Marketing Matters:

Rural lifestylers are an articulate group of consumers who share their buying experiences with friends and neighbors. A good part of what they know about products and equipment comes by way of “word of mouth” from others who own similar products or have had an experience with a specific retailer. Often the knowledge is second-hand, passed on from someone who knows someone.

Word-of-mouth advertising is essential for equipment dealers who are trying to capitalize on the growing rural lifestyle market. And despite the way it may seem, effective word-of-mouth advertising is no accident.

Doing nothing to elicit customers’ positive comments about your dealership is a missed opportunity. It’s in your own best interest to know what your customers are saying about your business — good or bad — and the equipment you carry.

Ask Them

You might be surprised with the answers you get when you just ask customers about their experience at your dealership. You might be equally surprised what these customers consider most important about buying products and equipment for their “spreads” compared to what is important to your professional farmers.

So, when — not if — they talk with others about your dealership, their comments often center more on the buying experience and less on the equipment. Your concern and efforts about getting “things right” will often help overcome any difficulties they encountered during the process. If a customer’s experience was a good one, you can build on it. If not, you need to fix it.

Learn to Listen

Just as important as asking the right questions to discern the perception customers have of the dealership is listening to the answers.

Ask open-ended questions to elicit comments that give customers an opportunity to express themselves as well as to open new areas of discussion. Take note of any comments or concerns that surprise you. If something concerns one customer, it’s probably important to others, too.

Follow-Up Surveys

Customers hesitant to express themselves in face-to-face discussions are often more comfortable responding in writing. Customer surveys are a good after-the-sale follow-up. Customer service surveys should be sent out within 30 days after the sale and include questions such as “How were you treated by our sales staff?”

Comments that cause concern can identify trouble spots that need additional attention and follow up. These should also be addressed in future surveys to determine if it was a singular event or a trend.

What to Ask

For a dealership courting the rural lifestyle customer, one of the most pertinent questions is, “How did you first learn about our dealership?’ If you’ve advertised in local papers or on radio or TV, you need to know which ad produced results.

“Comments that concern or
surprise can identify trouble spots that call for attention...”

If your customer learned about you from a neighbor, ask who it was. Make sure you acknowledge that customer’s referral in some way. A gift like a hat, shirt or jacket is appropriate.

Another good follow-up question is, “Did we provide all of the information you needed about the equipment in order to make your decision? What can we do in the future to make sure you’re comfortable with your purchase?”

This question provides the dealership with advice on how to sell to and service the the rural lifestyler.

Seek Input

The “Comments” section is the most valuable part of a customer survey. Not only is it here that unhappy customers vent, but satisfied customers will tell you what they liked. These provide the “testimonials” that become a part of your word-of-mouth advertising program.

Few dealers will argue that “word-of-mouth” advertising is the most powerful weapon in their marketing arsenal. But it isn’t something that happens by accident. Like any other marketing message, it needs nurturing and conscious development.