FAQs for the Ag Salesperson
Not frequent but FAILED to ask questions
If you follow Coach’s Corner or my weekly blog, you know how important I feel it is to ask good questions. I see salespeople fail everyday by not asking good questions. The reasons they fail in this key selling area are many. They’re not aware they should ask. They don’t know the right questions to ask. They feel like it’s too pushy or nosy to ask questions. They’re too focused on telling their customer about their products.
Whatever the reason, I put together three easy focus areas I call the “Failed to Ask Questions." While conducting a ride along coaching session with a salesperson, these are three areas that I will ask the salesperson every time. I do this because it tells me if the salesperson knows their customer. Also, the answers to these questions chalk the playing field for how to approach the customer. Please understand that the questions below are not necessarily the exact wording I recommend. You might have to ask in different words or use a series of questions. However, the answers are critical to your success at helping your customer.
- How do you buy?
This is one of the most basic focus areas you can discover with your prospect. You are trying to uncover who and how they make decisions. Who actually makes the decision? Who influences that decision maker? When do they begin to consider their decision to buy?
Agribusiness is very seasonal and some buying decisions only come around once a year (crop insurance, seed selection, etc.). However, if you are selling a $10 bag of dog food, the decision to buy might be made wherever they are when they realize they are out of dog food.
With large purchases, like a $150,000 tractor, there might be multiple steps and multiple people involved in the decision. I don’t think it’s intrusive at all to ask, “So, what factors do you consider when deciding on a tractor? How do you figure out the best tractor for your operation? Who all gets involved in picking the best tractor for your farm?” Notice, I never asked, “Who’s the decision maker?” That’s a salesperson focused version of the question. If someone asked me that verbatim, I would probably end the sales call as fast as possible.
- Where do you get your information?
Again, you have to reword this question and it usually requires a series of questions to get the full answer. You are trying to find out who influences them in your industry. If it’s grain marketing, which one of the popular traders do they follow?
The reason this information is so important is that you can now gain an understanding of when they might market their grain. If they follow the nationally known grain marketing advisor John Doe, you can follow John and see what he is recommending. You now have great insight as to when you should reach out to this customer.
Along with who they follow, you need to ask about where the repository of information is on your product line. For example, if you’re a dairy nutritionist, there are key universities and associations that “write the book on nutrition”. Find out which one this customer follows. Again, it gives you insight as to which nutrition products or practices you can discuss with this customer.
- What industry events do you attend and social media do you follow?
This provides insight into your customers information sources and how they make decisions. This information is helpful with both this individual customer as well as your whole customer base. If everyone seems to be following a particular web site on your product line, you should be as well.
The latest posts from these web sites or the latest speaker at their event gives you topics to explore with this customer. Here’s the important part of this line of questioning and it’s often missed by salespeople. You need to bring the big picture down to the farm level. How does the world politics, trade negotiations or the farm bill affect this customer, regarding your product, at this point in time?
If you don’t do that, you’re not selling. You’re just having a conversation that will likely go nowhere. They don’t need you for that. They need you to make sense of the big picture and what they should do on their farm. If you don’t know, you can ask them what they think of it. And if neither of you know, then I suggest changing the topic to something more productive.
The ability to help your customer is directly proportional to your ability of understanding your customer’s specific farming operation/agribusiness. To do that, you have to become an expert at asking questions. Knowing the right question is only one component. Knowing when to ask, how to word the question, and your response to their answers is all part of becoming an expert. Whatever your reason for not asking good questions is, you need to get over it. The above three questions are non-intrusive but deeply insightful areas to discover with your customer.
They give you the insight needed to ask further questions and add value to your relationship with them. This sets you up to get deeper into the high-value questions, which lead to effecting change with your customer. One of those changes is becoming your lifelong customer.