April 28, 2015

By Tim Kerstein, Director of Solutions Development, Entira

Story highlights:

  • New product, different expectations: Farmers expect precision ag technology to be positioned differently than other products— you cannot market precision ag products the same way you market seed, chemistry, or fertilizer products.
  • Common language…in moderation: Simplicity and brevity are key to ensuring your message resonates with farmers.
  • Be a partner, not a salesman: Farmers want a reliable partner to advise them on improving their operation.
  • 2013 vs. 2015: Entira’s 2015 study reinforces increased opportunities for precision ag companies but farmer expectations are changing rapidly.

Show me what you can do for me, but check your ego at the door

When it comes to selling precision agriculture systems or services to farmers, it is wise to leave the jargon back at the office.

That is what dozens of farmers told us in our most recent market research study, Precision Agriculture and Big Data: Charting the Oceans of Opportunity. Farmers told us loudly and clearly that when they talk with suppliers about precision ag solutions, they want you to “show me what this can do—but do not waste my time with a lot of technical mumbo jumbo.”

If you have a precision ag system to sell, the way you should be positioning it to farmers is changing. Farmers are business owners evaluating costs and income, so suppliers must consider this in their approach. Traditional marketing or rebate programs can be a crutch limiting companies from reaching customers in a meaningful way.  

Two things we know for sure:

  • Farmers have limited time and need you to cut to the chase. When you are in a conversation with farmers, their minds might be elsewhere—they are thinking about the markets, equipment purchases, labor, nutrient management, the weather, and so on. Farmers have limited time to listen to a sales pitch, and they are not impressed with big words and fancy algorithms. They are looking for experts who can tell them what they need to know succinctly and in a language they can relate to. What is most important to farmers is seeing a clear benefit from what you bring to the table without their “to-do” list doubling during the conversation.
  • Farmers want a reliable partner to understand their unique situation and advise on options to improve their operation … but they want to make their own decisions. Farmers want your input, but want to remain in control. You must understand and convey how your product integrates into their operation to be considered. This may mean admitting your product or service is not right for their operation, which is a difficult admission but this level of honesty is a display of respect to the grower. Farmers are actively looking for people to help them and your honesty may be the first step in building a future partnership.

If you are in the precision ag business (although this certainly applies to any product or service marketed to farmers), keep these philosophies in mind when you are crafting your pitch.

Speak in the Language that Resonates with Farmers

Farmers today need more than a catchy marketing message or piles of research. The perfect pitch is a combination of marketing and education—a more sophisticated approach to positioning your product that is customized and breaks down unique benefits for the individual farmer and provides relevant information. The key words here are, “sophisticated, but not fancy.” Farmers are increasingly expecting an outline of what the product or service will do for them—cost breakdown, expected yield, approximate revenues, and what the return could be at the end of the year. Farmers want to see the cause and effect of their decisions and not just a finite, point-in-time view driven by cost. This is a more progressive mindset for the farmer, and precision agriculture is driving it by offering benchmarking capabilities at unparalleled levels. It undoubtedly will impact input decisions, so suppliers must be more accountable.

The criteria for equipment purchases are shifting. Those loyal to a particular color of iron are expanding their farm’s color palette based on a more complex process of decision making. What do I need it to do on my farm? What machine best suits that need? We are seeing a shift away from purchases based on mechanical features to greater value placed on technology. Sentimental value carries less weight than how the equipment will be used on the farm. The color of the iron is less important than its ability to provide solutions and integrate into their operation.

The same goes with ag products companies that are offering precision ag services. Just because a grower is loyal to your brand does not mean he or she is committed to your precision ag or data system. It is truly open season for suppliers.

Comparing 2015 and 2013

One consistent finding between our latest study and the one we completed in 2013 is that customer support for precision ag services is a continuing point of frustration. Farmers reported negative experiences when calling service lines, with the representative not understanding their issues and not knowing enough about agriculture being common frustrations. Whether it is your customer service representatives, your technical service staff, or your sales team, the winning combination for your personnel is technical understanding of the solution plus the ability to effectively relate that to the farmer. If your staff can address a farmer beyond canned messages and speak knowledgably about how your products or service solves operational and financial issues, your value to that farmer is immeasurable.

Farmers demand transparency and clarity, and keeping control of your story is more important now than ever before. Farmers have unprecedented levels of resources to research companies and products, which they process on their own time and use to formulate opinions. Suppliers need to offer a clear and concise message—you have a small window of opportunity to be relevant to the farmer and show him or her how your solution can make their operation stronger. Brevity is critical. A farmer is thinking, “Help me understand how your product or service can resolve an issue or create an advantage for my operation – all in a 5-10 minute presentation.” Sometimes the less you say, the more likely it is that you will be heard.

“One should use common words to say uncommon things.”
—Arthur Schopenhauer, 18th century German philosopher

And again, keep it simple. The terminology you use within your organization may mean absolutely nothing to the farmer, and it can easily lead to misunderstanding and frustration. Just sounding smart or progressive is not enough. You prove your worth by being able to translate the complex into something relevant and useful, and doing it in a language the farmer can relate to.

Become a Partner Farmers Rely On

Farmers are overwhelmed to the point of confusion about precision ag solutions and systems available.

Adoption of precision ag continues to increase (as well as the breadth of its use on the farm)—as many would expect. However, farmers find it increasingly difficult to understand all of their options. Differentiation is key to the success of any product or service and precision ag is not an exception. This further amplifies the importance of a clear and concise message to farmers with vast and increasingly array of precision ag products and services available to growers.

Data integration and data management remain major challenges for farmers as the prevalence and accessibility of information captured from their farm increases. While slightly improved since our last study, it is still a major problem for farmers. Despite the challenges and frustration that can come with implementing and adapting to precision ag technology, adoption as a whole remains on the upswing. Farmers are willing to plow through the challenges because they see the value in precision ag practices. They are seeking and evaluating solutions and making choices on where to invest. This is why your sales approach and rapport with the grower is mission critical.

Farmers are accustomed to having a local expert at their fingertips for inputs, but that is not always the case with precision ag, and they are desperately seeking someone who can help with the analysis of the data they are extracting. Farmers want someone to help them understand how to translate this information into a meaningful solution for next season. From equipment to computer, they need a partner who can advise on both ends of the equation.

That said, the debate over data ownership is still a heated one, and farmers strongly believe the data coming off their equipment is theirs and they want control over who sees it and uses it. And, they do not want to share it unless they are getting something in return. We asked farmers—how much is your data worth to a supplier? Most said the value to them was between the $300 to $600 per acre range. Farmers understand the value of their data.

Our study reinforces the idea that there is increased opportunity for precision ag companies to utilize a consultative selling approach to become the trusted advisor farmers need. Those identified as existing trusted advisors are not necessarily the individual farmers identified as their trusted advisor for precision ag technology, so existing loyalties may not translate. Precision ag data allows farmers to be more analytical with their decisions; but in order to earn their trust, you have to present and educate them on complicated concepts quickly and simply. Translate it into information that is realistic and relevant.

The bottom line is this: The first precision ag company to provide a thorough solution to farmer challenges coupled with a clear and concise message will reap the rewards. 

Get the 2015 Study

Results from the qualitative phase of our latest precision ag study are available. The findings this time are broader than previous studies, as we went deeper with interview questions and built upon findings from the last study. By purchasing the study, you will receive a detailed report on our conclusions from the research plus two hours of individualized time with an Entira team member who was directly involved with the interviews. We will review the results with you and answer your questions—giving you a chance to probe into findings that interest you.

If you would like more information on the study or to talk about how Entira can help deliver a clear and compelling message to your customers, please contact me at tkerstein@entira.net.