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Agrimarketing : November December 2008
Sales and Marketing Insights from Purdue University SELLINGLARGEFARMERS: IT’SDARNEDHARDWORK by Dr.W.David Downey T here is little question that large farmers are different.Different fromwhat they used to be. Different fromothermarket seg- ments.And different fromeach other.Anational study ofmore than 2,500 large commercial producers just released by the Center for Food andAgricultural Business at Purdue University certainly underscores that. Every farmsupplier knows large farmers are not only economi- cally important, but they are also sophisticated, complex,more busi- ness oriented and demanding. A DIFFERENT APPROACH The traditional sales approach is based heavily on social relationships, taking orders and providing follow- up service or just beating a competi- tor’s price. That doesn’tworkwell with these accounts. Purdue research strongly suggests large farmers place amuch higher priority on awide variety of business and technical factors that blend together to create unique value for themindividually. Follow-up service, relevant informa- tion, innovative ideas and access to resources all score especially high with large farmers. They are far less influenced by the salespersonwho “ismy friend” and “calls onme fre- quently.” Large farmers prefer sales- peoplewho are “technically compe- tent,” “understandmy operation” Upcoming Agribusiness SEMINARS ARALeadership Academy February 3-5, 2009 ASTAManagement Academy March 3-6, 2009 Learn more at www.agecon.purdue.edu/cab Center for Food and Agricultural Business and “representmy interests.” Inter- estingly,“honesty” continues to rank as the highest single attributes of the most desirable salesperson. If you listen in on the sales calls ofmost agri-salespeople, youwill hear a little chit chat followed by a list of reasonswhy the farmer should buy their product. They often don’t ask nearly enough of the right ques- tions or listen verywell. If the farmer is patient, or kind enough towade through the salesperson’s litany of product features, any success the salesperson has ismore likely in spite of his efforts than because of them.Nowonder large farmers have little patience for ill-prepared sales- peoplewho assume they knowwhat farmers need andwaste their time with useless information that they are not sure they trust anyway. DISCOVER NEEDS Developing deep relationshipswith important accounts is tricky business that takes time and lots of effort— getting to knowthem, understanding their business and building trust. It is not enough to find outwhat a cus- tomer needs. Youmust also find out why they need it. That is the only way salespeople are going to create a selling strategy that truly appeals to business-oriented producers. Purdue research consistently reinforces the importance of invest- ing time discovering relevant infor- mation about the account’s values, goals and needs before creating a value proposition that uniquely fits the customer. If salespeople don’t really understand the customer, it is very difficult to create unique solu- tions. They end up just trying to “sell stuff.”Howamateurish is that? DELIVER VALUE Real professionals understand that they need to deliver value—often ideas and information—on each and every call because the cus- tomer’s, especially the large farmer’s, time is very valuable. These agri-salespeople understand that this processwill likely take numerous calls over a long period before they generate sufficient inter- est to earn business. It is through this process that they build trust and demonstrate honesty and integrity. Gradually, they create a value-based relationship that puts themin line to have a shot at the business. GET ON THE SHORT LIST Most farmers perceive themselves as loyal. Purdue’s research also shows that they don’t like tomake changes in their primary suppliers often because of the “switching cost” involved.Most large farmers prefer a stable business relationshipwith a trustworthy supplierwho knows their businesswell. They aremost vulnerable to a switchwhen some- thing goeswrong in their relation- shipwith their current supplier. Real professional agri-salespeoplework long and hard to get onto a preferred customer’s short list. They have an established relationship that they can jump into the instant their target shows any sign of discontentwith their current supplier. That iswhen they hit pay dirt. Yes, capturing newlarge account business takes a lot of hardwork and patience, but it isworth the effort. Any customer that is easy to get, is also easy to lose. AM Dr.W.David Downey is the Executive Director of the Center for Food and Agricultural Business at Purdue University and a Professor Emeritus of agricultural sales andmarketing. November/December 2008 s AgriMarketing 23
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