Old MacDonald had….. Mad Selling Skills?

Sugarbeet Field

Have you ever noticed that working as a salesperson is very much like working on a farm?

So many of the metaphors and analogies we use daily are carryovers from our previous ways of life and this couldn’t be more true than in farming and sales.

If you’re in outside sales, you are literally spending every day working “in the field.”

A lot of realtors have a geographic area of interest they refer to as their “farm.”

I bet you’ve heard someone use the term “plant the seed”…probably in just the last week, to refer to an initial conversation about a topic or idea.

We say “you reap what you sow,” to tell people they get out only what they’re willing to put in.

Most salespeople would be much wealthier if they actually took these farming metaphors all the way and treated everything in their sales life as though it was an agricultural pursuit.

So let’s take a trip down to the farm together to improve your sales life.  Much like the option of becoming a gold mining tycoon, you could always go into farming if this sales thing doesn’t work out for you ;p

1.) You Prepare Your Land.

TSAE Till the ground

In modern farming, we don’t just start throwing seed around with abandon.  No.  We’re smarter about it.  There is a step before planting.  Its called preparing.

We scout for fertile land.  We till the ground to break up the soil.  We lay irrigation lines.  We do everything necessary to ensure the crop will thrive as it grows until its time to harvest.

Superstar salespeople have a plan prepared before they go into the field.  They don’t run around aimlessly throwing seed, calling on the wrong kind of customer, failing to qualify what is fertile ground and what isn’t.  On the other hand, there millions of terrible salespeople that still do this.  They don’t prepare, they don’t seek out fertile ground before they sow…and they wonder why they fail to produce a crop.

Have you prepared yourself to maximize your harvest?  What does preparation look like in your industry?  Can you identify where you should be planting the seeds that will grow into your harvest?  Do you know any exceptional “farmers” in your company now that you could learn world class preparation from?

2.) You Plant Your Crop.

TSAE Planting

Are you planting well?  Do you have good seed?  Good farmers work with high quality seed, planting in the high quality piece of earth they have searched out and prepared.

In the process of preparing, you may find out that a particular field/customer may not even be the “soil” you are interested in.

What if ALL they care about is price price price?

What if they aren’t sophisticated enough / couldn’t care less about learning about their actual TOTAL COSTS?

What if they NEVER care to look at any new ideas?

My advice in that situation is to go find another field, and leave that one for a less experienced competitor/farmer to waste his time trying to plant in.

On the flipside, if you do find a great looking field/prospect to plant/sell in, you need to look at the prospect’s individual situation.  You need to look at what they need in their world, their “soil”, before you decide what kind of seed to plant.

Don’t monologue about the benefits of your corn if they need wheat.

Don’t tell them how many locations YOU have if the prospect is a small family owned company with ONE….UNLESS they tell you they care about it.

Don’t tell them how old your company is unless they care about it.

Don’t tell them anything about your company until you can be sure they want to know it.

“Find out what they need…then plant the right kind of seed.”

— THE viral sales phrase of 2014

Your seed is many things.  Your seed is the quality and abilities of your company and all of its various product offerings.  Your seed is the way you dress and the first impression you make.  Your seed is your abilities, talents, work ethic, and personal commitments.  As you can see, my definition of seed is pretty broad.

Your technique and skill at planting the seed will ensure it grows strong roots.  If you are terrible at cold calling or running an initial meeting…it’s just like not being capable of finding a fertile field and digging a hole.

Learn to scout and qualify well.

Learn to dig well.

Learn to plant effectively.

3.) You Care For Your Crop.

California, USA --- Irrigating Crops --- Image by © Royalty-Free/Corbis

Do you nurture all of your planted seeds on a regular basis?   Do you have an actual CARE plan for each account/crop?  You wouldn’t leave a crop alone for months and hope it to yield anything of value would you?

Many salespeople do EXACTLY this with their accounts.  Somehow that is passable as the norm, but when you talk about it like a plant it makes NO sense.

They plant a seed.

They RARELY water the seed.

They wonder why the seed (or entire field) hasn’t grown or yielded the results they were hoping for.

Insane….yet it happens EVERY SINGLE DAY in the world of sales.

You would never expect a plant to grow with no care, WHY would an account be any different?

If your account base is like your field of crops….how well do you care for that account base?  How well do you nurture and care for each plant.   Are you visiting consistently, strengthening the relationships?  If you aren’t constantly nurturing and caring for your customers, the next 2 groups of challengers will take your crop with no trouble.

4.) You Deal with the Busy Bugs.

Terrible Salespeople Bugs Eating

Who are the bugs?  Why, competing salespeople of course.  I guarantee you this: no matter how much care and effort you personally put into planting and nurturing your crop, there will always be a bug there happy to eat your hard work.    He does not care how hard you’ve worked.  He doesn’t care about how many hours you’ve invested.  Your crop looks delicious.

I have good news for you about bugs.  Bugs are only dangerous when a crop is very young, or poorly cared for.  So how do you care for your crop?  Pour yourself and all of your efforts into your customer’s best interests.   Building a strong relationship with ALL of your individual customers is like a beautiful natural repellant that protects you and your crop from the bugs.  If your crop is well cared for, the crops will repel the bugs on their own.  

If you’ve lost some crops, pay attention.

5.) You Deal with the Noxious Weeds.

The left side is healthy.  The right is infested with weeds.

The left side is healthy. The right is infested with weeds.

What are the weeds?  The weeds are all the little problems that naturally occur in the course of selling/farming.  Negotiation issues, pricing issues, delivery issues, ANY issues.

Your ability to deal with these issues / pull these weeds in a timely manner will keep your crop healthy.  If you fail to deal with these weeds, they will become so numerous that you will lose control of the health of your crop.

Don’t allow the weeds to stick around and grow bigger, choking your fledgling crop.

If you see a weed, pull it immediately.  Its hard work, but the payoff is a healthy crop…a crop that actually respects your ability to take care of it.  Smart crop eh?

6.) Natural Disasters Occur.

TSAE Tornado

Guess what?  Shit happens.   Sometimes there is just nothing you can do.  You can work your ass off for months, and have the unthinkable occur.

Several years ago, I had poured 18 months of time and effort into a customer.  It became my largest customer.  It was a beautiful crop.  I was reaping a bountiful harvest.  It represented 20 percent of my income.  Then they decided to leave California for North Carolina. The facility was drawn down and gone in less than 3 months.  Talk about a disaster I couldn’t prevent or account for.

The good news?  I had a TON of other fields growing at the time and I weathered the storm just fine.   The only defense against a natural disaster is diversification.

Businesses move or go out of business all the time.  Be aware!   You need a lot of crops in a lot of fields to be safe.  God forbid you only have 4 or 5 decent fields.  There is safety in numbers.

7.) You Reap the Harvest.

TSAE Harvest

Ok, so I will admit, this is one place where sales and farming diverge a little.  When its time to harvest in farming, you actually have to get out there and pull things out of the ground or off the plants.

It’s a ton of work.

The great thing about sales is if you’ve done everything above effectively, you don’t have to pull the orders out of the ground.   In this case, the customers will actually just start handing the orders to you.

Could you imagine how great it would be if the farmer went out to harvest the corn field, and when he got there, its just laying in a neat pile ready to go?    Load it into the truck!

TSAE Corn Piles

That’s what a sales harvest looks like to a superstar.

Get planting.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.