Why Innovation Can Weaken Even the Best Salespeople

- Rod Osthus

Do you spend time every year worrying whether or not your salespeople are going to achieve their sales goals? Most managers do, and for good reason. Salespeople are getting weaker. It’s not because the marketplace is getting tougher, and they’re not losing the sales skills you taught them — they’re just not using them.

Instead, they’ve been wooed by our industry’s constant release of new product innovations that promise winning on more farms, making selling easier. What seller can resist those kinds of promises?

When new product releases become the primary source of excitement and motivation on sales calls, sales go south. Selling to a farmer starts with a trusting relationship between the farmer and the seller and not with the products he buys. Buying seed is a very serious purchase for every grower because it determines his entire livelihood. Farmers need someone they can rely on to help them raise yields to levels they never thought possible.

Leading with new products automatically puts sellers into proof of performance contests. Growers ask them to prove the worth of their new offerings in plots or side-by-sides — strategies diametrically opposed to relationship building. That’s why truly successful seed sellers abandoned those strategies years ago.

It sounds silly to think that innovation can hinder sales, but it does. It’s not that there’s too much innovation, it’s that we’ve allowed our product innovations to make selling skills appear obsolete. When field sellers analyze the amount of time their managers have them training on new products versus honing their selling skills, it leaves them with the impression that selling skills are becoming obsolete. As a result, they change from relationship builders to innovation sellers.

Profitable sales growth always starts with talented salespeople who know how to sell themselves first, their company second, and their products last. That strategy will never become obsolete because we sell seed — a living, breathing organism that farmers need help managing. The primary goal has to be creating long-lasting relationships with growers who allow field sellers to assist them in their crop production system, not just in variety selection.

Don’t let innovation weaken your sales force. You don’t need a constant flow of new products for farmers. You just need to make sure your sales team knows the role innovation plays in the selling process.