Pictured Above: Bret Lieberman, Vice President, New Holland North America
Prior to the appointment of Bret Lieberman as vice president of New Holland North America in 2015, the global farm equipment manufacturer experienced a fair amount of turnover in executive positions throughout the mid 2000s, making the communication of a consistent message to the dealer network a difficult task at times.
Despite the scenario in which he entered, Lieberman says progress has been made with getting New Holland dealers on the same page with executives, and they’ve adopted an individualized approach to each dealership’s problems, market-based questions and needs on a regional scale.
“As we invest hundreds of millions of dollars into self-propelled harvesters, combines and tractors ranging from 20-600 horsepower, the importance of understanding the unique value proposition we’re presenting to the customer through global platforms is critical,” Lieberman says. “Without getting the dealers on board and training them to sell and service the equipment and technology, the investment is useless.”
Taking time to sit down with Farm Equipment editors in the midst of the Farm Progress Show in Boone, Iowa, in August, Lieberman spoke candidly on a spectrum of industry topics and concerns. Pillars of the discussion included dealership consolidation, consistent communication with dealers and its implications on employee training, along with unique opportunities for customer base expansion through product innovation and aftermarket support.
Consistent Dealership Discussions
A combination of in-person and webinar-based interactions among dealers and executives serve as the basis for New Holland’s reemphasis on transparency and organization from the top-down. The primary feedback mechanism from dealers, Lieberman adds, comes through New Holland’s dealer council, which is comprised of more than a dozen dealers across each region of the U.S. and Canada to discuss topics ranging from product investments to training modules and market analysis. The council, Lieberman notes, interacts frequently with quarterly teleconference meetings along with two in-person meetings each year in the summer and winter.
In addition to ongoing dealer council meetings, New Holland started 2018 with its biannual national dealer meeting where hundreds of dealership staff members, from owners and sales to service techs, gather for a three-day event. During the event, New Holland leadership, product marketing managers and Precision Land Management (PLM) experts presented information in breakout sessions focused on topics such as:
- Network development, specifically enhancements to New Holland’s dealer standards program which is designed to help dealers improve their operations while strengthening the overall dealer network.
- Dealer marketing resources and best practices
- Precision farming and the importance of understanding and growing New Holland’s PLM solutions
- Sales operations
- Parts and service
- Model year product introductions and updates, covering everything from crop prep equipment, mid-range tractors, cash crop machinery and specialty equipment such as forage harvesters and sprayers
While the structured interactions have been productive, Lieberman acknowledges that other avenues for communication throughout the year remain a challenge. The desire from the manufacturer side to keep in touch on product enhancements and training feedback is often met with dealers not wanting to direct too much of their time away from day-to-day store responsibilities, which Lieberman understands.
“Unless you hire a person to be in the dealership every day, it’s tough to get that reach,” Lieberman says. “Everyone has the same constraint of time, and when you take it away, 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.”
In order for New Holland salespeople to maintain credibility with their local customer base, Lieberman says the chain of communication needs to remain unbroken on product developments and innovations. Pre-visit research is commonplace among customers — especially from younger generations — putting sales and service staff at increasing risk to leave a bad impression.
“We push information out to our field teams first, the dealers next, and then finally to the end user customers. We’re conscientious about it,” Lieberman says. “We know that if a customer shows up and knows more about a product than the sales guy on the lot, it’s a very negative experience for that customer and that dealership.”
Online Training Boosts Retention
As an extension to improving dealership communication and refining the chain of information, Lieberman says New Holland has recently implemented an online training seminar for precision technicians. The module, referred to as “Blended Learning,” offers technicians the opportunity to become educated on evolving products and service routines while still being present at the dealership to get hands-on experience.
The program was developed with the intention of getting a curriculum in place at the initial training stages and improving content delivery.
Cash Crop Consolidation Imminent
Bret Lieberman, vice president of New Holland North America, expects dealership consolidation to become especially commonplace in cash crop dominated markets, notably across Western Canada. Coupled with the rise of precision technology making its way into implements, dealerships have to emphasize the organization of parts and service offerings more than ever before.
“When you talk about the technology pouring into the industry and the rate in which it evolves, customer demands have extended beyond conventional engine and hydraulic maintenance,” Lieberman says. “In-cab displays and sensors can become a pivotal selling point if dealers can explain the unique capabilities, and if they can’t, the dealership down the road will.”
Lieberman also notes the increased size and scale of producer operations, which in turn will make trade-in sales equally valuable to new equipment sales in many dealer networks.
“As you have bigger customers with larger seasonal roles, consolidation is inevitable for some dealerships if they intend to have the capital resources to service those cash crop regions.”
Yet across most the of U.S., Lieberman doesn’t anticipate consolidation rates to be nearly as high due to the differing demands for equipment. Pointing to the trend of lower-scale equipment in the U.S. as a whole — including 75% of the unit volume of tractors being below 60 horsepower — he foresees a different approach for dealers more tailored to the rural lifestyle customer base.
“Dealers in those lower-scale regions will turn to other avenues to boost revenue, from zero-turn mowers to expanding UTV offerings,” Lieberman says. “They’ll implement more of a mixed-dealer model compared to what we’ll see in the segments tied to high-volume production agriculture.”
“We believed if we could provide a platform, it’ll be able to generate dealer engagement throughout the country by getting some sponsorship of a curriculum that starts when a new employee joins a dealer,” Lieberman says. “It’s basically an online apprentice program where they continue to work in the dealership, while further developing skills and qualifications that will help them to advance their careers.”
The early stages of the Blended Learning curriculum are web-based modules that don’t require technicians to be away from the business for extended periods of time, which was previously a concern for technicians and managers alike, Lieberman adds.
“Once the online stages are done, they end up going to a hands-on closing portion of the course. But instead of being gone from the dealership for a week, the technician is out for maybe two days,” Lieberman says. “We’ve had extremely valuable feedback from technicians on the quality of the course and from dealer principals about the opportunity for virtual training, reducing the cost and expense of not having them in their dealerships.”
Lieberman says the module aims to help with employee retention, especially in areas where valuable technicians tend to circle around different dealerships for brief stints as the result of higher-pay poaching.
“We know those pressures are real with keeping technicians satisfied with their work environment, and we’ve seen dealers put some longer-term incentives in to make their dealership more attractive long-term,” Lieberman says.
Keeping quality technicians on board is a focal point to New Holland’s emphasis on after-sale support and service, which Lieberman views as a key differentiator among brands and dealerships’ ability to represent those brands.
The ability to be prepared with one-off solutions is essential, as every customer can be expected to run their machines to the point of an inevitable breakdown, Lieberman says.
“When you take a round baler, they all work, but we need to understand the capabilities of varying models to put customers in a favorable position,” Lieberman says. “How much are they looking to put into a bale? Are they wrapping their bales with net wrap, how much is it costing them? If they’re putting it in a tube, how much film are they using? If we aren’t asking these types of questions to our customers, I think we’re doing them a disservice because their operation could be more efficient.”
Dealer Network Support
Lieberman views the quality of the current line of New Holland equipment as the biggest opportunity New Holland has when it comes to recruiting talented employees to dealerships and converting new customers. Recent innovations, Lieberman adds, include the CR Revelation Series combines on display at Farm Progress, equipped with the newly-incorporated IntelliSense Automation technology to detect grain losses and increase outputs more efficiently.
On more of a dealer-by-dealer level, Lieberman says the company has taken an accelerated, boots-on-the-ground approach to communicating with dealerships and working through issues.
Be it the lack of a succession plan, a struggle to adapt in a shifting market or a store that isn’t committed to all of New Holland’s offerings, Lieberman says he wants an in-person approach when making constructive — or difficult — decisions on a dealership’s future representing the brand.
“Each scenario has to be handled individually, and we’ve brought on a new network development director to lead this ‘ground game’ charge and have real business discussions about dealers’ aspirations and whether their future aligns with New Holland,” Lieberman says. “Dropping dealerships is never the first thing we want to do, but depending on what’s happened in their business model and their ability to utilize our product line, sometimes there’s just not a match.”
Key to the avoidance of such scenarios is having managers in-place with an innovative mindset, placing an emphasis on modern performance metrics including e-mail opens, click-rates and website views, Lieberman says. Gaining a deeper understanding of customer demographics and when they are most likely to be interested in products and services is not only a requirement, but extremely detrimental if dealerships choose not to abandon outdated customer marketing tactics.
“I firmly believe that the ‘one size fits all’ approach can’t exist in today’s landscape. Talking about where we are with customers, it’s constantly changing,” Lieberman says. “How many people use laptops anymore? Everything’s on a mobile device. They’re looking at Google reviews for the dealership, and brand reviews for product offerings, so we need to be collective and make sure we are present in those spaces.”
For dealerships in especially competitive markets, Lieberman says New Holland’s product specialists will host dealer events with actual customers on-hand to help convey the value propositions of equipment, providing both an in-person marketing boost in addition to digital.
“We’ll let the customers get in the field and run our equipment to demonstrate our differential advantages, from economy tractors to utility and deluxe tractors,” Lieberman says.
Shortlines & Product Diversification
Dealers looking to carry multiple brands is nothing new to the industry, and Lieberman says New Holland’s acceptance of those scenarios comes down to two factors: are they competing lines, and what’s happening within the industry specific to the type of machine in question?
For the most part, he says dealers struggle to support the breadth of product offerings beyond the New Holland requirements, but in scenarios where a shortline addition is complementary and doesn’t interfere with the ability to sell the main-line machinery, the dealership is fully supported.
“If you’re stocking three different pieces or lines of hay tools in an industry that’s going to be around 21,000 units this year, while nailing your assigned territory because the right options and parts are on the lot and your service techs are capable, then God bless you because the size of the industry doesn’t support it in most cases.”
Key to the strategy in expanding New Holland’s product line is identifying untapped customer demographics, notably through a recent interest in alternative fuel machinery. Recent combine models capable of harvesting oilseed rape into a biodiesel — which in-turn can power the machine — serve as an example. While many customer bases still prefer conventionally-powered tractors, the ability to extend options to compressed natural gas tractors and other efficiency-based models open the door to potential customers that dealers weren’t aware they could reach.
Dealers that haven’t shifted their product strategy on a year-to-year basis could quickly be falling behind, Lieberman adds.
“When you talk about clean energy with an organic customer and solutions that will be available to them down the product pipeline, it really resonates with them,” Lieberman says. “A lot of times, it’s not even on our dealers’ minds because they might be selling like they did 5 or 10 years ago, not realizing they have the opportunity to resonate with a different customer base.”
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Absorption Rate Assistance
While New Holland is actively invested in making sure dealerships maintain a healthy absorption rate, Lieberman says not all stores are keen on manufacturer intervention, even in scenarios where a sales staff isn’t keeping up with the expenditures of a service department.
New Holland determines dealership performance based off financial reporting, which allows for internal benchmarking among stores within the same region and beyond.
“The acceptance by dealers to let them know what they may not be doing right varies greatly,” Lieberman says. “In some cases, we have dealers that view those discussions with the mindset of, ‘I want to be the most competitive dealership in the industry,’ while others respond with, ‘Don’t you tell me how to run my business.’”