Spotlight on US Agrochemical Sales & BD

In this issue of our Spotlight series, Alicia Morte Martínez talks about hiring in the US agrochemical industry, specifically in the sales and business development niche.

What are the main challenges affecting hiring in the market and why?

Specialization with a specific type of products (biologicals, chemicals, seeds…).

Currently, more and more companies are specializing in specific products, or have separate departments for each type of product. This means professionals also need to be specialized and have good knowledge of the type of products they’d like to work with since our clients ask for professionals with background in their specific line of products.

The challenge with this is that currently the agricultural industry is changing very fast, and many professionals are stuck with traditional practices, which makes it difficult to find certain profiles.

Established network in the defined area

Most of the time our clients ask for professionals not only experienced, but also with a network of contacts in their area, which can be one state, multiple states, or even the whole country. Many professionals have network in a few counties, but haven’t worked in different states, which makes it difficult for them to have that wide network.

In terms of hiring, this compounds the difficulty of specialization as professionals not only have to be specialized in an area, but also have the right contacts within distributors, farmers or retailers to sell those products.

Travelling

Travelling in a sales/business development position is usually high, which makes it difficult for many people to have a normal work-life balance. Some clients require 50-70% travel, for example.

Quality of the products

Because of the constant changes and new product releases in agriculture, many professionals are concerned about the companies they would work with, especially when it comes to organic products and biologicals. Many won’t move to a new company unless they’re sure about the quality of the products.

How can we overcome those challenges?

Specialization with a specific type of products (biologicals, chemicals, seeds…)

On one side, professionals need to realize that agriculture is changing very fast and they will be left behind if they don’t update their knowledge and practices. On the other hand, for us as recruitment consultants, we stay on top of the latest trends and what each company does, which makes for more efficient recruitment processes for both candidate and client as we can pinpoint the right people and opportunities in each area of specialism and match the two accordingly.

Established network in the defined area

The same way it works for agriculture sales/BD professionals, it also works for us on the recruitment side. The bigger and more varied our network is, the more people with different backgrounds and different territories we have access to. Getting to know the professionals we are in touch with well allows us to understand where the majority of their network is since sometimes it’s not in the territory that they are currently covering.

Travelling

In terms of hiring, flexibility on this point is important, both for companies and candidates. Many experienced professionals have learned how to organize themselves to be more efficient and require less travelling, which requires companies to trust their employees and be flexible on this part. On the other hand, candidates have to be ready for unexpected travelling, which is especially difficult for professionals with a young family or other people dependable on them.

Quality of the products

Same as above; as consultants, we also need to be aware of the latest trends and how products work to be able to understand what our clients offer and share this information correctly with candidates. Without a good understanding of this, we won’t be able to attract the best candidates.

Most common FAQ from clients

Given I cover the sales & BD market, clients often ask about the type of achievements my candidates have had. In this case, it will depend on the type of role and seniority we are talking about, but of course, in sales, everything is about numbers and networking.

Another common question is about what other roles we can cover. For example, even though I might be talking to a client about sales positions, they might have a hiring need in R&D, regulatory affairs, or anything else and the positive part about us is that we have specialized consultants in every market, which means we are able to provide valuable candidates faster than most other consultancies.

Most common FAQ from candidates

Just as there are many challenges in the industry, there are also many FAQs from candidates…

Types of products

As mentioned above, there are many changes going on in the agricultural industry at the moment, which is why many professionals are concerned about the type of products they would potentially sell if they move to a new company. In order to be able to do their work properly, the products need to have good results, which will directly impact the business.

Type of customers

Distributors, retailers, or farmers-growers directly. Professionals usually like to know what type of customers they will be dealing with, mainly because of their background and the contacts they might have in one or another, which will make their work more successful.

Company plans

Because of all the changes in the market, many companies are being bought out, going public, or joining others, which is usually a big concern for candidates. This concern stems from a fear of layoffs, change in company culture, and a worry about how realistic and well-thought-out the company’s growth plans are, due to the incredibly saturated market and high competition.

Management style/team

Every professional is concerned about the type of organization they’ll be working for, who they’ll be reporting to and who they’ll be working with. Many people have had bad past experiences, so they want to make sure they are moving into a company that respects and supports their employees.

It also depends on the preferences of professionals; as it’s a sales role, many people like to work independently instead of working with a team. On the other hand, people that have had successful experience already in sales/BD often want to have a team and mentor or lead people.

Territory to cover

Every professional has different preferences regarding the territory they’d like to cover. Many people prefer a few counties or one state so it means less travel, while others prefer to cover multiple states or up to the whole country since it will mean bigger profits and a wider network, as well as more possibilities for business.

Any predictions for hiring in this market in the coming two to five years?

Biologicals (which harness nature to offer farmers sustainable protection for their crops) and sustainable agriculture have been hot topics for the last few years, and there are many start-ups dedicated to it. There needs to be innovation and improvement of the products if many of these companies want to grow given the big competition in this market and companies that don’t invest in R&D likely won’t be able to move forward.

Many professionals and growers are not very convinced about biologicals/organic effectiveness, which makes them wary of these products, or avoid them altogether. Most of the time is due to a bad reputation of a specific product or company, or because they haven’t tried products outside the traditional. Fortunately, more and more growers are joining the sustainable agriculture movement, which makes companies invest more in this and directly impacts new sales and business development positions.

In order to attract these professionals there needs to be a real demonstration of the effectiveness of the products, by carrying out trials by independent laboratories to prove them, or either independent farmers’ results that can confirm these products are as good as or better than traditional chemicals.

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