Merge Ahead: Using Community Outreach to Build Customer Loyalty

Once the merger vote passes, you’re now one big cooperative. And that’s when the real work begins: new signs, new licenses, consolidated billing and the list goes on. But along with those formalities, it’s important to pay attention to the human side of the merger during your communication to maintain and build customer loyalty through community outreach.


The number of co-ops in Kansas has fallen from 350 in the 1950s to approximately 80.1
The number of co-ops in Oklahoma has fallen from 243 in 1980 to only 50.1

How do you unite all of your locations under your merged co-op? It’s more than just putting a new logo on elevators or agronomy vehicles. Farmers in outlying locations need to feel connected to the newly merged co-op.

One thing is for certain: Your farmer-patrons in new locations will keep a watchful eye to see how the changes will benefit—or hurt—them and their local community.

Connecting with all locations through community outreach

Community involvement has always been a cornerstone of the farm cooperative model. And now, with the trend toward fewer large cooperatives serving more communities, it’s important to establish a spirit of goodwill that stretches across your entire service area. Ensure that post-merger communication showcases your dedication to community involvement throughout the area.

Following are some ideas for community involvement. You’re probably doing some of these already. Just think in terms of how you can extend community outreach activities to include locations that are new to your merged cooperative to build loyalty among those communities and co-op members.

  • Start a special promotion at c-stores. For example, “1% Wednesday.” Your cooperative donates 1% of the location’s gross sales on a specific Wednesday of each month to benefit a nonprofit organizations selected by the local co-op members. The beneficiary could rotate each month to include school organizations, food banks and other specific local needs.
  • Host get-to-know-us lunches at locations. Invite area farmers to meet the people they may interact with from the headquarters, such as management, accounting, agronomy, grain marketing and energy staff members.
  • Establish school education programs focusing on items such as farm safety or grain marketing.
  • Support local FFA and other student organizations in all area high schools.
  • Make scholarships available to all high school students throughout your trade area.
  • Consider sponsorships of local events such as parades, festivals and sports events.
  • Sponsor adopt-a-highway programs across your trade area.

Rural Community Parade and Cookout

As the trend toward mergers continues, connecting with farmers across a broad trade area will become a natural part of operations … whether your cooperative covers two counties or five counties … has 500 members or 5,000.

By starting as soon as possible after the merger, you can set the groundwork for positive communication and acceptance throughout your cooperative.


Want to talk with someone who can help you with all the communication details of a merger?
That’s VistaComm.

Contact us today

 

Learn More Here: Merge Ahead: Using Community Outreach to Build Customer Loyalty

Merge Ahead: Using Community Outreach to Build Customer Loyalty syndicated from http://vistacomm.blogspot.com/

“Retell the Story” – Part 3 of a 3-Part Post on Merger Communications

merger voteThe member vote is over, and the merger has been approved. The need for further merger communications is over, right? Wrong.

The proposed union between cooperatives may have been approved, but the success of the union is still far from guaranteed. In fact, the crucial blending of systems and culture is still ahead. Much must be accomplished to secure the benefits of this union, both for members and employees.

Failure of an accounting system switchover or the resignation of key employees can still move emotional meters from positive to negative—even after a vote. More talent and sales may be lost if you do not continue to communicate the progress, challenges and reasons for the merger.

Merger is messy

One of the most unfortunate misunderstandings between the board and members, or between management and employees, is that a merger or acquisition is complete when a positive vote is obtained. The average member may be under the impression that the tough part is over. They make think that all will now be well and benefits will accrue.

This is naïve and dangerous. Accounting systems can fail, personalities can blow up and whole departments can mutiny in the process of putting two organizations together. Merger is messy. Members and employees should be prepared for a protracted period of 6 to 12 months of semi-chaos as employee groups are combined, facilities are consolidated and systems are synced.

One big thing a merger communications plan can do is keep you talking with the stakeholders after a vote.

Merger meetingRemind them why you merged

Good merger communications will include regular progress reports after the vote and the effective date of the merger. In these reports, you should highlight the headway you are making at unifying both systems and cultures.

When a glitch occurs—and it will—apologize to both members and employees. Thank them for their patience, and spell out the steps you are taking to correct the problem.

Frequently remind both members and employees of why the board of directors backed the merger. This reminder should include the benefits to both stakeholder groups—which may not materialize for several months or even years.

In Part 1 of this blog series, I referred to a great co-op manager who practiced making his members “partners” to anything major that happened within the company.

“Before we get started, I tell them what we’re going to do and why we are going to do it,” he stated. “Then, after we start, I tell them what we’re doing and I remind them of why we’re doing it.”

This manager, who taught me much about co-op communications, had one more piece of advice. “After it’s over, I tell the members what we did and I remind them again of why we did it,” he said.

Even after the vote is taken and the merger papers are signed, keep telling your members and employees why you did what you did. Don’t assume they remember. Hopefully, this persistence in communication will give you the “honeymoon” you need to get your merged organization on an even keel and growing into the future.

DAve AeiltsSenior journalist Dave Aeilts has been helping VistaComm clients with merger and acquisition communications for more than two decades. If your organization needs help communicating change, or even starting a communication program, put our expertise to work for you.

Contact us today

Original Post Here: “Retell the Story” – Part 3 of a 3-Part Post on Merger Communications

“Retell the Story” – Part 3 of a 3-Part Post on Merger Communications syndicated from http://vistacomm.blogspot.com/

“Don’t Forget Employees” – Part 2 of a 3-Part Post on Merger Communications

It may seem elementary to advise those of you involved in merger discussions to not forget to communicate with the employees involved. However, we often place so much attention on selling the members and making sure they own the initiative that we neglect the very folks who could derail a successful union: the staff.

We shouldn’t. Employees are closest to the day-to-day operation of any organization. That means they are most likely to first learn unofficially that merger or acquisition talks are underway.

In a way, employees have the most at stake in a merger. Members can take their business elsewhere if they don’t like your “Explanation of Benefits.” In his or her mind, an employee is without a vote and stuck with the results.

If they don’t see a benefit, they may decide to leave. This can cause a huge loss of talent and experience. Even before that, disgruntled employees may contribute to sinking a deal. Cooperative employees have frequent contact with members, which means they have the potential to cast a proposed merger in a negative light, unless convinced otherwise.

Moreover, in a rural cooperative, the employee is most likely a neighbor of the member. He or she probably attends the same church, shops in the same local stores and attends the same school and sporting events. The likelihood that a member’s attitude towards a proposed merger may be influenced by an employee’s attitude is extremely high.

 

Convince employees of the benefits


At the very least, assure employees that little will change, but only if that is true.
If it is not, you will face bigger problems when you try to implement the merger.

The heads of two cooperatives that recently merged made the point that their geographies did not overlap. Therefore, there would be no reduction of staff—at least in the foreseeable future. That is a good start. This at least allayed the fears of employees that they may be fired immediately because of duplication.

But there is room to cultivate even greater employee allegiance to a proposed merger. A client of mine makes the point, with every expansion, that “this growth will create future opportunities for current employees.” Again, you only want to state that if it is true. But if it is, it assures both staffs that the proposed union will benefit them rather than harm them.

You can go even further by admitting that, even in the most perfect union, there will be cultural and policy differences that must be worked out. Then express the commitment of the boards and management to working out these differences.

 

Make employees your unofficial voice

Back to the earlier point that employees have the most day-to-day contact with members, why not utilize that fact to your advantage? Keep the employees well informed. Give them talking points on issues you know the members will ask about. That way, when members encounter a driver delivering a load of feed or an employee dumping grain at the elevator, they are more likely to get the straight story instead of a fearfully twisted version of the proposed union.

Remember: Your employees probably have the most to lose or gain in the short run from a proposed merger or acquisition. Make sure they own the initiative and can speak intelligently and positively about the prospect. The members, their friends and next door neighbors are more likely to listen to them than the CEO or board president.


Senior journalist Dave Aeilts has been helping VistaComm clients with merger and acquisition communications for more than two decades. Be sure to visit the VistaComm blog site again for Part 2 of Dave’s 3-part series on merger communication, “Don’t forget employees.” If your organization needs help communicating change, or even starting a communication program, put our expertise to work for you.

Contact us today

See More Here: “Don’t Forget Employees” – Part 2 of a 3-Part Post on Merger Communications

“Don’t Forget Employees” – Part 2 of a 3-Part Post on Merger Communications syndicated from http://vistacomm.blogspot.com/

“What’s in It For Me?” – Part 1 of a 3-Part Series on Merger Communications

Does it seem like all the cooperatives around you are engaged in merger or acquisition talks? The flagging farm economy and global competition has resulted in an increase in unions. The number of co-ops in the country has dropped from 6,445 to about 2,100 over the past four decades, and the pace of consolidation is accelerating.

Perhaps you are just beginning to talk with the CEO of another company or your board has scheduled its initial meeting to discuss the feasibility of joining forces. Now is the time to make a plan to communicate with your members, employees and the surrounding communities. It’s not a question of whether or not your informal or formal discussions with another co-op or company will get out—it’s a matter of when.  That is why you need a plan that will advance the truth before the rumor mill kicks in.

That plan should involve:

The Schedule. Detail when you will communicate. Will you release a statement initially, telling the members and the general public you are involved in talks? Or will you wait until you have substantial evidence of benefit and are ready to schedule a member vote?

The Content. What will be the substance of your communication? Most importantly, how will you answer the members’ all-important question, “What is in it for me?”

Tell members early

Releasing as much truth as you can as soon as you can to members and the general public is to your advantage. It’ll help avoid potential negative facts being invented and passed around the coffee shop. For example, you don’t want someone to say: “I heard from Fred that the co-op is trying to sell out our good name and move our headquarters far, far away.” Instead, you want the banter to be the latest information you released: “This merger will improve agronomy services because a larger fleet will be able to move applicators from one part of our expanded market area to another—depending on the weather. Members will get faster service in the spring.”

Make them partners in the deal

The worst thing that can happen in co-op merger talks is for a member to look at the deal from an outsider’s perspective. In a private company, a shareholder who has received dividends over the years is much more likely to abide secrecy in merger negotiations than a co-op member. He or she has been told repeatedly, “You own and control the company.” Moreover, it is not just dividends that a co-op member is after. It is service and a fair price. The results of a merger are far more personal to a member who needs to feel like they are part of any deal. The earlier your members can “own” a proposed merger, the more likely they are to record an enthusiastic “yes” either by their patronage of an acquisition or by their vote to merge.

Member meeting on merger communications

A co-op manager I worked with had a practice of making the members a partner to anything major that happened within the company, whether it was an expansion of facilities and services, a merger or an acquisition.

“Before we get started, I tell them what we’re going to do and why we are going to do it,” he said. “Then, after we’ve started, I tell them what we’re doing and remind them of why we’re doing it.” In doing so, this manager made the members feel like, “This is my project!” The expansion, merger or acquisition became an extension of what they were doing on their own farm or ranch—so they supported it.

What’s in it for me?

The bottom line of successful merger communication is to keep the question “What’s in it for me?” top of mind. A proposed union may save money by sharing the cost of certain fixed assets or spreading insurance premiums over a larger organization. It may provide greater buying power or a healthier market for the grain your cooperative handles. But if you fail to translate that into direct or indirect member benefits, the initiative may not succeed. Why? The members may not see a personal advantage in voting “yes” or in continuing to do business with the larger organization.

Before releasing any information on merger talks, scheduled votes or potential union dates, always ask, “Does this information answer the ‘What’s in it for me?’ question our members are sure to ask?’”


Senior journalist Dave Aeilts has been helping VistaComm clients with merger and acquisition communications for more than two decades. Be sure to visit the VistaComm blog site again for Part 2 of Dave’s 3-part series on merger communication, “Don’t forget employees.” If your organization needs help communicating change, or even starting a communication program, put our expertise to work for you.

Contact us today

 

Learn More Here: “What’s in It For Me?” – Part 1 of a 3-Part Series on Merger Communications

“What’s in It For Me?” – Part 1 of a 3-Part Series on Merger Communications syndicated from http://vistacomm.blogspot.com/

Tolstoy Windchiler 5K Raises MoreThan $3,000 for Labs For Liberty

Fifty-five runners and walkers crossed the finish line in Tolstoy, South Dakota, on January 21, to raise more than $3,000 for the Labs for Liberty program. Here, Sabot, finishing in 10th place on a balmy 28-degree day in north central South Dakota, poses with his trainer/caretaker, Katie Nold. Late in 2017, Sabot will be paired with a South Dakota veteran, and Katie will take on another Lab for Liberty, supplementing her part-time duties as a creative freelance journalist for VistaComm.

Source Here: Tolstoy Windchiler 5K Raises MoreThan $3,000 for Labs For Liberty

Tolstoy Windchiler 5K Raises MoreThan $3,000 for Labs For Liberty syndicated from http://vistacomm.blogspot.com/

Volunteering at the 2017 Sioux Empire Farm Show

For the third year in a row, I had the opportunity to help the Sioux Falls Chamber of Commerce by volunteering at the swine competition during the Sioux Empire Farm Show at the fairgrounds. Coming from a farm, I’m no stranger to livestock, but growing up, we did not raise or show them. The closest I ever got was in high school, earning a little spending money doing occasional chores for area farmers. Showing livestock competitively is a whole new world to me, and I enjoy seeing the hard work and dedication that the kids put into these competitions.

Despite the winter storm, we had a great turnout again this year. Congratulations to all those who participated in the event and thank you to those involved who make it all happen behind the scenes.

 

Senior Showmanship Competition

After a very smooth swine show. We’re wrapping up for the day with showmanship competitions.

 

2017 Sioux Empire Farm Show Swine

Our judge stands at the end of the show rink during the senior showmanship competition to have participants drive their pigs towards him.

 

Originally Published Here: Volunteering at the 2017 Sioux Empire Farm Show

Volunteering at the 2017 Sioux Empire Farm Show syndicated from http://vistacomm.blogspot.com/

Website Design: Does Your Site Pass These Three Critical Tests?

Your website is so much more than just an address and a placeholder on the web—or at least, it should be. For the online visitor, it’s your storefront, your image, your first impression.

How do you determine whether your site is “good” or not?

When looking at your existing website, or designing a new website, here are three quick questions to ask. Does it look professional and inviting? Does it load quickly? Can a first-timer find what they’re looking for fast?

Download website optimization ebookLook sharp

Our average attention span is now eight seconds. That’s how long your site has to make that first impression. So…does your website immediately come across as credible, trustworthy, professional, approachable and solid—like a friendly, yet firm, handshake? Does it make your visitors feel welcome?

Making that favorable first impression is the responsibility of the web designer. But even an attractive design doesn’t guarantee your site will accomplish the goal of attracting and retaining visitors.

Website speed is no longer optional

A snazzy website design is worthless if it doesn’t load … and load quickly. The eight-second rule no longer applies here. Research by Doubleclick (Google) says that 53% of mobile site visits are abandoned if pages take longer than three seconds to load. In fact, with Google’s new mobile-first index, sites with slower load times are penalized in organic search rankings.

The fact is, bells and whistles can be a distraction—especially in the world of agribusiness. Make sure that flashy animation and video are necessary to communicate key points about your ag products or services. If so, then run with it. Just be sure to employ development techniques that don’t harm the performance of your website.

Navigation is key

Think of website navigation as a street map. Your site visitor wants to know where to go next … and it should be obvious. There are some great tools out there today that allow you to gather data on how customers interact with your website navigation and content. This allows you to visually see what they are doing, and make changes to your site to optimize every page. Here are just a few things to keep in mind when looking at your site’s navigation:

  • Keep navigation simple. It should be very easy for the reader to go from the general content on your home page to the more specific content on the rest of your site.
  • Include links within your page copy. And make it clear where those links go.
  • Ensure contact information or next actions are easily visible on all pages. This is often the key piece of information sought by visitors to your site.
  • Add internal links within the text of your web pages. This allows readers to “jump” to more detailed info on other parts of your website.

mobile friendly webiste design

Does your website fall short on one or more of these criteria for success? We can help.

Source Here: Website Design: Does Your Site Pass These Three Critical Tests?

Website Design: Does Your Site Pass These Three Critical Tests? syndicated from http://vistacomm.blogspot.com/