Not just a Buyers’ Guide but also a Sellers’ Guide

December 03, 2009
Written by Gary Jones
Ever seen the Dragon’s Den program on TV? The essence of it is that inventors, or folks with great ideas or even a fledgling business that needs a cash injection, try to sell their genius “money-back-in-no-time” concept to a panel of highly successful investment experts for a (significant) cut of the spoils. Sometimes, they are annoyingly simple, “why didn’t I think of that?” ideas proposed by folks who clearly lack common sense. Sometimes, otherwise seemingly sensible, clear-thinking folks have just let an absolutely nutso idea get the better of their judgment.

Not often enough, there’s a combination of an “are you serious?” bad idea and forlorn sales ability – great moments.

Occasionally, it all comes together and a deal is struck.

So, what makes one person better at introducing a new idea than the next person? How much is luck, how much is good skill or judgment, how much is just perfect timing? In this Buyers’ Guide edition, what about a Sellers’ Guide?”

Too many years ago now, I was “secretary” to a group of glasshouse tomato growers in southern England. Each month, every grower sent in their crop sales, grade and average price. Basic information, nothing fancy. My job was to convert the numbers to net income per square metre, or a similar comparable unit, and return everyone’s collated information (no names attached) to all group members. It was staggering how growers of similar technical ability could sell virtually identical produce yet vary so greatly in their income. Clearly, some had achieved an almost alchemist-like ability of turning tomatoes into more money than other growers could. (Maybe we should do this here – want to join a group? Let me know.)

The inaugural season of the Langley Community Farmers Market recently came to an end. It went well, for a first year. It was a steep (vertical?) learning curve for many on the board. Months of careful – occasionally stumbling into strategic – planning brought opening day with deserved excitement (resplendent with local dignitaries, sunshine and an amazing cake) to over a thousand happy customers.

“Week two” brought major headaches, courtesy of nearly 1,500 visitors, overwhelmed parking lots, and “sold-out” vendors. How fortunate to have those kinds of “challenges.” Things calmed down and the market meandered through a regular attendance of around 30 vendors and 600-700 regular customers before tailing off to steady attendance by the end of summer.

Each week, vendors were asked to provide the market manager with a simple “sales achieved” figure. Returns were anonymous, apart from being identified by type of vendor (produce, crafts, etc). Within a category, there were clearly vendors who could out-sell other vendors of their type. What makes one market stall sell more (and at higher prices) than the vendor next door? How much is product quality, reputation, visual appeal or just having the best location at the market?

I’m not sure I have the answers to all of these questions. No, actually, I’m sure I don’t have all the answers. But what I do know is that sometimes we get so caught up in the technical aspects of growing that it’s easy to miss areas of business where we can make significant – drastic even – improvements to the bottom line.

Obviously, increasing knowledge and ability to control hungry pests, energy-sapping diseases, to tweak crop growth, or improve product quality are all vitally important. But when was the last time you consciously spent any research dollars on increasing net income by 10 per cent through changes in marketing or sales abilities, or ways of increasing the price of your product? How much difference would that make to profitability? It’s easy to measure the success of finding a new control of pest “x.” Maybe it’s not so “measurable” to do the same with marketing and sales.

A couple of years ago I came across a website that promised to answer why one person is better at introducing a new product than the next person. I duly resolved to return and look at it when I had time.

I did so today.

Guess what?

The website is “For Sale.”

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