Dan Custis CEO and Co-Founder, ABM

I started in the biologicals business as a salesperson in 1977. Back then, it wasn’t uncommon for other agricultural stakeholders to refer to biological products as snake oils, or what I call fufu dust. We had our work cut out for us building the credibility of our sector and our businesses. 

Now, some four decades later, I’m the head of a successful biologicals company in an ever-expanding marketplace where our products are taken seriously because of the crop health, quality and yield benefits they provide. But we didn’t get here overnight. 

When I began as a salesperson, there was no social media or even an Internet. We used slides and overhead projectors to make sales presentations to prospective customers. A company depended on its sales managers and advertising and marketing teams to do their homework and to help its salespeople, like me, to attract and retain customers. And the sales call was the driving force behind the company.

It’s really no different today — we’ve just got different tools. However, what hasn’t changed is the importance of building your company’s credibility and reputation. I’ve spent many years figuring out how to do just that. Here’s what I’ve learned so far:

Integrity is essential

Your salesforce is your frontline when building your credibility in the industry. They have the most contact with the companies you are doing business with. The qualities of each and every person on your sales team could make or break your company’s reputation.

One of the qualities your salespeople must have is excellent communication skills, which will help them build rapport with their customers. Your salespeople should also be honest, sincere and moral. The integrity of your salespeople is integral to your company’s performance and is something that can’t be faked. It is vital to everything we do and how we do it. 

Your salespeople must also understand it takes time to build credibility and relationships with the people they’d like to do business with. In my experience, it takes about 10 personal calls to a prospective client to build the trust required to enter into a business relationship. It’s also important to have one sales team member be the main contact for a client and that person must be consistent in their dealings with the client. 

In addition, when calling on potential customers, don’t waste their time. Have something of value for them, such as information they can use to further their own goals. That information doesn’t have to be about the product you are trying to sell them, it could be information you’ve picked up about the industry. 

Let the numbers do the talking

Make sure all information you are presenting to potential customers is accurate, especially data of any kind (e.g. trial data). 

In our industry, independent, third-party data speaks volumes. Concentrate on building third-party data to validate the claims you’re making about a product. This data, in particular, increases your company’s credibility.

Recruit professionals with the proper credentials for your business. Having qualified employees will only raise your company’s credibility and reputation. Our scientists have the required backgrounds and knowledge to conduct our R&D. Not only do they have the correct credentials, but they were already established in their specific fields before being recruited by ABM. 

Consider the company you keep. Who are you doing business with? Are they well respected and credible in the industry? How many years of experience do you have working with them? Working with highly-valued companies in the industry will boost your own company’s credibility.

Partner up

Partnering with respected universities or industry institutions that already inspire confidence will also enhance your company’s credibility. Before Dr. Gary Harman became our chief science officer, he was a distinguished scientist at Cornell University. 

Our relationship began when I contacted him about collaborating on some work. We developed ideas and then projects to carry out together. From that work, we developed four new products. The relationship with the right person at a university or institution can be critical. 

Many years ago, most of the recommendations on soybean production, inoculants and seed treatments in the Midwest were made by Dr. Jim Beuerlein, who was at the time an Ohio State University scientist and professor. We worked very closely with him on soybean inoculants, and we still collaborate with Ohio State to this day. Establishing a good reputation with these types of institutions through project development and research trials can be crucial to building a company’s credibility. 

Be true to your word

Perhaps the most important point of all to increasing your company’s credibility, and yours, is if you say you’re going to do something, do it. You must follow through and be a person of your word. This is something I learned very early on and has served me well in business and in life.

How many times in a week do you say you’re going to do something, and you carry that action out? This directly affects your credibility with others and how you view yourself.

One can’t talk about business credibility and reputation and not mention social media. The message or information you are delivering must be consistent across all platforms. It must also be concise, accurate and useful to your audience. Additionally, ensure the basic message you want your audience to receive is part of your overall sales strategy.

The tools we use to deliver our messages may have changed — now we have the ability to reach thousands of potential customers with the click of a button, but without credibility, who’s listening?