Coaching Your Customer
In confusing situations, here's how to guide your customers to the right solutions
The discussion had gone on for hours. We looked at seed varieties, multiple nitrogen strategies and several different herbicide programs on this sales call.
I was riding along with an agronomist this past year as he met with several customers in the January planning timeframe. This wasn’t just a monthly visit or check-in sales call. This was the annual planning session to determine how this producer would farm for the next growing season. Seed varieties, fertilizer choices and herbicide programs would be selected by the end of this discussion.
After several hours, you could just see this producer was struggling with what to do. There were so many choices with so many possibilities in the upcoming growing season: hot, dry, wet, cool, etc. As we came to key decisions in the sales process, the producer would turn to the agronomist and ask, “What do you think is best?”
Riding with grain buyers, I see similar situations. The decision to sell grain can be a very difficult one for producers. Trying to make a profit, sell at the high, locking in futures and basis. The choices can seem endless. The most common question a grain buyer is asked is, “What are the markets going to do?” The second most common question is, “When do you think I should sell?”
In these complex or confusing situations, you can use your coaching skills to help move your customer through their choices. Coaching is different than advising or consulting. It’s more about getting a person to understand where they are, where they want to go and how to get there. I like to compare it to the GPS you use every day on your phone. You are here. You want to go there and here are several routes.
Below are a few best practices you can implement when coaching a customer.
Best practices for coaching your customer
- Give them the most common path:
One of the great values you bring to a customer is that you go farm to farm to farm and you know what “most” producers do. In the face of complexity, it’s comforting to know what others are doing. It’s like polling the audience on the game show “Who wants to be a millionaire”. Your confused customer is looking for you to provide clarity and help in the decision. While he doesn’t have to follow everyone else, it’s helpful to know what most people are doing. This can give him a base to work from. Then, he can either choose the most common path or a path of his own.
- Give them, “If it was me, here’s what I would do”
If you have been in sales long enough, eventually you will be faced with the following question by your customer, “What would you do?” This is a great moment of truth and trust when it happens. Your customer values your expertise and your relationship enough to ask for your opinion. True, he doesn’t have to follow it and may feel that you are biased since you are a salesperson. However, how you handle the question can be a great step forward for you and your customer. First and foremost, you have to take yourself out of the sales role as much as possible and place yourself in the customer’s shoes. If you are not a farmer or never made these types of decisions, then let him know that. Then, proceed to give him your best estimate as to what you would do. The last and sometimes most important part of your answer is “Why”. After you explain “what” you would do, explain why. This tells your customer your level of understanding of his situation. It also helps show you aren’t just recommending your highest priced or highest margin products.
- Patience and understanding
This can be a tough area. Coaching is not telling and there is no guarantee the customer will follow your advice/guidance. If you aren’t a farmer or dairyman nor have you made these types of decisions for yourself, it’s tough to understand how torn this customer truly is. These are big decisions and you need to let them think about your coaching discussion. It may not sink in on this visit. Often, a customer will tell me they had been thinking about the discussion we had months earlier. Your success in coaching will depend on the level of trust you have in the relationship. Two critical components of trust are technical expertise and self-versus-others orientation. Your customer is answering the following two questions when considering your advice/coaching, “Do you know what you are talking about?” and, “Are you out for my best interest or your own?” The answers to these questions determine how the coaching discussion will go and whether your customer will trust you.
On your next sales call, think about your customer’s situation. Are you working through a simple or complex sales/decision process? Has your customer made these types of decisions many times before or is it a new process? Are they high risk decisions or low risk decisions? If you answered, complex, high risk and new, then consider a coaching strategy to help move your customer through the decision-making process of the sale.