After being without anyone even remotely qualified for the position for some time, our local farmers Co-op recently hired a livestock feed specialist and yesterday he found my driveway, and, after a little hunting and some time he found me. He caught me at a good time; I was just finishing up feeding horses and I had a few minutes to spare for him before I geared up for the next job. He had my immediate empathy because I know how hard it is to turn up laneway after laneway when one is uninvited.
I was an agricultural sales rep for many years myself and when I started calling on farmers way back in the day, I quickly figured out that it was time to tread pretty carefully when calling on someone who a) used to BE a sales rep themselves, b) was successful enough at it that he went from selling things to farmers to being a full time farmer, and c) used to call on (and had a long history with) the company that I now worked for.
In this case, I am all three of these things and it became pretty clear very quickly that the new sales rep clearly hadn't been prepped on what to do about this before he turned in my driveway. However, in the interest of maintaining full disclosure, I came clean with him pretty quickly, and to his credit he stopped trying to sell me things I couldn't use and started asking some relevant and pertinent questions, which is honestly what he needed to be doing in the first place. He seems like a nice young lad; very earnest and very eager to please, and both these things will stand him in good stead in his current position and, later on, elsewhere.
Everybody has to start somewhere and I don't know of anyone who ever started a job that didn't find the learning curve to be pretty darn steep no matter how good or how long the pre-hire training program was. That said, there are a couple of things that agricultural firms could and should do to help ensure the success of their newly hired sales staff.
The first thing would be to give non-local new hires some basic training in what sort of agronomic problems one was likely to run in to in the local area before they hit the road. It's always been my opinion that farmers ought not to have to train sales people in addition to buying things from them, yet it's rare to find a sales rep who received the sort of training that might permit him to make a running start.
The second thing would be to insist that new reps attend a short course in sales psychology prior to hitting the road. Selling feed and farm supplies for a local company in a local market is not a one time sale. Instead, it's an ongoing process and it requires a fairly delicate application of relationship sales skills plus a servant's heart on the part of the salesperson if he is to be successful.
If a poor sales rep is an Achilles heel to both the company that he works for and the customers and prospects he serves, a good one is an invaluable asset to the company and to his clients. It'll be interesting to see which direction our Co-op's new hire travels over time.
Back to the Grind
2 hours ago