By Chris McClure, Contributing Editor

From our first cry demanding that we be fed, to our final grasp at fleeting life, we are in sales. We expend our existence trying to obtain what we desire by negotiating, finagling, trading and otherwise pursuing the things we want. We establish value by what we are willing to give in order to get. We are born into a life of sales – all of us, without exception.

Most people cringe at the idea they are in sales. Their image of sales is from the commercial for used cars in which a very loud and fast-talking individual is hawking a piece of junk to some unsuspecting victim. It’s a picture of high pressure, no-holds-barred selling. It’s not appealing and is something to be feared.

Ultimately, a sale comes down to an exchange of value. You have something that I want that you are willing to exchange for something I have. At the moment of the exchange, both parties’ “perceived” value is aligned. The value is not entirely monetary in nature; it also consists of utility, which is the perceived filling of a need, and includes satisfaction of emotion, which might include fear or desire.

“Perceived” value is at the heart of all sales. The trouble with value is that it can be slippery. What I believe something is worth may not be the same as what you or someone else believe it to be worth. It’s dependent on the individual, their situation and their need at a specific moment in time.

If I try to sell a glass of water to a drowning man, it isn’t likely to happen. However, if that same man were dying of thirst in the desert, I could get almost any price he is able to pay for that same glass of water.

When we sell a product, in order to obtain the highest price possible for that product, we must first identify potential buyers who have a need for what we are selling. If we are selling cattle, we must first realize that all cattle aren’t the same – even with the hide off. They vary tremendously in size and quality. They have a wide variation in cost to produce as well as in utility to the ultimate consumer.

In order to identify the best potential buyers for our product, we must put on their boots for a time. Learning what drives their decision making is key to identifying the potential buyers who would value our product most highly. Not only do you need to be able to understand what drives your potential buyers’ decision making, you must know your product thoroughly so that you are able to match your product to the needs of possible buyers.

According to Wayne Morgan, co-founder and CEO of The Real Estate Business School, “If you want to know why John Smith buys what John Smith buys, you must see the world through John Smith’s eyes.” This applies whether we are taking calves to the sale barn, negotiating with a cattle buyer for some large feedlot, or dealing with a packer buyer.

I have spent the majority of my career in sales even though my business card usually reads “manager.” I never felt like a manager should sit in the office; I subscribed to (and still do) the policy that I needed to be hands on, talking to customers and learning their business as much as I needed to be managing my own. It has paid off because understanding what drives my customers’ needs has allowed me to identify those who would benefit from what I had to offer.

If I failed to make a sale it was due to one of several things: 1) I failed to educate the potential buyer adequately; 2) I didn’t understand their needs completely; or 3) I saw that my product really didn’t fit their situation. When I learned that sales was a matter of understanding and identifying needs that I could meet, my life became easier. Fear was replaced by the satisfaction of making other people’s lives easier by bringing them something that met their needs.

As an industry, we need to better understand how our product meets our customers’ needs. We also must remember that our customer isn’t always the consumer. The cattle industry and agriculture in general are built upside down from most industries. In most industries there are a handful of factories selling to a larger number of middlemen who sell to an even larger number of retail stores. In the cattle industry, there are huge numbers of cow-calf producers who sell to fewer stocker/backgrounders who sell to even fewer cattle feeders who sell to a handful of packers. Our customer is the next person who will own that animal, not necessarily the consumer.

Hopefully, the desires of the consumer will be conveyed through the supply channel to all interested parties; however, that merely influences how each customer along the supply path perceives value, it’s not the only driver of his decision making. He must also consider the impact on his operation, the effect on his costs and the impact on marketing opportunities. Consumer preference is one of many signals, but not the only signal.

We also must remember that sales is not merchandising or marketing. Sales is the transaction. It occurs in an environment impacted by marketing – which is demand creation. Merchandising is the staging of our product in the most favorable light.

May we all sell at a premium while keeping our costs low.

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