Solution Selling For Agriculture

Strategically-minded agronomy managers are looking for an improved sales process result

ing in better customer experience, loyalty, and profits. Do these challenges ring true for you?

•  Achieve meaningful differentiation from other retailers that creates a competitive advantage.

•  Achieve more accountability for results from sales.

•  Become more process driven vs. “working hard” to improve operations, management, and sales.

Several years ago, I was introduced to Solution Selling and learned selling could be a quality process with predictable outcomes like manufacturing. My selling performance improved as I learned this innovative approach to solving customer problems vs. selling products. In these columns, I’ll introduce Solution Selling for Agriculture, the customized-for-ag version of the

world class sales performance system used by Microsoft and Dell Computer. We’ll focus on key objectives of Solution Selling, and discuss how to implement this proven process in your retail business.

•  Understand how customers buy, to align your selling activities.

•  Distinguish between latent and active opportunities.

•  Learn effective pre-call planning.

•  Create interest/increase credibility with customers/prospects.

•  Get growers to share high priority “pain” in their operation.

•  Enlist consultative dialogue that differentiates your business.

•  Qualify and disqualify opportunities based on objective criteria.

•  Gain more control over sales cycles.

•  Improve your win odds through effective closing techniques.

•  Avoid no-decision with prospective buyers.

Solution Selling for Agriculture is the “Connect” portion of a business model I call Analyze, Plan, Connect, Review. Before diving into Solution Selling, I want to overview the components of the model. Next month, we’ll focus on “Create,” the first step in the Solution Selling process, and cover the “Develop,” “Prove,” “Close,” and “Implement” steps in subsequent columns. I’ll end next summer by detailing Analyze and Planning as these fit well at that time of year.

Analyze: Where Am I Today?

If you don’t know where you are going any road will take you there. Ag retailers typically need to focus more on analysis.

•  Conduct a strategic assessment of how well you are aligned with customers. The Retailer Performance Monitor described last month will provide ideas in this area, and create a baseline for efforts to become more aligned with customer needs.

•  It’s essential to measure your Share of Business with key customers. I recommend doing this on a category basis (Chemical, Fertilizer, Seed, Services) at the company and territory level, and for all key customers.

•  Create a high-level diagnosis of the problems facing each of your key customers and potential prospects. In the Create and Develop steps of Solution Selling, we’ll detail getting customers and prospects to reveal business problems that deepen your relationship and widen your opportunities.

•  Identify and quantify specific opportunities at your company level and for each key customer that drives your business. Do the same for prospects.

Following the analysis, plan how you will move your business forward. Planning without the analysis of where you are produces unpredictable results.

•  Forecast/set goals for a sales territory/customer.

•  Do pre-call planning.

•  Identify potential pain and how it affects areas of a grower’s business.

•  Use job aids to build pre-call plans,  and strategies.

Connect

Sales people want to achieve their goals. The problem is they’re not sure how to get there. That’s what Connecting in Solution Selling is all about: following a pathway that’s proven in other industries. Solution Selling has three essential goals:

•  Stimulate interest in your offering with prospects and growers who represent growth opportunities.

•  Diagnose the customer’s business problems and create a vision of a solution.

•  Use job aids to manage, coach, and produce high performance sales results.

At the end of each Solution Selling cycle with a customer, we recommend conducting a review with your key customers (and prospects too). This review should focus on how well the plan developed during the Close and Implement steps of Solution Selling has solved the customer’s business problems. It will provide you and your customer with an opportunity to confirm needs, and identify gaps in performance that — if not addressed — may lead to reduced share of business.

The diagram at left shows this process is wide and deep.

Philosophy: Solution Selling helps you understand customer needs and buying behavior. Better alignment with customers’ and prospects’ needs improves sales performance.

Map: A series of defined and measurable steps leading to a predictable beneficial result.

Job Aids: These are ag-specific templates, guidelines, and prompters that facilitate the right action, the right way at the right time.

Management System: Solution Sell­ing can help managers transform the business from an internal operations focus to an external customer focus.

Implementation: Achieve a sustainable High Performance sales culture focused on customer needs.

Solution Selling for Agriculture drives predictable, customer-focused selling that accomplishes critical results.

•  Increased share of business with high-potential customers.

•  Improved customer retention from better alignment of retailer “solutions” to customer problems.

•  Improved forecasting accuracy and pipeline management of opportunities.

•  Effective territory management.

•  Improved ability to develop and implement targeted selling campaigns.

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