March 18, 2018

Simplot gives farmers a reason to believe by showing them real results

By Mike Karst, Senior Partner

Read the previous articles in the series—"Giving Customers a Reason to Believe,” “Can I Get a Witness?” and "Helping Customers Fix What's Broken." 

There’s not much that irritates me more than someone trying to sell me something I don’t need. Or worse, claiming they have exactly what I need before they know anything about me. Whether they’re pushing more cable channels, a new car, or extra lawn treatments that aren’t right for my turf, when someone makes a blanket assumption about what I need without knowing my story, that doesn’t give me a good reason to believe that what they’re selling is actually going to work for me or that they care about me as a long-term customer.

Unfortunately for most of these salespeople, I’ve been around the block a few times so I’m usually one step ahead. I’ve done my research and have a pretty good idea of what I’m looking for when I walk into the store. Sometimes I’ll even play along for a while until they’re really on a roll, then surprise them by closing the deal on my own terms.

Unless you’ve taken the extra steps and invested the time to learn about MY world, I’m going to trust my own judgement a lot more than yours.

This is a good lesson for ag companies in how NOT to build those compelling reasons to believe in customers’ minds. Agricultural products today are as plentiful as they are complicated. One area where companies often come up short is by making generalizations about the effectiveness of their products, trying to apply “typical results” to a broad range of customers and not acknowledging that what works well on one farm may not work on another farm. Or what works in one section of a field may not work as well in another.

Putting Your Money Where Your Mouth Is

When it comes to choosing a retail partner, growers need someone who will give it to them straight. Don’t sugarcoat the facts, because we all know this to be true about farmers—that they’re typically of the mindset that if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

If you want to give a farmer reason to believe—and therefore earn their business—you’d be well-served to do research on their behalf on the effectiveness of the products you’re selling.

Do the research so you can put your money where your mouth is.

Simplot Grower Solutions has one of the most robust field trial programs I’ve ever seen in the industry, which for me puts them leaps and bounds ahead in terms of their ability to give customers a reason to believe.

Field Stripes™ is the name of Simplot’s internal vetting process where they put seed hybrids, fungicides, seed treatments, and other inputs to the test to show a farmer what to expect. And they perform these tests on a full field basis at a truly commercial level.

“Seeing is believing,” says Allan Fetters, Director of Technology at Simplot Grower Solutions. “Our test plots are not garden-sized test strips. 

They are whole fields, because that’s how we can show real variability as a farmer would see throughout the field. The best way we can deliver accurate and realistic results is at this larger scale. We’re putting products to the test using highly modified commercial-grade equipment designed to replicate exactly what a farmer is using, because we believe that’s the only way we can demonstrate realistic returns.” 

It’s almost mind-blowing the lengths they go to in order to show customers what they need to believe in a product. It’s not even about proving the lofty claims to be true. It’s about setting realistic expectations from the get-go about how the grower can expect a product to work. And the only way to set those expectations is by putting the product through the ringer.

Fetters says with so many new products and solutions and technologies getting ready to hit the market, this degree of vetting is critical to make sure the products Simplot is selling through the retail channel are ready for market. Field Stripes helps prove whether or not a product is likely to generate profit; and then, and only then, will Simplot recommend it to customers.

“When a product earns its stripes through our trials, the grower can have confidence that the product is going to work,” he says.

That’s reason to believe right there.

Seeing Really is Believing

Simplot Grower Solutions has more than 250 crop advisors and operates approximately 100 retail locations west of the Mississippi River from the Dakotas down to Texas and then westward. They cover irrigated agricultural regions—and per their founding, potatoes are still king.

Many years back when the industry was just getting started with variable rate planting, Simplot Grower Solutions’ precision ag and seed teams collaborated to get up to speed with the technology internally.

“If our people were going to get customers to believe in it, they first had to believe themselves. So we had to show them how it worked,” Fetters says.

“We’re not in the equipment business, but we invested some pretty significant resources to set up a fully equipped planter to run tests. I remember early on someone asked how we could possibly justify such a significant investment; and the project leader told us, “The payoff for Simplot is that we’re going to learn. Because that’s how we become a trusted advisor.”

Eventually, they were able to bring customers to the field to see the technology firsthand.

“These ride alongs gave our crop advisors quality 1:1 time with grower customers, and after a while growers who weren’t even working with Simplot were coming to us, asking to see it in action.”

This approach continued into the future, and really has just become the way it’s done at Simplot. Whether it’s testing multi-hybrids or new fungicide interactions, these test runs help Simplot understand how technology works so they can in turn help customers.

Comprehensive Partnerships with Growers

After the last downturn in the ag economy, there was growing pressure and attention on crop protection and nutrition as a means of getting more out of the crops growers are planting. But there’s more to it than that, and Simplot consultants are taking on a more holistic approach with their customers, leveraging products and services in their five core platforms of crop protection, crop nutrition, seed, specialty, and technology via the SmartFarm® precision agriculture services to serve a broader range of customers’ needs.

“Many growers have the propensity to shop around to try and save money. But as we all know, the lowest price on inputs doesn’t always translate to greater productivity, which is what drives revenue,” Fetters says.

Fetters says to become a grower’s trusted advisor, that grower has to have the utmost confidence that you’re leading them down the right path.

“We really have to show growers a strong value with their returns because they are running a business. This is especially the case with new products and services—they need to be able to show how they truly can have a positive impact; that these products are truly commercially viable.”

When working with farmers, if you give it to them straight and provide a realistic expectation of how products will perform in their field, they’re more likely to believe you. And in these cases, you might be surprised to see how willingly they’ll make the investment even if it’s not the lowest price.

Field Stripes™ and SmartFarm® are trademarks of the J.R. Simplot Company.

If you’d like to talk through developing your Reason to Believe, contact Mike Karst at mkarst@entira.net or 901.753.0470.