The role of farm input salespeople has changed remarkably as farming has evolved. No longer are dealers and sales reps just order takers talking features and benefits to find the most appealing fit for farmer customers.
Today, the farm dealer is an order maker who uses a combination of business knowledge and key insights to help farmers make the right product and service choices, says Scott Downey, agricultural economics associate professor at Purdue University.
In this interview, Downey explains how the nature of farm sales has changed over the years. In an era where the four Ps of marketing – product, price, place, and promotion – can be virtually indistinguishable, Downey notes that many companies and their sales staff now rely on customer service to earn the sale.
But customer service is not just the ability to deliver seed or a new tractor on time, says Downey. He notes that for the relationship to be equally beneficial, both parties have to be willing to invest. Salespeople need to be good listeners who can draw on agronomic and farm management insights to select the best products to help farmers meet the unique business goals of their farming operation. Equally, farmers have to be willing to share information about their farming challenges, goals and objectives to allow salespeople to identify and deliver true value for their business.
Downey says it’s important for sales people to build trust and understand a farmer’s business strategy – something he describes simply as “where the farm is today, where they want to be in the future and how they can use resources to get there.” Acting on this knowledge to create value and deliver insights is one of the keys to the future of farm sales networks, says Downey.
If salespeople are not delivering value, they risk being rendered obsolete by Internet direct sales where products are only a keystroke away, says Downey who also offers insights on how salespeople can communicate most effectively with farmers in the digital age.
“We have to have the right communications tool at the right time,” says Downey. “When things are flying fast and furious during harvest or calving season, texting is an invaluable tool,” but email, phone calls and face-to face meetings still play an important role in building and maintaining a trusting relationship where ideas and information is exchanged.