As our small company grew and org charts were redefined, sales management was off-loaded from my plate last year to create more capacity for strategy and vision. And probably not unlike transitions at your dealerships, I work hard every day not to stick my nose back in. Michael Ellis, director of sales, is managing me through the weaning stage.
He’s hearing me chirp about what I hadn’t fixed myself .... Too little activity in the pipeline. Notations in the business system that reveal we aren’t learning enough from customer and prospect interactions. To stop reading the headlines and go make things happen like we did in earlier downturns. And getting comfortable with our new product offerings and then heading out to the mound and start pitching so we can recoup our investments.
As I look ahead, I’m convinced we can’t get where we want to go without better understanding individual customers’ needs and pain points. That knowledge must be drawn out early — and shared with others in the company — to present the best solution, something that the jack-of-all-trades salespeople no longer can accomplish alone.
My friends in leadership will call me out after reading this, asking me questions about staffing resources, “right people, right seats,” training and accountability. (You’re also encouraged to weigh in via the commenting tool or my email).
Originally, I was going to output these musings (“Knowledge: More Valuable Than the Order Itself”) into a Jerry Maguire-style memo, which I would “speechify” during our weekly sales meeting. But since this column occasionally serves as a psychiatrist’s couch, why not share my blue-sky ponderings with 13,800 of my closest friends? We’re all in sales after all ...
Look at the traditional sales positions in your company. What if the job could be redefined so that the sale was an outcome of activity — and not the job itself?
By not limiting one’s time to the pressure of the sale, there’d be time to go deep with that customer. Over time and through trust, there’s a chance to deeply know a farm operation inside and out, all the while putting that intel in the dealer business system that will result in better performance for the farmer. Think of some hybrid between an intelligence officer and a farm advisor, who understands the root needs, canvasses all options and schedules the product specialist and demos. But who, ultimately, hands things off to a transactional position to close the sale, while he or she is deep into the funnel with other farmers.
There will be fewer big ag operations for dealers to intimately know. Is there any better fit for this concept than in agriculture’s relationship-driven and “golden-rule” world?
The majors’ pressures for market share is commoditizing the machine business, certainly with in-line competition. If machine price was all you had to offer in the value proposition, you’d probably have gotten out by now. Still, farmers’ needs and expectations are changing, and loyalties must be earned differently with this next generation.
When you examine your dealership’s truly defensible differentiators, what do you see? Will farmers continue to be willing to pay for that value proposition tomorrow? Will your core competencies survive the generational transitions you’re facing?
Each investment is another cost of doing business that can make this afternoon’s deal harder to win. But these are choices each dealer must knowingly make (or not) for the long term, including reaching into their own pocket. Some, like you’ll read in our 2018 Farm Equipment Dealership of the Year Edition next month, pride themselves on being different.