In an age of never-ending technological advancements it can be difficult to step into the shoes of a farmer to determine what they really want from precision specialists. While every customer is different, there are some expectations growers have that don’t seem to change — even while technology does. And it might be simpler than you think.
With the farmer’s perspective in mind, farmers and ag technology experts Jeremy Wilson, specialist with Crop IMS in Effingham, Ill., and Rich Schlipf, owner of Schlipf Precision Ag in Milford, Ind., shared the most important things farmers want from dealers during a panel at the 2017 Precision Farming Dealer Summit in St. Louis.
Know Your Stuff
It goes without saying that you should know what you’re selling. But farmers want you to know the products you sell well enough to provide guidance when something goes wrong.
Having a team that is also well versed in your products pays off for both you and your customers, Schlipf says. “If we know and are sold on our product, our customers perceive that and they automatically have trust and confidence in us,” he says.
Schlipf knows first-hand what it can be like to work with a company that doesn’t know their products as well as they should. Managing a 700 acre corn and soybeans operation with his wife, Kathy, Schlipf recalls a company he worked with that added a product line to supplement their income, but failed to acquire a parts supply and trained technicians for the new line.
A few years later when he needed help, Schlipf had to call the manufacturer directly.
• Make a personal touch by checking in with customers outside of a sales call or service visit to ensure the technology is working properly.
• Actively help customers realize the full value of their data by verifying calibrations whenever possible, being flexible in responding to their needs and by being easy to reach.
• Be attentive to customers’ technology needs to develop a relationship of mutual trust and respect.
“We understand technology is changing fast and we also have no clue where it’s going and how fast it’s going to continue to change,” Schlipf says. “I don’t expect every person in a dealer’s organization to be up on every item that they handle and sell, but I do expect them to have an expert that I can call and get advice from.”
Knowing your stuff involves more than just answering questions when a customer calls. During service calls, training the grower and their team on how to use the equipment they purchased will make them more self-sufficient when troubleshooting.
“It follows the saying, ‘Feed a man a fish and he’s full for a day; teach him how to fish and he’s full for a lifetime,’” says Wilson, who operates his family’s 1,200 acre no-till grain farm.
His philosophy applies to many types of service calls, but he emphasizes its importance for those involved with data collection services. Training a grower and their team to validate sensor calibrations is a good way to keep them from contacting dealers when they have problems.
Other customers won’t get the level of service they deserve if you repeatedly have to return to a farm every time something goes wrong, Wilson says.
Understanding what a grower wants their team to be able to do is also important. Wilson recommends creating how-to sheets and field maps for growers and their teams in addition to using an iPad to log data.
Be prepared to review how to use data collection equipment with growers every year and Wilson suggests keeping notes on each grower. These can be helpful in identifying what they struggled to learn when you return at the beginning of the season.
“At the end of the day, you only get one chance to collect data accurately and if we miss it when that machine goes through the field we cannot get it back,” he says.
Since data is so important in guiding farmers’ decisions, Wilson says taking the time to set up the grower and farm and field structure on all fields is critical. He stresses the importance of making sure all of the displays are set up correctly and suggests technicians be prepared for each service call by setting up display settings before they get to the farm.
While technicians should train growers on data collection as much as they can, they should still encourage growers to call if something on the monitor looks wrong. “Since there isn’t a set range, it can be difficult to tell when numbers are off,” Wilson says. “But if something is clearly wrong, farmers should call their technicians who can make the necessary tweaks.”
Schlipf adds that for farmers who don’t know how or why to collect data, it’s important for the technician to “be proactive” in helping them. Farmers want to know all the capabilities of their equipment and all the ways they can utilize their data, and they will rely on precision technicians for those answers, he says.
Get the Full Value
Helping farmers get the full value out of the equipment they purchase can mean a lot of different things for a dealer especially when it comes to data collection.
Wilson says you have a choice to make between actively helping customers realize the full value of their data so they can use it throughout their business, and providing average customer service until their customers eventually get there on their own.
He suggests verifying calibrations every time a technician is at a farm. “If a specialist pays a visit to that grower throughout the growing season and there’s a vehicle moving … he should just jump in real quick and say ‘Hey, how’s this coming out?’”
Farmers also want their dealers to have a parts inventory. Having backup displays and other equipment available to customers is expected, even at smaller dealerships that might be relatively new to the precision business, Schlipf says. Farmers need this equipment to be easily accessible when theirs goes down.
Farmers also want you to be flexible in meeting their needs. Schlipf uses an anecdote from the book, The $6,000 Egg, in which Deb and Todd Duncan go to a restaurant they visit often and are told by three different staff members that the kitchen can’t add a fried egg to a cheeseburger because it is off-menu.
Deb and Todd leave the restaurant, never to return, and the restaurant loses the $6,000 the couple spent there yearly. Schlipf uses the story to illustrate Todd Duncan’s idea that it is cheaper to retain customers than to find new ones and remind dealers that being flexible will help meet farmers needs and goals.
“Being flexible involves subtle changes in customer service that seem unimportant, but farmers notice,” Schlipf says. Sometimes, it can be as simple as answering the phone.
“You’d be surprised how many times as a farmer, I will call a technician or call a business, primarily after hours or on Saturdays and have trouble getting a hold of somebody,” he says.
Patience & Persistence Keys Retaining Precision Knowledge
An important part of getting farmers comfortable with calibration is making sure their employees are trained as well, says Jeremy Wilson, technology specialist with Crop IMS and a no-till farmer.
He uses “Bob,” one of his customer’s employees from when he worked in ag retail and sold technology, as an example of a difficult type of employee who has to be trained.
Employees like Bob can be a relative of the owner or an operator, but they always have responsibilities on the farm that require a certain amount of training. Wilson says farmers appreciate their own training, but typically want to make sure their employees are trained as well.
Employees like Bob are a challenge because they do not always retain the training they receive. “Bob’s that guy who you showed last year how to power the system up and set an A-B line, how to pick his right grower farm and field on the monitor and he calls you about 2 hours later,” Wilson says.
To avoid recurring reminders year after year, he suggests talking to the grower about what exactly he or she wants their employees to be able to do. For employees like Bob, creating how-to sheets will help them remember how to do different things and using cloud sources is an easy way to back up setup files for them.
Keeping notes on each employee who needs extra help will allow the technician to remember what they helped them with the previous year. All of these things will help employees like “Bob” to really understand the value of the data.
Schlipf remembers one customer in particular from his precision ag business who lived several hours away and farmed in the evenings and Saturdays. When Schlipf asked why he kept calling him instead of finding a new technology expert who lived closer, the customer said, “… when I call you, you answer the phone.”
Investing in Trust & Respect
It may seem obvious, but farmers want your respect. When they make an investment in an expensive piece of equipment, they want their dealer to acknowledge that.
“If I just write you a $40,000 check to completely upgrade my auto-steer system, or whatever it might be, and I give you a call, I hope you understand that $40,000 check was pretty big to me,” Schlipf says.
The expectations that come with a larger purchase can also create tension between farmer and dealer if those expectations are not met, so the level of service provided with this type of purchase is especially important. Schlipf says expectations farmers have for dealers when they have spent a significant amount of money are reasonable.
“Trust relates closely to knowing your stuff,” he says. “The better a dealer knows their products and takes pride in selling them, the more farmers have a reason to trust them.”
Schlipf offers two examples. He went to the Farm Progress Show hoping to speak with someone who understood handheld FM radios and could sell him what he was looking for. When he got there, he found a salesperson who knew the company’s product well, but never tried to sell it to him or told him where to buy it.
Schlipf left annoyed. He wanted price points and timelines and someone to sell him a product. In the technology business, dealers encounter customers who have problems, but don’t necessarily know how to fix them, Schlipf says. That’s where dealers come into play, presenting all the solutions and costs involved.
The other example Schlipf gives is when an insurance agent stopped by his farm. Schlipf asked him four or five questions and was impressed with the salesperson’s answers. After meeting a second time, Schlipf left the insurance company he had been with for over 10 years. The salesperson provided a level of service that made it easy to buy and Schlipf found him knowledgeable about the product and trustworthy.
“I was just very impressed that I met somebody that knew what he was talking about. He guided me through the decisions I needed to make and helped me through the process,” Schlipf says.
For Schlipf, knowing your stuff, training your team and helping customers get the full value of their equipment all promote respect and trust but most importantly, they all fall under the Golden Rule. “Treat me like you would like to be treated yourself,” Schlipf says. “I think this is key as a starting point in any relationship.”