At Raven, our customer-focused strategy is a key part of our commitment to outstanding service. One of the key differentiators within this category is our dedication to training and investments in customer-focused product development, especially in the off-season. Raven Top Gun training is a key part of this strategy. We sat down with Precision Ag Specialist Gary Esselink, one of the main coordinators and facilitators behind Top Gun, to get an inside look at this outstanding training program’s foundations and gathered some valuable takeaways from the recent winter season.
Top Gun Overview
Raven Top Gun training is a two-day product update program for our ag retailer partners. Hosted at the Raven Innovation Campus in Baltic, SD, it’s focused on educating our customers about the latest Raven innovations while providing them a seat at the table in the feedback and development process. “We do our best not to make it a sales pitch,” said Gary. “We’ll give them the features and benefits, the high points, and some troubleshooting knowledge about the products, so it’s a training/product update.” Upon completing the session, a Top Gun is trained to be the certified expert on Raven precision products within their company.
Top Gun was founded in 2016 after the service team decided to increase their customer contact and reached out to the ag retailers because they use Raven products the most every day. After a nationwide survey at the time, Gary said it was clear that these customers had a limited knowledge of our products. “We thought, ‘we can do much better than that. We have a whole range of products from front to back, so we got a really good story to tell,’” Gary recalled. Thus, the idea of hosting a two-day Raven product line training session was born with the vision of highlighting key product features for ag retailers was born. Gary, Technical Service Supervisor Lance Malenke, Trainer Jeffrey Haper, Precision Ag Specialist Scott Huls, and team have been facilitating Top Gun sessions ever since.
A key part of Top Gun training events involves gathering customer feedback. The Raven team facilitates a roundtable with engineers, developers, product managers, precision ag specialists, and more. “Getting that direct feedback from the customers — that’s been really helpful for us,” Gary noted. “When we get into conversations with other companies, they ask, ‘How come you guys are always on the cutting edge?’ It’s because we get this customer feedback.”
The roundtable provides an environment that leads directly to customer-focused innovation. As Gary mentioned, not many companies will welcome a direct line between their engineers and their customers. Raven’s core values of innovation and continuous improvement really shine in these sessions — inspiring collaboration to provide the best solutions to market. “I’m very appreciative of the engineers and their involvement,” Gary said. “I always tell them, ‘You don’t realize the impact you make on these customers, that you as an engineer are willing to sit down and listen to what they say.” Some examples of innovations that have come from surveying customers include:
- Slingshot® Job Sync was added after finding out that at least 50-75% of customers would use it.
- Viper® 4 features, including acre countdown, automatic field boundary snapping, and backup camera capabilities. There are usually new widgets added every season from customer feedback.
- VSN® Visual Guidance — feedback from the customer solidified market-leading features, including the ability to use it on curved/contour rows, the radar sensors for full canopy (instead of “feelers”), and the 12-degree slope angle capability.
After their sessions, all participants enjoy a social event and tour of Raven HQ — an awesome end to a collaborative event. Since a variety of technologies — from inside the cab to the tip of the boom, including over-the-air connectivity — are covered in such a short period, participants leave with a USB drive of product presentations to take home.
Gary fondly remembers every Top Gun event that he’s had the privilege of coordinating. Since 2016, Top Gun events have had 1,237 attendees from 31 states and 3 Canadian provinces, total of 40 sessions, 202 different ag retailers from 463 different locations. Gary quipped, “[Director of Customer Experience] Ryan Molitor used to say, ‘those are 1,237 of Gary’s best friends!’”
Winter Season Recap + Key Takeaways
Each Top Gun season highlights different product-focused updates depending on what’s new and relevant. Our successful 2022 winter season featured six sessions with 193 applicators trained from 58 ag retailers (116 different locations/branches) and 15 U.S. states.
“The season went extremely well — I’d say we had some of our best sessions yet,” Gary said, mentioning that our customers’ overall knowledge of our technology now empowers them to ask the right questions and get an in-depth perspective on new features. In addition to updates on the Viper 4, VSN, AutoBoom XRT, and more, the most important focus for the winter sessions was the gathering and processing of data — which put Slingshot’s features on display.
“We can process the mountains of data that we have now. We’re doing machine diagnostics; we’re doing field diagnostics. We’re doing all these things with Slingshot and AgSync. We’re becoming a full server for everything that they do, from dispatching to receiving back in the field. The biggest word is “efficiency” — if you can become more efficient, you save a lot every day.”
Another interesting takeaway from the winter season was the evolving perceptions of autonomy. “Now, customers see that it’s something that’s coming and that we’ll see more,” Gary said. Ultimately, the ag retailers came eager to learn and see new technology — and Top Gun delivered this winter season.
Upcoming Top Gun Opportunities
If you are interested in becoming a Raven Top Gun, the next sessions will be held on the following dates:
- July 26 – 27, 2022
- Aug 9 – 10, 2022