Telling customers they are underperforming never seemed like a great business model to me. Benchmarking can have that exact effect – 60% aren’t performing well if you remember teachers grading on the curve back in school. Those at the top of the curve might enjoy the satisfaction of knowing they are the stars, but how do you gently push the below-average customers to step up their game?
I understand that benchmarking can be used effectively, but I also know sometimes it hurts. An example of benchmarking many can relate to is the medical community’s use of BMI(Body Mass Index). At my height of six feet two inches, my weight bounces from 220 to 214 pounds, so I move from one benchmarking category to another, leading my very slender, young(and blunt) doctor to proclaim, “Congratulations, you’ve moved from obese to grossly overweight.” I need to get below 190 pounds to reach “normal.”
Benchmarking can serve the purpose of providing as a kick in the pants to exercise more and eat less. The problem with agronomic benchmarking is that the solutions to reaching better numbers aren’t as obvious as exercising and eating less.
When seed companies tell you that the genetic potential of a bag of seed corn is 500 bushels per acre it starts going downhill once you open the bag, it’s almost implied that you are the one who is failing to perform.
Comparing my yields to others in counties I farm might be OK unless I farm the poorest soils in each county; then I might resent someone pointing out the obvious – that my yields are below average. Comparing my yields to those of others who farm the same soils in my part of the state is better, but being labeled in the bottom quartile isn’t fair if I didn’t get similar rainfall. Even if both soils and weather are similar, what about rotations? What about cost of production? maybe all those higher yields came with high production costs.
So what are the keys to meaningful agronomic benchmarking? I’d suggest these as a few of the important keys:
- Realistically quantify the growing environment to get closer to an apples-to-apples comparison.
- Look long term – for trends over multiple years. Everyone has a great or bad year once in a while, but looking at longer-term trends is more meaningful.
- The more depth of data the more value in benchmarking. Depth will provide you with more confidence in the comparison, as well as some answers.
The best benchmarking services don’t just tell you where you rank – they also tell you why. What does the data say you need to change to perform better or keep doing to stay on top?