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.
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.
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.
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.