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How To Stop Your Sales Reps Holding You To Ransom

 In All, Rural Sales

Rural reps often regard your customers as their own, referring to them as “my customers” which is a telling choice of language.

Book-buying only reinforces this fact.

We see this happen all the time in the seed, feed, rural real estate and farm machinery game reinforcing it’s not just what you know but who you know.

It does always come down to relationships but instead of focusing on the one between rep and customer, you need to think about the one between you and your reps. And the one you have as a company with your customers.

Think of it like a triangle with your rep at the top, customer on one corner and you as the company on the other.

Grab a pen and draw it on a piece of paper (like I have done below, badly!):

The line between rep and customer will be reinforced if the line between customer and company isn’t. Same for the line between rep and company.

If either of these other two lines are dotted or weak (rep > company + company > customer) whilst the other is bold and strong (rep > customer) then you have “rep risk”.

This is because relationships are multi-faceted. They are inter-related and co-dependent. They are complicated, not simplistic.

If you expect or allow your rural sales rep to have full responsibility for the customer relationship, then you only have yourself to blame.

You’ve allowed a situation where the bigger bond has been built between rep and customer, rather than you and your rep or your customer and your company.

When a company fails to communicate with its customers it only reinforces its reliance on its reps to be the one line of communication. Again, reinforcing and bolding that same line even further.

The rep risk becomes that rural rep holding the company to ransom knowing they have a better relationship with their customers than the company does that employs them.

They know they could walk away with those customers or they’re confident those customers would follow them. 

This problem is easily fixed with some simple actions.

Firstly, rural sales reps need support. They often work remotely in isolation and when they don’t get this support they will take responsibility for the relationship themselves because they have no other option.

If the company they work for doesn’t support them with the right tools and materials it can threaten the chances of a profitable relationship so they take action.

They do what they need to secure that relationship or sale because their livelihoods rely on it.

So here are some suggestions for “rep risk” mitigators:

1. Get out and about – a business owner turning up on farm to meet a customer sends a massive message (faces vs. faceless)

2. Create company events that bring customers together (adding other customers to the mix builds bigger bonds to the business as the facilitator)

3. Commit to customer communications that build the relationship between company and customer, not just rep

4. Develop a company persona that’s always in character and knows its values (just like the personality of your rep, people buy from people – and companies – they know, like and trust)

The big one from this list is the often missing and over-looked relationship:

  • the one between customers and your other customers.

You know, like me, that farmers listen to and trust their own the most.

Case studies, testimonials, open days, demo days and on-farm field days all work well so double down on these.

They are powerful when done well because what others say about you matters much more than what you say about yourself.

Sometimes unfortunately the sad case is some of your rural reps will go rogue when they don’t feel supported. 

They’ll see their survival and success dependent on the customers they serve, not their employer. As a result, they may end up siding with the customer because it starts to become a ‘them and us’ situation eg. “Yeah head office really doesn’t get it. I’ll look after you even if they don’t.”

When you have a situation like this it’s a sign your sales support system is broken and your relationships need renewing.

CRM will only get you so far. It never represents the silver bullet. 

Most reps hate all the recording for the sake of no or little reporting. They see CRM as something that gets in the way of them making sales so they resist it. Hard. And that’s why so many CRM implementations fail in spectacular expensive fashion.

CRM is one type of sales support but you’ll need many more.

The best thing you can do to build a bigger bond with your reps is to teach and train them to be the very best they can be. That way the relationship they have between themselves and their customers becomes a conversation between you and them about our customers.

An important distinction and one borne out of trust.

They see you helping them in every way you can to see them succeed. That way, they are much less likely to leave you because they trust you have their best interests at heart.

So think about that triangle.

  • How strong are those lines connecting rep, customer and company?
  • If one side (or line) folds does the sales relationship collapse too?
  • What about fortifying that triangle into a square by introducing a fourth relationship, that of other customers?

That square will become more resilient to outside competitive forces than any triangle.

Each of its sides represent strong lines of defence, not weak ones.

There are more sides of the relationship to rely on, making it less susceptible to competitor threat or entrants.

In the military this is known as an Infantry Square. It was used effectively by the British in the Napoleonic Wars and the Battle of Waterloo as an impenetrable defence that was highly resilient to enemy attack from any side.

You can create the same – remembering you are only as strong as your weakest link.

You could run this risk exercise with your team.

You could even create relationship health scores for each line.

The fact is until you pay more attention to your relationships you only get the relationships you deserve. 

The most important sales relationship is the one between you and your rep.

It always starts there.

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