While it’s been another unforgiving start to spring with fluctuating temperatures and snow still falling in some areas of the Midwest, precision farming specialists are nevertheless in the throes of planting season.
Visiting with the precision farming manager of a 3-store group in northern Illinois in mid-April, he admitted to being stretched thin — even though most area farmers hadn’t planted a single acre.
“This time of year, you never have enough help, so you try and get as much done ahead of time,” he says. “Calibrating monitors, software updates and variable-rate setup are things we try and do beforehand.”
But this is easier said that done, especially when farmers aren’t always interested in tinkering with technology, until right before they go to the field. For precision specialists, it’s critical that the first time their customers dust off their displays isn’t when they start planting because this often leads to a panicked phone call for support.
Some dealerships offer pre-season clinics to refresh farmers on operating precision equipment, but that’s usually not enough to substantially diminish the crush of service calls that come this time of year.
So how can precision dealers persuade customers to proactively prepare for planting? By telling them it’s going to cost them more if they wait.
For the last 4 years, the precision manager in Illinois has effectively sold precision service packages to customers by giving them a choice.
“I tell them it’s optional, but if they don’t buy it, they are going to get billed by the hour which will probably end up costing them a few hundred dollars more,” he says. “And when it’s time to plant, I’m not going to be worried about updating a customer’s software. It’s time to get planters moving.”
This honest approach has worked well for the dealership, which has 60-80% of its precision customers enrolled in some type of precision service package, ranging from 24-7 phone support, to full in-field service.
But success comes from a targeted and personal approach to selling. As the precision manager says, advertising the dealership’s precision service packages in the local paper, won’t drum up much business.
“It’s something we have to sell,” he says. “If you think you are going to get a high take rate just saying, ‘We offer these, ask us for more information,’ it doesn’t work that way.”
Human nature is to wait until the last minute to get something done. This applies to some farmers when it comes to updating or inspecting their precision technology prior to planting.
So rather than endure an endless string of service calls each spring, dealers are wise to develop and proactively sell support packages. It can be an effective way to survive the season, and ideally add to the dealership’s bottom line.
As the precision manager in Illinois says, “We never want to be jerks, but I’ve also got to be honest with customers and let them know when something could have been taken care of ahead of time.”