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In a recent conversation with a west coast nursery supplier, he talked with us about working with his sales team on their off-season selling activities — a time of year he called his "Second Season." This term got us thinking about how sales managers in agribusinesses could help their staff get the most out of the slower times of the year.

Selling in the Second Season offers several opportunities that just don't exist in the busiest parts of the year. When you're taking orders, moving product, meeting sales goals, and helping customers connect products with needs, the focus of the sales call tends to be on product issues. Of course, taking orders is appropriate anytime the customer is ready to place them, but during the peak busy season we are often in a crunch to hit sales targets.

In the off-season, we have the opportunity to focus on relationship development. The pace is just a little slower. The picture looks just a little bit bigger. We've got time to really understand the customer's values, goals, and needs, and to build credibility using a relationship-selling approach. Unfortunately, we're often so dog tired from our busy season that we don't give our full attention to this prime opportunity. This is where great sales managers (and salespeople) set themselves apart because they understand there are four important reasons for carefully planning the Second Season with their sales staff.

This is a great time to do some planning with your customers. Find out what customers are thinking about for the next buying cycle. An effort to encourage salespeople to assess customer opportunities in a thoughtful way is invaluable as a forecasting tool, and helps determine needed support resources in advance.

Solving problems can be done more efficiently during the Second Season. Encourage your sales team to do some very specific customer satisfaction assessments. At this stage, customers are often in the midst of evaluating their most recent purchase decisions. Salespeople can address complaints and put out fires in their early stages.

Call effectiveness improves during the Second Season. With more time to plan and prepare for calls during this time of year, there is more time to determine what technical expertise your customers may need and more time to provide ideas to help them reach their goals. The slower pace of the Second Season leaves room in the conversation for questions about growth, for discussion of industry issues, or for communicating ideas that affect areas other than how much they plan to order.

Finally, the Second Season allows salespeople to demonstrate sincere interest in customers' success. This brings credibility to the relationship, because the salesperson is not directly trying to "sell" them something. If interactions with customers in the Second Season are meaningful and substantive, it can clearly communicate sincere interest. The old adage, "They don't care how much you know until they know how much you care," is still a powerful truth.

Just as the off-season in any sport means conditioning and working on the fundamentals, managers can make the most of their Second Season by closely directing the efforts of their sales teams. Managers can get more out of the off-season if they establish a strategy for how their sales teams can most effectively utilize their time. To learn more about strategies for managing your sales team or about ways to strengthen relationships with key customers, consider attending one of our upcoming programs.

Sales Management and Leadership, held June 5-6, 2007, will explore leadership issues related to maximizing sales force effectiveness at the field level.

Precision Selling, scheduled for July 10-11, 2007, is geared for sales professionals who would like to work more deeply with targeted producer relationships.
Purdue is also offering a free Webinar on May 1, 2007, that will explore the concept of the Second Season and how to best manage it.

For more information or to register for any of these events, visit

Dave Downey ( is the executive director of the Center for Food and Agricultural Business at Purdue University. Scott Downey ( is the associate director of the Center.

Sales Management and Leadership
June 5-6, 2007

Precision Selling: Building Relationships with Large Farmers
July 10-11, 2007

National Conference for Agribusiness
November 13-14, 2007

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