Growth Points: Thick data: First understand the grower

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Videographers juggle multiple concerns as they record people, but focus is among the most important.

Eyes are key. To assure focus, a camera operator will zoom in on the eyes—to gain a sharp image.

It’s a great metaphor for crop input retailers and consultants looking to expand their precision ag services. Focus on the customer. Not only their eyes, but their heart and mind as well. As you pull back to see their whole operation, you are likely to remain in focus. Focusing on an individual’s goals and aspirations helps you and your team organize yourselves around common needs.

This is the essence of “consultative” selling or selling “solutions.” Customizing a solution is also the essence of precision agriculture.

Many in agribusiness are still on a journey from being “order-takers” to being “solution-providers.” Precision agriculture, with its integration of products and services, can speed this journey. But for some on your team, the road may have more potholes than a Chicago street after a hard winter.

“Let’s just sell more stuff,” is still the temptation. It’s easier to “just sell” fertilizer, (or crop protection or seed) than to integrate all of these, and more, into a thoughtful, whole-farm solution. That term “thoughtful” can require active listening and consultative selling. Stephen Covey fans will remember it as Habit Five: “Seek first to understand, then be understood.”

With precision agriculture being somewhat complex and data driven, it shouldn’t surprise us that we may let all the “big data” from yield maps, field trials and scouting crowd out real objectives of real growers. But as a trusted advisor, much of your value comes from the deep knowledge you have of individual growers and their mission.

A recent article in the Wall Street Journal speaks to the importance of something termed “thick data,” in this era of coping with “big data.” In other words, you can’t learn everything you need to know about customers from crunching numbers and using Survey Monkey. You need to know real customers up close. Gasp!

“Successful companies … work to understand the emotional, even visceral context in which people encounter their product or service, and they are able to adapt when circumstances change,” wrote the authors, Christian Madsbjerg and Mikkel Rasmussen. “They are able to use what we like to call thick data.”

Thick data may be a good term to describe the value of your precision ag offering at the local level versus the “big data” that may be available to them from afar. Thick data is the comprehensive, boots-on-the-ground knowledge of the farmer’s operation that allows you to customize your services around their unique needs and aspirations.

What kinds of things might constitute “thick data” when it comes to knowing growers? You may already think you know the answer for each of your growers, but more time spent asking them questions could validate that sense, or prove it wrong.

Is lowering cost really the farmer’s most important driver? Or is it the desire to squeeze every possible bushel out of every possible zone in every possible field? Conservation of soil, water, fuel or time is the most important aspect of each crop season for some growers and they are willing to sacrifice some profitability for these less obvious objectives. For others, environmental stewardship that avoids any possible risk of increased scrutiny is key.

In any case, zooming in for a close-up understanding of the thick data—and keeping your eye on the ball of grower-defined success—is likely to make your own business more sustainable as well.

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