EPISODE 553: Sales Lessons from the Cattle Ranch with Antarctic Mike Pierce and Todd Drake

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[EDITOR’S NOTE: This podcast was sponsored by the Institute for Excellence in Sales, and featured an interview with “Antarctic Mike” Pierce and Todd Drake, CEO of BALANCE4WARD, Cattle Feeding Management Company.]

Find Mike on LinkedIn. Find Todd on LinkedIn.

TODD’S TIP: “Be bold, make sure you’re uncomfortable every week, and first and foremost is be compassionate with your customer as you are with caring for animals.”

MIKE’S TIP: “Care more about the people you serve than you do about the sale. It’s really that simple. Very easy to understand and very difficult to do.”


Fred Diamond: Antarctic Mike, Todd Drake, it’s great to see you. This is the first time that we’ve interviewed somebody from the farming industry to talk about what have they learned that we can apply to sales. We do a lot of shows like that. Things like, we’ll talk to basketball performance improvement consultants or trainers. What can you learn from the basketball court?

I even interviewed a guy who was the opening comedian for Frank Sinatra for 14 years, the great Tom Dreesen. We talked about mindset lessons from the great Chairman of the Board, Frank Sinatra, but I’m really intrigued by this topic. Anarctic Mike, I’ve been aware of you for a while, I’ve seen you speak, we’re friends. You were telling me about this great project that you were doing and I said, “Yeah, I’d love to meet Todd Drake and I’d love to get him on the show and talk about some of the lessons that we can take from the farm and apply it to the sales professionals listening around the globe.”

So Antarctic Mike, why don’t you go first? Give us a brief introduction about yourself. Tee up how you came across Todd, and then Todd, I want you to introduce yourself, and then we’ll get into this. What can we learn from the farmland, from the profession of farming that the salespeople listening today can apply?

Antarctic Mike: Well, thanks Fred, for allowing myself and Todd to be on your program with your audience today. For those of you that don’t know me, I live in San Diego and I have been a fan of Antarctic history for about 20 years. I first got introduced to the Ernest Shackleton story in 2006. It’s a story of how 28 people got stranded in Antarctica for two years and eventually they all made it out alive.

I got so enamored with that story that I turned it into a course for my employer, and then went to Antarctica two times in the year 2006 to run a marathon and an ultra-marathon on an ice shelf. Ever since I got back from Antarctica, I’ve been a keynote speaker talking about practical lessons for the real world, be at leadership lessons and sales lessons based on stories from Antarctica.

I ran into Todd at a speaking engagement actually in his town in Nodaway Iowa, which is in southwestern Iowa about five or six years ago. I fell in love with this little town and mostly, I fell in love with the farming community because of the character of the people. The discipline and the character of the farmers. I saw something very similar in the farming community that I saw in Shackleton. This character of people that went through very hard things, and had such a healthy respect for these hard things and that’s how I ran into Todd, and so that brings us here today.

Fred Diamond: All right. Todd, it’s great to see you, and Mike, thank you so much for that. The Shackleton story is a fascinating one. I told you before we started, I was listening to one of my favorite podcasts this weekend and the former CEO of Spring talked about how he brought that story to his people to understand hardship and overcoming adversity. Todd, tell us a little bit about you. Tell us about your farm, and then we’ll get right into some specific things that we can talk about to help the salespeople listening today.

Todd Drake: Okay, great. I’m right in southwest Iowa and we’re in a pretty sparsely populated area. Like there’s 3,600 people in our entire county down here. I fell in love with this business, with my first sales job right out of college selling animal health and I just had to have a piece of the American dream. I wanted my own land, wide open spaces, raising my kids in the country and really was passionate about that.

Along the way, we get started in the cattle business. We actually live on a ranch today on this. We’ve got several, about 4,000 head of cattle running all around us, all four sides of our house and we live right in the middle of it and love it, and both kids are back involved. Along the adventure, we’re entrepreneurs at heart, probably first and foremost, and we’ve learned a lot of lessons starting this thing up from scratch. The livestock has taught us a lot and business has taught us a lot and we had some obstacles.

Anyway, we’ve grown our business to helping other people learn from our wins and losses along the way, and so BALANCE4WARD is a cattle feeding management company today. We own and place cattle and do some consulting for other feed yard and cattle owners in the Midwest. We just create opportunities for that mid-sized farming operation cattleman out there.

Fred Diamond: There’s a couple of things that you just said that we talk about every day on the Sales Game Changers podcast. You used the word service before. You also talked about obviously being an entrepreneur and we talk about that a lot. Even if you work for a large organization like an IBM, or an Oracle, or a Microsoft, you still need to have that entrepreneurial mindset.

Something you just said, I want you to expand upon. You said that you learn things from the livestock. Give us a little bit of a clue. I’m going to guess that most people listening to today’s Sales Game Changers podcast are not farmers, unless of course they’re connected on LinkedIn, but the majority people, they sell technology, services, hospitality, entertainment, some cases large global retail. What have you learned from the livestock?

Todd Drake: Great question. Well, first of all, livestock will teach you respect, for sure. My best day in sales when I was in my 20s and I figured out how to shut up and listen. That was my best day. Livestock has a mean way of teaching you lessons because I’ve been run over, kicked, everything else in the world by livestock, but they’ll actually teach you how to communicate. They’re actually a lot like people.

You hear about horse whispers and different things, and that’s the real thing. I mean, you’ve got to be able to communicate flight zone with cattle and if you move too quickly, it makes them take off. You have to read their body language and you have to listen to cattle, you have to watch their ears. Same way with colts and horses and all that. They will teach you and some of them, if you disrespect them, they will run over you once in a while.

Fred Diamond: This is definitely lessons that we learn from some of our customers. Antarctic Mike, again, you met Todd, you did a speech and he was in the audience. You’ve been relatively new I guess, to this market. It was really inspiring to hear from you, that you came to me and you said, “This guy Todd has some great lessons we can share to your audience.” What are some of the things that you’ve observed that we can apply from the farm profession to enterprise and B2B sales?

Antarctic Mike: Well, I’ll go back to about a year ago, this past April. I had spoken at a conference that Todd hosted for a bunch of his customers. There was a big conference they had in Omaha. After the conference was finished, Todd and I were sitting in his living room in his house and we were talking about how he wanted to grow the business. He wants to grow it to the point where he’s going to produce his own label of beef that consumers can buy.

I said to him, “Well, if I’m a consumer, why would I pick your label?” That’s a very fair question that every salesperson gets, right? Why would I pick you? Why would I pick your company and why would I pick you specifically? Todd didn’t have a real clear answer to that question at the time. I said, “Well, I’ll tell you what the answer is not. It’s not better quality, better price, better selection, any of this nonsense that I call it that sounds like a car ad.” I said, “Todd, they’re going to buy you, not the beef.”

We started talking. I said, “We need to find a story that tells me who Todd Drake is, not what he does.” We started digging and digging, and the story hit Todd between the eyes about two months ago. He called me he said, “Mike, I got the answer to the question. When I look at my mom and my dad and my grandparents and all these things I’ve learned from people on the farm, the one thing that’s constant is this, respect hard things.” I said, “Ding, ding, ding, there’s the story right there.”

This is the reason why of all 50 states, and I’ve been to all 50, my very single favorite state, and I’ll go on record, is the state of Iowa. That’s because I’ve fallen in love with this culture and this community of farmers because of what Todd said, respect the hard things. I mean, these are people that are getting up at four o’clock in the morning, people that are feeding the cows before they feed themselves. The discipline and the character of these people is exactly what’s missing in the real world today, especially in professional environments. If we had a healthier respect for hard things, everything would be different, including results that salespeople get. That’s what brought us to this point here today.

Fred Diamond: A couple of things I want to follow up on. By the way, I have a good friend who lives in Omaha, and I’m from Philadelphia. I’m based in Washington DC right now, Northern Virginia. We were talking about things that Omaha might be known for, and obviously, the first thing that comes to mind is Omaha Steaks, or Warren Buffett, depending on who you’re talking to. She said to me, “Nobody in Omaha buys Omaha Steaks because they’re too expensive.”

Mike is actually right. I mean, when I go to the supermarket, I trust that the steak I’m going to get from my supermarket or from my butcher is going to be a quality steak. I don’t dispute it. It wouldn’t be being sold, if you will. The angle there that Mike was talking about is really intriguing. Todd, I’m just curious. We talk a lot on the Sales Game Changers podcast about storytelling and about the fact that customers don’t want to hear features, benefits, price.

They want to get to that at some point, but they probably already know the features, benefits and price for almost anything that’s being sold on the internet, they could just find all those things. They want to know something different. They want to know how it’s going to help me, what’s in it for me, something interesting about you. When Antarctic Mike went to you and said, “I think there’s a story here about the hard work and the farming culture, etc.,” how was your response to that, and as a sales professional, how did that resound with you?

Todd Drake: Good question. When it comes to the meat itself, we’re stuck in the commodity business. That’s what stinks about being – pun intended – in the cattle industry. But we go and we put our heart and soul into raising something and trying to do it the right way and right genetics, the right care and taking care of those. It’s actually like running a hotel.

When the cattle come in, if they’re comfortable, and they got clean water and a clean place to lay, and the more comfortable they are on the hotel, the more satisfied they are and that’s what we’re shooting for. But when we sell the meat and it hits the retail markets, often it’s just primarily a commodity which is pretty frustrating. You have the entire marketing industry figuring out how to brand your product, and it doesn’t feel like you have much say in it.

I would bring that to a point where, what’s the difference? How would I relate that to my sales career is, honestly, stay away from the commodities as much as you possibly can. Customers don’t care about price, we all know that, but they really just want to know, is it a quality product and the people, are they going to do what they say they’ll do or they follow them through? We’ve lost that in our entire industry. Now the consumer doesn’t really per se trust the American farmer raising meat as much as we think they should and it’s hard. It’s a hard belief that there’s a disconnect in what we do out here in middle of America sometimes with what the reality of what we’re delivering and what the perception is of what we’re delivering out here.

Fred Diamond: Antarctic Mike, when you started working with Todd and then Todd, I have a follow up for you, what are some things that you learned, Antarctic Mike, about the farm sales process or the farm industry, things that were brand new to you? Then Todd, I want you to follow up with some things that we might not know.

Like I mentioned to you, my knowledge of beef is like go to the supermarket and if it’s too expensive like it’s been over the last couple of months because of supply chain, of course, it’s like, “Okay, well, maybe we’re not going to get steak this month. Maybe we’ll come back next month, we’ll eat fish or chicken”, which obviously you don’t want to hear. Antarctic Mike, what are some things that you learned? Then Todd, tell us some things that we don’t know, or give us a deeper appreciation for what you do.

Antarctic Mike: I’ll answer your question, and I’m going to start by deferring to a story from last night. I’m an NHL fan. For those of you that were watching last night, the Colorado Avalanche beat the Tampa Bay Lightning in Game 6 to win the Stanley Cup. The really amazing part of last night is the story of the Colorado Avalanche coach, a guy named Jared Bednar.

Jared took over at the very beginning of training camp in 2016 with barely any kind of time to bring in his own staff or his own plan. In the very first year that Jared was the coach of the Colorado Avalanche, they literally had the worst record in the NHL, literally. This guy has just been patient. He spent 14 years in minor league hockey before he got a break to coach in the NHL. The answer to your question is exactly what I took away from Jared Bednar’s story, patience.

I look at the farmers, they are patient. You can’t force rain, you can’t force heat, you can’t force sun, you can’t force all the elements it takes to grow the crops and raise the livestock and have the process of the farm go. Farmers are incredibly patient people. When I look at salespeople out there, I just see how impatient so many people are, and when you’re impatient, you start getting desperate, then you start pushing people, and you start selling and you start sounding like a human brochure full of bullet points and BS and nonsense. You’re coming at people like this, and people don’t want that, right? As opposed to somebody who’s patient, and who can step back from the process and not be so much like this. I think if salespeople could learn one thing from the farm, if the only thing they learned was be more patient, I think they would have better results, if that’s the only thing that changed.

Fred Diamond: That’s a great point. Todd, I have one quick question. When does an animal get turned into steak? So how old is it? Is it a year or two, 5, 10 years? Talking about patience, at what age is a typical animal – what’s the timeframe for the animal? Is steer or cow? What do you say?

Todd Drake: Steers and heifers. They’re just cattle. Cows are reproductive and they’re the ones that have the babies in this industry. Today, the average calf will be harvested in about 13 to 14 months of age, which we’ve cut that time in half from when I was a kid and it’s actually come from nutrition, most of it. We actually figured out back with the universities, the land grant universities figuring out things, we now feed them the right amount of protein, so they gain properly and we keep the insects out of them. We do proper vaccinations.

Actually, a lot of people may not know that, I would say the health of the animal we have nutritious come in, we know exactly how much, will the ideal amount of selenium, zinc, copper, manganese, all the micronutrients, they get that down to the micron every day. They don’t stop by the local convenience store and buy Twinkies like the rest of us [laughs]. They get fresh water every day, where the rest of us want to buy Mountain Dew and all the other soda pops, but anyway.

That’s probably one of the things, that the amount of work that goes into balancing the perfect diet for animals is probably unreal. Something you might not know is cattle are actually ruminants. Cows, buffalo, elk, goats, they have four stomachs. My cows don’t have upper teeth, so they’re made to eat grass. Right now there’s a debate whether if your cattle is grass-fed or if your steak is grass-fed or grain-fed. Well, all cattle are grass-fed at some level. They’ve all been on grass for most of their life. In the last 150 days, we typically feed them a more of a grain ration to finish them out. We can actually get them harvested at about 14 months of age that way.

Fred Diamond: Todd, one thing that we talk about on the Sales Game Changers podcast is, everybody who’s successful in sales is passionate about their customer. When people ask me, “Fred, what do you recommend I do?” First thing I say, “You know what? You got to be an expert in three things. You got to be an expert in your industry, you got to be an expert in your product, and you got to be an expert in the sales process.”

Tell us some things about your customer and how do you think about, we talked about the product, talk about some things that you think about on a daily basis to be successful in bringing your product to who your customer is. Then Mike, after Todd goes, what are some things that you’ve observed in a couple of months that you’ve been working with Todd that have occurred to you in that process? Again, you got to sell something. We already talked about the product. The ranch ain’t going be around if you’re not selling the cattle to somebody.

Todd Drake: Sure. We sell services, obviously. We charge so much a month to come in and consult with our customer. Then we have an account manager model. Their job is to come in and talk to them about what their primary pain points are and what their barriers are. With that, the number one pain point that they have today is just knowing when to go long and short cattle, corn and feed. The markets, the volatility, actually technology with communications has gotten so good, that the volatility drives some of these people crazy every day.

We’re constantly looking at how to simplify our message and how we help them simplify the markets, part of what they do and get it down to just a few numbers, because they don’t want a bigger to-do list. They actually want less to do and that’s the hard part. We’ve got all the information to help them do their business better and make more profit per head, but simplifying that down so they have a smaller task list, that’s the hard part.

Fred Diamond: So Antarctic Mike, what are some of the things that you’ve discovered over the last couple of months that go into that as well?

Antarctic Mike: Well, I’m going to defer to something you said, Fred, before you asked Todd the last question. You talked about caring about the customer, you talked about really being an expert in your product and in the sales process. I’ll defer to what I’ve seen with Todd and with his customers. He cares about the customer. I mean, really, really cares.

I’ve asked Todd on a number of occasions, “If I was one of your customers, one of the ranchers, and I did not engage the services of BALANCE4WARD in terms of helping me knowing how and when to buy cattle feed and when to buy cattle,” because that’s what their service does. It basically manages that process. I said, “Is it fair to say that some of those small independent farm people, would they not be in business if they weren’t following your prescription plan?” He said, “Absolutely.”

I thought to myself, this guy and these people really do care about the health and the well-being, not just of the business, but the people and the families that have been in that business on that particular piece of land, maybe for generations. I thought, if salespeople just cared a little bit more about the people, not caring about their quota, their commission, making the sale. Listen, the sale will come, sales and numbers are byproducts, instead of points of focus.

I see that in Todd, and I see how he cares about these people. I literally have been with him on these ranches sitting in front of these customers listening to the discussion. I will tell you, the discussions are not about spreadsheets and numbers, it’s none of that stuff. It’s about people. It’s conversations about people’s wives and people’s kids and really caring. When you get to the level of care where you’re invited into the inner circle, you’ll make all the sales you’ll ever need.

I think about salespeople, they’re so focused on getting the appointment. If I can just get a 15 minute appointment with somebody, then I’ve landed the plane, and I thought, that’s not the goal. The goal isn’t just to get the appointment, the goal is to get invited into the inner circle. I see Todd is invited into the inner circle of these people. He’s not just looked at as a vendor or as a provider, he’s looked at as a partner.

You think about this, if I’m a salesperson and I represent Oracle or Microsoft or whoever the company is, and I’m viewed as a partner and not as a provider, think about how everything from that point is different. I’ve seen that firsthand with Todd and with the people that he serves, and that’s a real lesson for all salespeople regardless of the industry that they’re in.

Fred Diamond: Thanks Antarctic Mike. Is there a big reason for that because of the generations? The fact that you just don’t go open up a farm or a ranch one day. I got to imagine that from where you are, I mean, that’s the industry. So families and generations, and you mentioned your children are involved. Is that the big part of it or can someone just move in and become a great salesperson in the industry that you do? Maybe sales hospitality or something like that?

Todd Drake: For sure. First and foremost, we absolutely do love our customer. I wouldn’t be here today. They actually invested in me financially. I had people take me in under their wing when I was a sales guy selling animal health right out of college. They just said, “Yeah, you can do this.” We’re out here working with these people. We want to make sure the entrepreneurial spirit and the farming community keeps going, and I don’t want to say the underdog, but that mid-market size farmer or rancher has a shot and just keeping that level playing field.

Fred Diamond: Can anybody just move into ranch related sales?

Todd Drake: Yes, you can. It’s just like starting any other business up, though. I mean, there’s a lot of heartache getting it started. If you’re entrepreneurial enough and you like economics and you like animal husbandry and like get your hands dirty and long hours, just like any other entrepreneur, it’s a great industry.

Antarctic Mike: I was going to say, Todd, you just reminded me of the story you told me and I won’t go into details here. But one of your customers early on when you started BALANCE4WARD came to you and said, “Hey, here’s some money, I believe in you, just pay me when you can.” I think to myself, how many salespeople’s customers would trust them to that degree? I mean, that’s evidence of the fact that you’ve earned your way to be invited into the inner circle of that guy. That’s a level of relationship that most salespeople read about, but don’t ever get to.

Todd Drake: Sure. No, that’s one of the best things of this business is people help people all the time, and I’m so humbled when that happened. I had multiple people just handing me. I said, if I go build a feed yard from scratch, I don’t got enough money, don’t like cattle, will you send me some cattle? I had multiple people say, “Yeah, I’ll send you hundreds of thousands of dollars.” and eventually ended up in millions of dollars in cattle that helped take care of my customer bases, it led a young guy get started. Love that about our industry.

Fred Diamond: I want to end with one question, and then I’m going to ask you for your action steps for sales professionals to take their sales career to the next level. Todd Drake, one out of every second or third show that we do, we talk about the concept of your why. It was made famous by a guy called Simon Sinek who did a famous TED Talk, where he talks about, there’s two sides to it, what is your why? One thing that we talk a lot about is you really need to know your customer’s why. Just before we get to the action steps, you’ve given us some ideas about your passion, the family, the history, what is your why? What is your why in being so successful at what you’re doing?

Todd Drake: Good question. My why is when I got started into this business, to be honest, it turned into about the money. I got so far underwater that I felt like I woke up every morning just trying to make another dollar. Along the way, things got really heavy. I woke up one day and I was mad at everybody. I was mad at my wife, I was mad at the people at work. Nobody would listen to me. I got to reminding myself as like, well, there’s only one common denominator here and that’s Todd Drake and maybe everybody else doesn’t stink. Maybe it’s Todd Drake that’s not so good.

I had a come-to-Jesus moment with myself there and I said, “Okay, I got to realign here” and I got to start focusing on making things simple, and I just decided just helping people. So my why is really not about the money anymore. It’s definitely about just helping that mid-market, the people that believed in me to get to where I’m at. I promised I would pay everything for that day, and I went out and hired a mentor at that point because I realized I am not near smart enough to do this on my own.

I was lucky to bring in an insurance guy that mentored me that was a godfather of Omaha. He promised me and he said, “You believe in people, put people first. Keep working on that, keep working on yourself and making sure you’re reading and making sure you’re answering to somebody, the money will show up.” I said, you know what? I learned many of these lessons when I have my mother sent me to Sunday school when I was five years old. Maybe I need to get back to the simple lessons that I learned when I was five. My why is just keep paying it forward. I want to make sure there’s this segment of the cattle industry in this segment of the farming. I don’t want our food supply in fewer hands every day. I wanted out here so we can have multiple hands. I think that’s healthy for the country.

Fred Diamond: Before I ask you for your final action steps, Antarctic Mike, I want to thank you for introducing us to Todd again. We could probably talk for another couple of hours. Like I mentioned, I have a very close friend who lives in Omaha, so we’re talking frequently about the culture and things related to that.

For people who don’t live in the farmland, we don’t really appreciate the hard work and what happens in the heartland about bringing food to us, not just meat, but dairy and bread and grains. Thank you, we’re all extremely grateful. We may not realize it, we may not show it all the time, but we’re so grateful for the family farm and the family ranch and everything that you and your people do to keep us fed and keep us fed around the world. Thank you so much, Todd, for that and hope you take that to heart. Antarctic Mike, give us your final action step, and then we’ll ask Todd, something specific that people can do in sales right now to take their sales career to the next level.

Antarctic Mike: Well, I think it’s fair to say that anybody who watches this segment of your show, Fred, is never going to look at a grocery store the same way again. I will say that my final thought for people is this as I look at the farm and the lessons that are applied, care more about the people you serve than you do about the sale. It’s really that simple. Very easy to understand and very difficult to do.

Fred Diamond: That’s very powerful and Todd’s given us a great insight into that. Todd Drake and Antarctic Mike, thank you so much. Todd Drake, give us your final action step, something people should do right now to take their sales career to the next level.

Todd Drake: Be bold, make sure you’re uncomfortable every week, and first and foremost is be compassionate with your customer as you are with caring for animals.

Transcribed by Mariana Badillo

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