Where have all the salespeople gone?

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It’s easy to assume that today’s farmer is bombarded with salespeople trying to get them to buy products for the farm. After all, buying farm products, inputs in particular, is very predictable. In the fall farmers will begin purchasing seed for next year, then book fertilizer, and chemical, etc. This differs from livestock farmers that have to buy feed all year round – it’s not a discretionary purchase.

But according to a recent survey conducted by RealAgristudies, today’s farmer is only being called on by about seven different salespeople. This is nearly half of what it was in 2012. So this begs the question: where have all the salespeople gone?

There is no doubt the pandemic changed our behaviours in many ways — one in particular related to how we interact with each other. Early in the pandemic, many salespeople were asked to stay home. In the same survey, RealAgristudies asked farmers about their primary interactions with salespeople during 2022 and, on average, 40 per cent of farmers indicated their primary interactions with salespeople were face-to-face, meaning about 60 per cent indicated it was text, phone, or virtual. In some cases, farmers indicated that they weren’t contacted at all – by anyone!

It’s easy to blame these numbers on the pandemic, but there might be a bigger issue at play. It’s quite possible that one reason salespeople are more passive than they used to be is many feel that farmers don’t want them coming by.

I work with lots of young salespeople, many of whom lack the experience of their older counterparts and the confidence to engage in activities like cold-calling. Many feel their presence might be perceived as a nuisance; it’s a lot easier to text or phone someone and bypass the feeling of “intruding.” But when asked how farmers wanted to interact with their salespeople, nearly 60 per cent of farmers indicated their preference was face-to-face.

Furthermore, almost three-quarters of farmers indicated that they only get five visits a month from all the different salespeople calling on them. It appears there’s a disconnect between perception and reality.

What are the consequences? As time and technology both advance, farmers are going to have more choices with respect to how they do business. This is already changing with the rise in online buying options. The same survey explored farmers’ intentions related to purchasing farm products online and with the exception of a few, most indicated that it was not a desired activity. The main reason? They wanted to support their local retailer. This is great news for the traditional retailer who employs a sales staff, however if salespeople continue to stay home and not make calls, some farmers’ hands may be forced to do more online shopping.

So where did all the salespeople go? They are still out there, but perhaps they just lack the confidence to show up. Maybe next time a new salesperson rolls into the laneway you give them a chance. After all, they could be someone that can add plenty of value to the farm.

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