There was a time when if a salesman had to spend more than five minutes with you explaining how to operate a piece of farm equipment, you probably didn’t need it. If you really did, chances were high you already knew how to use it, because it worked like virtually all the others. On top of that, machines just weren’t that complicated, even a couple of decades ago.
But that was then.
Today, of course, things have changed so much that dealerships have had to add product specialists to their staff, whose job it is to go out to the farm and spend the better part of a day helping a customer learn the intricacies of his or her new machine.
If a producer continually buys the same brand of machine when updating the farm fleet, then the job of learning how to operate new arrivals becomes much easier. It’s just a matter of learning the updates. But when a brand switches its digital technology to an entirely new system, there is pressure on both dealers and the manufacturer to step up their efforts to train customers.
That was the case for air drill manufacturer Seed Hawk this year. The brand switched from its Raven-based control system to what it calls iCon, which uses a wireless system designed by North Dakota-based Appareo Systems and relies on an iPad as a user interface.
This year, Seed Hawk invited all the customers who purchased new drills to come to the factory for a dedicated training day to learn that new system. When Seed Hawk’s Chris Morson gave me a call last week and invited me to stop by and check out one of those seminars, I jumped at the chance. (No, I didn’t buy a drill.)
“I don’t know that in my tenure here we’ve had this dramatic a change of product,” Chris explained. “This year was a little more important (for factory training) than some years are, because it’s such a drastic product change from what we were doing before with a new system. It’s a bit much to dump on [dealers] completely. So this year we really pushed to make sure our customers got here as much as possible.
Previously, the company has held regular training seminars in various regions in addition to what its dealers provide, but with the big technology changeover, management wanted customers to come right to the Saskatchewan factory this time.
“We like to do them (training days) at the stores or in central locations,” Chris added. “But this year we wanted to make sure they came to us, where I had the backup network (of product specialists) behind me.”
And it seems the introduction of new technology has slightly changed the sales picture for Seed Hawk this year. The average working widths of drills and the capacity of seed carts rolling out the factory door in response to customer orders has taken a jump.
“This year, it was really big,” he added. “I think we averaged 76 feet or something. And the 980 tank was most of the sales. That’s a little bit skewed, though, because the early adopters (of new technologies) tend to be the big guys. The 10,000-plus acre guys are the ones that jump on a new technology first. The medium-sized farms, those guys give new technology a year or so. So I suspect that (average drill size) will come down a bit.”
Nearly every one of the farmers who bought a new Seed Hawk drill this year showed up at the factory for training. “If this was last year’s product, I wouldn’t have had this kind of turnout,” says Chris. “But these guys are excited.”
“I really do think they appreciate it. I don’t expect them to go to the field tomorrow without tripping over a few things. But if it even guides them to the right part of the product manual, then it’s worth everybody’s time, dealers, ourselves and definitely the customer’s.”