Business Manager

February 6, 2009 09:09 AM

Fewer Farmers = More Supplier Visits

From his office overlooking fields stretching to the horizon, an Idaho wheat grower said he knew a salesman was coming—he could see the road dust five miles away! That was just 10 years ago. Today, that dust cloud is turning into a sandstorm. Why do so many people want to know you personally, and how can you best manage this to make the most of their visits?

The U.S. economy may be in a recession, but major manufacturers of high-tech ag products are hiring people faster than any time in 10 years. You have everything to do with this trend. Whether larger farms result in fewer, bigger suppliers or the other way around doesn't matter. To reach their growth objectives, all suppliers have to earn more of your business.

Here are some management tips:

1. Choose partners. Select companies that will help you reach your objectives, even if this means giving lower priority to some current suppliers.

2. Set appointments. You can't walk into your attorney's office and expect him or her to set aside what's already planned. Let your suppliers know you also operate on a professional schedule.

3. Be prepared. When setting an appointment, take a few minutes to review specific points that must be covered and confirm the meeting and agenda via e-mail ahead of time. Don't agree to a visit if it is something that can be handled with a quick phone call.

4. Meet on schedule. Keep on-farm meetings productive by getting together in your office and at the agreed-upon time. Let your visitors know if you're running late; their time is also valuable. Meeting in your office is almost always more productive than the kitchen or shop. Even if your office is a desk and file cabinet in the shop, it's a place where business gets done more efficiently and you're less likely to be interrupted. If there are younger family members interested in the discussion, have them participate; they will gain some valuable experience and begin to build relationships.

5. Stay on point. Keep the discussion productive by sticking with the purpose of the call and the agreed-upon agenda. Refer to your business plan, letting your visitors know that if you are to agree on any proposal, it has to fit within your plan. This way, if you turn down their request, it is clear that it has nothing to do with them personally but is simply because the discussion did not meet your expectations from a business standpoint. This will help make future discussions between you and these suppliers more
productive as it provides them with an opportunity to improve on their proposal before scheduling another appointment.

Your suppliers expect results as well. They can't always get a sale, but for the time they have invested it's only fair for you to share some nonconfidential insights that will help them manage their own company's expectations. It's likely they'll make an extra effort to provide leading-edge information in return for this courtesy.

When the time you've allotted for the visit has expired, take the initiative to wrap things up. This will coach your visitors to keep calls productive for both parties by finishing on time.

6. Follow through. When the call is finished, thank your visitors for their time and let them know you expect follow-up where commitments were made, by them or yourself. Managing supplier relationships also requires that important stakeholders—such as your local equipment, seed or fertilizer retailer—be kept in the loop where needed, as good communications have to go out in several directions to make this work.

7. Take a macro view. Leading international manufacturers, people with the right experience, can bring a broader world perspective right to your office along with current product or company information. Take advantage of their knowledge.

Joe Prochaska, a management adviser and writer, has 30 years' experience helping companies manage change with strategic planning, business development and market assessment. To contact Joe, e-mail

Top Producer, February 2009

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