We reached out to dealers of all colors from across North America who shared successful strategies and best practices for promoting their service programs and bringing in customers during the "off season." Marketing representatives from several dealerships share their winter service promotions and why they work in their own words.

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Major farm equipment manufacturers John Deere and Case IH agree that winter service is vital to keeping dealers busy during slow winter months and have shared the following advice they give their dealers for promoting and making the most of winter service programs.

1. Start early

Josh Dinwiddie, program manager, service marketing for John Deere, tells dealers to start early and often. “We encourage dealers to plan ahead to inform customers what they are offering starting in the fall and continue the communications throughout the fall and winter using direct mail, email and flyers to let customers know they need to sign up for winter service,” he says.

“Customers know the value of having their equipment inspected, but still need a reminder to schedule one. By being proactive in communicating the inspections, the dealership has a better chance of being able to schedule the inspection during the shop’s slow season vs. peak season.”

2. Consider multiple mediums

Case IH Service Marketing Manager James Ruffalo says Case IH offers assistance to dealers promoting winter service programs through multiple mediums, but that it’s ultimately up to the dealer to decide how they want to promote their winter service. “It’s up to the dealer whether they want to do an email, a mailer or a flyer, and usually cost is a factor,” he says.

“If the customer gets a physical promotion they can hold in their hands, they’re going to get a more in-depth look at it. If they receive an email, it’s easy to look past if they’re busy and then they never get back to it because it’s already at the bottom of the email box.

“Nonetheless, we try to offer our dealers as many tools as possible to fit their dealership because every dealership is different,” Ruffalo continues. “Some of the more progressive dealers prefer to do promotions digitally and there are other dealers who believe that they need to push a program face-to-face to get any traction.”

3. Take advantage of manufacturer-sponsored programs

Both Case IH and Deere say they help dealers by offering special programs. “We provide finance options for our customers through John Deere Financial,” Dinwiddie says.

“These special programs offer delayed payments with low or no interest terms.”

Case IH also offers special financing to encourage customers to have their equipment service during the winter months. Ruffalo says, “Case IH does an inspect and protect program that offers the customer an extra 6 months of parts warranty during winter service because we’re going to look at the machine and fix it in the winter, but the customer is not going to use it for another 6 months. By the time the customer uses the machine, the normal parts warranty on the part will have warn out, so we offer an additional 6 months warranty on that part to ensure the machine is covered if it is faulty in form, fit or functionality.”

Both Dinwiddie and Ruffalo suggest dealers know and take advantage of these manufacturer-offered programs when promoting winter service to customers.

4. Make use of manufacturer-provided marketing materials

“John Deere provides our dealers with several tools to help them promote winter service,” Dinwiddie says. “We provide advertising templates for direct mail, flyers, print ads and radio scripts. Dealers can use existing material we provide or they can customize the marketing material to fit their demographics. To help with their customization we provide images they can use in their promotions.”

Similarly, Ruffalo says, “Case IH has a website that has different types of marketing materials that dealers can tailor for their dealership. Dealers can go to the site, put their logo in and use our materials as an advertising template. They can then print the promotion or have it mailed directly to their customers from the program.”

Case IH also offers tools that allow dealers to pinpoint specific customers for targeted promotions using their dealer management system. “Case IH has tools that can load data from the dealer’s management system to rank customers in terms of sales percentages and total sales vs. dollars spent in aftermarket,” Ruffalo says. “It’s hard to go out and inspect every customers’ machine, but there are definitely customers out there who need the inspection. You always have the customers who will always get the inspection done every year, and they’re the A customer. But it’s that B and C customers who need the inspection done, not necessarily to increase the dealers’ business with them, but because they need a trained professional eye looking at their machinery.”

5. Promote your expertise

Ruffalo explains that while some customers may be mechanically inclined, they don’t have the same real-time experience and knowledge of common problems with a specific model of machine, which is where dealers’ certified trained technicians come in. “Dealers should promote the benefits of having a factory certified technician inspect the customers’ machine,” he says. “A lot of farmers will inspect their own machines, but a certified technician is more aware of the faults that have been happening out in the field and has an idea of what he should be checking and where he should look to see where things might go wrong. That’s a big advantage for the customer.”

Ruffalo says the dealers he’s seen who are most successful with winter service programs are those who integrate inspections into their dealership culture. “Every time a machine is in the shop, there’s an opportunity for the technician to inspect the machine and promote continuous inspections,” he says. “Getting the programs and concepts in front of the customer, especially when they’re idle, is important. Let the customer know that being proactive now can save them during critical uptime later.” Ruffalo also suggests dealers keep an eye out for upsell opportunities during inspections.

“When you’re inspecting machines, pay attention to areas where maybe there are specific retrofit kits that could be used to upgrade older equipment to the functionality of newer equipment,” he says.

6. Highlight key advantages for customers

Case IH’s Ruffalo says it’s important for dealers to highlight important offerings in their service promotions. “Promotions should highlight the extended parts warranty coverage that Case IH offers and should also note the different levels of inspections the dealership offers,” he says.

“Not all customers want an extensive, 3-hour inspection done on their equipment. Some just want a quick inspection to make sure everything is OK. If there are multiple tiers to the dealer’s inspection program, that’s important to include in promotional materials.”