January 14, 2020 | Coach’s Corner | Greg Martinelli

How to Change the Game

To farmers and agribusiness buyers, we all look the same

A white Ford pickup, slowly rolling into the driveway, a hesitation on getting out of the pickup and a look of “I hope I’m not too salesy."  Let’s face it. We all look the same to our customers.

Our buyers: farmers, livestock producers, crop producers, agribusiness buyers have seen it all before. They see it three or maybe four times a day. A salesperson in a white pickup, slowly turning into their driveway and hesitantly getting out to make a sales call.

You want to be different. You want to stand out. You want this prospect and every other prospect to see you as different. Yet, you look and act like every other salesperson. 

Why? Many reasons: social norms, that’s what my manager expects, that’s what my fellow salespeople do, that’s what my customer expects. As social animals, we strive to fit in. Yet as salespeople, we strive to stand out. 

Guess which side of that tug of war wins in most cases. You guessed it. We fit in. We act like we think we should act. Actually, we act in the way we think our customers think we should act. Making us look just like every other salesperson out there.

To differentiate takes an abundance of skills. Risk-taking, knowledge of all aspects of the business, stamina to sustain the differentiation, and the ability to look at the bigger picture. As kids, we ridicule anyone that’s different until it proves to work, or until one of the “cool kids” does it. In business, we call these cool kids game changers.

She’s a game changer ... he’s a game changer. When we hear this description, what do we think of them? 

Selling a 50-cent cup of coffee for $5 at Starbucks. Selling books and eventually everything online instead of a brick and mortar. 

At first, we scoff. Then, we admire them for their success. We wish we had thought of that. We go to sales meetings and hear these stories of game changers and how we should apply it in our own market. Yet, when we leave the meeting, we desperately strive to fit in. We play it safe. 

For a good sports analogy, we can look at the West Coast offense as a game changer in football. Wow, has the game changed since all teams run this type of offense? From running the ball up the middle play after play to a wide range of receivers and play action.  The options are endless for quarterbacks today. As fans, we can’t get enough of it.

In every one of these cases, someone had to zig, while everyone was zagging. Someone had to take the risk of being wrong, making a mistake, possibly looking foolish, maybe being fired or undergo financial loss. 

Once these industry leaders changed the game, however, there was no catching them in some cases. Another game-changing moment happened in auto racing in 1980. I watched from the grandstands as Johnny Rutherford dominated the Indy 500 by leading 118 of 200 laps. He changed the game by using a new technology called ground effects. In the 1981 race, every car used it. 

So then, how do you become a game changer?  How do you zig while everyone zags? Let’s start with a discussion on risk-taking.


We all know it’s scary, but there are ways to minimize risk and make it less scary.

  • Try it on a small scale. Notice we didn’t load up the lunar modules with people on the first attempt. We tested unmanned rockets first.
  • Try it in an area that is not as risky. Take a portion of your territory or products which are not your primary market and test the waters.
  • While we are on that subject, test the waters. I was part of a pet food launch that went full scale launch on day one. After failing miserably, we all sat around and wondered why we didn’t try it in one state or a couple territories before launching it nationwide.
  • Lastly and most importantly, create a culture that doesn’t ridicule people for trying. This is important. I’ve seen where employees are afraid to stick their hand up and suggest new ideas for fear of ridicule up to and including termination.

How to zig

1. Look upstream

  • Visit with your vendors: How can you combine or incorporate their products and services into yours in a more unique way? Collaborating to provide a unique product or service can drastically change your offering. If their brand strength is solid enough, you can actually put them on your label. Think about the “Intel Inside” logo at the bottom of your computer. If you have a large customer, you can approach your vendor to provide a custom product or service specifically for that large customer. We accomplished this when adjusting the packaging size on a product line to fit a large account’s store set up.
  • ​Visit your own internal departments and managers: How can you restructure your offering to your customers by getting creative with your accounting department, ordering, warehousing, geographic location of inventory, or time. This issue of saving time and hassle is very important. What if someone came up with a solution to make the DMV (Dept. of Motor Vehicle license office) line faster, easier or nicer? Where are the choke points in your business?  Those points of pain that slow everything down or make it painful for your customer. How can you use your resources to remove that hassle? Dominos Pizza realized this and created 30-minute delivery to become a game changer in the pizza industry when competing with the entrenched leader, Pizza Hut. To grow my own sales territory, we used custom products to compete against an entrenched competitor that had a 100-year head start on us. 

2. Look downstream

  • Collaborate with your customer to co-create a solution which can only be accomplished through joint efforts. Talk with your customers about their struggles with their other vendors. Obviously, if those vendors are direct competitors it complicates the opportunity to change the game. If not a competitor, however, then you have an opportunity to bring in their other vendors and co-create a solution with all three: you, your customer and one or more of their vendors. 
    We used this method when customers were struggling with a diagnostic lab need and the need for a veterinarian consultation. We matched up all three components and took it to our customers as a turn-key offering. Was it revolutionary? Was it unrepeatable by our competition? Certainly not. We thought of it first, however, executed on it first and competition decreased.

3. Look outside your industry

  • This is a great way to become a game changer.  The best part is you don’t even have to come up with the idea. Someone else already did it. Is there an industry that is similar to yours but maybe further advanced? Use whatever definition you want for advanced but I’m referring to being more cutting edge, more connected to customers, or maybe just more sales. 
    A great example is the feed and pet food industry. The pet food industry was much more consumer oriented versus the commercial feed business. Similar industries, but the pet food market advanced their customer focus in the late 70s and flourished in the 80s. From packaging to distribution to marketing methods, they took off. 
    Through the 90s, the feed business was transitioning in the same way by trying to focus more on the customer experience. You could take direct lessons from the pet food business and apply them to the feed business. From one brown paper bag for all products to glossy pictures of horses, sheep, and goats on the front. From one product for horses to a young horse, old horse, working horse, high fat diet, low starch diet, etc.
  • When customizing sales training workshops, I too want to be a game changer. If you’ve been in sales for a length of time, you’ve been through a training course. They all start to look and sound the same. By being agribusiness focused and bringing in concepts from other industries, attendees get a new look at an old industry. 
    Ideas, lessons, and examples are pulled in from the FBI, CIA, attorneys, Hollywood, police, the Navy Seals, the Army, and even late night talk show hosts. Comedians are my personal favorite to include. Not only are they a big hit with attendees but the lessons are so closely aligned with what you are trying to do when selling. That helps the training material stick with attendees after they leave the training. 

Spend some time today as you drive down the road on your way to your next farm call. Turn off the talk radio (that’s a common theme in my message to salespeople). It’s repetitive and you can’t do anything about those topics anyway. Spend your drive time thinking, "How can I become a game changer?"

These don’t have to be revolutionary. Nor do they have to come from the corporate office. How can you use these lessons to bring something new to your customers? 

Change the game today and stand out against the army of salespeople calling on producers and agribusiness buyers.

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