16 Things I’m Thankful for in Ag Sales

Thanksgiving Edition

            In the spirit of Thanksgiving, I thought I would offer an Ag sales version of what I am thankful for.

  1. Manufacturing Location improvements that gave me
    • Faster truck lines at the elevator
    • Better Pellets! – Less Fines! (kind of like taste great – less filling)
    • More consistent products
    • Less mistakes and faster ways to find the cause when they did happen
    • Better rail rates that in turn gave our sales team a better bid for grain
    • Faster bulk and bag loading
  2. A new manufacturing location. I know I wrote a story about how difficult it was, but having a location in your area is absolutely something to be thankful for.  Just ask the sales person that is 4 hours away from one.
  3. Computers and software upgrades that gave me:
    • Faster & more accurate customer information
    • Less hand entered data – giving us less mistakes which gives us faster & more accurate customer service
    • Allows customers to have access to their own account in our system
  4. A CRM Tool: There is certainly a love/hate relationship with CRM.  Nothing is more fun than managing a sales team that hates entering customer calls into the new CRM program (sarcasm).  However, the ability to cut, paste, sort and create dashboards is phenomenal in managing both a sales team and a territory.
  5. GPS:  I can’t believe I’m saying it but yes, I’m thankful for GPS.  When they first came out, they were less than accurate, took sales people on wild routes and I felt wasted time.  Besides, I reasoned that any competent sales person should know how to get around in their territory.  That was true for me when I had been in my territory for 15 years.  Now in a new geography, I definitely see the value.
  6. Easy access to data:  Systems are now in place to auto extract this data and auto populate spreadsheets & dashboards.  No more waiting around for the monthly report that has to be hand entered.  It’s available in real time and can be helpful for indicating trends, course correcting and leading your team.
  7. NIR:  Faster and getting more accurate by the year, it makes data more usable than waiting for wet chem tests results.  In most fast-paced Ag businesses, the ingredients or grain is gone before wet chem results come back.  We certainly still need wet chem to verify and validate NIR, but it has made real time diagnostics possible.
  8. Outlook Calendar:  So much better than a day planner with scratched out or added appointments.  Then trying to transition from one year’s planner to the next and losing your January appointments that were on the old planner.
  9. Spreadsheets & Dashboards:  An absolute dream compared to cross referencing multiple reports.  With the click of a mouse, you can scan multiple reports, disregarding data that is in-spec and focusing on that data that is heading in the wrong direction.   I know we all like the nostalgia of flipping through reams of dot matrix printed reports, but isn’t it nice to have a one page dashboard that allows you to see either green/yellow/red indicators for processes or bar charts & line graphs for sales results.
  10. Social Media:  As much as we dislike some forms of it, social media makes finding and marketing directly to our end users much quicker, efficient & less expensive than the old mass marketing media.  There still is a need for print, TV & radio, but social media allows for the DIY (do it yourself) form of marketing for large and small companies.
  11. Auto Steer:  For freeing up the producer’s time and allowing a great opportunity for phone calls and ride alongs with Ag sales people.
  12. Unlimited data internet service:  This is just a personal one that you will appreciate if you live in an area that doesn’t have cable.  My last home did not have access to it and we ran out of “gigs” constantly.  Keep that in mind when sending info to your rural customers.  Most plans are around 10 gigs/month.  So, be cautious when sending a high-resolution video out.  Maybe send a smaller file version, with a link to the larger file.
  13. Conference Calls:  I know many of the sales people I led might not have liked how often I had conference calls, but it simply is the best way to disseminate information to a sales team that is spread out remotely like Ag teams often are.  They are also great for getting your farmer on the phone and conferencing in members of your internal team like accounting or sales coordinator to quickly get everyone on the same page.  This saves multiple phone calls back and forth.
  14. PDL’s:  Personal Distribution List.  Been using them for years and never knew what the initials stood for.  They are the greatest email tool when used judiciously.  They are an absolute nightmare to your in-box when used improperly.
  15. Low Interest Rates:  Keeping credit affordable for maintaining and growing.  Making this a different Ag environment than the one when I started my Ag career in the 80’s.
  16. Health & Safety Focus:  The Ag industry in general is a very dangerous environment.  Each day, the news feeds that I receive will have something in them that relates to an injury or a death in an Ag related area.  I was very fortunate to have worked many years for a company that promoted health and safety above all else.  It was not just lip service.  They truly believed it and ingrained it in their culture.  So, I’m thankful for not only those years but for making me see the value in it as well.                                                             Here are just a few of the dangers in Ag sales:
    • Taking silage samples from a steep face of a bunker and risk entrapment
    • Driving thousands of miles:  back roads, poor road conditions inclement weather…
    • Remote farm calls that can be a little unnerving for some of the team members to go alone.
    • Climbing ladders to check in trucks or bins.
    • Walking around farms that you are not familiar with – electric hazards, equipment hazards, producers may not know you are there.
    • Farm calls to collect on past due balances or unfilled grain contracts on someone who is either under a lot of stress or is known to be a bit unstable.
    • Weigh taping a horse on a windy day and almost getting kicked (really happened)
    • Almost accepting an invite to ride on a fox hunt – refused because the saddle had no horn to hold onto.  Also, my sales manager said “absolutely not”
    • Riding a reigning horse for the first time and trying to slide with it.  However, I did spin on it as that saddle had a horn.  I wasn’t supposed to hold onto it but I was not going to fall off in front of 200 people as a sponsor of the horse show.

Happy Thanksgiving!  Enjoy the family time and see you back next week for a heartwarming story titled “Your Feed Killed my Horse”.  You will learn valuable tactics to handle yourself when dealing with a serious customer issue.

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