Training your ‘sales manager’

The relationship between producer and market agent remains at the core of a fresh produce market.

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When training market agents, I present a list of 14 points that describe the ‘perfect market agent as seen by a producer’. One of these is that the producer should be able to consider his market agent on a specific market as his sales manager for that market.

The only difference in this context is that, whereas a sales manager in a large company works for the company and no one else, a market agent will effectively be the sales manager for a number of producers. Apart from selling the products delivered by the producer, the market agent (as sales manager) has numerous other responsibilities.

Foremost of these is keeping the producer advised on sales, prices and market conditions. This includes feedback on the quality of the products sent and, if necessary, advice on packing, presentation and grading. No one likes criticism, even if constructive. Some producers believe that all their produce is ‘export grade’.

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Everything depends on the level of maturity of the two persons: their level of mutual trust, and a little patience and diplomacy on the agent’s side. When the relationship is sound and the communication channels are open, the producer will appreciate constructive criticism from the market agent and take whatever steps are needed to make improvements.

Working together to plan the next season
Ideally, the producer will invite the market agent to help him plan for the season or year ahead. Many marketing and sales-related matters have to be discussed. The only problem is that nature is not part of the planning and can upset the best of marketing plans. But in a healthy relationship, both parties should be able to handle this. A market agent who is on top of his game will have a Plan B in place and can respond accordingly.

Whether or not a professional producer refers to his market agent as his ‘sales manager’, he would do well to at least think of them in that way.