Small Business

Bringing in the Sheaves


By Michelle Nichols My college degree is in agri-business, which surprises many people, but believe me, studying farming is great preparation for a life in sales. Now I'm a city gal, so I admit, the connection with my future career wasn't obvious as I slugged away writing term papers, learning formulas, and cramming for exams. However, the longer I sell, the more I appreciate what our farmers can teach us salespeople.

The most obvious connection is that you are going to reap what you sow. All farmers know that if they plant radish seeds, they can't expect watermelons or watercress. Somehow, a lot of sales people can't quite grasp that logic. It amazes me how often I meet sales reps who moan that they don't have more major-league customers. Then I discover that they are spending their selling time cultivating small, cash-strapped clients instead large, big-budget outfits. If they were farmers and followed the same strategy, even the jackass would laugh them off the ranch.

DEEP-ROOTED RELATIONSHIPS. So get clear on the profile of your target customer. Study which prospects buy the most at the highest profit margins and with the greatest frequency, then go sow for their business, nurture the relationships, and harvest the sales.

The wisdom that you reap what you sow doesn't just apply to targeting customers. It also applies to how you treat people -- prospects, existing clients, employees, in fact all of humanity. If you want more referrals, give more referrals. Take my friend Ruben, for example, who is a very sharp and generous guy. If I don't know who to call or what to do in a given situation, I'll often give him a call to see if he has any suggestions. At the very least, I can expect a word of encouragement, but more often than not, he'll make an invaluable suggestion about how I should proceed. In return, Ruben's business has soared as a result of appreciative folks like me, who are only too happy to return favors, and with interest! The lesson: If you want more, give more.

Another lesson we can all learn from the folks on the land: You can't harvest what you only planted yesterday. For salespeople, that means never waiting until we are behind quota -- or worse, broke -- before getting down to the nitty gritty of the sales business. Things like cold calling and checking your files to see which clients need to be resupplied should be as basic to a salesperson as is keeping rabbits out of the carrot patch to a farmer.

SEASONED WISDOM. Yet there's another side to the sales professional's obligation not to delay, and it's this: Make haste, but with a sense of patience. Farmers balance those imperatives every day. They know that the time required for seeds to become saleable products can't be rushed, no matter how pressing the need for a new pickup. Farmers can't harvest their crops early, and the same applies to sales because some customers just can't be hurried.

Finally, there is what may just be the most important link of them all between sales and the nurturing soil of our nation's farms: flexibility. Once the seeds are in the ground, a hundred things can go wrong -- bad weather, disease, bugs, and market fluctuations. No matter what, farmers must be able to adjust, perhaps by having a cash reserve to see them through the lean days, or maybe by raising two crops. If the corn fails there will always be potatoes to keep the wolf from the door. In sales, if one customer slams the door in your face, it's reassuring to have another waiting to greet you with a smile and a purchase order. If you are serious about selling, make Johnny Appleseed your model and scatter seeds everywhere. Let lots of folks know what you do and nurture those burgeoning relationships with attention and respect.

So get hoeing. Sow the seeds you want to harvest in the places where they grow the best. Nurture the sprouts like mad, and soon you'll be piling high your tractor with a record harvest. Except it won't be a tractor, more likely a Porsche. Happy selling! Michelle Nichols is a sales speaker, trainer, and consultant based in Houston, Tex. She welcomes your questions and comments. You can visit her Web site at www.verysavvyselling.biz, where her new CD, 72 Ways to Overcome the Price Objection is available. She can be contacted at Michelle.nichols@verysavvyselling.biz


Steve Ballmer, Power Forward
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