When a young couple recently entered C & B Operations in Chamberlain, South Dakota, salesperson Dallas Henry was first to greet them.
“They were looking for a mower, so I began by showing them the various models and features,” he remembers. Commercial mowers aren’t a big-ticket commission item, yet Henry says he went through the same steps he would with a potential customer inquiring about a tractor or combine. Not long after, the couple walked out of the dealership with a higher-end mower and loaded it onto a waiting trailer.
“They knew what they wanted and were ready to buy,” he says. “But they said it was the way they were treated in the dealership that closed the deal.”
Treating every customer with care, no matter what they may be purchasing at a dealership, can be a challenge. That’s especially true if salespeople are wading through several inquiries, whether it be online or over the phone, without as much as a single sale. “Every customer who emails or walks through the door isn’t a customer, but you can’t tell by looks,” Henry says.
“The foundation of our customer experience is the same whether they first visit our website or walk through the door,” says Karly Frederick, former marketing manager, BTI Equipment. “And that is to build a long-term relationship where we are viewed as a partner that sells them solutions for their operations, not just iron.”
BTI is a WEDA member and operates six locations in southwest and south-central Kansas.
Mike Hall, director of marketing, Titan Machinery, says today’s customers have more than likely already done all their research on a specific piece of equipment before they even make that initial contact.
“Years ago, the seven- or eight-step sales process started with the customer walking through the door or with a salesperson making a sales call at the farm or jobsite,” Hall says. “Today when that customer walks through the door, he/she may have already done the research, evaluated the options, and be ready to sign on the bottom line. The difference on who gets the sale can very well be determined on the responsiveness of the dealer during that first initial interaction.”
Hall uses the example of a customer who is 10 miles from one dealer but chooses to frequent another one 200 miles away because the latter offers a better customer experience. “So much of today’s business can be conducted online, from the specifications of equipment all the way to financing. If that dealer further away is more responsive, chances are they will get the business,” he says.
Brant Burris, marketing manager, AHW, LLC, says quality equipment is available from several dealers within a region, so what stands apart is the customer interaction.
“We can’t control the model of tractor being produced, but we can control that customer experience when they walk through the door,” he says. “The key is to be respectful of their time, be professional, and listen.”
He adds listening is especially important when dealing with customers who shopped online looking for specific equipment. “We need to ensure what we are selling will meet their needs and expectations,” Burris says. “Selling a piece of equipment that isn’t a right fit will leave a lasting negative impression. It’s important to get the right fit.”
Fredrick adds customer interaction has always been a critical part of any business relationship, but it’s even more imperative today. That’s especially true with the tools available to dealers and customers, and hit home for BTI during a recent YouTube video with a long-term customer.
“We developed several videos where a customer and Kelly Estes, our CEO, would visit,” she says. “One of our long-term customers noted over the past five years he’s seen his machinery salespeople less often. Yet through calls, texts and emails, he has even more contact with them than ever before. That level of communication is greater than ever, and critically important to ensure a longstanding customer experience and relationship.”
Today’s customer also can research equipment and make pricing inquiries on their own time. “A customer can research a piece of equipment from several dealerships in one evening,” Hall says. “That inquiry must be dealt with in a fast and efficient manner, because that same inquiry could be ready to buy.”
At BTI, Frederick says inquiries, especially from the website, are handled quickly. “People are used to instant customer service, and if we don’t respond to an inquiry that same customer may move on to the next dealership,” she says. “In today’s social media environment, having a poor reputation for responding to customers can be detrimental.”
Dealerships can often find additional inquiries generated through a website, but that often means weeding through a lot of customers who may not yet be ready to pull the trigger on a purchase, or who may be just kicking the tires.
“We get a lot of customer leads though our website, and while we have a good close rate there are some leads that just don’t pan out,” Burris says. “But it’s important to stay motivated, because that customer may not be buying today but he may return if he had a good customer experience.”
And Hall says working through the leads has to be consistent. “You can never tell what the next lead will bring. It could be a $200,000 sale,” he says. “But a poor customer experience could turn a potential sale into a lost sale.”
The bottom line is the customer experience matters.
“Providing the best customer experience helps ensure that we build on a lasting relationship,” Burris says. “And that makes for long-term, loyal customers who keep coming back.”
Article Written By Mark Moore
Mark Moore has more than 30 years of experience in agricultural communications. His diverse background includes newspaper reporter, news service editor, commodity newsletter editor, managing editor of Farm Forum magazine and account executive/writer for a major agricultural marketing communications agency. Mark is currently a freelance writer and photographer. His work has appeared in numerous publications, including Successful Farming, Progressive Farming, Farm Industry News, Corn and Soybean Digest, Hay and Forage Grower, No-Till Farmer.