Aaah. That Trash & Trinket Department

Seems every ag sales force in America has a sales promotion support program. Once inside the catalogue, there are more similarities than points of uniqueness…or sadly, even usefulness.

I’ve ridden with salespeople after these annual programs are introduced. Best summed up with “not excited”. A typical reaction of farmers to receiving one of the 5 million versions of ballcaps available to most farmers, is “uuuh…why thanks. I don’t think my 2,000-piece cap collection has one with a picture of a zebra on it.” Believe me…there is no panic in ag land over the millions of ag promo caps nestled inside those ships awaiting unloading in the Bay.

And when I saw the new “magnetized plastic paper clip holder” being shown to a salesperson, and then rode with him later, I asked about its usefulness. He thought before he spoke and then choked me with this: “Well, now I can put all my bar napkins, scraps of paper with notes all in one place and the exciting part is they can all be on the front of my refrigerator.” He followed that with “what a waste.”

Yep. I worked for a company who employed a full-time sales promo director. When he took stage at the annual kick-off meeting, his faux energy climaxed to the point he made the Energizer bunny look wounded. He would hold up this year’s new introduction of an ink pen with a logo on it and use some of the most illustrious words in the dictionary to raise our now-excited blood pressure. “What a pen!” we shared with him over cocktails later in the day. He always said “knew you’d like it” back to us.  

Every outerwear item of clothing known to man, every pen and pencil ever manufactured, duffel bags in colors and sizes that don’t even exist, exciting world of totes, lanyards, sticky note pads, credit card shaped hand sanitizer sprays and probably the pillow topper of them all…beach ball stress relievers. A lot of farmers use beach ball stress relievers, especially after putting up hay all day. And rule number one: nothing goes out the door without the logo in oversize type. 

One of the problems is ag companies aren’t swag experts. There is an industry of swag suppliers who promise “trinkets to make your brand stand out”, “stimulate your sales force” and other claims akin to sexual aid products. So, ag companies tend to rely on these experts to fulfill their trinket needs…if there is such a thing.  And those companies that promise to make your brand stand out sell the same items to every competitor out there, which makes all companies “stand out while looking just the same”. 

The second issue at hand is this: branded companies focus “promo” item selection on magnifying brand exposure via the use of highly visual outerwear like coats, caps, shirts and gloves. But, today’s marketing relationships with customers isn’t what it was yesteryear. Today’s relationship value is assigned by customers on companies providing value to their needs rather than helping a company with its self-centricity. Don’t get me wrong; farmers love their caps, but…

My acerbic mind is harsh with ridicule of the trash and trinkets department, but I would encourage some serious thought here. How about thinking through our customer needs of the future and filling them with real added value. In fact, why not replace the sales promo budget with customer relationship enhancement? So, what is added value? I can’t answer that for all of ag, but…here are some thoughts.

1. Rebundle your product. Add value to your product by adding convenience or information or knowledge to it. A new grain system could offer customers a free motor to run an auger. Instead of selling it all, make part of it your promo product. Just bundle the price and give the motor away. 

2. Add product direct value. Buy a $500,000 tractor or combine…why not a free 3-day course on full operations, tinted glass cabs and add-on safety mirrors? 

3. Teach. Tens of thousands of farmers have adopted as many levels of digital analysis that exists. And most are frustrated with “I’m not sure how that analysis works.” About 15 years ago, a yield analysis mapping program was launched by a seed company, and all the other seed company reps ended up teaching farmers how to use it…a massive oversight of the originator on value added. Value-added articles and Zoom meetings are booming in value.

4. Collaborate. Find a coopetitor company (that’s someone in another industry sector who cooperates with you) and bundle some of their product with yours. I could see 24 free units of corn for a set of combine tires. 

I could see $500 worth of vet meds for the purchase of livestock bunks, hay feeders or fence panels. 

5. Ask. It’s a novel idea, but ask what a customer needs within a price range and provide it. I asked a farmer once what he would like to do this coming winter and he said, “I want to sign up at the local shooting range.” He bought 80 units of corn. I paid $59 for his membership. He’s been with the same brand now for 26 years now. He still gets his shooting range fee paid for.  

6. Start online grower clubs. If you have customers, Zoom or Mean meetings can be developed, scheduled and distributed in a manner that allows Q&A. These, if pertinent topics are selected, are noted as “highly valuable” by customers…and they get to meet others in the meeting, setting up a customer club as a side benefit. 

These are just some ideas. But, in my opinion, far too many ag suppliers have fallen into that “it’s just easier to let the swag companies put together our new promo line.” They get to sell you product. You get to take the blame for a low-value t-shirt program.

It’s time to leave the traditions behind. After all, our grandfathers did eventually sell their horses and work mules. It’s called change. Grandpa knew it was required for growth. 

David Aeschliman is the CEO of Growth Work with expertise in developing growth strategies in selling and marketing. He has worked with more than 200 businesses across the country. You can reach him at to schedule further discussion. 

April 5, 2022

By David Aeschliman

David Aeschliman is a nationally recognized strategist with an astoundingly rich resume of creating growth within firms. David graduated from Kansas State University with a double major and minor. His hobbies include gardening, cutting firewood, fishing and helping farmers during planting and harvest.

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