Hunting for sales leads? Try farming instead

I like challenging you, our LBM Journal reader, with contrarian concepts such as the suggestion to replace the sales funnel with a sales sieve. This month’s contrarian concept is to stop hunting and start farming.

The metaphor presents obvious conclusions such as the fact that hunting kills your future food source whereas farming provides a more predictable supply. Hunting is an event-based transaction while farming is a strategic initiative that takes place over time. Both require great skills but, as a metaphor for LBM sales, I choose farming.

Consider the practical differences between quick transactions (hunting) and ongoing relationship development (farming). Most salespeople agree that a quick sale usually raises serious concerns about credit, errors on the quote, or the likelihood that buyers who jump so quickly from one supplier to another will often be disloyal to you.

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Most also agree that it can take months, sometimes years, to forge the start of a new relationship. A successful relationship provides ongoing purchases from loyal buyers. Building the relationship means planting new seeds of prospecting; nurturing relationships in the field; and harvesting opportunities when the time is right.

Before I go further, it bears saying that hunting (or foraging) as a metaphor for prospecting is entirely valid. The ideal candidate for success is a fearless pursuer of new business, which I equate to the process of prospecting to plant seeds of opportunity.

Planting seeds is the process of discovering new sales opportunities. Instead of expecting immediate success like the hunter, the farmer realizes the first step to success is understanding the right target for your soil. An ideal client is one who is loyal, pays on time at fair margins, buys multiple products from your portfolio, and offers you the long-term volume you need for business success. If you don’t stop to evaluate the type of harvest you seek, you may likely end up with a portfolio of high-maintenance, low margin, disloyal buyers—i.e. weeds.

Nurturing the right relationships requires an understanding of your clients’ businesses. I like to say that builders don’t build for a living; they sell just like you. They manage costs, just like you, to enhance profits. Tap into their challenges and provide solutions as the means to foster relationships before you start randomly bidding your prices to the market. This means more than selling and delivering a product better than your competition. It means helping your customers increase their sales success and operation efficiency, a process that takes time and relationship growth.

Harvest when the time is right by slowing the process and delivering your proposal after the right dialogue is established. The proposal is different than a bid. A proposal is an offer to engage in a long-term relationship. A well-crafted proposal identifies challenges your prospects and clients have not only with suppliers, but in their general business practices.

The hunter is a good metaphor for the retail salesman closing deals on cars, mattresses, timeshares, and other consumer goods, although a good farmer in those industries can do well also. It’s time to challenge the archetypal image of sales success. You may have noticed that the most successful salespeople are not necessarily hard-core, aggressive closers.

The salesperson that many buyers favor is the calm servant leader. This type of salesperson builds relationships and carefully handles details before and during the time when transactions occur. We are not in a “close the deal” business; long-term success just doesn’t happen that way in the construction industry. We are in a “build relationships” business; this means taking the time to plant seeds of opportunity, fertilize, and harvest when the timing is right. Try farming instead of hunting as your sales plan. The transactions might start a little slower, but the margins are better and results last infinitely longer.