Pictured Above: Three precision managers answered real-life question from their dealer peers on if and how each charges for training, along with the best opportunities or obstacles to doing so.

During the 2018 Precision Farming Dealer Summit in Louisville, 3 precision managers answered real-life question from their dealer peers on if and how each charges for training, along with the best opportunities or obstacles to doing so.

This article covers training and service plan costs, with responses from:

  • Chris Finley, Vice President of Parts, Service and Precision for Mazergroup — 15 locations in Manitoba and southeast Saskatchewan, Canada.
  • Layne Richins, Precision Farming Manager, Stotz Equipment — 25 stores in 8 western states, ranging from southern Idaho to the Mexican border.
  • Cody Searle, Manager of Vantage-Northwest — Vantage-Northwest is the precision farming arm of Agri-Service, 13-store group throughout Idaho, Washington, Utah and Oregon.

A common question of precision farming managers is how to protect the training and service investments that dealers are encouraging the customer to take, for their own benefit as well as the dealers.’

None of the dealers who presented on the panel were charging for training per se, but Richins noted that “When a customer buys a new piece of equipment, we’ll include a charge to that piece of equipment to go out and do specialized onsite training. It’s included in the precision ag/support, to have an on-farm training session provided by precision ag staff.”

Dealer Takeaways

Consider precision training as a line item in the purchase order so customers expect to pay for it.

Make sure customers understand the value they receive from training — don’t make it a sales pitch.

Don’t let salespeople decide whether to remove training from a sale. Make it a mandatory inclusion.

The other side of that, however, is how to keep the sales department from slashing that if it gets into a bidding war between a competitive dealer, as the first thing many farmers want to cut is that $200 or $500 that was added to the account for billable time.

Finley: “The salespeople aren’t allowed to, it’s just not an option. We’ll make a no-margin deal before we slash that.”

Richins: “The fight goes away once salespeople trust the individual precision ag person. So, it’s partly our job as precision ag specialists to build the confidence of our internal team, to understand that it’s going to cost us $500 on this tractor, but what the customer will get out of that $500 is worth it.

“So yes, there is some fight, but we can build the trust with our own team to help prove it to the customer. Something I’ve found successful is making sure that the salespeople are there when we do the training, to make sure that they understand what it is we’re talking about and what differentiates us in helping set the product up. We make sure that the customer knows how to use it vs. just turning them loose. There are things that we try to do better than others, and when the salesman actually sees that, they’re able to kind of buy into the deal.”

Finley: “I agree that when the salespeople see the value of that charge, the fight goes away.”

Another real-world question that dealers face in this area was with line item visibility. Another dealership explained its experience in carrying a new line of equipment. It added a 12 month service plan package — that the dealership and sales team both thought had high value — to each machine sale as a line item, and 5 of the first 6 farmers who bought the machines insisted that the service package be removed.

Training Communication: Who Needs to be “In the Loop?”

Do you find that you looked for salespeople to have more knowledge of the precision ag side, or do you train your individual precision ag people to be more than a technician and help that farmer from a sales perspective as well?

Chris Finley, Vice President of Parts, Service and Precision for Mazergroup: “Our precision team is the primary seller of all things precision. So, our sales team has a conversational level understanding of the products. They can get the vibe that the customer is wanting something, and then bring in the precision specialist. The specialist will then go through and qualify that customer and determine what they need going forward in their operation. Our precision staff is doing that.”

Cody Searle, Precision Manager of Vantage-Northwest: “The way we structured things is that we expect both salespeople and technicians to be able to talk intelligently about the product. But ultimately, it’s the salesperson’s responsibility.”

Layne Richins, Precision Farming Manager, Stotz Equipment: “As a John Deere dealer, we don’t really want our salespeople to be precision ag experts. We want them selling iron because that’s what they’re good at. We want a conversational understanding of what it is that we’re doing and again it goes back to making sure that the salespeople trust the precision ag staff. If that trust isn’t there, he’s not going to mess around with a $5,000 system when he could be selling a $250,000 tractor.

The salespeople need to be focused on selling iron and our precision ag people need to be focused on taking care of everything after the sale. For us, that means making sure that the JDLink is working and making sure that the customer knows that it’s there. We found when salespeople were doing it on their own, they weren’t always doing that.”

Searle: “I have my guys put it on as a line item and the uptake has been good for us. We just started this past fall, but I have not had one customer yet that’s taken it off — if you can explain to him very clearly what he’s getting out of it. But we’ve never had the problem.”

Finley: “Right or wrong, we don’t show it as a cost. We say it’s part of what our customers purchase from Mazergroup and they get it. Otherwise customers opt out and they’re asking for stuff later anyway. We find we should include it, but not call attention to it. The customer understands what they’re getting, but it’s not visible per se and there’s not a specific dollar amount they associate with it.”

“Salespeople aren’t allowed to slash the training cost, it’s just not an option. We’ll make a no-margin deal before we slash that…”

–Chris Finley, Mazergroup

Richins: “We’re similar. We don’t necessarily have it on the purchase order. When you buy a piece of equipment there’s no $500 startup fee listed on the purchase order. I think it would prompt some salespeople to say, ‘Well, the customer is going to save $500 if he doesn’t do this.’ Letting them opt out of it ends up costing you. I would just make it known that this is included in the cost and there’s not an option to remove it.”

Searle: “The reason why I like it as a line item is so the next year, it’s a lot easier to go back to that customer and say, ‘This is what you’re going to be getting from us, were you happy with it last year and this is the price that you’ll pay.’ That’s why I do like having it there as a line item.”

Tapping Into Precision Training Value: Moving Beyond a ‘Necessary Evil’

Cody Searle, Manager,
Vantage-Northwest (Agri-Service)

I recently talked to industry people about their thoughts on customer training. One response was that customer events are a “necessary evil,” that customers expect it, so we do it. Another said, “We do them, but we don’t feel like we get anything in return from them.” And another said, “Our customers don’t remember anything that we teach them so why do them, what’s the point?”

Here’s how we’d answer that question. It’s not about sales. Customer events are meant to build a relationship with your customer so they see you as their trusted advisors in technology. If we as dealers are successful at doing this, then sales and growth is the outcome.

1. In-Store Training

The on-location trainings — where we bring our customers on site at Agri-Service and teach them step by step instructions — is one of my favorite trainings because you can get these customers excited. Start teaching them how to use their monitors and you can see the “ah-ha” moment on their face when they catch and grasp what you’re teaching them. It’s extremely important to make it exciting.

When you go to a pro football game it’s extremely exciting, right? You’re excited to get to the game, you’re excited for the game itself, you’re excited for everything that’s going on there and having fun. And I bet you’ve gotten to the point once where you’ve turned to your buddy said, “Man, we can be football players, let’s do this, we can do it.”

That’s something I really try to get across — get the customers excited — excited to be there, to learn something new and try something different in their business. To get them excited, you’ve got to have an expert presenting the content.

If you aren’t the expert, get someone from your team that knows the content well and let them teach it. Share step-by-step instructions simple enough so they can understand it and give them the tips and tricks. Tell them about other farmers’ trials and struggles with the system.

Troubleshooting is interesting. Whether or not to teach customers how to troubleshoot is kind of a split decision among dealers. My take is that you train and teach customers how to troubleshoot their own problems. This empowers them and helps them see you’re sharing the knowledge to understand the ins and outs of their system. They’re only going to maybe remember 10% of the whole training, so it isn’t ever going to cut into your business, but it’s going to build their confidence.

Make sure training is interactive. At each session we do, there’s an opportunity when we’re done presenting, attendees can get into the equipment and try the things that we taught them and apply the knowledge. Don’t kill them by PowerPoint. Most attendees would much rather have things interactive and be able to communicate with one another.

“Customers are only going to remember maybe 10% of the whole training, so it’s never going to cut into your business, but it’s going to build their confidence…”

One of the keys is to let farmers get their hands on stuff. Think of your customers like kids in a toy store. If you let your kid hold a toy while he’s in the toy store, it’s hard to tell the kid to put the toy back on the shelf and walk out the door.

Lastly, whatever training it is, make attendees happy with free lunch, discounts and giveaways. These types of incentives attract customers who want to go home with something. It doesn’t matter if it’s a new pin, a hat, gloves, whatever — they want something out of it.

2. Cutting-Edge Technology Training

We usually do this type of session once a year and bring farmers into a central location. This is another fun event to watch the customers interact with each other. Most of the time, we’ll get the decision makers from the farm.

They’re also the early adopters and in our territory, those early adopters are extremely competitive. If they see their neighbor doing something that’s working, they want to do it, too.

With any new product and live demonstration, make sure that you can make it work. Customers want to see that it works and that it’s a product they can trust and rely on.

We make sure our vendors are there, but they shouldn’t be the ones always presenting the content.

They can talk, but the vendors are there to show support to their dealers. I feel it’s the employee’s job, not the vendors, to be able to teach those customers and interact with them.

This type of training is very successful. We’ve done it for the last 3 years and each time we’ve sold $75,000 to $100,000 worth of product that day. It’s also giving our techs something to do during the down months along with the new installs.

Another benefit is if you get these early adopters to attend and purchase product, you now have another source. When another customer calls on that product, you have someone that they can go talk and personally see the farm that it’s working on.

3. On-Farm Training

On each new sale, we give the customer 2 hours of training to teach them how to use the products they bought. The first hour of training is with the technician doing the installation on that customer’s machine. Our tech gets out to see the customer, will introduce him to the monitor, introduce him to the equipment and teach him how to use it.

The number one thing to avoid is overwhelming farmers with information they can’t immediately use. If the customer has good familiarity already, we can go deeper.

Then, about a week or two after the technician goes and does his training, the salesperson follows up — on the farm. He makes sure the installation is up to the customer’s standards and our standards. He’ll then sit down and teach the customer a little bit more about that piece of equipment that he sold him.

Most of the time, the problem calls we get a year or so after purchase, are setup type issues with monitors and calibrations. We’ll make sure the farmer is there too when we go out, so he can see how it’s supposed to be done, and the effectiveness of good calibrations. We’ve had good success this last year in doing this and pushing our service contracts, because the customers see that doing it right the first time means a lot.

See More about Training Tactics

Learn more from Chris Finley, Layne Richins and Cody Searle about their approaches to internal and external precision training methods they’ve deployed at their dealerships in exclusive “super session” video coverage from the 2018 Precision Farming Dealer Summit. Visit www.PrecisionFarmingDealer.com/training


PFD Summer 2018 Contents