Ah yes, winter has arrived in New York, as well as much of the rest of the Northeast United States. As I write it is a nippy -14 outside. And it is that time of the year that those in Ag Retail affectionately call, “Meeting Season”. And while in these parts there aren’t any crops being grown right now, to the astute retailer there is certainly something being cultivated during this time of year. And that’s relationships.
Cycles and Timing
Agronomy professionals have a slightly different calendar to follow than, let’s say, those in the feed industry. As one who spent over 25 years in retail management, I came to quickly learn that if you can come to understand the “decision cycle” and the “buying cycle”of your customers you were half way to successfully meeting the needs. After all, if you aren’t around when they are thinking about it how can you expect to get any business other than a few token sales? Sounds incredibly simple…perhaps too much so, but it is so vital to successful communication of valuable products and services. The painful result of not getting the timing right is to lose out on an entire season’s worth of business. A professional from the feed industry once told me that you have to wait two weeks for another sales opportunity….when the feed order needs to be placed. In the row crop agronomy business, you typically have a 12 month buying cycle on many items…unless you are in a double crop situation. (The astute retailer who is looking for an opportunity will often tap into that double crop season as a way to get the fall business and set the stage for being the primary supplier the next season.)
In the retail trade successful ad campaigns are always based around timing relative to the Buying Cycle. Just as it does no good to advertise snow shovels in summer, so does trying to discuss a fertility plan during planting season. We quickly see that the timing in these two examples is all wrong. The same comes to the building of relationships with those we are committed to serving. I’m not talking about personal relationships. Granted, our best customers may well become friends of ours, but they are business people just like us and have a cycle of planning, learning, buying, planting, growing and harvesting. To be successful at offering solutions we must first effectively cultivate relationships by synchronizing our cycle to theirs.
The successful retailer understands that they must adapt to the schedule of their customer and adapt their plans and budgets accordingly. Don’t neglect to devote the necessary payroll and marketing budgets to such a critical time. This is the time of the year to take center stage with the client. This will be the time of the year that they are most open to making a long term buying decision from you….plugging you into their overall plans so to speak. You will not write the order today but you will be given the opportunity to see a little more into the business life of this customer and what it is they truly desire from you. To try selling a commodity type product just as planting season comes along is setting yourself up for the “price war” scenario. And you brought it on yourself by waiting until then to try and “peddle your wares”. This effort would have been more effective if discussed during the proper time in the buying cycle, allowing you a better understanding of the true needs involved.
So, pay attention for the cues from you customers and learn how you fit into their business. To you, selling that fertility program, seed, or chemical is all you care about. But, to you customer, that is simply part of a much more complicated process.
The art of relationships can not be underestimated. Much of it can not be taught. Like well written music, it is felt by the one who composed it. Some people are simply experts at having relationships and this man was one of the best that I ever had the opportunity to meet. The world of agriculture in central New York lost a special example of one who had the sense of timing with his customers a few weeks ago. I learned much from Jon and would only hope to pass along some of what he taught me.