It’s very easy to look at a company, a salesperson, or a marketing person and say, “They don’t care; no matter what they’re doing, they just want to sell me something.”
I guess in some cases, that may be true. We’ve all seen the stereotypical used-car salesman promising you the world. Or we’ve dealt with the person who will go over the top with lies about their competitors (and probably lies about their product) to make themselves look great. Or the person who turns an innocent conversation into a high-pressure sale.
So when we say that we care about the horticulture industry, I’m sure there will be some that will say, “Oh yeah, they care as long as we buy their products.” All I can say is: How can you not care about this industry?
Practical Software Solutions has been involved with the horticulture industry since 2006, and I’ve been involved since I started working here in 2011. Even though Metrolina Greenhouses reached out to us to help them come up with a solution to customize Sage 500 ERP (then known as MAS 500) to work for their industry’s specific needs, we couldn’t have asked for a more helpful, gracious, and motivated first customer. We learned so much from them in those first few years, it would have been hard not to realize that we could provide a much-needed service to other growers.
Over the years, one of the most important things we’ve learned is that growers want to help each other. In many ways, the horticulture industry is intertwined, whether by family relationships or through business partnerships. (Young plant growers will send their products to the finished-plant growers; or, the finished growers may need to contract their young plants out to other growers who will send them back the finished products, etc.)
We’ve also learned that growers want to be involved. Ever since we started our monthly Sage ERP user group webinar series (Tuesdays with Practical) in 2011, there has only been one or two occasions that at least one representative from one of our horticulture customers hasn’t attended. It wasn’t long after that when our growers told us they wanted their own user group to improve Grower Vertical for Sage ERP.
If at first you don’t succeed …
To be frank, we tried several times to get a grower user group off and running. But it seemed each time we tried, it didn’t work out. We had a couple of live meetings, but they were too general. And a monthly user group seemed like a great idea (it worked for our general customer base), but it just seemed like we were repeating Tuesdays with Practical. But the more growers we added, the more they kept asking for it.
So we did the only thing that made sense: We asked them what THEY wanted. We sent them a survey and asked them to give us their top issues and ideas. The response was incredible. In our first Growing Together meeting on October 10, we sorted out the logistics of the meetings and set our first topic: MRP. But more importantly, our customers wanted to start right away. They didn’t care that the third Wednesday of the month was in five days’ time.
Truthfully, even though we revamped the concept and had solid customer input, it still could have gone all wrong. Since we have customers using Grower Vertical and their Sage ERP products in different ways, there could have been a lot of apples vs. oranges in the discussion. Some of our customers use MRP to the fullest extent, while others use small pieces of it. The conversation could have been too specific for some or too broad to keep everyone’s interest. What if we asked for discussion and nobody said anything? What if one person wanted to talk about how *they* do it and dominated the conversation?
Starting off with a bang
But there we were last Wednesday, with more than 25 participants — some huddled around the same computer — three days after we sent out the first blast e-mail about the first “real” meeting. And you couldn’t have scripted a more perfect meeting.
We started with the basics: Matt Holland, our director of customized services, did a quick demonstration of how MRP works in Sage ERP and how we’ve customized it through Grower Vertical. To most of our customers, this was old hat, but Metrolina brought in some newer employees for a refresher course. Either way, it gave us a baseline to start the discussion. And, boy, did the discussion happen!
Sandy Cruise from Metrolina made a simple suggestion about work orders. It was amazing to see Matt’s face turn from stoic concentration to that perfect “Huh!” expression, and there was in an instant buzz of realization among our six participants in the room. Not only did we get an excellent suggestion right away about the topic, other customers started bouncing ideas off each other. Even though all of these customers use MRP in different ways, they all had ideas that would make a big difference in solving the problem — even if they weren’t experiencing that issue.
It was agreed that our next session should be spring-boarded off of this one, so it was decided that Availability should be the next topic, since it goes hand-in-hand with MRP. Plus, we made plans to work on the ideas from this meeting and get with some customers for follow-up and report back in our November meeting.
It is always our hope that we’re giving our customers what they want, not what we tell them they want. Again, it’s the difference between selling something and contributing to the industry. With Growing Together, we think we’ve gotten it right for our customers.