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Tuesday, July 29th, 2014

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!




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It’s haying season here.  A wonderful time of year for dairy farmers who produce the food that feeds the cows that produce the milk that feeds the consumers.  As we are watching the weather with one eye and with the other one on the cows and machinery, do we ever spend any time thinking about the next person who buys our dairy genetics? We love dairying and we do it to the best of our ability.  Our hearts and minds are engaged.  Do we consider engaging the hearts and minds of our genetics customers? Or are their wallets all we care about?

We have to be careful that we don’t think only of the pay cheque and forget that we are providing a product for real people.  In today’s marketplace we have two distinct customers.  First, the milk drinkers who we are more or less involved with, depending on the product we produce and what country we produce it in.  And secondly, the cattle buying customer.  Just as our future in the dairy aisle depends on the product we deliver, our future in the genetics industry depends on what we deliver and not what we can get away with.

The milk drinking public gets turned off by the media message of scary farm practices, rising health issues and poor animal care.  These concerns reflect badly on each one of us in the dairy industry.  We can’t separate ourselves from the message. Likewise, when it comes to selling cattle, we have to respect ourselves and our customers enough that buyers know what we stand for. If we allow ourselves to be the type of business where responsibility ends once the cheque is cashed, then we deserve to have our sales drive out the lane and forget us the next time they buy.

Dairy Sales Are All About People First

If you ever found it impossible to find out details about animals in a sale. If you have been disappointed after purchasing an animal to find out that there is an issue that wasn`t revealed. If you ever found that you were taken in by the fine print in a contract, you know where bad feelings start. “It’s nothing personal.” is the exact opposite of how you feel.  It’s very personal!

Good Business is Built on Trust

Good dairy business kicks in when marketers are smart enough and brave enough to work side by side with their buyers for the same end result – good dairy cattle.  When full disclosure allows you to make informed decisions, you remember it.  You will go back to that source again and again.  Of course, this means that a huge opportunity exists. You will likely do best if you avoid misdirection and pandering and instead embrace an honest approach to doing business. RULE #1: Build trust by treating your customers like respected peers and admired family members.

As Good as Your Word

Think about the last time you were impressed by how you were treated in a sales transaction.  It’s unfortunate that it’s rare enough to be remarkable. It is so refreshing to find your issues meaning more than a dollar sign and receiving more than was promised and not simply the legal bare bones. Today – especially with the instant sharing possible through social media – your happy transactions and your sad ones are shared far and wide. The word gets out and has instant repercussions on your business credibility and bottom line.

Marketing is More About the Stories than the Sales

Social media has found its way into the dairy business and is having a tremendous impact. Everyday there are new blog posts, videos and press releases. While this is fantastic for agriculture as a whole, it can be really hard to get your dairy business noticed. If you want to rise above the herd, you have to have a good story that captures attention. You need to share what you believe in, who you are and what you stand for.  The invisible face behind a magazine ad or an AI brochure listing is too easily lost in the 21st century crowd.

Today You DON’T Get What You Pay to Advertise For

In the not too distant past dairy players where the ones with the money to step up to the marketing table. It took advertising money to make money. Today, with social media, a business of any size can connect with customers and do it without spending a dime on paid advertising. Social media has changed the game and now anyone can compete regardless of the size of their marketing budget.

Where to Go?  What to do?

No sooner do you get comfortable with one or two pieces of modern technology, then a whole handful more present themselves to your flying fingers. Sites like Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, and YouTube have totally changed the relationship we have with present and future customers.  It can be challenging to figure out where to focus your time and energy. Here again it’s not the single choice of one site over another.  In easily understood farmer terms, it’s about cultivating relationships. Find the way to tell your story in a way that is comfortable, honest and open and you will engage customers loyal to you and your business.

Talk is NOT Cheap

This may sound like a complete reversal from the “free” advertising mentioned earlier but, in this case, it is referring to what happens after everyone finds you and then has the ability to share their experience and thoughts, not just with the neighbor over the fence, but with hundreds to thousands of people.  Today, more than ever, you must walk the talk and be accountable to your customers.  The minute what happened in your barn, in your office or at your auction sale hits the wires it becomes the measure of your business.  Believe it!  When bad news gets out there it’s going to be shared so quickly it will make your head spin and your bank balance shiver in fear.  In the past when bad news raised its ugly face, you had a certain amount of time to plan how to respond.  Today, if you wait to respond, it can be too late.  Responding in real time with real information will be more successful in transforming negative publicity into a building opportunity.

The Bullvine Bottom Line

Is there a way to use social media so that you won`t have to suffer through scary mistakes?  No! Mistakes happen in any environment.  Equipment fails.  Hay weather upsets the routine.  Cows get sick. And that’s just one farm.  Ramp that up to real-time techie interaction on the web and you can’t expect perfection of yourself or anyone else.  Rather than worrying about making mistakes, you should be worried about not making them!  If you’re not experimenting with social media that means you’re missing out on a myriad of ways to win hearts, minds and wallets!



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