March 30, 2020 | Coach’s Corner | Greg Martinelli

7 Essential Selling Skills

How to become an unbeatable force in your territory

It’s in the darkest of times that we find the most value in what is often mislabeled as "soft skills." I say mislabeled because these are the hardest skills to actually teach, learn or even explain at times. Mastery of them, however, is essential in sales.

Before we get started, let’s go to dictionary.com for some terminology.

Soft skills involve personal attributes that enable someone to interact effectively and harmoniously with other people.

  1. Leadership
  2. Teamwork
  3. Communication
  4. Problem Solving
  5. Work Ethic
  6. Flexibility/Adaptability
  7. Interpersonal Skills

Hard skills are teachable and measurable abilities, such as writing, reading, math or computer skills.

Another concept you want to understand within the selling process is Emotional Intelligence (EI), which is the capacity to be aware of, control, and express one's emotions, and to handle interpersonal relationships judiciously and empathetically.

  1. Self-awareness
  2. Self-regulation
  3. Motivation
  4. Empathy
  5. Social skills

The three components (soft skills, hard skills, EI) all come together in your selling process to influence your customer to do business with you.

As a prelude to my sales training workshops, I work with several different assessments to determine selling skills and motivations. Not surprisingly, one of the findings that comes out of these assessments is the salesperson’s desire to be the most technically competent salesperson. For example, the agronomy salesperson wants to be the most technically competent agronomist. I agree. It’s certainly important that an agronomist is technically sound when making fertilizer, seed and chemical recommendations. It’s the Essential Selling Skills, however, that differentiate her from her competition.

How? First, understand that you and every one of your competitors are driving down that producer’s driveway trying to be the most technically competent agronomist in the world. Your producer sees you in relation to all the others. While you, at best, only see yourself. I say at best, because many don’t even have the self-awareness to understand how they show up to their customers.

How does a farmer decide who’s the best agronomist to work with? Well, how do you decide who is the best lawyer or the best doctor? If they cure you or free you from jail, then they are obviously the best. Or is it? In their quest to understand medical lawsuits, research proved that bedside manner is the one factor that is consistent in determining a lawsuit. The soft or essential skill of communication is the key to reducing lawsuits, not a medical cure.

You too can find your true differentiation in the Essential Selling Skills. It’s often said, buyers make emotional decisions and then use facts and data to justify their decision. This is where Essential Selling Skills come in. They help uncover and sell to your customer’s buying emotion. They are the reasons a customer is loyal to you, even if you don’t have all the agronomy answers nor the cheapest price.

How to employ the Essential Selling Skills

Leadership: As an Ag Sales Professional, you definitely lead your customer. You lead them during tough times in the industry. When hogs hit $7, when grain dropped from $8 to $3. When steel tariffs spiked prices by 20%. You were out there communicating and leading your customers through the choppy waters to help keep them moving. You also lead your internal team on providing exceptional customer service. As the salesperson, you are the quarterback of your customer service team. You are the one that lines up the operations, customer service, trucking department, and credit to find and keep customers. When product recalls, delivery problems, or accounts receivables is an issue, your leadership is the Essential Selling Skill that holds it all together. Right now, as fear and panic rip through the headlines, "Your Customer Needs You Now More than Ever Before." Your leadership is essential. Are you providing it? Or are you jumping on the fear monger band wagon like every news reporter out there?

Teamwork: In agribusiness, you will be part of many teams. There are the product line teams: the agronomy group, the feed team, the loan officers, the dairy group, etc. You will also be part of the location or geography teams: the Texas district, the North Central Team, the Pac-Coast Region, etc. Ideally, one of the greatest teams to be a part of is your customer’s board of directors. As a trusted advisor to your customer, you may get the opportunity to fill one of the informal board seats for your producer. Those seats usually have room for one agronomist, one Ag lender, one animal nutritionist (if applicable) and then possibly an attorney, accountant or an equipment person. In your capacity as his agronomist go-to person, you need to understand, decisions will involve others on that board.

Communication: This just goes without saying. In sales, we communicate, we over communicate and then we need to communicate some more.  

Problem Solving: This is at the heart of what we do. First, we problem solve for our customer. A prospect is currently buying from your competition. We go in, find a problem and help solve it with a product or service we offer. Often, that’s the easy part. If that solution is a stocked product or prepackaged service, no problem. However, if it is a customized product, the most difficult part of the sale has just begun. Now you have to convince your internal customer service people to set up the custom product in the system, develop pricing, have manufacturing schedule it alongside other production runs, custom develop the packaging or label, and in some cases get it registered in the state. Trust me, you will need to be a champion hurdler to get all this done.

Work Ethic: I love this Essential Selling Skill because it’s one that most won’t employ, including your competition. Make up your mind today that you are going to outwork, out hustle and subsequently, you will out sell your competition. It’s that easy. If you want it bad enough, hustle until you get it.

Flexibility/Adaptability: This is another Essential Selling Skill that I enjoy employing. When two similar items are being sold by competing salespeople, this can often be the only differentiator. In the discovery phase of the selling process, you need to find out as much as you can about the prospects business. This allows you to customize an offer to better serve this customer. During that final closing discussion, being flexible on terms, delivery, product options, returns, or maintenance agreements, might be the swing factor in you getting the sale.

Interpersonal Skills: These skills intermix with Emotional Intelligence. Empathy, sympathy and social skills to understand what motivates your customer are Essential Selling Skills. In farm families, there are family dynamics at play that often drive business decisions. The relationship challenges of a father-son, brother-brother, father-daughter-son in law, running a business are amplified when you combine narrow margins, long hours and physical labor. Add in the handing off of the business from one generation to the next. It’s easy to see how important the interpersonal skills are to selling in that environment.

If you look at these Essential Selling Skills, there’s one thing that stands out. They are all gray areas of expertise and application. They are more art form than skill. How and when to apply them will make or break your sales success. You can’t be everything to everyone. The challenge is when to apply these skills and when to move on.

How hard do you push to make your work ethic a differentiator? How deep into the personal relationships of your customer do you go with your interpersonal skills? After all, you’re not a therapist, even if it seems that way. While striving for remarkable customer service through teamwork, you will one day feel like you are the only one that cares about selling this customer. Do you persist in demanding exceptional customer service from your internal team or allow it to run its course, possibly losing the customer?

When all those questions and doubts come flying at you at the same time, that’s when your leadership kicks in. That’s when you realize your super power is your ability see the end goal which is best for everyone involved. You not only see it, but you pull yourself, your customer and your internal team through the tough times and persist towards that goal.

I wish I could remember the speaker’s name as I would like to give him credit. Many years ago, we were having a really tough year. The regional sales meeting was not going to be a very exciting event. Toward the end of our keynote speaker’s presentation, he said, “When everything is going wrong, it’s really dark times, it’s all an uphill battle, and things seem extremely difficult, remember ... that’s the job. That’s why you are here.”

Bring your Essential Selling Skills, add in your technical competence from your hard skills, and apply your Emotional Intelligence to become an unbeatable force in your territory.

About the Author: Greg Martinelli runs Ag Sales Professionals, a sales training, coaching and speaking service focused on agribusiness teams.

For more information on ag sales training, coaching, business development, or to obtain a copy of his new book, “A Season for Sales: Your Guide to Ag Sales Success," contact Greg Martinelli at Greg@GregMartinelli.net or visit gregmartinelli.net.

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