Here where we live the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia, agriculture is thriving on small family farms. Some are modern and some are still farmed using horses by Old Order Mennonites. Corn and soybeans are grown, poultry raised and dairy cows milked. Plus organic vegetables of all sorts for the local food-to-table market. Think about how these family farmers are like great salespeople.
For crops to grow the soil must be prepared. The farmers here in late fall and early spring spread manure from dairy farms fertilizing the fields to be planted. Great salespeople also prepare for making sales calls. They research the industry and companies to understand their needs. Like farmers, great salespeople plan based on knowledge of markets impacting their business. Unique selling propositions and value statements are crafted and rehearsed. Qualifying questions added to the sales call plan. Goals set for each sales call and campaign. Great salespeople build rapport with prospects forming bonds of mutual trust and respect.
The family farmers in the Shenandoah Valley plant the various crops at the best time to insure maximum yield. Great salespeople know how to qualify a prospect. Is there enough “pain” for the prospect to change now? Does the buyer have the budget sufficient to buy your product or service? Is the salesperson meeting with the decision maker? If all of these are not in place then the great salesperson knows this is not the right time to close the sales. Like successful farmers, great salespeople are optimistic.
One of the main products of the Shenandoah Valley is poultry. Everyday feed trucks get loaded with specially formulated food and deliver it to the various poultry farms under contract to raise the birds. Salespeople, too, have a special formula for winning and keeping good customers. Once the great salesperson has found a fertile opportunity, nurturing begins. They learn all they can about the problem the customer wants to solve. Great salespeople get to know everyone on the buying team and what their particular interest is. They understand how buying decisions are made and who is the principle decision maker.
Crops and poultry take time to reach maturity. All during this time the farmer watches for disease, weeds the fields and keeps an eye on weather. When cultivating a new customer, great salespeople also watch for signs of growth. Is there a problem he can solve for this customer? What is the relationship with the current supplier? Has the competition made a pitch for the business?
Different crops mature at different times. Sweet corn comes to the farmers market in August and is done by mid-September most years. Great salespeople know the buying signals. Understanding how and when to ask for the order great salespeople reap the harvest of the season. Farmers, like great salespeople are patient and persistent waiting for the right moment to harvest.
Like the farmer who depends on good weather to harvest the best crop, sales people deal with uncertainty. For example, the moment has come to ask for the order but the buyer has “just one more question.” Great salespeople expect and know how to deal with objections. Similarly farmers irrigate the fields in times of drought and deal with challenges of storms like salespeople cope with competitors and market shifts. Salespeople understand that most objections are just questions to be cleared up. Farmers know weather is a fact of life.
Farming is a process: preparing, planting, fertilizing, harvesting and then doing it all over again. Great salespeople, too, have a process for finding, winning and keeping good customers. They know what it takes, have the skills to do it and repeat it over and over again to achieve success. So plant the seeds for new customers, cultivate the relationships, weed out the poor prospects, nurture the best ones, and reap the harvest of successful selling.
Don Crawford & Lois Carter Crawford