With our company hosting two national conferences (each topping 1,000 attendees) last month, this time of year gives our team an up-close look at just how seriously some take learning and networking. And conversely, how passive others can take theirs.

If you were at our 22nd Annual National No-Tillage Conference 2 weeks ago Springfield, Ill., you'll agree it was flat-out inspiring to see farmers arriving with a hot-list of questions they're determined to find answers for. These farmers were still pursuing answers long after presentations ended at 10:15 p.m.

There are always a few equipment dealers who attend this educational conference and even a couple who presented on this year's 22nd annual program. And while there’s been an increasing number of precision farming-type dealers in attendance, the numbers of dealers — those who most need to support their farm customers — are at a puzzling low level.

Working When Others Are Sleeping

Farmers still pursuing technical answers at 10:15 p.m. at 22nd Annual National No-Tillage Conference. Are equipment dealers keeping pace?

Every year, we hear from farmers saying, "My dealer should be here to hear this." Eventually they come right out and ask why dealers' customer-facing staffs don't do meetings like this.

Here’s my take … When it comes to agronomic-application training that dealers could send sales and service staff away from home for, many dealers just accept whatever training the major-line provides as being wholly sufficient.

Well, that, plus a narrow belief that time is "productive" only if measured by an immediate sale or billable hour. So as awash as our industry is with speeches about upping one's knowledge to support farmers’ needs, dealers continue to be several steps behind, say farmers.

Participating in supplier-offered training is important, for sure, but it can't be relied upon on its own, or for purposes other than intended — which is to make sales. The supplier training I've attended is largely "product-focused," with the manufacturers in one way or another promoting a line of messaging that reinforces THEIR machine solution. You know what I mean ... Now consider a "customer-focused” training experience, where the gathering of best practices, ideas and solutions for specific situations and conditions rules the day.

As demands go up in the business, it’s a certainty that taking a spoon-fed approach to knowledge will eventually leave you spitting dust.  You have a choice on which to hang your hat. You can regurgitate the pithy phrases recited in the manufacturer’s rah-rah product introduction. Or, by having been out in the field and working to understand various options, you can share knowledge of techniques that farmers in all sorts of conditions make work (or don't). In a world of increasing commoditization, bringing information outweighs a “features/benefits USP” that anyone in the business can pitch. Again, a customer-focus vs. a product-focus.

It's been said that an educated person "is one who has learned to learn and never stops learning." Learning is not optional, and it's YOUR responsibility. Your customers, your company, and you can't afford to leave it in someone else's hands. Some of the best dealers we know make this a top annual priority, and we think you’ll want to consider it too.

P.S. To learn from farmers adapting strip-tillage to work in a variety of soil conditions and system set-ups, save the date for the first-ever National Strip-Tillage Conference, July 30-31, in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. For more information, email Technology Editor Jack Zemlicka at jzemlicka@lesspub.com.