I’ve often heard from farmers that a big issue is finding a market for what you produce. Without one, your beautifully grown flowers will be all dressed up with nowhere to go. If we don’t sell blooms this year, how will we have a wallet thick enough to plant seeds for next year?
To cultivate a market, we need to add one more hat to the many we already wear: that of salesperson.
The word sales instills fear and performance anxiety in many people. Yet the sales world isn’t a distant, foreign land to be occupied with a held nose.
I think about sales as a conversation. It’s about connecting with people. When you connect well, later a relationship develops. As with all meaningful relationships, they take time to build. A friend and new business owner complains that the business isn’t taking off yet. She has only been doing it six months! Sure, we all have heard of overnight sensations, but they are the miracles and exceptions. Be prepared to do the work.
Begin where your feet are planted
Before you plant the first seed, start building those relationships. Venture online. Before you visit your first potential buyers, get to know them through social media. Check out the content they publish. Follow their tweets and Instagram pages. Read their LinkedIn profiles and blogs. Respond to content that appeals to you, be it a “like,” a simple reply or providing value. Mentally note your commonalities to discuss when you meet. Doing this work will raise your profile and make people curious about you as well. They might click on your profile, see that you have a farm and reach out. I’ve had this happen.
Learn to listen and listen to learn
Ask potential customers focused questions about their market and potential needs. Doing this allows you to uncover what makes them tick and identifies hurtles you must overcome. On a deeper level, you’re giving of yourself and showing you care about them; you want to understand and get them.
Buyer behavior is not hearts and flowers. You need to be unromantic about it because you cannot sell the unsellable. You may love red roses to the moon, but if your buyer is truly happy with his supplier, it will be difficult to get him to switch to you, a stranger. Before you make your farm exclusively red roses, research what’s needed, what buyers want, and how to differentiate your product from all others. It might be a matter of rethinking some ideas and replacing them with new ones.
When you are ready to explain your idea or present what you have, you’ll know how to describe it in a way that resonates with the buyer. People like to hear about ideas and what you have to offer. They need to hear about benefits and what's in it for them even more.
Give and you shall receive
Guess what? When you take an interest in people, they generally respond in kind. They become invested in helping you succeed. Always be willing to share. Already have flowers in production? Be willing to give away some product. Let customers test it free. Listen and learn how their customers have reacted, why it worked and why it did not. The year I tested product, before I sold anything, I gave those flowers away, and the following year when I decided to have a farming business, they were customers.
People are human tip jars
Nothing beats real conversation with real people. I have gotten the best money-and-migraine-saving tips from the mouths of wholesalers. Flower farming is a regionally-based business, so what you read online about the best flowers to grow may not be right for you. Factors such as climate, soil conditions and, most important, local taste, really count. Colors that designers and event planners buy for floral arrangements here in the northeast are different from colors in the southeast. My test garden included yellow dahlias but wholesalers told me not to bring any to market because their customers wouldn’t purchase them.
Take to the roadIf you have beautiful inventory that isn’t moving, never despair. Local flowers can find market. Remember, we live with expiration dates. Load up the truck and travel from flower shop to flower shop and simply show your wares. Purveyors of flowers want reliability, good flower quality and long lasting in the vase, all at a good price. A store may only buy a few stems, but that’s how you start to create a customer base. You never know when you might arrive in the “this was just what I was looking for…” sweet spot.