Supersalesmen, food and belief

Recently, the Resilience Project was invited to visit Malawi–the poorest country in Africa. It’s a lush and beautiful country populated mostly by small farmers.  Our job was to develop a model marketing plan for small producers in Malawi.  Most farmers love to farm, not sell.  That’s why cooperatives can be helpful.  They enable farmers to band together to hire folks to do the selling, so that the farmers can concentrate on production.


What small producers often don’t realize is the difference between selling and marketing.  Good marketing is a system of feedback from the customer to the producer so the producer modifies the product to meet the consumers’ needs.  The goal of marketing is to make selling superfluous.

Many small farmers are finding that they can sell much more than just food.  They can sell an experience that promotes health.  When they sell a tomato or a guava, they can provide much more than the large company.  Small producers can often sell a product which is fresher, tastier, healthier and comes from a family who really cares about the well-being of their customers.

Large companies often don’t have products which can compete with the small producer.  Their products have to be tough so they can be shipped long distance and look good on the grocery shelf for days.  Small producers can sell tender produce picked at the peak of nutrition and bred for taste, not shelf life.

So large companies have to employ supersalesman.

Supersalesmen sell themselves first, then their product.  They sell a story about how unique and remarkable they are. Then they tell stories about their product—for instance, how the soil and the plants were lovingly tended, how persistence resulted in triumph.

Supersalesmen are never in doubt. People are more likely to believe in something if they see others believe strongly in it.  Supersalesmen know this. So whatever they believe, they resolve to believe it strongly and passionately. That gets you to drop any last doubts about what they’re selling to you.

They can say, “This is the best” with a straight face. And with perfect confidence. Because they truly believe their product is the best.

Supersalesmen know a high price is often seen as proof of value.  The reality is that many people don’t want to buy the cheapest brand available. They want to be associated with Gucci, not Sears.  Supersalesmen recognize small farmers often don’t charge as much for their products as they should.   The supersalesman creates the perception that he or she is simply worth more than you. If you price yourself like a Hyundai while others price themselves like BMWs, people will see you in a dimmer light, even if you’re better than the competition.

Small producers can learn from the supersalesmen.  We have a product which is much better than theirs and should command a higher price.  Since we have a product we believe in, so will our customers.

Unfortunately supersalesmen are invading the world of local, sustainable and organic foods.  Many farmers markets have folks who sell supermarket cast-offs as if they had grown them. Luckily most of us can identify them for the evil they are.  And we can alert others to their presence and root them out..

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