May 05, 2020 | Coach’s Corner |

Climb the Ladder of Learning (LOL)

A picture is worth a thousand words, but a video is worth a thousand pictures

LOL – no it doesn’t stand for "laugh out loud" ... it stands for the "Ladder of Learning."

At some point, on our next sales call, we will get onto the subject of explaining our product. Maybe we’re going to explain how a tractor’s transmission is better, or maybe how our feed has more digestible amino acids and will grow a pig faster, or maybe how our precision ag component integrates by satellite to the producer’s farm management program. 

Whatever it is, there is going to be a point where technical data and understanding need to be explained. It’s not easy. This is complicated technology. It might also be microscopic like microbes or cellular level activity. 

And how are we planning to explain this to our producer?  Words, words and more words!  After all, this is complicated stuff. So, we’re going to get out there, run through the PowerPoint slides and then talk and talk and talk until the customer just gives!

There is a better way.  One that will make us more memorable, more effective, and will be more enjoyable to our customer. I call that method, climbing the Ladder of Learning (LOL) as high as we can. 

Most likely, our marketing and tech department have armed us with all the material and information needed to explain our products: brochures, handouts, samples, and even a PowerPoint presentation.  As salespeople, the problem is that we don’t learn and adapt the material to be effective when making farm calls on producers. So, we decide not to use the marketing material. Again, we’ll use our words to explain the product.  After all, we’re in sales.  We’re good talkers.  We don’t need a canned presentation to explain what we already know.  Bad decision.  As you can see from the LOL, words are on the bottom rung.

So, if you are one of those that likes to whip into the driveway to drop in on a customer and just “wing it” on the new product presentation, let’s take a look at the Ladder of Learning. Maybe you will adjust your methods.

The Ladder of Learning

Words:  Self-explanatory. They are certainly necessary, but easily forgotten.  Salespeople that drone on and on or that are monotone are easily unheard as they talk.  Customers who have attention span issues will lose focus and not hear most of what is said.

Key Words:  We’re moving up the ladder now. Key words will be those words that are important and recognized by our customers. ROI – Return on Investment, ADG – Average Daily Gain, Feed to Gain Ratio, horsepower, death loss, pigs per litter, unload times, yield loss, grain damage.

Emotional Words:  These are words that go a little deeper into the hearts and minds of our customers. They might be emotion based like:  risk free, worry free, guaranteed, trusted.  They might be phrases or topics like: farming for generations, secure in knowing your kids will be able to farm, secure in knowing a trusted advisor is working with you, safe in knowing your herbicide is working for you 24/7, etc.  Again, these are targeted words that are designed to express the emotion that your customer will get from you, your product and your company.

Pictures: We all know the famous adage "a picture is worth a thousand words." If you can reduce the discussion by showing your customer a picture, please do so. Words are great, but can be easily misinterpreted. How often do you have to re-explain something to a customer because they didn’t get it the first time?  Or second or third time? Secondly, words have different meanings to people. When I say I went out on the lake in a boat, there are dozens of interpretations of what I mean by a boat. It might be anything from a four person rowboat to a 45-foot tourist boat.  Unless the listener asks or the sender explains, the misinterpretation goes unexplained. A picture removes that problem.

Videos: “A picture is worth a thousand words and a video is worth a thousand pictures” is one of my adaptations of the old adage.  YouTube has made us all video experts. If your marketing department provided them, use them!  If not, no problem.  You have one of the best video cameras right there on your smart phone.  A picture is great, but if you can see the product in action, even better for understanding and retention.

A Sample: People love samples. They can now see what the product actually looks like.  Prior to this level of the LOL, the only senses used were eyes and ears.  With a sample, we are involving four of the five senses.  Working a feed booth for many years, the first thing a person does when walking up to the booth is dig their hands in the buckets of feed displayed on the tables.  Then they take a hand full and smell it. Once in a while a customer would actually taste it and engage all 5 senses. 

A Demo with a Simulated Product: "Put your customer in the driver’s seat."  Whenever possible, let the customer try out the product.  This gives them firsthand knowledge of what it’s like to use your product.  In the case of software, or certain equipment, a customer may not be able to try an actual product with all the data plugged in.  So, you offer them an opportunity to try it out with simulated information in the program.

A Demo with the Actual Product: The ultimate learning tool is a hands-on, live demo with your product.  There is no denying what the product will do when the customer gets to experience it for themselves. Why do you think there are so many 30-day free trials?  They know once you try it you are not going to go back.  In many cases, this is not possible. If you sell a service or maybe you sell seed. Instead of a demo, they will need to do a trial run on a small portion of their farm. 

Think back to your last farm call, to the last time you tried explaining a new or difficult concept on your product. What level of LOL did you use? Could you have gone higher on the ladder and achieved a more memorable experience for your customer?  What about your next sales call?  How high on the ladder can you get?

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.

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