When Working Hard Is Not Enough

When I was younger and more foolish I enjoyed rock climbing. On one particularly hard climb, I got into a tricky situation that might be similar to what many retailers find themselves in today. There I was 150 feet above the ground, spread-eagled against a hot rock face, and I couldn’t see my next move. With fingers and legs cramping up I did the obvious thing and tried harder with a new burst of energy. All of which only made me more tired. Falling was starting to look possible. Fortunately a friend further up the wall pointed out a way to move that got me out of my jam.

In rock climbing, as with ag retailing, “working hard is not a business plan.” Sometimes you need a new plan. Here are my thoughts on initiatives the very best retailers are taking to move past the challenges almost every retailer is facing today.

Management : Don’t Ask For Permission

The best ag retail managers realize they need to shift from a service and operations culture to a solution-based sales process if they want move forward. This is not a trivial change, and managers are finding some of their staff are resisting the transition. Sales staff who started their careers when operational moxie and agronomic knowledge were key differentiators among retailers likely need to upgrade their skills to prosper in a sales-focused culture.

My company, AgKnowlogy, works with retailers to implement our customer knowledge software, and sales performance training based on what we term Solution Selling. We know the transition from making agronomic recommendations to customer focused selling is not easy. Managers frequently tell us they want to make the transition, but then rather than driving the change, they ask the sales force for permission and act tentatively. In almost every case where this happens, meaningful progress toward an improved sales culture doesn’t happen. Some managers are nervous to implement the changes they want because they are afraid of losing staff. I suggest it’s time to upgrade that thinking.

Customer Knowledge Drives The Change

The shift from operations and an agronomic prescription approach to solution-based selling is being driven by customer knowledge and the adoption of a repeatable sales process. The old differentiators among retailers are collapsing. Weed and insect control in the biotech era continue to simplify. There is a trend toward large growers purchasing application rigs and applying their own products. The information growers need to produce crops is widely available online. With these advances, new problems for growers emerge, and successful retailers will focus on solving these problems.

One thing is certain — some of the challenges being experienced by retailers result from attempting to add value to customers with old-style differentiators. What customer strategies do you have in place to identify the problems of your key customers and what is your plan to solve those problems before your competitors do?

Customer Goals: Accountability For Results

An alarming number of retailers don’t tie company goals to individual customers. The best retailers are implementing SMART goals which are: Specific, Measurable, Accountable, Relevant, and Time-bound. AgKnowlogy has sales data on hundreds of retail locations, so I am confident on how the numbers play out. In every organization, there are always customers who are increasing in sales, and some are declining. Your growth plan must  account for the predictable decline in sales from some customers. Without goals, your customers fly under the radar and changes in purchasing behavior easily go unnoticed.

A key point related to goals is that you must know the potential value of your customers. If you have not quantified the potential value of your customers and key prospects, how do you know what share of their business you have? Salesmen routinely overestimate their share of business with customers, leaving millions of dollars on the table in most retail organizations. Without quantifying customer potential value, and setting SMART goals to capture that potential value, there is insufficient focus in your organization.

Account Planning: Direction And Strategy

Goals set targets, but developing account plans with each key customer establishes the strategy and tactics you will implement to achieve the goal. Ideally you should collabo­rate with your customers on the account plan you want to implement with them. This encourages a shared vision of a solution for their business problems.

Your account plans should identify each customer’s business problems as you understand them at this point. (You will clarify these problems during the selling process.) I recommend you also estimate how effectively each customer or prospect thinks your current offer or solution to their problems is “on the money.” What are their “moments of truth” with you?

Aligning what you believe the customer’s business problems are with your estimate of how effectively they think you solve those problems will create insight into how you might refine your approach to the customer. It’s tempting to think energetic sales activities will help achieve your goals, but without a well-thought out account plan for each key customer, these activities may be wasted energy.

Sales Process: Achieving Predictable Results

Today’s best retailers are urgently raising the level of selling skills within their organizations. In the past when it was easier to differentiate through agronomic knowledge, selling skills were often overlooked. Today, agronomic knowledge is often a cheap commodity with little differentiating ability unless your competitors are inept in this area. AgKnowlogy is collaborating with retailers to implement Solution Selling for agriculture — a process-driven sales approach that produces predictable sales outcomes. Some of the key results our clients are looking for are:

■ Increased share of business with high-potential customers.
■ Improved customer retention from better alignment of company solutions with customer business problems.
■ Improved forecasting accuracy and pipeline management of opportunities.
■ More effective territory management.
■ Improved ability to develop and implement targeted selling campaigns.

The difference between solution-based selling and one focused on products is real. A solution-focused salesperson is more likely to ask questions to understand a grower’s revenue goals, and other business issues, as opposed to focusing on “production issues” too early in the sales process. He builds a shared vision with the customer on how the customer’s problem can be solved using his company’s products and services in a customized fashion. Above all there is a focus on a repeatable process that is shared within the company. The process becomes part of the company’s culture, and customers recognize this as a value-added benefit of doing business with the retailer.

The switch from product- and service-based selling toward a customer-centered, problem-solving approach is one of the great transformations in selling occurring in all sectors of the economy. Learning about these new approaches, and implementing them in time for the next sales cycle will produce significant rewards for your business.

Stay The Course: Commitment

Becoming more customer focused is a difficult cultural change. Don’t underestimate the personal effort, time, and leadership required to make the change from an agronomic, operationally focused company to a customer centric one. It takes more than a few pep talks to make the transition. If you don’t communicate your expectations to your sales staff at every opportunity, which means every meeting, and every time you travel together for coaching, don’t expect much improvement. What about your support staff, including equipment operators? Do they understand the vision?

In my discussions with managers, many are frustrated over the slow pace of change within their companies. The good intentions to embrace a customer centric culture can turn to discouragement if there are long-established practices and entrenched employees that don’t support the change. My advice is “stay the course.” At the same time prepare yourself that some employees can’t or won’t make the journey with you, and a plan must be put in place to deal with this reality.

Collaboration: Synergy

The complexity and size of the challenges facing retailers today make it difficult for a single organization to possess sufficient ingenuity and resources to address their challenges alone. Collaboration is a process in which two or more organizations jointly address issues they cannot solve individually. Without collaboration, managers are in a difficult situation. They must set direction and make complex decisions based on information and expertise, which might not reside within their organization.

Some retailers have collaborated with local ethanol plants to source grain on their behalf, leading to new opportunities for retailers in the grain business. Identity preserved seed traits are creating opportunities for growers to capture premiums from these specialized contracts. Which retailers will be aligned with seed manufacturers and local processors for these limited varieties? I believe the best retailers today are looking for collaboration opportunities that will help take their business to the next level.

 

Leave a Reply

Management Stories

ManagementSouth Africa Update and the New New Leader G5
February 24, 2017
Editors Eric Sfiligoj and Dan Jacobs discuss the recent visit to South Africa by sister magazine AgriBusiness Global and the Read More
Fall Creek Watershed
StewardshipUpdate: Nutrient Stewardship In Indiana Requires Cool, Clean Collaboration
February 24, 2017
Update: The application deadline for NCRS funding has been extended to March 17, 2017. Green leaves sparkle in the sunlight. Trees Read More
Measuring Bulk Tanks
StewardshipMeister Media Among 2017 Award Winners Presented By The Pesticide Stewardship Alliance
February 21, 2017
The Pesticide Stewardship Alliance (TPSA) held its annual conference in San Diego, CA, earlier this month where three awards were Read More
Roy Blunt
LegislationARA Recognizes Blunt, Heitkamp For Legislative Efforts Supporting Agriculture
February 17, 2017
Agricultural industry continues to face federal regulatory challenges. Thankfully, agriculture’s allies in the U.S. Senate stepped forward. The Agricultural Retailers Read More
Trending Articles
Farmer and aptop
Matt Hopkins10 Warning Signs Your Website Is Grossly Outdated
February 8, 2017
Your Website is often a visitor’s first impression of your ag retail business. A positive first impression can set the Read More
AgriSync
Matt Hopkins17 Agriculture Apps That Will Help You Farm Smarter In 2017
December 9, 2016
Ag professionals are working smarter, not harder, than ever before. Smart farming technologies have enabled them to reduce costs, maximize Read More
R4023 Sprayer, John Deere
CropLife 100Ag Retail Equipment Report: The Green Party Continues
December 7, 2016
In the annual race for sales in the ag retail equipment marketplace, the color schemes for participants are a little Read More
Mike Stern
Precision AgClimate Corp. CEO Talks Retailer Support For Digital Ag
December 1, 2016
CropLife Magazine’s sister publication, AgriBusiness Global, recently sat down with Mike Stern, CEO of The Climate Corp., following the Monsanto subsidiary’s Read More
Precision AgTrimble Debuts End-to-End FMIS Platform
November 28, 2016
October’s inaugural PrecisionAg Vision Conference left this author with many thoughts and things to ponder in the coming months. Probably Read More
CHS Primeland
CropLife 100The 2016 CropLife 100 Report: Reviewing The Many Bulls And Bears Impacting This Year’s Marketplace
November 28, 2016
For virtually all of 2016, the nation was wholly focused on the big Presidential election. Some folks aligned themselves with Read More
Latest News
ManagementSouth Africa Update and the New New Leader G5
February 24, 2017
Editors Eric Sfiligoj and Dan Jacobs discuss the recent visit to South Africa by sister magazine AgriBusiness Global and the Read More
Fall Creek Watershed
StewardshipUpdate: Nutrient Stewardship In Indiana Requires Cool, …
February 24, 2017
Update: The application deadline for NCRS funding has been extended to March 17, 2017. Green leaves sparkle in the sunlight. Trees Read More
Greenleaf Technologies TADF03-D Dual Fan Nozzle
NozzlesSix Greenleaf Nozzles Approved For XtendiMax With Vapor…
February 22, 2017
Greenleaf Technologies has announced that six of its TurboDrop D Series nozzles have been approved for use with Monsanto’s XtendiMax Read More
Winter Wheat
Industry NewsTiger-Sul Hires Manitoba And Eastern Canada Account Man…
February 22, 2017
Tiger-Sul, a global leader in sulphur fertilizers and crop performance products, has announced that sales veteran Trevor Loewen has joined Read More
NFMS 17 Hagie Sprayer
Eric SfiligojThe Read From Louisville: Uncertain
February 22, 2017
By the time this column appears across the country, the annual Commodity Classic will be in full swing. This means Read More
SprayersApache 1000 Series Sprayer Earns 2017 EquipmentWatch Hi…
February 21, 2017
ET Works has been named a winner in the 2017 EquipmentWatch Highest Retained Value Awards program, the industry’s only award Read More
Measuring Bulk Tanks
StewardshipMeister Media Among 2017 Award Winners Presented By The…
February 21, 2017
The Pesticide Stewardship Alliance (TPSA) held its annual conference in San Diego, CA, earlier this month where three awards were Read More
John Reifsteck
CropLife 100GROWMARK’s Reifsteck Earns NCFC Director Of The Y…
February 21, 2017
GROWMARK Chairman of the Board and President John Reifsteck has earned the prestigious Director of the Year Award from the Read More
Roy Blunt
LegislationARA Recognizes Blunt, Heitkamp For Legislative Efforts …
February 17, 2017
Agricultural industry continues to face federal regulatory challenges. Thankfully, agriculture’s allies in the U.S. Senate stepped forward. The Agricultural Retailers Read More
LegislationThe Fertilizer Institute Commends Senate On Confirmatio…
February 17, 2017
The Fertilizer Institute (TFI) President Chris Jahn issued the following statement on the Senate confirmation of Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Read More
Trump, Senate, Cabinet
LegislationBREAKING: Trump EPA Nominee Scott Pruitt Confirmed by S…
February 17, 2017
Scott Pruitt, who as Oklahoma’s attorney general spent years suing the Environmental Protection Agency over its efforts to regulate various Read More
ManagementFebruary Road Trip Edition
February 17, 2017
Editors Paul Schrimpf and Eric Sfiligoj discuss their recent visits to Indiana and Kentucky. Read More
Heritage Cooperative Finished Building Aerial
ManagementHeritage Cooperative, Agland Co-op Approve Merger
February 17, 2017
Agland Co-op and Heritage Cooperative stockholders have both approved the merger agreement between Agland Co-op and Heritage Cooperative. Now begins Read More
LegislationARA Fly-In: Ag Retail Descends on Capitol Hill, Lawmake…
February 15, 2017
More than 100 agricultural retailers, distributors and suppliers headed to Capitol Hill Tuesday morning for the Agribusiness Congressional Fly-in, according to a Read More
Untreated soybean seed Heartland Coop
Seed/BiotechMarrone Bio Innovations, Groundwork BioAg Bio-stacked M…
February 13, 2017
Marrone Bio Innovations, Inc. and Groundwork BioAg, Ltd have announced successful seed treatment field trials of the world’s first all-biological Read More
NL5000 With G5 Technology
SpreadersNew Leader Introduces NL5000 Dry Nutrient Applicator Wi…
February 13, 2017
New Leader, a division of Highway Equipment Company (HECO), has announced the next generation of spreading technology with the NL5000 Read More
Fertilizer Storage
Crop InputsThe State Of The Fertilizer Industry
February 9, 2017
He’s all hat, no horse.” It’s a humorous way of describing a person who tells a good story, but is Read More
CropLife 100Pinnacle Agriculture Agrees To Credit Agreement Amendme…
February 9, 2017
Pinnacle Operating Corp. has entered into an amendment (the “Amendment”) to its First Lien Credit Agreement that will provide for, Read More