Just Ask To Sell More

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I met a new friend who works in the rubber industry as a sales manager. He is a great guy who is deeply involved in that industry, as well as with his church and the Michigan State University (MSU) community. His wife is also involved with MSU activities as a Master Gardener and volunteers as a docent in the 4-H Children’s Garden. They are both active in the music department and athletic department at MSU. They attend all hockey, football, men’s and women’s basketball games, and so on. They are really true Spartans!

The couple also is active in the community and their neighborhood where my friend’s wife serves as treasurer of the homeowners’ association. I enjoy observing all the activities they are involved in and seeing how happy they are!

An Outsider’s View

Recently, I asked my friend to take a look at our industry. From the information I gave him he said, “Selling in your industry isn’t much different from selling in any other industry. The main goal is to get your industry back to work again.”

I told him we have built the industry from a couple hundred million dollars to more than $4.5 billion in less than 30 years. We now have the technology to produce billions of plants in a short period of time. Our plants can be used for food, pharmaceuticals, ornamentals, bio-fuels and fiber. We are the plant factories of this country, creating products that can be used for all aspects of our economy.

While we know how to produce all these billions of plants, we need to learn more about how to sell them.

“It’s time to think out of the box,” he said. “You are the plant factories. You produce plants and do it well. You can use these factories 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

You can grow what you want when you want. Your production is unquestionable. You can be the most productive plant factories in the world.”

He went on to explain: “For example, the U.S. government spends millions of dollars to help foreign countries feed their people. Why shouldn’t the government contract with growers to produce plugs or started plants for these countries to finish?

“If they don’t know how, set up a system to teach the basics of how to do the task. If they can’t learn how to do it, ship them the finished product.”

I know there are more than 1 billion people in this world who go to bed hungry every night. It is a shame because they can’t eat money, but they surely could use some food. We have the production system to solve the problem, but someone needs to put the information technology, logistics and marketing together to make it happen.

I said to my friend, “I have often said I would be more thankful to eat corn and have bio-fuel than to eat sand and have oil.” I asked him, “What do we need to do to utilize our greenhouse facilities to their maximum?”

He responded: “Just ask, like any good salesperson would do. Observe and ask what people want and need.”

Attitude, Skill, Knowledge

He then explained what the three letters in the word ASK meant.

A – You need a positive attitude.
Make a friend. Be a friend. Solve their problems. Find out what they need, when they need it and how you can help them make money or address a need they have.

S – You need skill.
This is something you acquire by learning the techniques necessary to grow a plant. Many people learn these skills with years of experience. The old saying is you can tell people what to do or you can show people what to do, but they will only learn the skill by doing it themselves.

As I’ve written before, my brother and I had a discussion on how to acquire the skills to effectively grow plants. We finally agreed that 16 years of practical experience is about equal to a four-year horticulture degree. However, the student with the horticulture degree must also have one year of on-the-job experience. People with either of these degrees of experience should have the skills to produce almost any plant product that grows on earth with the potential to do it faster and better than it grows in its natural surroundings.

However, our sales skills may be what’s missing in the equation. Even if we ask what people want and need and when they need it, we must still develop the ability to market what we produce.

K – You need knowledge.
Knowledge is always a limiting factor. Once we have identified the plant needed, we need to exploit it. We need learn everything about the plant in order to use it to our advantage. It may take time, money and scientific research to accomplish this. So a strong research and development program is always critical. More of this effort is being done by private industry, but there is still a great need for research from the USDA Agricultural Research Service and the Agriculture Experiment Stations at our land grant institutions, as well as from private foundations.

We need to improve our knowledge. We have to invest in logistical technology to enable us to move a perishable product, not only from state to state but from country to country. We need to focus not only on post-harvest physiology but on pre-harvest physiology

Hold On For The Ride

It will take time, effort and energy to do all the work to answer the questions we would like to have answered in our knowledge base, but we are in the best position to make it happen.

My friend reminded me again, “Don’t put yourself in a box, but look outside the box and see the tremendous potential you and your facility have. An idea can turn to dust or magic, depending on the talent that rubs against it.”

People who succeed usually consider their work as play they love. They know the truth they believe, and when spoken with a smile, can penetrate the mind and reach the hearts of others who can help make their vision happen.

So now we need to ask the question: How do we survive this recession/depression?

1. Be positive! Follow your goals!

2. You are 100 percent responsible for your career and where you are going.

3. Beware of conventional thinking!
You need to get your own facts and data and assess the state of your business.

4. Cover yourself.
Make sure your retirement savings, health care and other “perks” are under your control.

5. Be aware of people who promote “good financial deals.”
Most of them are now unemployed. Never deal with a person who has fewer assets than you who is trying to tell you what to do with your assets.

6. Justice will prevail, but it usually takes time and money to make it happen.
There are few of us who know plants and how to grow them − you are one of the chosen few. Use your talents wisely. You will be a great asset to our country and the world as a whole.

Will Carlson is a Michigan State University emeritus professor who has devoted his career to educating growers. He also had the vision to launch Greenhouse Grower magazine with Dick Meister more than 25 years ago.

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