ABOVE: For the last 18 months, precision dealership HTS Ag, in Harlan, Iowa, has organized farmer peer groups, which offer an intimate setting for customers to discuss work and life goals. The groups have also strengthened business relationships for the dealership and created new service and product sales opportunities.

Getting to know a customer and having an authentic conversation about their needs can be tricky in a sales environment. HTS Ag,a precision farming dealership in Harlan, Iowa, has adapted a unique method for connecting with their top tier customers while offering them a valuable service at the same time.

HTS Ag has been facilitating highly regimented grower peer groups for the past 18 months to link strong innovative farmers with one another and strengthen business relationships. Precision Farming Dealer caught up with Terry Johnston, precision sales manager with HTS Ag, to discuss the evolution of the groups at the dealership’s 20th Anniversary event earlier this month.

“The group is an opportunity for these growers to get together in a safe environment, without competitors, to ask hard questions and talk about success, failure and lessons learned,” says Johnston, who is the lead organizer of the peer groups.

The group meets quarterly for two-day scheduled meetings. Members share their own quarterly reports concerning changes and improvements in their operations, have a networking dinner and lunch, listen to guest speakers and share ideas and innovations.

To get creative juices flowing, the group also holds a best practices wager. Each member throws $20 into the pot and pitches their best new idea or farm procedure that they’ve been working on and the anonymously voted winner takes the pot.

“One member talked about having sheets that his truck drivers fill out on Google docs so everyone can see them at the same time and update them,” Johnston says “Another member discussed how he built a new shop and put his bulk oil in the overhead space and ran down a bunch of colored hoses with spigots and a catcher. That way he didn’t have to deal with small cans and the oil was up and out of the way but always accessible.”

HTS Ag’s pilot group currently has 7 members, but they are looking to add more. Johnston says there is already interest in starting two other groups in the same format. They charge $3,000 per farming operation, inviting the business leaders of each operation to attend.

HTS in Tent

While the groups themselves are not a profit center for the company, Johnston says there is peripheral value in knowing their customers’ needs more intimately and being able to better tailor technology solutions to meet their needs.

“We work on four outlook plans set out for the group at each meeting, business, life, legacy and leadership,” says Johnston. “Members discuss their goals and then hold each other accountable for meeting them.

“Technology has to be a part of the discussion because it’s so important to what we do every day. Members learn from each other mostly, but we can pick up on things that we should be bringing in from the outside.”

The biggest paybacks for the dealership is the chance to foster a closer authentic relationship and getting front row seats to their customers’ concerns and needs — to which new services can be catered.

“If our customers get better at what they do, they’ll stay great customers,” Johnston says. “As a partner, we like to see them get better and build a great relationship with them by finding out what they need. Some needs we discover while just sitting in the meetings, and they spur ideas for services we could be offering. Any time you get the chance to know your customer better, it’s a great thing.”