Not every company puts salesmen in new trucks on the road, hands them laptops and tells them to go sell seed. Some still take a different approach. Unity Seeds, West Lafayette, Ind., believes in holding down costs by contacting farmers by phone, then letting those with interest work with qualified sales reps who have experience in the seed industry.
The caller's goal is to create interest in Unity Seeds so that the person on the other end of the line will want to learn more. Their job is considered successful if the person called agrees to talk to a seed representative.
Starting two years ago, some of the voices on the other end of the line making the call for Unity were college students. Unity began the program as a pilot with six college students, paying above minimum wage. Students get a say in setting their schedule so that it fits in with their class schedule. They also receive training on the product line, but more importantly, how to engage someone on the phone, spokespersons say. In this program, student interns learn that the first impression, in person or on the phone, can either get your foot in the door, or get your foot knocked outside the door, permanently.
Now in its third year in 2010, Unity announces it will hire 20 intern students this year to be a part of the intern program. So far, the students hail from Purdue University. Many have ag backgrounds, but their career majors vary. One early member in the pilot program was an ag communications major, for example.
Other companies who use a similar call center format include Frontier Hybrids of Monticello. However, Frontier was purchased by Monsanto a few year ago. Word is that the company continues to operate much as it did before.
The interns at Unity work at what's called the national trails and marketing center. A phone bank and computer equipment make the program successful, officials say.
Unity Seeds is still a family-owned seed business in Indiana. You can learn more about Unity Seeds, and the intern program by visiting the company on the Web at: www.unityseeds.com, or you can call them at: 800-338-4558.