A professional, highly trained network of seed reps strives to maintain a high level of trust with farmers
By Maria Brown
Just as seed has evolved with time, so too has the buying and selling experience for farmers and the seed companies with which they do business. Today, farmers make crucial planting decisions with the help of a diverse and knowledgeable sales force.
For decades, the traditional farmer–dealer dominated farm country. Going back a century ago, those farmers played a key role in the adoption of hybrid technology.
"Farmer–dealers were not only selling the seed but also demonstrating it for their neighbors. The system worked quite well," explains Jeff Johnson, head of strategy and growth in the Syngenta dealer channel.
Eventually, a myriad of factors forced both farmers and seed companies to rethink the traditional seed transaction. The use of mechanized equipment and the onset of global markets combined to create a greater economic intensity in farming and pressure the old network. Spring seasons with a short planting window were especially challenging on the farmer–dealer, Johnson adds.
Focused on more than seed. The typical salesperson who was once a hobbyist is now a business professional, says Shane Barney, dealer manager with Beck’s Hybrids.
"As the seed industry grows and becomes more complex, there are more opportunities for farmers to diversify. As a result, a more professional seed dealer started to make more sense," he notes.
There’s also an expectation that a more focused sales force can go beyond marketing seed. Selecting varieties for planting is just one of many important decisions a producer makes each season as part of a systematic approach to crop production.
"Farmers really like to talk to one person about their seed needs—where to plant and place the seed and what other products they need to maximize production. It’s about having a whole farm solution," says Tom Volk, an area business manager with DeKalb and Asgrow brands in eastern Nebraska.
As a result, today’s seed sales force includes people with an array of experience—from husband and wife teams and fresh-out-of-college graduates armed with agronomy degrees to former farmers and seasoned salesmen and women from other agribusiness sectors.
With that diversity comes the need for companies to ensure their field representatives are well-equipped to meet customer demands. Of course, familiarizing salespeople with product lines is essential, but these days they’re also expected to hone their skills and know-how in agronomy, business management and new technology.
Traditional values endure. Regardless of the changes in seed sales, companies are confident they can continue to deliver the service and expertise that farmers expect. According to Syngenta’s Johnson, it’s crucial for their seed advisers to maintain the trust that was a trademark of the farmer–dealer model.
"Farmers make significant economic investments in their seed, and they have to trust the person selling it," he says.
DeKalb and Asgrow’s Volk, who has close to 20 years of sales experience, says that transactions are based on healthy relationships with farmers. Like any good relationship that means taking the time to effectively communicate with customers.
"We prefer to have open, honest discussion with our farmers about their expectations," Volk adds. "We feel like we’re more effective if we clearly understand the needs of the grower."
Beck’s Hybrids boasts a diverse sales team, but Barney explains that the common thread that makes them all successful is their dedication to the job and the farmers they serve.
"It’s the dealers who care the most about their customers and are willing to go the extra mile—the ones who will get out of bed at 10 at night to deliver that last bag or two of seed or who will walk fields in the heat of the afternoon. Those things are not required, but that’s what will get them the business," Barney says.