Talk the Talk: 7 Tips for Successful Agronomist-Grower Communications
Dr. Al Cattanach
Director of Agronomy
As agronomists, we are in the service business. We offer perspective, coaching, and sometimes we just need to lend an ear. How do you ensure that you have a sustainable service business? It all boils down to communication. Here are seven tips I've followed over the years to ensure I provided value to my growers:
Know Your Client
This is the golden rule for many relationship-based service businesses and certainly applies to the relationship between agronomist and grower. Keep in mind their age, personality type, technology aptitude and ability, and other considerations. Who makes decisions for the farm? Is there one decision-maker or multiple for each client or farming operation? Know what causes a client's stress and what makes them joyful. When you really know your client, your relationship changes for the better.
Communications and Information Delivery
his tip goes hand-in-hand with knowing your client. How does your client want to receive information? Are they technology challenged? If so, an in-person meeting might be the best way to deliver information. Emails may be all that are required with most clients today, and some may only need a text message. Text and email allow you to include pictures, diagrams, field maps, and data. These additions add significant value to your customers. It's always a good idea to provide a paper copy of the correspondence or a paper trail as well so that both parties can refer back to as needed.
Use Scouting Software
Scouting software is of great value as you interact with clients. Much more specific time-sensitive, GPS field location, and other pertinent past data can be shared. Historical field-specific history can be reviewed, often saving agronomist and client time and reducing mistakes. In some ways, scouting software is like CRM software – you can look back at what's happened and learn from it and use it to prepare for current conversations as well as make informed decisions for the future.
Benjamin Franklin is credited with saying, "By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail." He was right. To have a fruitful exchange with your growers, you need to think about where they're at and what's top of mind for them. Before visiting your client or sending a message, research questions you or the client might have on a topic. Anticipate questions they may have before you are face-to-face or online. Gather the facts beforehand. Colleagues, university experts, handbooks, or allied industry resources may be of great help. Preparedness makes your value to the client increase.
Be On Time
It's easy to be a Monday morning quarterback, but that's rarely helpful. The very best, most useful information is of little or no value if you deliver it after the critical implementation time for a strategic practice is past. Share information promptly when it can be acted on in a timely manner and have the intended impact.
Deliver Needed Information
If your client likes options, provide more than one management option of value so they can choose one for themselves. For the grower that wants your one best idea, be confident when you give it. You can't know everything, but you can provide answers. If you don't know the answer, don't guess or hedge an opinion on a topic. Say, "I don't know, but I will get you a timely answer." And then do it.
CAUTION: Never provide off-label pesticide recommendations. Doing so can lead to lawsuits no one wants to be involved in, and can lead to loss of clients and impact your reputation.
Time is money for you and your clients. If they are busy, provide the recommendation needed and move on to your next field or client need. However, if they want to get off a load of stress, let them vent a bit before you wisely use your own time elsewhere.Agriculture is a relationship-based business, and your growers put a lot of confidence in you. Excellent communication can go a long way towards building long-lasting relationships.