Editor's note: This Practice Builder was written by Mary Beth de Ondarza, dairy nutritionist in West Chazy, N.Y.
Just being smart, having all of the nutrition and management gadgets, and knowing the latest nutrition recommendations doesn't cut it with most of today's elite dairy producers. A few months ago, I attended a meeting about "What Do Progressive Dairies Want From Their Consultants?" What the producers on the panel discussion wanted most from their consultants was for them to be "brutally honest" and they wanted to have a relationship of "mutual respect."
- Respect the client's ideas. Sometimes, producers come up with ideas for ration changes that go against everything that the books say is right. If you say it's a bad idea and give him your reasons, he still may want to try it. Your client wants your opinion, but you are not the boss. Often, I find it best to try to work with the client's ideas. He will appreciate it. It might actually work. And if it doesn't, hopefully he remembers that it was really his bad idea and he will listen to you more the next time!
- Respect the client's time. Make appointments when you are coming to the farm and be on time. Don't arrive on the farm unannounced. Leave your cell phone in your truck. Follow up your farm visits with a letter or e-mail that spells out the three main points of the discussion you had. Return e-mails and calls promptly. Return diets to clients within 24 hours after the forage analyses are received back from the laboratory. Carefully prepare your presentations and rations for a client ahead of time, and check your work before presenting it. Don't waste his time with your errors and lack of organization.
- Always keep your promises. If you say you will get information back to a client about something, make a note about it and try to get back to the client within one or two days.
- Be honest. I remember working with a feed representative that lied to a 1,000-cow dairy producer about where he was on the road and how quickly he would be getting to the farm with pizza for lunch. If a client realizes that he is lied to about little things, how can he trust that person to feed his cows?
- Show your clients that you appreciate them. Find small ways to let your clients know that you appreciate their business. Take them out to lunch or breakfast once in a while. Bring new people to see their operation and visit with them. Take them with you to meetings.