We’re at the start of another year, where prices and product availability are again uncertain. It’s frustrating for growers who need to lock in products and confirm budgets, and it’s equally discouraging for retailers who can’t deliver accurate estimates to support their customers. While most of the supply chain issues are out of your control, there are things you can do to provide top-notch customer service through input pricing swings.
We’re in a situation where input prices can change daily based on market fluctuations, supply chain issues, pandemic-related consequences and political agendas. That means the price you quoted last week could be irrelevant this week. Your growers have a limited budget allocated for their inputs, so as things change, so does their bottom line. While you can’t control price fluctuations, you can soften the blow by keeping an open line of communication with your customers. They are more likely to take a price increase in stride when they know it’s coming, rather than being shocked by an invoice they weren’t expecting.
To effectively communicate price fluctuations to growers, you need to stay on top of the changes. Don’t expect your suppliers to pass along the information in a timely manner. Be proactive and aggressive in getting the answers you need to support your customers. It’s also a good idea to look into multiple suppliers to keep your options open. Software management tools can help keep track of price changes and communicate them to your team, so you always have the most current information. Look for ways to get the answers you need and find tools to help keep that information updated and organized.
As input prices fluctuate, growers may be unable or unwilling to execute their original management plans. As their trusted advisor, you can offer alternative solutions. For example, can you recommend an older herbicide combination that could take the place of a glyphosate application? When farmers are priced out of their ideal plan, a solid backup will go a long way in earning their trust and repeat business.
Just as finding the right agronomists and trusted advisors is vital for every grower, incorporating technology to To maintain healthy margins, you may need to increase input costs for your customers. While it’s an unpleasant conversation to have, farmers will be more receptive when you explain why you’re raising prices. Be candid, transparent and empathetic to their situation and provide as much detail as possible to help them understand what is happening at the ag retail level. As fellow business owners, your farmers know that sometimes tough decisions have to be made to remain profitable, and they will appreciate your honesty.
While you may not have much control over input costs, you can ensure that farmers get top-notch service for the premium they may be paying for products. Remember, many products are commodities that growers can get from any ag retailer. Your service and attention to detail will set you apart from your competition. Make it a priority to check in with your growers throughout the growing season. After planting, stop by to do stand counts or evaluate early-season weed control. Mid-season is a great time to scout for diseases and insects, and before harvest, plan to walk fields to help prioritize harvest order. These touchpoints help the farmer see the value of your partnership instead of just focusing on the cost of a product.
As prices fluctuate, consider how you can help ease the financial burden that growers face. Fertility costs will be especially tough on farmers’ budgets this season. DTN reports that retail fertilizer prices continue to increase into the new year, with some products reaching record highs. Anhydrous, for example, averaged $1,492 per ton across surveyed retail locations in January 2022, an all-time high. Compare that to the $489 per ton growers paid during the same period last year, and it’s easy to see that farmers will be facing tough decisions this season.
To help ease the burden, help farmers prioritize inputs on the fields where they’re likely to get the largest return on investment. Instead of planning a blanket approach to fertility, for example, help farmers make more prescriptive applications to stretch their dollars. If variable rate applications are an option, use the technology to help manage costs. There may be other creative ways to help ease growers’ financial burdens, such as offering more flexible payment options or volume discounts.
You’re trying to manage a lot of uncertainty, and inevitably things will go wrong sometimes. A forgotten order, a late delivery, an unreturned phone call – all scenarios that could lead to a dissatisfied customer. Don’t let these setbacks set the trajectory of your business. Research shows that customers share their positive customer service experience with nine people, on average, but they will tell 16 people about negative experiences. When someone on your team makes a mistake, own up to it and make things right with the customer. Make it a priority to visit the customer face-to-face to apologize and let them know what you’ll do to avoid similar situations in the future.
As salespeople, it’s second nature to want to offer a solution. But, to be sure you’re offering the most economical and practical solution for your growers, you need to understand their goals and expectations. Sometimes it’s best to stop talking and listen. Listening is critical to a positive customer service experience, so make an effort to tune in when your customers have something to say.
Every year ag retail faces challenges, and 2022 is no different. Control what you can and continue to deliver dependable service to your customers. In these uncertain times, consistency, empathy and strong partnership can help ease growers’ anxieties and boost decision-making confidence.
For sales and agronomic news, sign up for the Elevate newsletter. Elevate is your weekly guide of curated and original content that positions readers for success as both agronomic experts and sales champions.