What is customer experience? One of my favorite quotes over the last 10 years actually came from a Disney executive. Disney is obviously a company very focused on customer experience. And that quote was, “Nobody owns the customer, but somebody can always own the moment.”

In a business-to-business company like a dealership you can get into these almost religious debates about who owns the customer. Is it that sales team that went and initiated that first relationship and got it going? Is it the product support team that day in and day out takes care of the customer and builds that loyalty? It’s not as easy now as it was back in the day when Titan Machinery CEO Dave Meyer was out delivering equipment truck. Then it was, Dave owns the customer. That’s it.

Another example of that is with these iconic brands that we have. Does the brand own the customer because they’re so integral to the relationship that we have with our customers?

I challenge you to think about this: What if it’s not about owning the customer, but it’s really about owning that next moment that we have with the customer, to win them and keep them. What do we have to do in that next moment?

That challenges us to go beyond our traditional product and product support model and start thinking about other touch points that we can have with customers and how we sharpen our interaction with customers at every step. Here’s a simple example. A farmer, maybe it's even an operator out on the job site, hears a sound that isn’t quite right with his tractor. He makes a phone call. Somebody comes out. Maybe it’s a job site supervisor or a technician on site comes and does a little bit of hasty diagnostics. He says, “I think it might be this.” He makes some phones calls. Gets it into the shop. Has to order some parts. Has to swap out a machine. Get it back up and running to get the work done on the job site or out in the field.

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Now, the thing about this story is we could be involved in all of those steps, or we could be involved in none of those steps. And in many cases today, thankfully, we get involved. We get in. We help that customer solve their problem. We build loyalty. We go from there. Of course it doesn’t always work that way.

So, how can we do more and be more? We can anticipate better and be  step-by-step in that customer lifecycle so we're never left out and we’re always adding value to the customer. Ours has really always been a relationship business. It’s one of the things I love about the industries that we serve. We’re doubling down to make sure that we’re delivering those industry-leading experiences moment by moment across that lifecycle.

So, what that means functionally within Titan is we’re pulling together marketing and information technology, data and analytics, solutions like precision to make sure we’re getting the benefit of the latest technologies, to pull those together and get this done.

Branding Matters   

The brands Titan Machinery partners with are critical to our success with our customers. According to Interbrand, a global brand consulting firm, strong brands will outperform their peers improve shareholder returns by 20-30% or more. Consulting firm McKinsey Co. has said that in B2B in particular, 20% of the buying decision can be based upon the strength of the brand.

That’s even more important in our industry because of the heavy investment that needs to be made. Because of the complexity, the expertise that’s required to support those machines as we go, and ultimately, the desire to reduce risk. Brand is critically important in how we go to market and build and grow our market.

Knowing this, we’re further strengthening our Titan brand. To become more relevant to customers in each one of those moments, but then also to our employees, to our business partners, and to the investment community and making sure that we’re clear on what we can help accomplish with each one of those stakeholder groups.

In our industries we need to continue to deliver the reliable power. It’s horse-powered breakout force and drawbar pull. We can never get away from that. So, we need to be able to deliver that, but at the same time we need to ensure that customers understand that they’re getting the best technologies integrated with those machines, supported by an expert team to keep them up and running as they go.

Ultimately, one of the themes you hear coming through is the old guy in the tractor, right? How do we simplify that for our customers? With the technology getting increasingly complex, it’s not just our role to solve the problem; it’s our role to make it easier and easier for that owner or operator to get the work done and to run their business.

That’s the task that we have in front of us. That’s the promise that we’re making with our brand. And again, that promise is first of all, to our customers, and then also to our employees, business partners and the broader investment community.

More Than a Tagline

Now, the hard part is that it must be more than a tagline. Ultimately, this is a commitment to deliver that customer value, create the brand loyalty and generate the growth for Titan Machinery and those key stakeholder groups. But, in order to do that we need to understand where we are in that customer’s lifecycle, whether a customer is purchasing a piece of equipment or are out in the field operating it, whether they’re managing that fleet day in and day out or running their business, where can we add the most value step by step through that process with our customers.

In addition to the customer data that we collect as we go day to day and the customer feedback that we get along the way, we’ve also completed research with Buyer Persona Institute to improve our understanding of why customers buy, how they buy and what those decision criteria are.

This, ultimately, gets us to those moments across that lifecycle that really matter the most to our customers. Those customer touch points where we need to engage and serve customers and differentiate ourselves from the competition. We all know the horsepower alone isn’t going do it anymore. And it really hasn’t for some time. We need to create a bigger gap between the competition and us.

The sum of all those moments, those interactions that we have, adds up to the customers experience with our brand. And then ultimately, that’s the loyalty that we’ll have with them for future growth and the future value that we can deliver.

It comes down to three important ways that we’re focused on multiplying these key moments. First of all, we’re connecting data from several sources to create better insights that can help a customer operate better. Secondly, we’re integrating our systems, our ERP systems, our business intelligence and automated marketing tools to generate more and more relevant interactions with our customers as we go. And third, we’re exploring new ways of adding value as an input to other functions on the farm and on the job site and then also by creating new capabilities altogether.

New Ways to Create Value for Customers

To deliver more high impact moments, we’re becoming more proactive in how we help customers solve problems. The key to it all is not waiting. We’re not waiting for the phone call anymore. The thing that will create loyalty beyond helping with a breakdown late some night or on a weekend right before the rains come, is if the breakdown never happens in the first place because we predicted it. We got out ahead of it and we made sure that it just went on, right? The customer was able to get done what they needed to get done with no disruption whatsoever.

Using the analytic tools integrated with our ERP system, we’re connecting service intervals, service history and customer interaction data to anticipate service needs. And increasingly, we’ll use real-time equipment health data through telematics in order to predict and diagnose.

We’re tying it all together by connecting more data points than ever before so we can anticipate better and be more proactive in how we serve customers. We’ve also upgraded and are integrating our analytics, marketing, automation and CRM systems to help local stores and sales reps better understand customer opportunities, and to prescribe relevant solutions to customers in a more personalized and a more timely way.

While we’re still in the early days, we’re already seeing the benefits of the increased demand generation from these efforts. We’ll also provide customers with self-service tools through portals and mobile apps, which will alert customers to upcoming events and to help them make quicker and better decisions and to keep track of those decisions as they’re trying to manage their farm, which is increasingly complex. Keeping track of things is difficult. We’ll even be able to automate some of these decisions with our customers as we get even closer to them or as the relationships grows stronger.

Think about it this way. Typically when we talk about customer coverage, we think about a sales force out in the field. We think about making sure that we've got the right coverage footprint, the right number of parts on the shelf and parts guys at the counter to take phone calls as they come in. Think about each piece, each step that the customer has to go through to purchase that equipment and to keep it running in the field. And then that's a part of a bigger equation for how they run their business. If we have a continuous connection with those customers every step along the way and their assets every step along the way, that allows us to get out ahead and prevent those problems. The value that we add in that customer relationship goes up significantly from there.

Customer coverage has to changes a little bit. It’s about identifying those moments along the way where we may be in a reactive mode right now and shifting to be much more predictive. It’s not just providing data. I think one of the areas where there’s some challenge especially is telematics. This telematics thing is going to cause some massive breakthrough and everybody is banging out code in Silicon Valley trying to break through right now. Ultimately, it’s making sure that we can use the data, we can create the insights from the data to help the farmer, to help the contractor make the next decision that they have to make. Just break it down and get it from the dirt to the data to the decision right when the owner/operator needs it.

That’s what’s in front of us right now. Coverage is changing, and we’re changing with it. We’re helping shape that. Our role as a dealership is continuing to grow. Our relationships are getting stronger and will continue to do so as we get closer to the customer and more proactive in solving their problems.

Be Better Than Amazon

We’re also exploring new ways to create value for customers. This is some of the exciting stuff. More exciting stuff even, which is built on top of our traditional business, but looks for further growth opportunities. The headlines here aren’t brand new in our industries. The difference is how we can approach it in order to serve our customers even better.

So, with e-commerce for example, I’ve been in and around e-commerce and B2B for the better part of 10 years now, and I don’t know how many times I’ve heard the request that we need to be like Amazon. We need to be like Amazon. And that’s true plus. So when you’re in a relationship business and you’ve got 10, 15, 20 years of interactions with customers, you better do better than Amazon in terms of using that data to make sure that you’re taking care of the customer. From a business-to-business standpoint, the bar is higher than it is for a business-to-consumer company.

What we don’t want to do is to create a high volume, low margin online parts business. That’s not part of our model. That’s a low value add, ultimately, to the customer, and that’s not our approach. Instead, we’re exploring how we can upgrade our current capabilities by using our customer understanding, by using our technical information and our equipment expertise to create an integrated store and internet experience that protects pricing and builds loyalty. High volume is still OK, though. We’re good with high volume — as long as we maintain the margins, we’re all good.

From an equipment management perspective, as the equipment customers’ requirements becomes more and more complex, along with how they have to manage their job sites, we have additional opportunities to manage equipment with or even on behalf of our customers. We’re developing new capabilities to evaluate, track and manage our customer fleets. And we can be as involved as a customer needs us to be in helping support those equipment management needs. That’s the direction we’re going.

In terms of precision farming, it’d be a mistake to see a machine as a data pipeline from a dealer perspective. There’s a lot of data flowing both ways for certain. But it is both a primary creator and user of the data, whether that’s on the farm or on the job site, and we’re working already with partners in agronomy and crop marketing and financial management to identify solutions where we can help facilitate better use of that data to create better outcomes for our customers. And again, the relationship that we have with the customer, and helping them understand the best use of that and how the data can be used across those functions is critical. It further strengthens the relationship.

Ultimately taking it one step beyond that from a farm management standpoint, we’re exploring opportunities with other industry partners — beyond the equipment management — because all this data has to be connected to manage a farm. How can we provide those decision support tools? How can we provide the farm site management tools? What’s our part in that? That’s what we’re exploring right now. We know we have a critical part to play as this thing moves forward, and we&rsqu;re going to capitalize on that, again for the good of our customer. Taking that relationship business to a whole new level, that’s where we’re going with this.

We’ve got this unique opportunity to pull from the strength and the expertise of our global company here, enabled by data and analytics to provide customers with far more value across these growing set of moments to improve their profitability, to drive brand loyalty, and to help our businesses grow.