For many rural lifestyle customers, equipment is a double-edged sword. While they like the idea of using equipment to tackle tough tasks around their property, the reality of actually operating and owning machines is often daunting.
Because many rural homeowners are first-time equipment buyers, their lack of knowledge about safe operation, and the proper use and maintenance of their equipment can create doubt and uncertainty that erodes their ownership experience. As a servicing dealer, you’re uniquely positioned to reduce or remove this anxiety and enhance your customers’ overall experience.
The service expertise you offer is one of the most tangible differences between your store and the big-box retailers. It can also serve as the cornerstone of a sale and after-sale marketing strategy to help make rural homeowners “customers for life.”
When a rural lifestyle customer arrives at your store interested in a compact tractor, utility vehicle or zero-turn mower, you should spend time asking questions about their property and the type of tasks they want to accomplish. Pinpointing your customers’ needs helps you identify a product — or range of products — that will meet their objectives, which then leads you to a discussion of features, advantages and benefits.
But before trying to close a deal, also take the time to showcase your parts and service departments. Make sure that customers understand that you have the parts, people and expertise to ensure their machines are fully operational when they need them to handle the chores around their homestead.
the Next Purchase
Service after the sale is where your store can truly stand out. Upon delivering a new piece of equipment, schedule a complimentary service appointment 1-2 months later. Beyond simply providing another important touchpoint with your customer, this scheduled service provides the opportunity to:
• Showcase your dealership’s commitment to servicing the products you sell;
• Ensure the equipment is operating at peak capacity;
• Make sure the product is meeting the customer’s expectations;
• Explore the many additional sales opportunities that the customer may now have.
With their busy personal and professional lives, most rural lifestylers place a premium on convenience, making this audience a strong market for maintenance service contracts. Make sure your customers know that you can provide routine maintenance services so they can rest assured their equipment is fully operational when they need it.
Another post-sale touchpoint to consider is a monthly email to customers and prospects that provides helpful tips on equipment operation and service, while also highlighting your parts and service specials. These email newsletters also direct customers back to your dealership’s web site so they can see your full product and service offering.
“Most rural lifestylers place a premium on convenience, making this audience a strong market for maintenance service contracts.”
Adding “how-to” type videos to your site is also recommended for this audience. YouTube has changed the public’s perception of online video, as the quality and relevance of the content’s message now trumps video quality. Some dealerships are posting brief video segments where the store’s service manager or lead service technician walks customers through simple how-to or trouble-shooting procedures. These can be easily linked within your email updates.
While your service advantage is critical in retaining customers, you need to leverage it to attract new prospects as well. Many dealers see considerable value in entering into servicing agreements with local big-box outlets such as Home Depot and Lowe’s.
When approaching these box stores, don’t be afraid to ask for the sky. At a minimum, they should provide you with the opportunity to place signage in their stores and to attach set-up stickers on the brands you carry. Negotiate for the stores to provide you not only with the names and contact information of new buyers, but also equipment buyers from previous years. Follow up with each of these customers by phone or mail to alert them of the high-quality service and support you provide.
You may also consider a direct-mail campaign targeting rural lifestyle customers in your area. List rentals are available from a variety of sources in which you can select specific demographics, such as single-family households with incomes of more than $75,000 with properties of 1-20 acres. You can then target this audience with specific product or service offerings, such as pre-season tune-ups or post-season maintenance.
While open houses are generally more effective in reinforcing your appreciation for existing customers, they do offer an opportunity to showcase your dealership to new prospects as well. The parts and service departments should be focal points of any onsite promotional event.
Finally, make every effort to continually reinforce the vital role parts and service department employees play in your dealership’s success. This acknowledgement provides a boost to your staff, and the better your employees feel about their jobs and workplace, the better they’ll treat the customers who keep your doors open and the lights on.
Dan Kirkpatrick is associate director of public relations and co-chair of the Equipment Practice Group for Osborn & Barr, the largest marketing communications agency serving the agricultural and rural market. He has more than a dozen years of experience in the ag and power equipment industries.