What makes some seed sellers more successful than others? It took me two years but I figured it out — accidentally.

It all started when I hired Fred, the father-in-law of one of our employees. Fred had been working as a mechanic for an implement dealer until he hurt his back and became disabled. He didn’t want to retire so, as a favor to the employee, I signed him as a dealer. He knew nothing about selling seed corn, but he knew a lot of farmers who liked and trusted him. He sold almost every farmer he called on. He never studied product. Instead, he practiced his sales story. He was my rookie of the year and one of my top dealers. We provided the product knowledge he needed.

Feeling confident about what happened with Fred, I took a chance on a former assistant football coach from a major university. He was a goal-setter and a motivator. He was so successful at dealer recruitment that he soon had a team of field sellers who never missed their sales goals. We provided the product knowledge he needed.

Knowing I was onto something, I followed with a third non-salesperson — a bread truck driver who was accustomed to being on his route by 3 a.m. every morning. He didn’t know many farmers but, in the towns he served, he knew every businessman who was willing to refer him to their farmer friends. With his work habits, no one could match him. We provided the product knowledge he needed.

See a trend? It’s not just that inexperienced people can become great salespeople, but that product knowledge isn’t needed to get sales. To finally prove my point, during my 17 years as VP of seed sales, my sales team of more than 1,200 sales reps orchestrated 17 consecutive years of sales increases. The sales reps who contributed the most to our increase each year knew the least about the products they were selling. They sold themselves.

The most successful seed sales reps I work with today spend most of their time honing their sales story and little time studying product. Companies spend far too much time and money training their salespeople on products, believing it’s the key to seed selling success. Most are finding out the hard way that the opposite is true.

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