When Selling Feels Like an Uphill Battle
In tough times, you have to dig a little deeper and learn quickly to adapt to the market changes
As many distance runners know, you shorten your stride and pump your arms to get through the difficulty of running up a hill. As a distance runner, this technique has helped me get past thousands of hills over the years.
My theory is to just survive the uphill battle and then get back on my normal pace once over the hill. Shortening your stride is a normal reaction to the uphill run, but pumping your arms is something you have to consciously make yourself do. It works like magic. Your legs try to keep pace with your arms. It doesn’t make the difficulty of running uphill go away completely, but it provides a physical and mental method of dealing with the hill.
The comparison to selling is ironic as we are now in our fourth year of tough times in agribusiness. Coming off the ethanol boom and the 2012 drought, the ag economy took a tough turn for the worse. Farmer and producer margins narrowed, which means agribusiness margins narrowed. Price resistance is top of mind in the sales teams I coach and do training workshops with.
Farmers are looking for every possible way they can cut costs to stay in business. You could definitely say that selling in this environment is an uphill battle for a salesperson compared to the more prosperous years of 2005-2013.
Adjusting to the uphill battle for the ag salesperson
- Small wins: Look for small ways you can win with prospects and customers. Instead of going for the big volume product, get a toe-hold with a lower volume product. truggling to sell seed corn or seed beans? Try getting their cover cop business. Struggling to get their lactation ration? Try getting on the farm with calf feeds. Struggling to sell a dealer on your entire product line? Try starting them out with a few of your best sellers. I know this sounds like cherry picking your product line. But, give it time and earn the rest of their business.
- Keep moving: This is critical for long distance runners and to selling for the long range in your territory. Don’t let the resistance of the uphill battle stop you. It might slow you down. It might divert you. But you have to keep moving. Coaching sales people, I’ve seen them quit prospecting during the tough times because it’s so discouraging. Customers aren’t making money and don’t want to spend more nor switch. In reality, this is the best time to call on prospects. In tough times, people are more open to possible solutions.
- Get confirmation from your best customers: If you are really feeling bad about the uphill battle, develop your support system. This can include a couple of your best customers. These are the ones that let you know how much value you add to their operation. Check in with them occasionally to get a shot of confidence and feel good about what you do for your customers. Word of caution: Don’t stay there too long. In tough times, I’ve seen salespeople who only call on their favorite customers. Keep moving as I mentioned in point #2.
- “Robo” call on prospects: This is the equivalent of pumping your arms while running. By “robo” call, I mean double your pace for a short period of time. Take several weeks and just blitz your market by focusing on making as many prospect calls as you can. Just like sprinting is a shock to your muscles and makes running at a steady pace easier, robo calling on prospects is a shock to your daily routine and makes a normal pace easier.
- Robo call on customers: Same as with prospects, except stepping up your pace of calling on customers. If you have been busy making a lot of prospect calls and neglected current customers, get back in front of them on a frequent basis. Dig a little deeper on their issues than you previously have to uncover additional ways you might help them in their uphill battle.
- Bypass the hill: Lastly, avoid the uphill battle altogether if you can. Sounds like common sense, but it’s not commonly executed in the field. By diversifying your customer base, you can wait out the tough times by focusing on a more promising part of your territory. How? In feed, you might be focused on the dairy market. Specifically, the large portion of sales might be the lactation feed. Great, until milk economics tighten as they have and you face an uphill battle with producers that look for lower feed prices. Developing some diversity in your sales with calf, heifer, and dry cow feeds allows you to not stress as much over the tough times in lactation diets. Diversify even further and sell some beef or retail feeds In the seed business, you might be struggling with the primary seed corn and bean sales. I mentioned cover crops as an additional growth market to sell into. Non-GMO and other specialty crops are another.
In tough times, you have to dig a little deeper and learn quickly to adapt to the market changes. As an ag salesperson, we’re called upon to increase sales year over year. This is tough sledding as it feels like an uphill battle the last four years. Following the action items above doesn’t guarantee the hill will go away. However, take it from the running world, shortening your stride and pumping your arms will make it manageable.