07 Feb Career Spotlight: Agricultural Equipment Sales
Quick, what’s one thing that all types of production agriculture have in common? Whether it’s beef, row crops, specialty crops like fruits and nuts, or dairy cattle, almost all commercial producers rely on rolling stock equipment to get things done around the farm or ranch. Farmers look to subject matter experts for assistance in making decisions on which inputs to use in their operations and when. It should come as no surprise then that they would do the same for equipment, especially when some of that equipment costs close to a million dollars per machine. Agricultural equipment sales representatives sell and service machinery and implements to farmers. And as we see time and again at AgGrad, the key to any successful career in sales is relationship management.
Harvesters, tractors, and their implements have done more from a technological standpoint to change this industry (and the global economy) than perhaps anything else. This change can be seen in increased yields and more efficient employment of human capital. Tractors are so beloved across the world that special shows and auctions are held year-round celebrating the nostalgia of these complex and ever-evolving machines.
The economic implications have been profound. Check out this article from the American Enterprise Institute that asks the question, “What if the tractor had never been invented?” For those more adventurous when it comes to reading academic papers, here is the link to the study covered in the article. Wherever you land on the issue of heavy equipment usage in the production of food, one thing is undeniable: when the mules and horses went in the barn for good, the entire industry was altered.
Jay Hurst wasn’t around to see the first tractors rolling into the fields around Lubbock, Texas, but he has seen technological advances change the industry in important, if more subtle ways. Hurst manages the Slaton location for Hurst Farm Supply, a family-owned equipment dealer with seven locations in the Texas Panhandle, in operation since 1955. During his tenure of selling and servicing equipment, he worked for ten years in precision agriculture. He has observed how the use of satellite technology in farm equipment has made huge strides since first being incorporated.
Hurst Farm Supply deals mainly in John Deere products, and in 2004 Hurst began learning Deere’s RTK system that utilizes base stations and satellite signals to guide equipment within an inch of accuracy. “Then, it was just ‘let’s make the tractors drive,’ and now it’s getting more into the prescriptions and managing your inputs,” he says.
NOT YOUR GRANDFATHER’S TRACTOR (OR IS IT?)
Farmers have long been touted as some of the most intelligent business owners around, and they must be to operate today’s farm equipment. Hurst recalls a story of a patron in his eighties learning to use the new GPS precision agriculture technology on a tractor. “Getting to listen to him talk about the open cab tractors, the first tractors that he drove, to where it was now… you’d be surprised. These older guys can pick up on that technology a lot quicker than you’d think,” he says.
That means successful equipment sales professionals must be in tune with the machines they are selling, mechanically and otherwise. Hurst points out that equipment dealerships aren’t just about selling equipment, but about finding solutions to problems. “They might be having problems, and they might not need to buy a new tractor. They might just need to visit with the service manager. Or it might be a solution that we don’t have, but we might have contacts to fill in there.”
Hurst sites time management as one of the most challenging aspects of his job. With farmers covering more acreage and utilizing more specialized equipment, the seasonality of farming from an equipment dealer’s standpoint has become a twelve month endeavor. And, he adds, “If you can’t service it, there’s not going to be any future in selling it.”
One thing that hasn’t changed is the importance of building meaningful, lasting relationships with customers. Hurst estimates that he spends only about thirty percent of his time in the office. The rest of his day he can be found on turn rows and out in the field talking to his customers. Of course, even when he is at the dealership Hurst gets to interact with farmers. It serves as a gathering place, a locus of information about weather, commodity prices, and general farming knowledge.
WORKING INTO SALES
Hurst estimates that there are between five and seven hundred farmers in the geographic area he serves. During harvest, he might need to talk to fifty people on a given day. “You have to understand their needs without letting your schedule overshadow what your job is,” he says, which is to be available to his customers whenever they need his help.
That kind of time management requires more than just good interpersonal skills. An agricultural equipment sales rep has to be intimately familiar with the product, and that often means starting out in the parts or service department. Managers like Hurst must have a background in all aspects of the business. He says he would rather have someone work in the parts department for a couple of years and transition into sales. Not only does this strategy increase an employee’s exposure to the workings of the equipment, it allows them to develop relationships and build trust with producers in the area.
Ultimately, a fruitful salesperson will have the type of personality conducive to talking with customers and understanding their needs. “If I’m pushing one piece of equipment that doesn’t meet their needs or provide a solution for them, I’m selling them the wrong thing and doing them a disservice,” says Hurst.
Put bluntly, being mechanically inclined or having an MBA won’t guarantee success in agricultural equipment sales. The right mix of equipment knowledge and communications ability is required. And it takes tenacity, as evidenced by the fact that many equipment sales compensation packages are weighted heavily, if not entirely, on commissions. Reiterating the point about a salesperson cutting his teeth in another department, Hurst points out that a new salesperson on commission only is not guaranteed a check each month. It pays to know your stuff before diving headfirst into sales.
Selling tractors can be nerve-wracking based on the seasonal nature of farming, uncertainty about weather, and industry competition, but Hurst says it’s all worth it in the end. When asked about the best part of his job, he points once more to his customers. “I would say almost all my friends are people I actually do business with. It’s not like you have a stranger walking in off the street…that’s the most rewarding part.”
If you are interested in a career in agricultural equipment sales, we would like to hear from you. Click this link to upload your resume, and if you have any questions about this or any other career profile we have written, please contact Logan West at firstname.lastname@example.org.