If you harken back to high school biology class, you will probably recall that “symbiosis” describes how two different organisms live in close proximity and rely on each other to survive. The classic example is the clownfish and the sea anemone. The fish provides food for the anemone and the anemone provides protection for the fish. One would not survive without the other.

I was reminded about the concept of symbiosis recently when another industry magazine decided to trot out the hackneyed term “the dark side” to describe turf sales reps. The story itself was fine – the usual “supers transitioning into sales” feature. Every media outlet, including GCI, has run that story six times. But, choosing to sex-up the story by using the ominous phrase “the dark side” as the basis for their cover design was cutesy, calculated crap designed solely to get attention.

And it did.

I broke my longstanding policy of ignoring what the other mags do and called bullsh*t on social media … and several hundred supers, salespeople and others responded. Our friend Dave Wilber even cranked out a passionate TurfNet blog post about it and kept the conversation going. And it’s a very important conversation. Why?

Symbiosis: Salespeople cannot survive without supers and supers cannot survive without salespeople.

There was, perhaps, a time when sales was considered a lesser role in the world of turf. There was a smug, underlying belief among some supers that those who couldn’t grow grass became “peddlers.”

And perhaps there was a time when salespeople weren’t as well-educated as they are today. I used to hear supers say, “I know more about their products than they do” or “that guy doesn’t have a turf degree so he’s clueless.”

Neither of those is really true today. The vast majority of good turf reps have successfully grown grass for a living and most of the ones I know these days have degrees and a decade or two of agronomy experience. Today, it’s a demanding profession in which experience, scientific expertise and a deep understanding of the problems their customers face is mandatory for success. Sure, you still hear stories about “order-takers” and lousy reps who show up without appointments or act like fools. Guess what? They won’t be around two or three years from now.

Another thing I hate about the term “the dark side” is that it implies dishonesty. It suggests that salespeople would do or say whatever it takes to move a case of product or a pallet of fertilizer. That’s bloody nonsense. The good ones are in it for the long run. They value their relationships with supers so much they would NEVER recommend something they don’t truly believe is the right choice. Why on earth would a rep jeopardize both a friendship and a longstanding business relationship to make a quick buck?

Distributor reps and supplier technical experts are also rapidly replacing university and extension support as funding for those programs continues to dry up. Think about the brilliant PhDs who made their careers with universities but now work for manufacturers. Did they become dumb or evil the day they left public life? The ones I know are not only accessible and incredibly supportive of customers, they’re also extraordinarily careful about overselling their company’s products.

And passion? Good reps are just as passionate about your product as you are. Your failure is their failure. Your success … well, it’s still your success but I bet you’ll always recognize that it was a team effort that included your supply partners. Because success is symbiotic.

And that brings me to my final point. We’re at a critical juncture in this business. Superintendents are going to continue to be challenged by labor shortages, water restrictions, fertilizer regulations and a host of other barriers to success. There is no room for divisiveness or an “Us vs. Them” mentality.

Instead, I think one of the keys to success in the future is to adopt a team approach that makes the most of the expertise, experience and resources your sales and supply partners can bring to the table. Find solutions together. Create a better product together. Have fun and try new things together.

The clownfish won’t last long without the anemone … and vice versa. Let’s stop with the dark side. In fact, let’s stop having sides at all. We’re all turfheads and we’re all in this together.