In the past several issues of E-Brief, we've looked at ways your dealership can leverage the popularity of social media opportunities such as Facebook and Twitter to attract the business of rural consumers.

There's still a lot of work to be done when it comes to utilizing the Internet as a tool to boost business at a dealership, and this coverage will continue.

However, once the consumer has left your store with a new tractor or implement, what can you and your staff do to ensure they keep coming back?

Service after the sale is crucial, especially for the rural consumer. In this article, adapted from one written by Dave Kanicki for Rural Lifestyle Dealer, we visit with a dealer in California who firmly believes "service is a sales function."

-- Chad Elmore

Read the full article here: 'Getting Out There' Gives California Dealer a Leg Up

Service Starts with Sales

Jeff Sponhaltz, general manager of C&N Tractors' store in Paso Robles, Calif., believes that other than doing the actual mechanical work, service is a sales function. From his experience with most farm equipment dealerships, he notes that the salesperson is usually done with the customer once the sale is completed and a work order is issued. This doesn't work well for the lifestyle customer, he says.

"Maybe that's OK for the commercial farmer, but at our store, the salespeople remain the customer's point of contact during and after the sale. We deliver the tractor and take the customer on his or her first ride. We — not the service guys — spend the time to explain and demonstrate how everything works."

With only 2 full-time salespeople — and Sponaltz is one of them along with his general manager duties — he understands the additional burden being placed on them. That's why he stresses the need for great salespeople in working with rural lifestyle customers.

In his previous job, he paid his salesmen 50% of their commission for selling the equipment and 50% for delivering it. "It was his responsibility to make sure the customer was familiar with how everything worked and was happy with it."

What this does, says Sponhaltz, is to make the salespeople responsible for the entire transaction — from beginning to end — and establishes them as the customer's contact long after the sale itself is completed.

"If I sell you a tractor, I make sure it's set it up with everything we discussed. I make sure the shop gets it done the way you want it. Nothing gets lost in the translation," he explains.

"Then I personally deliver it. We drive it and hook up and unhook implements to make sure everyone's familiar with how it all works. This makes me your point of contact. If that customer needs anything, they call me first," says Sponhaltz.

When a customer has a service issue, needs parts or has a billing question, he calls his salesman first and he directs it along to the appropriate department.

"Our customers always have a person who they know to go to," Sponhaltz says.

Two Steps Further

Because C&N Tractors believes that customer service is an ongoing process, its salespeople take it two steps further. Not only does Sponhaltz put his home phone on his business card, he says they do a fair amount of "going back out" with its lifestyle customers.

"Two years ago we had a lot of rain and sold a lot of mowers," Sponhaltz explains. "Last year we had no rain, so there wasn't a problem with weeds. This spring, I guarantee you I'll be going back out to customers that I sold tractors to 2 years ago and help them hook up their mowers because they don't remember how to do it. That's fine. That's what we do and I know they tell their friends and neighbors."

Along with his office and cell phone numbers, his business card also gives his home phone in "big type."

"I tell customers, 'If you're out there on a Sunday afternoon and have a problem, call me at home. I'll explain it to you and if I need to, I'll come and help you out," he says.

In the last 8 years, he's had only two people call him at home with a problem, "but people are impressed when I tell them that," Sponhaltz adds.