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Selling hi-tech to farmers

Why is so much effort being put into new ways to sell high technology to farmers?

Several farm machinery writers occupied the two rows of mock tractor seats, each with a control armrest, which lined both sides of a special trailer on a warm January morning.

Yes, an actual warm January morning, because the trailer was parked in an Arizona farm field, a location that Case IH had chosen for holding several weeks of mid-winter dealer training to familiarize its retailers with the newest iron and technology that the brand was about to launch into the marketplace, and where it had invited members of the media to come down to the warm climes to see what the company is up to.

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In addition to the sneak peak at the new 2020 product line that the brand intended to pull the wraps off at this year’s major farm shows, the special high-tech trailer was shown to the media for the same reason hundreds of dealers had filtered through it. It was one of a couple of new tools being brought into service by marketing staff at Case IH to help them demonstrate the brand’s newest technology — by actually using technology.

“We’ve kind of adjusted how we’re taking this (new digital products) to market, from a technology standpoint,” Chris Dempsey, Case IH’s AFS Connect marketing manager told the assembled writers. “We’ve focused on using technology to sell technology. What you’re sitting in right now is really the first example of that.”

The trailer is also equipped with large video screens that allow staff to run a few video segments, all done to a very high production standard of course. Still, it’s all those seats and control armrests that allow anyone who ventures into the trailer to experience firsthand the brand’s newest Pro 1200 monitors and, more importantly, the software that they run, which they can do by spending time doing the same tasks a farmer would do in the field. They only needed to imagine they were really sitting in a tractor to program in A-B lines, check the tractor’s mechanical systems or read trouble codes, all of which can be simulated in the trailer without ever climbing up into a real tractor cab.

“Our dealers have seen it,” Dempsey told the media group. “This is the first time we’ve used it. It’s set up in a way we can break it up into four different pieces or use it as one big chunk. We may look at letting our dealers use them at open houses and that type of thing.

“I built this trailer so the only thing running through the floor beneath those seats is power. So I can unplug them and roll them out into a shop or somewhere and use an extension cord to do exactly what we did in there.”

This special trailer that transforms into a classroom full of tractor seat and armrest controls.
photo: Scott Garvey

Why has so much thought has gone into devising new ways to demonstrate the technology aspect of the brand’s equipment? Well, because the market for new machinery is beginning to be driven more by how smart a machine is rather than how powerful.

“I would agree with that,” Dempsey tells Country Guide later in an interview. “I think we’re starting to see a trend of technology driving iron sales. I think the days of ‘dumb iron,’ so to speak, are falling to the wayside. An example would be what we’ve launched with Soil Command in tillage. Historically, tillage was ‘dumb,’ right? There was no controller on it, just lights. There was no other electric on it. Now, we’re starting to get feedback from different sensors and making adjustments based on that. I think the industry as a whole is moving toward a technology focus. It provides efficiency at the end of the day.”

But the challenge in marketing digital systems is how to show them to buyers in a really compelling way. Dealers can no longer just park a shiny new tractor in the front lot and count on all the farmers driving by to salivate at the thought of driving it home to replace their old workhorse.

So to keep pace in a new era, Case IH and all the other brands pursuing digital sales need a new approach to showing off high-tech wares. That is especially true this year as the red brand unveils a new Magnum tractor that, on the surface, but only on the surface, pretty closely resembles the one it replaces. It’s the new digital capabilities packed into its CPUs where the design takes a big step forward.

Standing in that trailer explaining not only the features built into those new Magnums, but also how the company plans to introduce them to both dealers and customers, Dempsey talks about the new marketing approach.

“This gives you an indication of how we at Case IH are pivoting in how we take technology to market,” he says. “This gives us a lot of flexibility. We can use it (the trailer) at farm shows or dealer training. We can expand this — and will expand it — to a little bit larger setup that we will likely make available to our dealers, so they can have this type of solution in-house as well.”

It turns out the trailer is only one part of the new show-and-tell. A large table featuring what at first seems a youngster’s play farm, with small die-cast tractors and implements, is another tool for demonstrating the digital system. Farmers can imagine that tabletop farm is their own operation and use the supplied iPads to simulate running the fleet management tools offered by Case IH’s AFS Connect.

“Take a farm show as an example,” says Dempsey. “To be able to convey everything we talked about here in the last two to three hours, we only have two or three minutes with a customer to explain the features and value benefits of what we offer with the new Magnums and AFS Connect.

“The whole point with that iPad or table is to have them visualize what we offer. It visually depicts, through an app, the data transfer, and it emulates scenarios where you have some sort of issue in the field and what it might look like to resolve it efficiently.

“It’s a 13 (foot) x 9 (foot) large table that has a farm scene in the background. You can see the buildings as well. There are eight tablets. When you hold the tablets up to it, it initiates an augmented reality experience. It walks you through numerous scenarios and gives you an idea of how everything we’re talking about here benefits our customers. This will be something we’ll have at the National Farm Machinery Show.”

Dempsey notes that the strong pivot his brand is taking toward incorporating technology is all the result of several years worth of surveys that asked customers what they want. That’s why he confidently thinks the era of selling “dumb iron” is over.

“The majority of our customers want some level of remote monitoring, whether it’s for simple peace of mind when they’re off doing something else or they’re legitimately concerned about X, Y or Z and they want to plan logistics. I think it’s become commonplace. In my opinion, our customers no longer just want horsepower like they have in the past. It’s no longer just a horsepower race anymore. It’s providing a complete solution.”

Dempsey thinks the launch of new red equipment for the 2020 model year includes one of the biggest digital jumps that the brand has ever taken.

“It’s the largest technology launch we’ve had in the last 10 years, arguably,” he says. “So we look forward to expanding on this and seeing where it takes us.”

Hence the need for that re-jigged marketing approach, trailer, farm display table, and all. The likelihood is there will more to come along those lines as he and others at the brand evaluate how this year’s dealers took to the idea. And more importantly, they want to see how potential customers react to it as they make the rounds to farm shows and dealer events.

Says Dempsey: “This is really a shift in how we at Case IH are approaching technology and taking it to the market, and what it means to our customers and dealers. We’re very excited about it.”

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