A sales manager for a grower business — fresh produce or ornamentals — is akin to the helmsman of a ship. They must drive the sales in the right direction, make sure that customer relationships stay on course and successfully manage their crew.
What is best about being a sales manager for a grower business?
"Being very close to the product, so we have the ability to make quick decisions, communicate news to our customers and have a real sense of involvement so we can make positive changes together," says Peter Holder, group human resources and recruitment director for soft-fruit grower S&A Produce in Herefordshire. Wyevale Nurseries sales and marketing director Adam Dunnett, who has held this position in the past, says working with a diverse customer base is another highlight. Matthew Thomas, sales manager for the Frank P Matthews nursery in Worcestershire, says he enjoys dealing with people who are passionate about the subject.
What skills, attributes, knowledge and experience are most in demand for this role in the recruitment market at the moment — and why?
"Without those skills customers will lose respect and it becomes an uphill battle," says Dunnett. Holder adds that a working knowledge of the sector and past relationships with customers are in high demand. Thomas points out that an interest in plants helps but he believes the ability to communicate with customers is more important.
Good communication/people skills
Holder notes that a sales manager should be "a good negotiator, a strong communicator, energetic, polite, friendly, organised and diplomatic". Thomas says: "It’s important to be a good communicator. In horticulture, it’s vital to build lasting relationships with customers. People stay in the industry throughout their career and they often know each other so reputation is very important." Teamwork is also a vital part of the role, he adds.
Holder says a sales manager should be able to deal with their time effectively because "they have to deal with and create change in their role". Thomas adds that an organised approach to workload and the ability to prioritise to achieve maximum sales are important.
Thomas notes that, for a sales role, it is becoming increasingly necessary to be IT literate because software such as Excel, website content management and social media are useful tools.
What sort of qualifications and experience would you need to see from a candidate to be convinced that they possess these qualities?
Holder says any candidate should have previously developed productive relationships with customers. They also need a strong commercial focus and good communication and interpersonal skills. Thomas maintains it is essential that any candidate has previous experience dealing with customers on the phone and in person. "Good spoken and written English ensures any communication is courteous and professional," he adds. "Every email counts." Dunnet says qualifications are "of little importance", adding: "You will more often than not need to be well-educated, including a horticultural qualification, to have got onto the sales ladder. But at this level it is all about your previous experience and your ability to manage a team."
Are any of the skills that are in demand transferable from any other horticulture roles?
Dunnett, along with all of Wyevale’s current sales managers, has a production background "which we find invaluable". He says: "You can talk to customers with confidence and it allows for a more informed relationship with production colleagues." He has seen people moving from retail horticulture to wholesale sales with success. Similarly, Thomas claims that the plant knowledge of a grower would be "very useful" in a sales role. Holder generally sees vertical progression through the sales department, such as from sales administrator to sales manager.