We’re All Ears

In agriculture, the pace of change has never been faster. To help customers understand how these innovations can work for them, AGCO has introduced new dealer and service training programs that focus as much on listening as teaching.

By Richard Banks | Photos By Rob Lagerstrom

AGCO has significantly expanded its training program. One of the highlights of that program is the National Training Event, held for the past several years near Phoenix, Ariz.

AGCO has significantly expanded its training program. One of the highlights of that program is the National Training Event, held for the past several years near Phoenix, Ariz.

“If you don’t stay on top of technology, you’re going to be leading from the rear,” says Mike Schulz, the corporate service manager for Agri-Service, a Massey Ferguson/AGCO dealership with locations in Idaho, Utah and Oregon. “There’s new software that comes out daily, different programs and different features. Technology changes day to day, and it’s critical to stay on top of it,” he continues, referring to Agri-Service and AGCO, as well as his customers.

Keeping up requires a lot of work, Schulz says, but in recent years AGCO has made it easier. “I’ve seen AGCO expand their training throughout North America to really fit dealers’ needs. They’ve made it more feasible to do it, and it’s just so much more cost-effective it’s unreal.

But there’s a twist to the training, says Schulz. “It’s not just about the technical side of things. AGCO, like we do at Agri-Service, really emphasizes that our people ask our customers about what they need. That helps get them in the equipment that’s best for them.”

Both halves of this training philosophy are a must for everyone at Agri-Service, Schulz says. “That helps us service and sell equipment, and it helps us better understand what we need to focus on when we’re training each customer.

“We try to integrate that training throughout the whole store so everybody is familiar with [the equipment]. And that is,” Schulz continues, “a comfort to our customers.”

“It is to me,” says Bruce Naas, who farms some 1,100 acres in western New York. For him, that peace of mind is as much about a good rapport with his dealership’s personnel as it is knowledge of equipment.

As he says of his relationship with Java Farm Supply, his Massey Ferguson and AGCO dealer, “It’s being able to feel comfortable enough with somebody to ask questions. Technology is changing so fast, it’s got to be a two-way street between me and the dealer.

“They’ve got to help us understand how to operate the equipment, but before that, they need to understand what we need. We have a lot of dialogue with our Java salesman before we buy anything.”

Naas says that after 15-plus years working with the dealership, the staff knows his operation well, but still takes the time to better understand his current situation and what he sees in his future. For instance, when shopping for a new tractor recently, his salesman presented him with several different types of equipment, then, Naas says, “explained what each one would do for me and how I could build upon each one. I think they looked a little farther down the road than we did, and I’m glad for that.”

“We encourage everyone to be effective listeners and ask the right questions,” says Peter Garza, AGCO’s director of channel marketing, who leads a team that works directly with dealers on a number of initiatives, including training. Many dealerships have already built their business on that foundation, but it’s a corporate focus too. That allows dealers, as well as AGCO corporate staff, “to be consultants, be advisers to customers, before trying to sell the iron itself.

“We don’t just manufacture equipment,” Garza continues. “We make sure it works for our customers. I don’t mean that it just rolls out of the shed and pulls a planter, but that it does all the things the customer needs it to do. That it’s going to make their lives easier, help them save more money, help them be safer, help them be more productive and help them deliver quality yields to their customers. That it does all these things now and years down the road.”

2_13_training3To accomplish such goals, adds Garza, “we know we have to offer a more robust training program than ever before.”

To that end, AGCO has not only continued to update the subject matter of its training to keep pace with changing technologies, but also expanded the program significantly. Perhaps the most obvious example of such growth is the physical one, increasing to five the number of AGCO training centers positioned in the U.S. and Canada. And the company is looking to expand with another two.

AGCO also offers regional training events closer to dealers, as well as what the company calls “distance-learning alternatives,” such as online training and DVDs. Such expansion, says Rob Lindgren, manager of technical training and AGCO Academy, North America, makes the training programs more accessible and has significantly increased participation by as much as 32% over the past three years.

Allowing more learning options is a critical component of the company’s growth strategy. “From a service perspective, as we sell more equipment, there are more service opportunities for dealerships,” says Kent Butler, AGCO’s vice president of technical services & support, North America. “And the dealers are adding technicians as well, so there are more people to be trained. It’s all about supporting the dealers who are supporting the customers.”

“We know we’ve got to be better than the competition,” says Garza. “We’ve got to be the best—to earn the business. We’re investing millions of dollars to develop and deliver quality training that really moves the needle and helps our dealers and customers be more effective.

“We know we have to work harder, and we’re committed to doing that.”

Dean Morrell, product marketing manager, Hay and Forage for Massey Ferguson, leads a training session at the 2013 National Training Event. Dealers and AGCO corporate personnel attended the four-day event for a series of workshops covering a variety of topics, such as equipment innovations and the future of agriculture.

Dean Morrell, product marketing manager, Hay and Forage for Massey Ferguson, leads a training session at the 2013 National Training Event. Dealers and AGCO corporate personnel attended the four-day event for a series of workshops covering a variety of topics, such as equipment innovations and the future of agriculture.

Naas, while an admitted skeptic, is a believer. In addition to receiving good advice on what equipment to buy, he says Java and AGCO also have gone the distance to help him better understand various features on his equipment and how they can benefit his operation. In addition to training events at the dealership, Java staff and an AGCO equipment specialist visited his farm. “They actually came out here twice, got in the cab with the guy that runs the tractor for me, went through [training] again, answered any questions and really helped.

“That’s what we need,” Naas continues, noting that equipment innovations help him be more efficient by, for example, using less fuel or covering more ground in less time. Yet, he says, “Technology is moving ahead so quick. I don’t want to have a feeling that I’m buying a laptop … then I walk out the door and never see anybody again.

“I feel that [AGCO] as a whole is moving in the right direction. They haven’t lost track of the customer, and I feel good knowing that somebody that doesn’t own the tractor is willing to go the extra mile for the guy that’s in it.”