Central Nebraska Seed and Chemical
It’s a rare salesperson who tells a customer not to buy, but John Bell says he gets a certain satisfaction from it, especially when he knows he can help customers make better decisions down the road. Bell is a salesperson at Central Nebraska Seed and Chemical in Gothenburg, Nebraska, and says he’d be shooting himself in the foot if he only thought of the short-term sale rather than giving sound, long-term advice.
Bell remembers one case where a grower knocked on his door, excited to buy a corn hybrid that he’d heard was producing incredible yields for his neighbors.
But Bell knew the product wouldn’t be dry enough at harvest for the producer’s preferred grain elevator.
"I said, I could sell it to you all day long and you'd be impressed with how it looked in the field,” Bell said. “And we'd go and pick it, but you would need [its internal moisture level] at 18 and I'm afraid it would be sitting at 22." While the hybrid would be acceptable for most farms in the area, it required too long a season for that particular farmer and his market.
Bell suggested the customer delay the decision to plant the seed, take the season to review its performance, and only then use the hybrid if he planted earlier in the season to reduce moisture levels at harvest.
Bell says that he never blindly sells to farmers, nor does he ask them to blindly buy. He feels it is CNSC’s responsibility to help growers decide which products are right for their farm and he’s willing to sacrifice a sale to do right by growers, some of whom form long-term relationships with his company.
Times are a-changing
Though seed and chemicals remain the flagship products, Bell says the market has gotten more competitive and CNSC has had to adapt by expanding its product line. The company has become a dealer of precision agriculture systems from Iowa-based Ag Leader and Nebraska-based Crop Metrics.
And to sell the sophisticated planting and analytic software, Bell's sales team has had to get acquainted with technology. However, that doesn’t mean they’re going to become an IT support staff. Bell’s quick to point out that there’s a difference between being familiar with a product and knowing it on the technical level.
"The common misconception is that people under 40 are tech-savvy," he says. "It may very well be that a grower is an early adopter [of technology] and recognizes its value quicker than his dad does, but that in no way, shape or form means he knows how it works. More often than not, we're very tech dependent, not tech savvy."
He doesn't say this is a bad thing, but holds that it's an important distinction, especially for employees at CNSC. The goal is to stay abreast of what products are most useful and how growers can implement them. In the end, it is CNSC’s relationships with manufacturers that let it bring in truly tech-savvy specialists to fix or modify software.
Loyalty is the best currency
Bell says CNSC’s expansion into precision agriculture not only helps the company diversify, but also drives sales of its core products. Sometimes Bell’s team will provide services like mapping properties for variable rate planting or make seed recommendation in exchange for loyalty and continued business rather than cash up front.
Bell remembers a case, “in the not so distant past,” when a chemical customer of Bell’s wanted to have his corn custom picked by an independent crew. Bell says that mapping issues surfaced when the crew harvested the corn using a different brand of equipment than the farmer typically used. CNSC stepped in and helped convert the files to a useable format, allowing the custom harvesting team to create an accurate map that could be used for future corn picking.
He says this is an example of CNSC jumping in to help a customer even though the customer needed services outside of CNSC’s wheelhouse. There’s no secret strategy behind this help first, ask questions later approach—it’s just the right way to treat people.
“For a lot of the services we offer, there aren’t many billable hours, but the next time they need seed, hopefully they’ll think of us,” he says.
And when they call the office the next time, the chances that they speak to an owner are about 75%. You don’t get that level of service with most companies.