Before the internet, salespeople controlled the flow of information to their customers. They would share -- or at least draw attention to -- only the information that drove potential customers to purchase their products.
That method simply doesn’t work anymore.
With the explosion of information available through the internet and the efficiency of search engines in delivering that information to the people who want it, the information imbalance that once put power in salespeople’s hands has shifted in the opposite direction.
Now that power belongs to the buyer. The information imbalance now favors them.
Farmers are no exception to this rule.
As a sales manager, you and your team must adapt to this new way of doing things. Your business depends on it.
The best and most productive step forward is to help to correct for the information imbalance by gathering and utilizing that information to improve your understanding of the farmer’s business, just as they have an improved understanding of yours.
In fact, having that data can prove invaluable when trying to maximize the farmer’s time and attention.
It’s to the farmer’s benefit for you to have that information. You can provide the most helpful solutions to their problems and avoid wasting time gathering information that you could otherwise gather.
Here are a few steps you can take to avoid the great information imbalance with your farmers, and set yourself up to best serve them.
1. Understand that you don’t control the flow of information.
Not long ago, the balance of information favored salespeople, not consumers. The salesperson controlled the narrative around their company, brand, and products.
It’s true that farmers were in the know about ag products – especially if they or someone they knew were using that product – but generally, salespeople had the informational advantage.
That’s simply not the case anymore. The internet has changed the way that information is shared, and consumers are reaping the benefits:
- Company websites provide farmers information about products and the company in general. You have to assume that everything your company has said -- and everything your competitors have said -- is accessible to the farmer.
- Online product reviews mean that farmers can see what other people who’ve done business with you think about the product and their overall experience. This means that a good experience with a customer goes a long way – but a bad experience hurts you more than ever.
- Press coverage is now readily available through the internet, and your company isn’t exempt from it – which means you can’t hide from past mistakes.
This shift in the information balance means that you can’t just assume that the farmer is in the dark about the competition, or is unaware that a given product may not be getting good reviews.
All that information is available to them and everyone.
But this can actually be a good thing for you. If your company is dedicated to the highest quality products and service and has an impeccable track record, you’re going to have a major advantage.
This will likely lead to the following shifts in your sales tactics:
- You become more authentic, understanding that the farmer is going to get the “behind the scenes” look at what you do whether you like it or not.
- You become more collaborative, understanding that the farmer has just as clear an understanding of what they need as you do.
- You become less pushy, understanding that the farmer is actively engaging in their own buyer’s journey and will make a purchasing decision when the time is right.
- You become smarter in your sales prospecting, spending less time trying to convince people they need your product, and more time talking to the people who already know they need it.
The first step toward navigating this shift in balance is to know that information naturally shifts to the consumer, not the salesperson. Be aware that this is the new reality, and keep it in mind when you’re creating, adjusting, and executing your sales process.
2. Leverage data for the benefit of the farmer.
One of the most important things to keep in mind when you’re fighting information imbalance is to remember who you’re working for.
While the answer to that question may seem obvious -- everything you do should be to your business’ benefit -- the real answer to the question goes a little bit deeper than that.
Every business relationship should be to the mutual benefit of both parties. You benefit from having the farmer’s business, but they also benefit from having their needs met, pain resolved, questions answered, and operation improved in highly specific and contextual ways.
When you leverage data to improve your insight into the operation, you aren’t trying to take advantage of the farmer. On the contrary -- you’re trying to help them by coming to them prepared with solutions to the problems that they’re facing:
- Saving their time by focusing conversations on things that help them rather than trying to gather information for yourself
- Saving their money by not trying to get them to buy something they really don’t need or won’t take full advantage of
- Maximizing their return on investment by offering those products that will bring them the most value in the long run
- Helping solidify the long-term viability of their operation as a trusted resource to them in the areas that you focus on
Ultimately, we are all in business to ensure the success of the farmer.
By giving you the insights to save the farmer’s time and help to increase their overall effectiveness in ways that are specific to them, you’re going to not only build a trusting relationship with the grower, but also improve your bottom line.
3. Use conversations to discuss solutions, not gather information.
Once you’re aware that the information imbalance puts you at a disadvantage, you can start taking the necessary steps to overcome it.
This means that you need to know your stuff before you start the conversation with the farmer. Otherwise, you’re going to waste your time and theirs – kicking off the relationship with frustration rather than satisfaction.
Just imagine that you’re getting a call from someone who’s interested in selling you something. If the first question they ask is “tell me about your business” and you know that information is available online, it shows that the salesperson hasn’t done their homework.
You’d be frustrated if you had to spend your precious time informing them about your business instead of them telling you how they can help.
Now think about your own sales efforts. Are you doing the same thing to your farmers?
A conversation should never start with “tell me about your farm.” You’re putting the burden on the farmer to tell you things you can easily find out on your own. You're coming to the table bearing the full weight of the information imbalance.
Instead, do your homework ahead of time. There’s plenty of data out there to help you learn the details of the operation. Look at satellite imagery, crop rotation and planting history, the overall financial picture of the operation – there’s plenty of data out there to get you off on the right foot.
Once you have this data at your disposal, then you can start asking questions. But instead of answering surface level questions, you can dig deeper. Gain some insight from them as to how they make decisions.
Farmers are the experts in what they do. You’re the expert in how your business can help. Use data and information to bridge the gap and provide informed advice to them.
4. Solve, don’t sell.
Salespeople can often put people off. It’s just a reality that you have to deal with.
So when you approach a farmer, it’s important to do whatever you can to put them at ease. Make them as comfortable with you as possible. Not only will it help you build a rapport with them that’ll bring you closer to a closed deal, it’s just the decent thing to do.
At Farm Market iD, we have a motto that we use among our sales team: “Solve, don’t sell.”
It means that the primary focus of what we do is to provide solutions to our customers’ needs – and we think our solutions are so good that they should pay us for them.
But that doesn’t mean that every problem needs your product as a solution. Sometimes, the issue at hand requires you to share your expertise with them – and that’s something you can do for free. Other times, another company may be better positioned to provide that product or service.
This is going to go a long way toward building a long-term connection with the farmer.
And then when there is a product that meets your farmer’s needs – that’s the time to make the sale.
Modern sales puts the emphasis on the long game rather than the short-term reward. While it’s tempting to go for quick and easy deals – the end-of-the-month hustle is real – focusing your strategy on the long term is going to be better for you in the end.
In short, “solve don’t sell” isn’t altruism – it’s good business.
And that’s where having reliable data is going to help. When you know nothing about the farm operation, you’re going to go into the conversation with a standard pitch that you’ve done a million times. The emphasis will be on you and the product, and not on the needs of the farmer.
But when you have information at your disposal, you can focus on the farmer and provide solutions that are tailored to their needs.