If you pick up the phone to talk to a farmer and your first question is “tell me about your farm,” you’re setting yourself up for failure.
Instead of asking the farmer to bring you up to speed on the operation, use farm data to gain insight into the operation. That way, your time is spent offering solutions to their problems – rather than learning about them.
Detailed insights into a given farm operation may sound like something that’s hard to come by but, in reality, it’s readily available.
But all the data in the world isn’t going to help you in your sales efforts if you don’t know how to use it to gain insights. Here are some ways you can use this data to gain insight into a farm operation.
See the financial picture
While there are lots of aspects of the farm you could look at first, a good place to start is with the farm's financial picture.
Since you’re going to be asking them to make a purchase, it’s important to know whether they’re in a position to do so. Farmers who are strapped for cash are less likely to take on a new product or, if they’re a current customer, expand how much share of wallet they give you.
On the other hand, a farmer who’s had a good year is going to be open to investing in their operation. Your product or service should be able to help them do that.
But you don’t want to ask a farmer “what’s your budget look like?” That’ll hurt the relationship before you’ve had a chance to start.
There are two primary pieces of farm financial data you’ll want to look at:
- Gross Farm Income. Knowing how much income a farmer has is important for any salesperson, but it’s absolutely critical for high-dollar products. While farm size is an indicator of high income, knowing the number of dollars available helps you make more detailed plans for each of your prospects.
- Spend Potential. You don’t just want to know how much a farmer receives – you also want to know how much they’re able to spend. Calculating a farmer’s spend potential – from crop protection, seed and fertilizer figures – can help you see how much of the farmer’s share of wallet you currently have and how much room you have to grow.
Once you have this data, there are lots of ways to operationalize it in your sales efforts:
- Decide whether a particular farm is worth the sales effort
- Identify what products or services you’re likely to sell them on
- Eliminate “sticker shock” by knowing ahead of time how much they’re going to be able to spend and choosing products accordingly
Go into the sales process eyes wide open, understanding how much to expect financially from the farmer.
Understand the scope of the operation
Another way of choosing which farm operations are worth your effort is to look at the size and scope of that farm. Small farms and large farms have different need, so this is helpful not just in finding prospects, but in figuring out the best tactics to use during the sales process.
The scope of the operation isn’t limited to farm size, though. Here are a few pieces of data that are important when determining the scope of the operation:
- Number of acres farmed. This is the most obvious data point to look at. But beyond knowing whether it’s a 500- or 2000-acre operation, you can see where the fields are located to see whether the operation is contiguous – or even located in the same county.
- Owner vs. operator distinction. There could be multiple points of contact in any given operation. That’s why it’s vital to know who the operator – the decision-maker – is, rather than simply who owns the farm.
- Related growers. No farm operates in a vacuum. A given operator may only have a few fields, but family connections and split subsidy payments may reveal an entire network of farm operations connected to him. Be sure to look beneath the surface to identify the entire operation.
- Change in ownership over time. Your understanding of the farm operation shouldn’t be limited to one particular moment in time. Make sure you not only have the most up-to-date ownership information, but know when land splits, merges or changes hands so you can see how the operation evolves over time.
Knowing the scope of the operation helps you answer a lot of questions before you even start having a conversation.
Observe crop production trends over time
Beyond just the scope of the operation, you’ll want to look at what the farmer is farming. For most ag companies, this insight into the farm operation will divide clear prospects from farmers who aren’t a good fit.
Here are couple data points to look at:
- Crop history. Look at what farmers have planted in the past – down to the field level.
- Crop rotation pattern. As farmers rotate crops, see the pattern over time so you can predict what’s coming in the future.
- Commodity vs. specialty. Commodity farmers have different needs and potential solutions versus specialty crop farmers. Know which category your farmer falls into.
- Organic vs. non-organic. As organic farming becomes more prevalent in the U.S., understand how organic farmers farm differently and how that changes the conversation you’re going to have with the farmer.
Once you understand crop production details, then the product or service you’re going to offer becomes clear.
Combining price point, operation scope and crop data and not only will you have more meaningful farm sales conversations. You'll approach the farmer ready to offer them a deal that’s going to be hard to refuse.