6 rural sales lessons from the NZ Election

Politicians compete for power in their constituencies and rural marketing and sales teams should be no different. Whilst many dislike politicians, these elected representatives compete every 3 years to get the endorsement of their public by selling the reasons people should choose them so we can learn a lot from them.

Sure the Beehive or head office might dictate some of the rules and policies but in the end it’s the man or woman in the district that is the face of that party or business. This is why recruitment of the right talent for either is so important.

Here are my top 6 lessons for rural marketing and sales teams (I’ve also included  a special 7th below):

1. Influence is power

Politicians have always employed influencer strategy like it’s a ability they were born with. They know who sways opinions and do their best to convert them any detractors into advocates. Rural companies could take a leaf from their book and map out their in own territories which trusted advisors farmers look to and take their lead from. When 90% of people trust peer recommendations and only 14% trust advertising knowing who's who in the zoo is key. And when you need an AI technician or a a mechanic to sort the quad bike who are you going to ask? It won’t be Yellow Pages. Your first port of call will be your network of friends and neighbours, then Google. 

2. Strategic Alliances

The other lesson politicians are teaching us is the importance of strategic alliances or partnerships. Great strategic partners can reduce sales cycles, deliver a lower cost to acquire and help open doors that otherwise would have remained shut. The Green and Labour are super tight through their MOU. Who could you partner with who's like-minded and aligned in their goals?

3. Presence

"Make your passion and purpose a presence in your community" Sabina Hitchen

Good politicians have a presence and are visible. The more effective are known, active with a high profile attending, supporting and promoting local causes or concerns. Take Tamati Coffey, former TV1 weatherman, winning the electorate of Waiariki for Labour, beating strong incumbent Maori Party co-leader Te Ururoa Flavell. Local sales reps need to influence and infiltrate local events whether they be discussion groups, extension or demonstration farms or help out at the local A&P show. They need to be the fabric of their communities. They should also look at how they can build their personal brand within the territories so they are more top of mind and thoroughly embedded in those districts.

4. Empathy

"You can make more friends in two months by becoming genuinely interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get other people interested in you." 
Dale Carnegie

Good political leaders genuinely understand the pressures and pain points of their local constituency. They lobby the appropriate contacts back in Wellington. I was always moved by Dr Pita Sharpell when he was interviewed after the very sad Kahui twins tragedy. This same level of empathy and authenticity needs to demonstrated by Territory Managers who should have their antenna tuned in so they can promote or argue for local support whether it be communal, social or technical. Making sure your men and women on the ground are empowered and have the mandate to act quickly and effectively is vital to getting, keeping and growing a loyal referring customer base. Having to continually go back to head office won't build their or their communities confidence. Just ask the banks.

5. Serve to Sell

"A sale isn't something you pursue: it's what happens to you when you are immersed in serving your customer" Anon

All good salespeople realise they are they to serve the needs - met and unmet - of their customers. Whenever you hear a politician, they will often speak they will talk about they are there to serve and protect the best interests of their constituents. The bad ones only serve themselves, a bit like conference speakers who blast you with nothing better than a glorified advertorial leaving their audience with nothing to actually use or take away for themselves. Having a one page manifesto will help guide you and your team to making the right decisions on how you best meet your customer's needs. What are top 3 things you will do to make a difference to the lives and businesses of your customers and community?  Write them down on one page as your own manifesto. And then make sure you do them!

6. Likeability
This one is a biggie. Politicians and likeability is an oxymoron but some, and only a few, have a certain charm about them. Whether you liked John Key or not, the majority of NZ liked him and found him popular PM. Same for Helen Clark. At the same time, I’ve never met a person I didn’t like get a sale from me. I need to warm to them and like them. People buy from people and there is no stronger example of this than in rural. Countless farmer panels I've run validate that farmers will always place people close to the #1 reason they do business with a rural supplier or company. For them business is all about people and relationships. Business should be a pleasure, not a chore. If you’re dreading to see your rep or know he or she is turning up because their order book is low then a long term customer relationship isn’t there. Turn up positive people!

In Jack Schaffer's book The Like Switch, he outlines the The Golden Rule Of Friendship: if you want people to like you, make them feel good about themselves. In the past, I always felt I shouldn’t get close to my customers and instead keep an emotional distance from them but this isn’t the case. Good customers can and should become friends. Business is so much more enjoyable that way.

"I've learnt that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel." Maya Angelou

And a special 7th? Trustworthiness.

Politicians and salespeople generally don’t score highly in polls so I didn’t want to include it. However the issue of a lack of trust can also become the biggest opportunity. The simplest and easiest way to become trusted is to do what you said you would and be genuine in your intent. Become a person of your word. Consistency builds trust. Inconsistency builds doubt.


Be a great personal and professional leader in your community through empathy and action. Listen, understand and act. Actions always speak louder than words or some self-serving quick sales pitch.

If you get these simple things right, the sales will follow.

Good luck.