Selling is an integral part of your feed and grain business every day, and we are sure that you have extensive experience with selling. However, when was the last time you thought about your selling approach and identified factors that could improve your sales effectiveness?
In this column we use the four steps of the selling process to help you think about your customers and how to create a more effective relationship — making them more successful and you more profitable.
In the feed and grain business you often sell to two different groups of customers. First, you must sell your services to farmers who shop for where they sell their grain and purchase their inputs, and then you must sell to those who purchase grain from you. The same key parts of the selling process hold for both groups. In this article we not only review the main components of the selling process, but we invite you to take out a pen and pad of paper and actively engage in the exercises throughout the column. By the end of the article you will have a great set of ideas to put into action.
We would like to attribute many of the concepts in this column to “Mr. Sales,” Dr. David Downey, professor emeritus of agricultural sales and marketing and executive director of the Center for Agricultural Business at Purdue University.
What is sales and marketing?
To ensure that we are all on “same page,” we begin by discussing what we mean by sales and marketing. While sales and marketing are integrally related — there are important differences. Sales are short term while typically the focus with marketing is longer term.
Generally, in sales we consider one customer at a time while in marketing we look at customers as a group. Selling is sometimes referred to as the “last three feet” of the marketing process or where the “rubber meets the road.” You are actively involved in sales when you are working with a farmer on a package deal to buy their corn and provide drying services. Effective selling is part of a good marketing plan, which involves how you position your mix of products and services, your pricing, your hours of operation and locations, and your promotions.
Many people immediately think of the pushy salesperson when they think about sales and selling. This stereotypical salesperson is focused on closing the sale as quickly as possible, is not interested in paying any attention to the customer’s needs, and may even be manipulative. This is an unfortunate image because good selling is not “pushy” or manipulative. We outline the important characteristics and the mutual benefits that good selling practices deliver to you and your customers.
Good selling is about learning your customers’ needs and helping them understand how you can provide value for them. Selling is effectively and logically communicating the value proposition of your product and/or service. There are four parts to an effective selling process: probing, communicating features and benefits, handling objections and closing.
Probing is the vital first step in the selling process as it is the process of finding out what your customer needs. Through probing, you demonstrate to your customers that you want to help them, that you are knowledgeable and have valuable information for them and that you care about them. Since you want to learn about your customer and their needs, you will be asking the questions. As your customer responds to your questions, he/she will understand more about what their needs are and what problems they want to solve. During the probing process you, as the salesperson, are not the only one who learns more about the customer needs, but just by talking it out, your customer better understands their needs as well.
Effective probing involves asking questions, listening and observing. A common mistake that salespeople make is that they talk too much during the probing process. During this stage the focus should be on the customer. As the salesperson, have the discipline to listen to their needs and how you can help solve their problems. During this stage you want your customer to talk, but not about just anything, so keep the discussion focused by asking the appropriate questions.
Pen and paper exercise: