New Holland North America, New Holland, Pa.
Bob Clements International, Liberty, Mo.
Pictured Above: Consultant Bob Clements (right) explains to New Holland executive Bret Lieberman (left) the shortcomings he sees in product training and aftermarket support. The two sat down after Clements’s speech to the United Equipment Dealers Assn. in February.
Bob Clements: I tell dealers that manufacturers have their unique set of problems. When asked about your business, they say they know you produce stuff and that market share is king. What would help the dealer understand a manufacturer in today’s world?
Bret Lieberman: So, it’s how we can reach that dealer as we invest hundreds of millions in new products and get that product presented to the customer. As a full-line manufacturer, products are quickly evolving. Selling and supporting an always-changing offering that goes from a 20 horsepower to 600-plus horsepower tractors, self-propelled forage harvesters, combines, grape harvesters, specialty tractor; it’s challenging. The importance of understanding what we’re bringing to the market as a manufacturer, understanding the value proposition we’re presenting to the customer — through global platforms — is critical. The challenges in the dealer channel and turnover, in service or sales, is always changing too.
The other piece is technology. Precision tools continue to come down the horsepower chain. They continue to get into the implements and offer true value for the customer. Plus, they’re differentiators for the brand and the dealership, allowing us to sell real value to that customer.
“We know that if a customer shows up and knows more about that product than the sales guy does on the lot, it’s a very negative experience for that customer and that dealership…”
– Bret Lieberman
Clements: From a dealer’s perspective, there are manufacturers that will tell them to do something and then the manufacturer found out later the data was wrong. So, then they take a different approach and the dealer ends up being the one held up by the mistake. By the time the change in direction has happened, there’s often a new field guy who doesn’t have any history with the dealer. I’ve never met one dealer yet that wouldn’t take a risk if shown that it was a risk worth taking and that they were confident the manufacturer would hold up their end. I don’t think they’d expect the manufacturer to take the whole hit because they perceive there’s a partnership there. I think dealers are struggling with some manufacturers because they’ve lost that kind of connection.
On another subject, what are manufacturers doing to help on the technician side?
Lieberman: Service is a key piece we’re working on. I’m on the AEM (Assn. of Equipment Manufacturers) ag board and we have a workforce development team I participate in. We’re working, and there’s been support from AEM to sponsor, to get a curriculum in place, starting at the trainer level. It’s needed because there’s even a gap on the teaching side of being able to deliver the content. If we can provide a platform, we believe we’ll be able to get dealer engagement throughout the country by getting some sponsorship of a curriculum that starts when a new employee joins a dealer. It’s basically an apprentice program, that as they work in the dealership, they’ll be able to secure a better job as they develop skills and qualifications.
I see it as a blended learning environment. Where a technician training session used to be a week long, now maybe it’s 4 one-hour webinars presented over 4 or 5 weeks and then 2 days of hands-on after the online training. That allows that technician to stay in the dealership and reduces the cost and the burden on the dealership for that person to be out. Teaching that way, we find retention is better.
Clements: We need to create the image that working on this big, powerful equipment is sexy and not just a job that’s going to grind on. Dealers need to advertise the kind of money they can make. Shop guys are making $70,000 and $80,000 a year, and they’ll be working on some of the most state-of-the-art, cutting-edge machinery.
To minimize turnover, we suggest dealers have a contract with the technician that prorates the cost of the training over 24 months. If they leave in the first 6 months, they owe back all that training money, including their salary and everything. Then at 24 months, it’s free. The good dealers have a good environment to work in, they train, and they price themselves right to be able to take care of the techs. Rather than complain that they trained them up and they leave. It sounds like you’re driving toward that.
Lieberman: The dealership that are doing better on absorption, they’ve used the terminology of “My service techs are my rock stars.”
Clements: We talked about the product development, the field training, and how there’s no way a dealer can keep up with knowing it on its own ...
Lieberman: As a manufacturer, I’d be candid in saying we are struggling on how we reach dealers. The preference is to do face-to-face meetings. Unless you hire a person to be in the dealership every day, it’s tough to be able to get that reach. Everyone’s got the same constraint — time. When you start to take people’s time, it’s going to be an issue. So, anything we can do to preserve time, as a manufacturer and through the dealer and onto the customer, is a collective win.
“I tell dealers that customers come to them because of the brand. If they choose not to buy from you, it’s because of you…”
– Bob Clements
We push information to our field teams first, to the dealers next, and then finally to the end user customer. We’re conscientious about it. We know that if a customer shows up and knows more about that product than the sales guy on the lot, it’s a very negative experience for that customer and that dealership. That’s the last thing we want.
Clements: We work with dealers that represent every manufacturer and it’s a common theme with every color; how do we get this information because we know darn well it’s out there. The information keeps changing and that’s the reality. Dealers aren’t complaining because it’s changing, instead, they want to know “How do we keep up?” Dealers don’t have the margins just to be average anymore. From their perspective, dealers may feel like they’re being neglected. How do I, as a dealer, understand?
Lieberman: We’ve been talking about the shopping habits here and how our own shopping habits changed. And why do we think our customers would be any different? Depending on the generation that you’re speaking to, if they’re going to buy something, they’re going to start their purchasing decision online. They’re going to be scrolling through reviews, looking at videos and reading feedback. Very few people are showing up on the dealer’s lot without doing some level of research and in most cases, probably on the product and the dealer itself.
Clements: If I were a dealer, how could I better manage the selling process? It is about service. Whether you are on the dealer side or the manufacturing side, we all understand that we just want a happy, satisfied customer that’s going to come back and buy again. Dealers are starting to understand that a lost sale isn’t because of the equipment brand. I tell dealers that customers come to them because of the brand. If they choose not to buy from you, it’s because of you. We have to find where that disconnect is with that customer. Something happened between, “I’m excited to come into a New Holland dealership,” and “I walked away and bought somebody else’s product.”