Digging for Answers
Syngenta has structured its sales force so that individual team members can deliver customized service in a timely and accessible way. This structure also enables them to tap into their agronomy team colleagues for the latest crop production information to use when making recommendations. (See "Agronomists On Call") Most importantly, they are directly involved in impacting the customer's experience every day, according to Rusty Thompson, Syngenta training head for the Northern Crescent region.
When new college graduate hires first join Syngenta as developmental sales representatives (DSRs), they participate in central training workshops and targeted field-based learning with mentors. "This prepares them for quick success in their first sales territory," says Robin Thomas, field force talent development manager at Syngenta. DSRs meet Syngenta leaders and colleagues in different functions and across various sites. "This gives them a broad perspective of the company and allows them to build a network of resources to use when providing service to their customers."
DSRs are promoted to sales representatives after graduating from the six-month program. This initial training and development continues for up to two years. Thomas has found that these new sales representatives are eager to learn new skills, develop as leaders and share best practices among their teams and the next generation of DSRs.
All DSRs begin by receiving training focused on Syngenta strategy, crop strategies, product and technical knowledge, as well as leadership and selling skills. Next, the DSRs take responsibility for accounts in their mentors' territories, or they work in open territories with close mentor support.
DSR Tyler LePage, for example, who has a degree in agribusiness management from the University of Missouri, began his training in January 2013. He completed training in southwestern Kansas and is now a sales representative near Moline, Ill. "Tyler probably has had the most geographically diverse journey since I have been leading the program, moving from a DSR into the sales representative role," Thomas says. "While he has worked with the same basic crops, he has had to learn an entirely different cropping system and moved several hundred miles. The skills he has learned will help him succeed anywhere in any role."
LePage is grateful for the training he has received so far. "One of the most valuable sales skills I've learned is the ability to adapt to the communication styles of individual customers and fellow team members," he says. He also receives continuing education through the company's online e-learning campus as well as during district meetings.
Sales representatives and customers can easily access the e-learning training modules and choose from among 500 videos that take fewer than 10 minutes each to watch. They can choose videos that are pertinent to whatever they are doing at a given time. For example, if a customer brings up a certain challenge during a sales call, the representative can access the module to research solutions. The advantage of e-learning is that the sales representative can receive training any time and not spend valuable time away from customers.
Derrick Tice, a Syngenta sales representative in western Kansas, says that one of the most valuable skills he has learned is solution selling. Solution selling involves asking customers a series of questions to identify and quantify problems in their particular field. As a result, the sales representative is better able to provide the products and services to solve those issues. After this initial step, the representative measures the results and communicates them over time.
Thompson says that honing questioning skills also has helped Syngenta retailers and seed advisors when they are talking with customers. Asking good questions helps deepen dialogue with the customer, he adds.
"I've found that when I truly try to see things from the customer's perspective, I'm almost always more successful," says Gordon Hankins, region business representative in Colorado, who has worked with Syngenta for almost 30 years. "This leads to more effective questions and helps me get to the customer's most important issues. As much as I can, I also try to help the retailer evaluate what his customers are spending their time thinking about. In the end, we have the same goal of helping the farmer grow better, more profitable crops."
In keeping with timely and accessible training, Syngenta equips DSRs and sales reps with digital devices, such as touchscreen tablets and smartphones that they can literally take to the field. Tice likes the function that allows him to store and access folders of PDFs on everything from a crop protection label to a new product brochure. Adds LePage, "The tablet is very valuable. For example, I can use its mobility to manage my customer's accounts while on the road or answer a retailer's question about any of our products."
With effective training, a focus on customer needs and the newest digital devices, Syngenta sales representatives - both new and seasoned - are truly involved with providing solutions for customers. And from all of these experiences, they continue to learn. Ben Franklin would approve.