Sounds rule the dairy day. But even those who rise when the cock crows and listen intently for pasture moos or dog alerts or the rumble of properly working farm machinery, can’t honestly say that they are masters of the finer aspects of attentive listening. Author Stephen R. Covey (7 Habits of Highly Effective People) says, most of us have had years and years of learning how to read and write, and to speak but then he asks a revealing question, “How much training have you had in listening?” Well, the answer for most of us is “None!”
Cows and Communication. You’ve Got to Market Both!
There are so many skills to learn as a dairy farmer. Even more if you intend to be profitable and sustainable in an industry that is consolidating many pieces into larger and larger dairy operations. The pieces should fit together like a puzzle. However we sometimes skip the work needed to win our customers hearts and wallets. We think we can talk our way into the marketplace but, in actual fact, we need to listen first. Consider this. If you listened to your potential customers of semen, embryos or animals better than anybody else could, how do you think it would affect your sales?
It’s fine to promote your milking stats, classification scores or showring successes but, if you aren’t listening to your marketplace, all you will probably hear is the echo of your own voice.
Every one of us in the dairy industry is a salesperson of one sort or another. Whether it’s an idea, an association, a service or a product, we all have something to sell. Quite often it’s that personal agenda that we carry around with us that prevents us from really listening. “Everybody wants show type/genomics/ ” or “Nobody wants show type/genomics” Fill in the sales feature of choice. It isn’t the feature that we need to establish first. It is listening to the customer first. Our business grows when we focus on the customer’s frame of reference ahead of our own.
Here at the Bullvine we are well aware that enthusiasm can have us pushing an agenda that is mostly ours and not necessarily that of the majority of breeders. Having said that, we have been shown over and over again that listening and asking questions goes much further than talking and telling. It is the only way to understand what is happening in the marketplace and who is asking for what. Listening doesn’t mean there is only one way. It means listening to the market you are intending to serve. It means knowing what they want more than pushing what you’ve got.
Are we Car Salesmen or Cow Salesmen?
The day of the fast talking cattle salesman with a big car and the “right” connections, no longer sells cattle. Today in the dairy industry, as in most other businesses, new tools are in our faces every day. Genomics, robotics, nutri-science and much more combine with instant worldwide communication. Today the choices for both selling and buying are multiplying exponentially.
- Social media makes it easier for customers to express their needs. Imagine! They expect to be listened to. “Don’t talk me into changing my mind about the kind of cows to work with. Listen and give me what I want.”
- Live cattle auctions are facing challenges from attendance to lineup to top price relevance.
- Show string marketing isn’t the “sure” thing it once was.
Where are Your Customers Talking From?
There was a time when your strategy for selling would be based quite specifically on geographic location. Unless you had an “in” with specific buyers or cattle dealers, you were pretty much limited to selling what the local marketplace wanted. Today you can set your strategy based on your dairy vision and particular skill and, find a market worldwide. This means more focused targets, deeper discussions about customer wants and providing and maintaining an ongoing relationship. But first off, it means gaining expertise in the digital marketplace.
Come and Get It?
So you know what the dairy cattle buyers want. You know what you have. How do you put the two together? Whether you use social media, tag sales, auctions or simple word of mouth you have to be found. Sales don’t happen unless the market knows what you have and how to find you. More and more the marketplace is customizing the product to a specific buyer. When you can customize your product to a specific marketplace you can leave the pontificating, posturing and politics behind.
Who do YOU listen to?
When you’re talking all the time, you’re limited to what you already know. When you’re listening, there is much to learn. Having said that, if you just listen to people who reflect back who you are (and what you believe in) – then you’ll stay where you are. Anti-genomics. It’s fairly simple to pick the crowd to talk to. Pro showring. You know where to spend your time. It makes for comfort, but it doesn’t make for progress. Comfort may be your goal but if you’re feeling stalled, perhaps you need to set your GPS for a different dairy destination.
The RIGHT information at the RIGHT time from the RIGHT source.
Even the smallest dairy operation has the marketing budget to make use of listening skills. It’s not expensive to listen. It starts with knowing what your customer wants. Insights derived from that information means you can take action. So what? What does the customer want? How will my dairy operation respond? If the market wants a genomic baseline of 2400+ gTPI, why are you settling for 2000 to 2300 gTPI in your breeding decisions? When you serve the type market are you seeking the udders and legs of longevity or do you breed for the showring judge who gives the advantage to stature?
Do You Hear the Criticism?
Marketplace criticism is valuable. Especially if you listen closely and make changes. If your sales are bogged down, finding out the cause is especially necessary. What a lever to get you unstuck! Use the power of two way communication. Social media adapts the old formula: “Two ears. Two eyes. One mouse.” Listen first and then respond pro-actively. Don’t hide from criticism. Accept and respond by making adjustments. One of the telltale signs of success are those dairy/genetics operations that are building new brands and experiencing exponential growth in a fraction of the time it takes to “launch”, advertise and push your own agenda. If you’re so busy putting your own stamp on the marketplace – regardless of what they’re asking for – you are also squashing any creative new direction that could take you to the next level.
Customer first. Then what?
We can all understand and repeat the sales mantra, “The customer is always right!” That’s what the message so far has been emphasizing. It’s easy to accept that the one who listens the best will serve the customer best. But there is other listening that can lift your business higher on the ladder of success.
Listen to your Dairy Staff
Sometimes we forget that the people who work with the calves, heifers and cows every day have the clearest picture of the assets we are trying to sell in the marketplace. Here is a listening skill that is absolutely basic to dairy success that is too often overlooked. What does your staff say about working in the milking parlor with your cattle? What do they like about certain cow families? What insights do they have that can be used to attract buyers to your operation. Even more than the glossy ad or a catchy tag line is the endorsement of someone who works every day in the barn or in the show ring. Simple question. “What is she like to work with?” and then really listening to the answer. That is the easiest, fastest and most effective way to re-start, re-design and remake a dairy marketing strategy that is stagnating. Listening begins in the barn.
The Bullvine Bottom Line
Now listen up. It’s fair to say that dairy cattle marketing can be complicated. However, if you put some of these listening skills to work in your dairy marketing strategy, the next sound you will hear could be coming from your cash register. Dairy genetic businesses sell best when they listen best! Cha-Ching!