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Strategies for the Highly Competitive Ag Sales Market

Selling value seems like an uphill battle in a downward trending market

Image by Patrick Neufelder from Pixabay

I hear this statement often when working with sales teams.  “Greg, this market has become so competitive.  Competitors are discounting prices and throwing in extras that just about squeezes out our profitability.”

Selling value seems like an uphill battle in a downward trending market as competition increases. The picture above is one way of looking at the market.  There’s the surfer who sits on top of the industry with a high level of market share.  Then there is the shark, who wants more market share and seems to be biding its time before attacking.  I find our view of the market depends on whether we are the surfer or the shark.  As the surfer our strategy is to defend.  As the shark, we are certainly hungry, have less to lose and will attack at opportune moments.

Over the years, I’ve been on both sides of a competitive market.  One thing I know for sure is that both the shark and the surfer need to follow some aggressive steps to survive, thrive and prosper in a highly competitive market. 

             

  1. Analyze yourself:
  • First answer: “Why should customers buy from your company?
  • Next answer: “Why should they buy from you?” (that’s you personally)
  • After you figure out the real answers to those two questions, you need some way to tell customers and prospects about your answers.  Word of mouth is great, but sometimes we can’t wait for it to work its way through the market.  Help it out by writing and speaking.  Every chance you get as a salesperson, you should build your personal and company brand by writing (blogs, newsletters, internal within your company and external within your industry) and speaking (industry events and your own company events).  These are great opportunities to set yourself apart from the competition.  Record them on video, audio and in writing so you can repurpose on social media.
  • When talking with prospects and customers, you are going to be challenged with information about your competition.  When replying to these challenges, add qualifications to relay your advantages versus your competition:

- “Many customers tell us….”

- “Lately, customers have been impressed with our….

- “Based on reports, research or field results, we found our product performs in these critical areas ….”

- Customer compliment/acknowledgment: “They do a good job with that product and here’s where we expanded it further when we developed …”

 

  1. Analyze your competition

There are several ways to do this.  SWOT is a popular method.  This is where you compare your S-strengths, W-weaknesses, O-opportunities and T-threats from your competition.

Another great way to learn about your competition is to talk to their customers.  Unless you have a brand-new product, prospects are currently buying from someone.  It’s someone who they thought was the best choice in the market.  Find out why they decided to buy from them and what makes them stay.  This is a great way to understand your competition.  Certainly, we can go to our competition’s website and learn about them.  However, their loyal customer base will tell you exactly what they like and don’t like about them.

 

  1. Develop your strategy

Once we have a solid idea of ourselves, our competition and where we fit in the market, it’s time to develop a strategy.  While there can be many strategies for dealing with competition, below are three approaches for you to think about.  They mostly depend on whether or not you are the market leader.

  • Head to Head:  This strategy works best if you are the market leader or you have a strong competitive advantage in the market.  You come out with comparisons, feeding and field trials.  You take advantage of any opportunity to be compared to your competition.  If you have been in the market a long time, been through the tough times and helped customers get through them, then you can rely on this experience to go head to head against competitors.
  • Change the Game:  If you are not the market leader, you may need to change the way the game is played.  This can also be called a flanking move if you prefer military terminology.  Changing the game or changing the rules means you make a major shift in your Go-To-Market Strategy.
    • High end or Low end – by taking a product that is only available to the high-end customer and making a scaled down version that is available to more of the market.  The reverse is also a way to change the game.  Coffee shops have taken the inexpensive commodity version of the cup of coffee and made it a high end $5 product.
    • Faster and Easier – You don’t have to reinvent the wheel.  You might just make it faster or easier to get.  Dominos changed the pizza world with their 30-minute guarantee.  Jiffy Lube perfected the quick oil change.  Amazon is based on making it easy to shop.
    • Customized or Stocked Products:  Are competitors inflexible?  Do they sell all their products as-is or stocked products only?  If so, would customers prefer to have some choices in what they order?  Can your company figure out a way to allow customized products?  I know this might be a production manager’s nightmare and the office staff won’t like it.  However, it might be exactly what the market is looking for.

 

  • Bundle or Unbundle:  This is a very simple strategy that again can be just what the market needs.  If everyone in the market sells bundled products and services, offer unbundled services to test the market.  The reverse can be even more impactful.  If customers have to buy product X and then order service Y in order to get result Z, offer a one-step program called XYZ.  Take the worry and stress of knowing when and what to order.  Offer a solution instead of three products and services. 

Once in a while, I run across someone who truly doesn’t worry about competition.  They don’t worry about what the competition is saying, selling, nor how they are pricing. This is fine if you have a large enough market share or you have such a dominant position in the market you aren’t worried.  However, this approach to me always seems complacent.  As the Success Leads to Failure adage goes,

  • Success leads to Confidence.  
  • Confidence leads to Arrogance. 
  • Arrogance leads to Complacency. 
  • And Complacency leads to Failure. 

 

Fight the natural urge to follow these steps on your journey through growing your sales territory.  Whether you are the surfer or the shark, keep swimming through the competitive waters that all of us work in!

 

For more information on Ag sales training, coaching or business development, contact Greg Martinelli at Greg@GregMartinelli.net  

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