  • Do you confront your customer or let it slide?
  • If you let it slide, will it only get worse and create resentment on your part?
  • If you confront it, will they stop lying and making negative remarks or will it only get worse?
  • Are the actual remarks the problem or are there underlying issues?
  • What are the absolute facts on your end of the situation? Know beyond the shadow of a doubt whether there is any truth to the remarks.

My hope is that you use these examples with your team and have the same experience my friends and I had while watching the NFL commercials. If these don’t fit, create some that do in your business.  Throw them out there at the next sales meeting or conference call.   Most likely, someone on your team is old enough to remember the commercials.  Many are on YouTube.  Play one of them for the team.  Then ask that they consider your own version of “You Make the Call”!

For more information on Ag sales training, coaching or business development, contact Greg Martinelli at Ag Sales Professionals, LLC at (608) 751-6971. Email is  Web site is

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