SHIFTING ROLE OF AG SALESPEOPLE
Dave Downey, Mike Jackson, and Marilyn Holschuh
Editor's Note: In part one of this article about the changing role of salespeople in agriculture (February issue), it was explained that while the role is certainly shifting, it may be gaining, rather than losing, importance in marketing. Here, the article continues by explaining how new sales roles affect sales management.
Agricultural salespeople are here to stay--if they accept and prepare diligently for their new role. However, this requires a huge change on the part of both companies and salespeople to make the required adjustments.
Perhaps one of the most important elements of the salesperson's shifting role falls squarely on the shoulders of sales management. After all, it is the responsibility of sales management to "manage" the sales process. The old method of simply hiring aggressive sales-oriented people, handing them the keys, and saying, "go get 'em tiger," just doesn't cut it in the evolving ag environment.
It is often true that the sales management function is a weak link in the chain for many agribusinesses. Promoting a good salesperson to the position of sales manager and expecting them to perform well is still a favored management succession strategy. But that just won't work in the new environment. Sales managers themselves must be highly trained in the skills of developing a sales management strategy, organizing the resources to match the customers and managing a group of higher intensity salespeople.
DEPLOYING RIGHT PEOPLE IS KEY
A key difference in today's sales management is the need to build ways of flexibly deploying the right salespeople in the right customer segment with the right individual accounts. Historically, that decision process was above creating and balancing territories. It was a lesson in geography overlaid by where
Today, the single most important decision of a sales manager is resource allocation. Which customer segments and specific customers need the highest expertise provider in the organization? Where do I assign the most capable food system alliance builder? Who has the highest probability of maintaining the service and agency agreement with the significant customer who is also purchasing products over the Internet? This is about truly understanding the buying needs of segments as well as the capabilities of salespeople and matching them appropriately. It is about creating intellectual capital distribution systems--not hard goods systems.
HIRING IS CRITICAL COMPONENT
While some of the other major sales management roles are fairly self-evident, they are no less important. For example, hiring the right people is critical--particularly given the individual customer value delivery system. It is certainly true that the characteristics and skills that made a traditional salesperson successful are not enough to build successful and profitable customer relationships in the next decade.
While some of today's salespeople will make the transition, many will not. So recruiting the right people with the basic skills and attitudes is an essential sales management responsibility. On the other side of the coin is the thorny issue of either preparing traditional salespeople to be effective in non-traditional ways or finding replacements that are capable of responding more successfully to the new demands.
Infield coaching and counseling is a special set of skills that are more important today than ever before. The old saying, "you can't expect what you don't inspect," is still very true. Sales managers must be with salespeople as they work with key accounts. This helps ensure sales people understand their role and are carrying out their responsibilities in an effective way. Managers need to communicate the company strategy and expectations of salespeople and make sure communications are being tailored and implemented one-on-one with customers.
Sales management must also build reward and incentive programs that will encourage appropriate behavior among the sales force. It is perfectly clear that good salespeople do respond to incentives. It is critical that incentives (both financial and physiological) be developed to encourage desired behavior. For example, giving lip service to developing long-term relationships and then rewarding field salespeople only for short-term sales results is not only inconsistent, but also foolhardy.
Complex customers often demand complex solutions to complex problems. So management must focus on team involvement and team problem solving. If it is true that the new strategy is highly dependent of team activity, then sales management must create an environment that encourages teamwork and team success rather than individual success. Sales managers can make this happen. AM
Dave Downey is director of the Center for Agricultural Business at Purdue University. Marilyn Holschuh and Mike Jackson are with AgriBusiness Group in Indianapolis.