Selling to Farmers (De Kalb, 1939) – The Book

One of the most intriguing books I own is Selling to Farmers by Larry Williams, published in 1939. It is relatively small in size, hardbound with green boards and features the De Kalb winged ear of corn on the cover. (Yes, “De Kalb,” not “Dekalb.”) The De Kalb County Agricultural Association was founded around 1918 and was the grass roots foundation of the Dekalb seed company.

Several requests have come in from folks looking to find this book. I’m not aware of any reprints but the link below is a copy provided by @dror_sharon (Twitter) who graciously offered to scan the book and create a PDF file to share with others. It takes time and effort to do this – his contribution to the seed industry and agricultural and literary communities, in general, is much appreciated. Thank you, Dror!

The book was a training manual for new sales representatives. In context, the “sales rep” was a farmer who was managing his own farm but also represented the De kalb seed brand. He grew the hybrids on his own land and used his experiences (testimonials) to sell seed to neighbors. But the behavior required to become an effective seed professional was not common knowledge, in my opinion. Sure, there were reps from equipment companies and other suppliers that they interacted with. But until the adoption of hybrid corn seed, most folks saved their own open-pollinated seed for future plantings. They didn’t really interact with seed company personnel or have any experience with the selling process of hybrid seed. The late 1930s was the advent and growth of seed sellers across the Midwest and other regions. This book, then, was a presentation of the behavior and practices needed to be successful.

While certainly dated (descriptions of social norms throughout the text, for example), the principles are still sound 80 years later. Throughout, there are several discussions of behavior that are based simply on treating people with courtesy and respect. For me, they are good reminders of how much better I can be as a seed professional and, more importantly, as a person.

I want you to do well. ~ph

Selling to Farmers: His Opinions and Convictions

(One of the most intriguing books I own is Selling to Farmers by Larry Williams, published in 1939. It is relatively small in size, hardbound with green boards and features the De Kalb ear of corn on the cover. Yes, “De Kalb.” Not “Dekalb.” The De Kalb County Agricultural Association was founded around 1918 and was the grass roots foundation of the Dekalb seed company (today a brand of seed owned by Bayer). This is one of a series of posts featuring its contents.)

A training manual for sellers of De Kalb seed. It’s contents are still relevant today.

“His Opinions and Convictions” is from the first chapter of this training book and focuses on the farmer – his customs, buying power and habits, hobbies and pride, needs and the general nature of his business.

His Opinions and Convictions

“The farmer has spent much time alone riding down long rows of corn, working in fields alone many hours of the day. And, he has had much time to think. It is to be expected, then, that this man has formed opinions of some kind on practically every subject. His opinions may be wrong, but they are his opinions and he expects other people to respect those opinions. He will fight for his opinions, but he is easily swayed by suggestions, however bullheaded he may be in an argument.

This business of being alone and thinking alone makes him a particularly friendly and sociable person when the opportunity presents itself to make friends or to meet people.”

Whether it’s 1939 or 2020, farmers still spend long days alone in a tractor…thinking and forming opinions.

Yes, times have changed. Today’s farmers still spend much time alone riding down long rows, albeit at much faster speeds than in 1939. But higher speeds and increased efficiency have resulted in farms becoming much larger and I would guess that the typical farmer still spends as much time alone in the field as they did back in the good ‘ole days. (There’s probably a published research paper on this very concept. I’ll have to look.)

The section simply points to the fact we are free people with opinions that are to be respected. As it says, their opinions may be wrong. They could be based on actual experience as in “I tried their hybrids for several years and they never worked on my farm,” or based on what they hear from the neighbors as in “white cob hybrids are hard to thresh,” even though he’s never grown them on his farm. My advice is to never argue about matters that are not specific to the business at hand. No doubt you are correct in your position but differences of opinion can cause customers to avoid buying from you. My English mother always said, “never discuss politics, sex or religion except with family or close friends.”

Finally, the part about how working alone makes them particularly friendly is spot on. I also think it has to do with the fact that rural communities are spread out and folks just don’t encounter many people during the day. Regardless, when I visit folks, either from “just passing through,” or by appointment, I’ve rarely come across a farmer that wasn’t friendly and didn’t want to visit. Honestly, I can’t remember ever being turned away when asking to ride along in the combine.

To summarize, the customer is not always right… but please respect their opinions AND respect their time…don’t take advantage of their friendliness.

I want you to do well. ~ph

Selling to Farmers: Age

“Age Has Little to do with Success, Time Has Much”

(One of the most intriguing books I own is Selling to Farmers by Larry Williams, published in 1939. It is relatively small in size, hardbound with green boards and features the De Kalb ear of corn on the cover. Yes, “De Kalb.” Not “Dekalb.” The De Kalb County Agricultural Association was founded around 1918 and was the grass roots foundation of the Dekalb seed company (today a brand of seed owned by Bayer). This is one of a series of posts featuring its contents.)

A training manual for sellers of De Kalb seed. It’s contents are still relevant today.

The following text is provided in its entirety. It’s from Chapter 10 that focuses on planning for success. Yes, “men” or “man” are used solely throughout. It was 1939, after all..

Age Has Little to do with Success, Time Has Much

“The outstanding success of men past sixty in science, art and commerce is proof to all of the opportunities and chances for all men to make good, regardless of age. Indeed, in the sales field the best men of many firms are past fort-five. So, youth with its energy and age with its wisdom start even in the selling field and battle for fame and fortune where both are theirs for a price.

The all-important requisite is the deep-seated desire to sell. The art of selling is always to conceal the art. Practice teaches both young and old that influencing without apparent influence makes sales and dollars as well as friends for them.

How well is the value of the service or product established in your mind? This value is the thing you are to get others to enjoy. You are out to give values, not to take anything away from your prospect. Then tell me, in a business of getting others to share in values you know are great, what has age to do with the program? You are charged with the task of getting others to believe and visualize benefits which they may enjoy. You can be as adept at age 25 or at age 65 as your understanding and ability will permit. You are not too young at age 25 to show proof and value, and impress others with benefits. Nor can a man of 65 find age a handicap in bringing others to take advantage of values he can prove are there if they will but accept them. Vision and planning for success are both keen in men who love life, regardless of age.

Let the young man who feels his youth a handicap try stressing values and increasing enthusiasm about his product and he will find youth and asset and people will admire his enterprise and help him on toward success. The same thing works for the older man, for the moment people notice his vigorous drive for business they respond with a desire to see a man with such pep succeed.”

Yes, 81 years ago, all ages of salesmen could be motivated to impart values on customers. And what I really like about this section is that it appreciates the energy of youth and wisdom of old and their roles in selling to farmers. I’ve often been the oldest member of a sales team and always enjoyed the younger teammates. No, they don’t have my experience, but eventually they will because they have a drive to succeed. Often, the willpower to overcome deficiencies and gain experience is all that’s needed to thrive in this business.

I want you to do well. ~ph