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Take "The Dark Side" and Shove It

Dave Wilber


A recent industry magazine (it doesn't matter who), is talking about sales with the moniker of "The Dark Side". I hate this shitty phrase. And I'm gonna let my anger turn to words here. Ok..it's a rant. I often give good rant. Or so I'm told. So hold on tight. It's E-ticket rant time with Wilber.


Before I hung my shingle as an independent consultant in the early 90's, I was a superintendent. Then when the world's finances collapsed in 2007, I took a job for seven years as the Director of Agronomy for an independent turf distributor. They are a small and wonderful company who I didn't always understand but in many ways admire. Now that we are divorced, I think we like each other.


What I did, in truth, was sell. Yes, I talked about grass and did "consultations". And we put on some of the best seminars I have ever seen. But everything in a distribution-oriented world is sales. Inside of sales, there is profit, inventory, transportation, agronomy and all kinds of other things to manage. But at the end of the day, it was sales. Sales doesn't have to be crooked. It isn't the old days. At all.


I spent seven years trying to buck that system. It made me miserable. And it made the people I worked for less than happy with me (read... miserable) a lot of the time. But I learned a ton. And it was rewarding when dealing with actual "on the ground stuff". I never fully embraced the whole sales thing, in part because I was led to believe, years before, that sales was, in fact, The Dark Side. That was bullshit. It was bad programming and in a lot of ways, that programming came from a relatively old school superintendent, my first.


I found out that there were things about being in sales that I and most turfheads just didn't understand. Again, part of this was because as a young superintendent, who had all the answers, I didn't think I needed anyone's help. Or advice. Or... whatever. So my attitude was simple: bring what I order, when I order it, for the price I wanna pay. Simple. I didn't like "appointments". And I hated the gossip, because sometimes it was about me, the youngster who was doing things differently than most others.


...part of this was because as a young superintendent, who had all the answers, I didn't think I needed anyone's help. Or advice. Or... whatever. 


My days of grass growing was a different time. Communications were different. People were different. The business was different. And quite frankly, shitty sales people could get away with being out there because they were needed differently. They were more about hauling things around. And easy to beat up for prices.


But here we are in the modern age. And with this age needs to come the reality that sales in our industry is a tough, technical and demanding gig. In a lot of ways, way more demanding than growing grass. Gasp! What is this blasphemy? Well, what I have to say is that everyone ought to have the experience of doing 30-50,000 miles in a vehicle, talking on the phone six hours a day, and simply running with their hair on fire. They should feel the heartbreak when a super doesn't bother to show up for an appointment, doesn't ever return calls, doesn't even try to understand what building a good relationship could mean to their situation. What actual good service really is. They should understand that good sales people probably work way more hours than most supers when you account for travel, study, bookwork and the like. For me, 20 hour days were common. Common.


...everyone ought to have the experience of doing 30-50,000 miles in a vehicle, talking on the phone six hours a day, and simply running with their hair on fire. 


Are sales people perfect? Oh, Hell No! I have seen so much dumb stuff done in the name of sales. So much. Lies. Gimmicks, You name it. But guess what, I've seen a much larger list of stupid done by supers. Sorry. That's the truth. And a lot of times some of the sales stupidity does not come from the guys in the field. It's in the corporate offices where bad agribiz gets dreamed up.


This whole "Dark Side" thing to me is a cop out, in many ways. One, it lets the idiots off the hook. By being proclaimed part of the dark side, the goober sales person slides by. By being proclaimed a member of the dark side, the well meaning professional is lowered to a level they never exist at.


Now, before anyone labels me a hypocrite because I use words like Sweater Folder, Sandwich Maker, Dirt Farmer and the like... please remember that I may have coined terms like Sales Monkey and Sales Rodeo (what trade shows look like to me). There is a time to quote Carl Spackler and have fun. I get that.


But this whole "Dark Side" thing isn't cool. At all. It's almost, to me, a slur. A way for supers to exert some kind of power trip. And I don't like it. I don't get it. I think it means ugly. And I hope I never hear it as a descriptive for a whole side of the business that has done and will keep doing great things. And is advancing in really strong steps. Eight years ago, a guy like me would never have been hired by a distributor. Today, there are more than a few handfuls of people with backgrounds that could easily have them being a USGA agronomist, working with the commercial side. Doing great education. Doing research outside the university system, partnering in good ways.


Oh, and guess what, Turf Monkey, when you meet with whomever you have to pitch your budget, your equipment replacement plan, your master plan or whatever you are trying to get done... YOU ARE SELLING. If you forget that, then the deal is over before it started.


...when you meet with whomever you have to pitch your budget, your equipment replacement plan, your master plan or whatever you are trying to get done... YOU ARE SELLING.


Lastly, and this is simple math, there aren't as many sales jobs out there as you think. This notion that if a super gets tired of working too many hours, they can "'just go get a sales job" is absurd. It's kind of like saying that if you get tired of keeping greens you can just go get a good spot at a football or baseball stadium. Many of the sales people that you see are where they are because they are damn fine thinkers, really hard workers and have rhino thick skin built from hearing stuff like "The Dark Side" and always being expected to pick up the tab. Some of the sales people that I have met recently are pretty damn elite.


I'll end with this. I think right now, I am an "affiliate" member of 3-4 local chapters and the national association. My dues in most cases are higher than other categories. In the case of the national association, I don't have a vote or any real representation at Emerald City. And my "card" won't get me into any tour event or other such things. Nearly weekly, someone wants my money to sponsor something or something else. I can't imagine if I had 10 sales people working for me.


It takes a lot of grit to be a part of this so called Dark Side. And a lot of patience. And yet the "business" seems to need this category of animal. What do you say we tone down this "Dark Side" attitude? Maybe the words stick, but the attitude has to go.


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Dave, I began the business in sales on purpose and it was good advice. I could never have received the education I did in another architect's office. I saw so many different courses with so many different methods of maintenance and I took it in. Hell, I knew many of the "bigtime" supts were looking down on sales but I could have cared less...truth was the good guys came in all shapes and most were just good guys...It was funny how often they would change when they needed something or they lost a job and knew you had an "in" somewhere. The last few years have been an awakening for so many in the business and so often they do approach sales as "the dark side". And the funniest thing for me was how easy it was to sell the guys who thought they were the coolest. All it took was rubbing their heads and telling them they could be in a magazine ad or have dinner with the prez of the company etc.

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Good rant, Dave. During my whole career I valued the relationships I had and still have with the salespeople I depended on to help me do my job. The bad ones only got in the door once, but the door was always open to the hard working, unassuming, put me first person who was always there for me. Even when the dreaded Purchasing Departments took over and tried to justify their existence by trashing those relationships, I fought and won the battles to maintain them. I am who I am today because of the great people who came into my office with a smile, an ear to listen, and a pledge to help. They will never be from the "Dark Side" to me.

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Guest Mark Patterson



Well said as usual. You know my story. Our lives met in that forum of sales. To this day, I am a better manager because of that experience. I have formed wonderful relationship with a few of my vendors and I rely on their expertise to assist my decision making. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

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Guest Sherry Fontaine




I really appreciate your article and hearing from someone with your perspective.


After eleven years selling to Supers, we at Fontaine and Associates, Inc. have found the secret is earning their trust and respect, which well just took time. I will say say they might be the most stubborn people of any market but now they are interested in what we have to say because we actually educate them. It is tough but rewarding to have broken through those walls and now they need and call us!

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Big D - You know I love ya, man, but I don't really see the big deal here. I haven't read the magazine article that lighted your fuse (I don't read ANY turf magazines or visit other websites) so I don't know the context in which the phrase was used, but I have been using it for years -- always in a lighthearted, whimsical manner or context, NEVER disparaging.


Dating back to Carl Jung (the "shadow" of the unconscious, the "dark side" of personality), George Lucas in Star Wars and Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon, the phrase has simply become part of our popular lexicon. In fact, I was speaking with a someone on the marketing side of one of the Big Three iron manufacturers a while back, and he indicated that they refer to their engineering guys as being "on the dark side".


I've been "dark" ever since coming into this industry with a Jacobsen distributor in 1985. Both salespeople and superintendents back then were very different from today... and I dare say many of that era would not "cut the mustard" today. The "good ole' boy" network was very real; technical savvy among salespeople was rare. Fast forward to today, the GOBN is gone, "who bought lunch last" isn't even on the radar and today's sales reps and support personnel are incredibly talented, trained and dedicated... often as much or more so than the superintendents they call on.


I got lambasted on Twitter a few months back for a tweet about several young head superintendents leaving their jobs to go over to "the dark side" -- something that would NEVER have happened 20 or 30 years ago. The latter was my point, and my use of the phrase in question was not intended to be taken seriously. I guess some people are just sensitive, or Star Wars debuted before they were born.


I don't think any superintendent today would disparage the role their key salespeople play. Sure, some fringe guys peddling nuts and bolts and brake cleaner can be a PITA, but they are not from within the turf industry. I have long said that our industry is pretty well self-purging of a-holes, on both the light and the dark sides. If courtesy, respect and "the honor of the Game" aren't mainstream, that person doesn't last.


Live on, Dark Side! I don't see the big deal...

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Great comments here. I cherish them all.


Jon....you get it.

Mark....there are stories you and I have that we can't tell. I know you get it.

Sherry....appreciate the kind words.

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I mean...what do I say here?


This is clearly a hot button issue. It's gotten a lot of play. Partly, I think because the original article in Golfdom was just a POS. And like you, I don't really read other pubs. But this thing started to be pointed out to me and then a big discussion started on Facebook.


My inbox also had a few interesting words in it this AM about some dislike about my use of Turfhead. So we shall see where that goes.


The "dark side" thing has always hit me the wrong way. Always.

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Don't need to say anything. We agree to disagree (what's that old saying that when two people always agree, one of them is unnecessary?), that's all.


Your rant was superlative, again. I love that. I love your passion. And your writing.


"Dark side" just doesn't touch a nerve with me.

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Guest Steven Neuliep


Kudos Dave! I think your comments are spot on, even with all the cursing!! 😜😜🤔🤔 I felt nearly identical to you after having read the article. Having been in sales for nearly two years & even before that experience, I ALWAYS detested the term "dark side"! & now that I have returned to growing grass again, I would NEVER use the term. Guess I would use the old saying that "behind every joke is a certain amount of seriousness" applies here, as I in NO way see using the term as cute or humorous. I think it is flat out condescending! Are there bad sales people? Absolutely, but to generalize an entire segment of an industry is just plain short sighted. Again, I did indeed read the article before commenting & my feelings are very similar to yours!! I view & value my sales people as an integral part of my decision making! I do indeed view them as partners that are vital to my success & that assist in a positive way and assist in helping making good/better decisions & hence better purchases. Finally, I also agree with you that in these times there are some superintendents that expect the sales person to pick up the check (especially the alcohol or expensive steak), even when there is no real interest in buying the product. That mindset is more appropriately termed dark in my opinion..SN

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I haven't read the article. That being said, I think you may have taken a good thing a little too far Dave. Never good to paint with such a broad brush. Don't lump us all together. We "Turf Monkeys" are people and not all the same. I have used the vernacular, never with bad intent, I suppose that is not enough of a justification. I have a very small circle of trusted advisors that also happen to sell. I trust that those friends (yes ,I consider them friends) understood -- sometimes we are just having fun. I have the greatest respect for salesmen, I could not do what they do, any of them. Some are good, some are great, some are not...much like nearly any cross section of any industry and groups in general.


It has been interesting to see the direction over the past few decades. Wonderful to see the cream tending to rise to the top as the new economy separates wheat from chaff and the greater presence of professionalism, experience, and education programs in the industry as a whole, supported and embraced and even sometimes driven by the "Dark Side".

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I've believed for years that we should be offering sales technique seminars at GIS and at a chapter level. I always get a puzzled look or an eyebrow raised in disbelief. Everything we do is a sale- an equipment replacement, a tree plan, a budget, etc.


I was happy to see someone else felt the same.


I always enjoy your writing, Dave. Thanks!


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Nothing like a good rant to clear the colon Dave! I have been ranting on supers for years, being one for 34 years now and in the golf industry 45, that we have to treat "those people" with respect no matter how they may irritate us at times. Who else is going to save our jobs when we are in trouble needing the color before a tour event, or the special part that gets the pump, equipment or AC to our comfy office going without "them"?? Also, I would say 90% of the sales personnel that walk through my door are former superintendents.....once a superintendent, always a superintendent in my eyes....to borrow a catch phrase from the Marine Corp without the shooting or blood (well not exactly all true and reserved for other stories later). I will admit there were some crappy people also that came in of nefarious character but they would only get my time unless that had that one product my golf course needed, then I would put my ego aside and wheel and deal....then take a shower. Everyone gets one trip around my golf course guaranteed as a salesperson because you cannot sell to me without seeing the product or hear how the planner will be using their goods to enhance it for the members. Go...enjoy....prosper...let the light in!

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Guest John Kauffman


For anyone who has not read the article in question, I encourage you to read it. It was an interview-style article that asked a group of former superintendents (4 or 5, I think) why they left their superintendent jobs for sales/support jobs.


It certainly didn't sound to me like it was an 'us vs them' article and it didn't bash one side or lift up another. To me, it was a very relevant article that dealt with decisions that superintendents are making all the time: is working in a support role something I want to do, what are the pros and cons of leaving the golf course as opposed to staying with it, and what are my options if my employer doesn't want me anymore?


I might agree that the term 'Dark Side" can be misconstrued or divisive, but there isn't a single one of us who doesn't know what they meant by it -- sales/support vs superintendent. This is a relevant and important topic for superintendents -- and we can't pretend that it doesn't exist.

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