About Peaks & Valleys

The Peaks & Valleys podcast is a series that looks at the unique challenges of running a seasonal business. Although interview guests run agribusinesses, the discussions are applicable to any seasonal business. Each episode ends with tips and best practices related to the given topic.

About the Episode

In this episode, Brett Jeacle, Director of Revenue Operations for Manderley, begins the conversation by comparing agribusinesses to the movies. When it’s too quiet you know something is about to go wrong. During the interview, Brett digs into the importance of real time communication and discusses how Manderley has reorganized to improve two way communication within their organization.

For more information on the podcast or to suggest a speaker or topic, contact seasonal@marketmakerag.com

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Transcript

Did you know that in a typical home, landscaping consisting of lawn plant beds, shrubs, and even trees, the lawn is responsible for between 81 and 90% of the carbon capture? I’m Lisa Courtney Lloyd. And you’re listening to the Peaks and Valleys podcast where we talk about the unique challenges of running a seasonal business. Although our interview guests run agribusinesses, these discussions will be applicable to any seasonal business. Our intent is to briefly discuss the issue, then give you a couple of tips and best practices to consider. Today’s guest is Brett Jackal, director of revenue operations for Manderley. He creates living green space for beautiful, healthy communities with quality and convenience that scales.

Lisa: Hello, Brett, and welcome to this episode of Peaks and Valleys podcast. I’d like to begin with something you said in a previous conversation in a seasonal agricultural business, if you feel like you’re in control, you aren’t asking enough questions. Can you tell us a bit about what was behind that statement?

Brett: Absolutely. So first, thank you for having me. I’ve really been looking forward to this. It feels like it’s been a long time coming, so happy to finally be on the call with you. So, I think it’s kind of like in the movies– when it’s too quiet, it seems that something is about to go wrong and in agriculture, there are so many factors that are out of our control. That’s why it’s important to try to control the variables that we can. And for me, communication is key. So that means gathering real-time feedback, whether it’s from our employees, our customers, our competitors, and key influencers. It means really having the ability to try to digest that information and being able to determine which actions to take before it becomes too late.

I think that’s what creates lines of sight that help us to navigate our busy season. Even when everything is quiet and seems to be trending smoothly towards our annual targets, there is always room for marginal improvements. We always need to be on the lookout for ways to work on our systems, to develop stronger customer relationships, and to identify and implement service enhancements or other efficiencies in the value chain. I think these types of improvements can only be realized if we’re spending time asking questions, trying to work on our systems, and really being proactive, rather than letting ourselves be guided by trailing indicators.

Lisa: Great. And so of course, being able to accomplish this is ambitious in any organization, but Manderley is seasonal. So, you are looking at generating 90% of your sales in about 20 weeks and that’s shortened if your season is delayed because of weather or other factors. So that flow of information and analysis must happen in days or hours, not days and months, is that accurate?

Brett: Sometimes minutes.

Lisa: Okay. There you go.

Brett: Yeah, It’s, a very short window of opportunity. And like you say, it’s one that can really be affected easily by factors out of our control. You know, we’ve had seasons that have been cut short by drought and winter kill and we’ve had wet years. And that’s where our big contractors who are doing projects are getting hit with grading delays. They can’t get their site inspections on time, and it can really reduce their work in a meaningful way. We’ve had COVID which created these incredibly demanding conditions that really came out of nowhere and pushed us to our limit as far as capacity. So, these were things that come out of nowhere. You’re not going to be able to avoid them. But the way that you manage them really determines the outcome.

And again, this comes back to communication. So, like any company, we have people who are responsible for setting the customer expectation and we have those whose role is to deliver on it. These people are grouped into different departments, but they hold information that’s key to one another’s jobs. So, one of the things that we’ve learned over the last few years is that if you’re not careful or very deliberate, silos can easily develop within your organization. That means that departments can put up blinders and be so squarely focused on their goals on their own plan, which by the way, is generally developed independently of complimentary functional groups. They also ended up having changed the commands that very rarely provide enough detail outside of their own team.

So, operating in silos drains your organizational bandwidth. It creates unbalanced expectations within the organization. It can lead to grudges or a sense of unhealthy competition between departments and ultimately prevents you from taking effective action. At the end of the day, it’s unfortunate, but it’s the customer who is ultimately impacted by these sorts of service or product-related issues that result. There can be times in the season where it’s dry and what happens during those periods is sometimes the sod becomes tender. The grass is healthy and will still grow, but your rolls might tear a little bit easier than when weather conditions are better.

In a siloed organization, I can almost guarantee you that the way employees find out about those types of conditions is directly from the customer. The customer is going to let them know this, rather than their own production team. And as a result, those who are responsible for setting the expectations to set our customers up for success, they end up in reaction mode. In another scenario, if sales aren’t communicating with production about market demand–whether it’s overall or just a large project on short notice–these are the sorts of things that could push us beyond our capacity. Again, it’s the customer that gets the short straw. So, overselling can be problematic and agriculture, especially in sod, it’s not like running out of widgets. As in, you can’t just produce more widgets. It’s a two-year crop, and if you underestimate demand and you don’t act during the season, you could wind up with shortages. These shortages could last into future seasons and telling a customer that you can’t meet their expectation is something that will have long lasting effects. So, aligning departments and creating strong systems for information gathering and sharing, as well as trying to build trust within the team, a trusting environment between departments makes the difference between going where the winds will take you versus being able to steer your ship. No matter what, there’s never a guarantee you’re going to end up exactly what you set out for. But I can tell you, the second option is the better one.

Lisa: Right? So, let’s spend a little more time on the last part of what you just said, because you’ve identified the issue. You have identified the solution being improving the efficiency of this flow of information and breaking down any barriers to share this information internally and externally. So, what have you done? Or I shouldn’t say, what have you done? I understand what Manderley has done is reorganized bringing together several of these customer centric departments under you with the new title of director of revenue operations. Can you tell us a bit about what that looks like?

Brett: Yes. So, revenue operations, that’s a term I borrowed from the software world. I was trying to come up with a label for a department that really brought together all the people that were responsible for setting the customer expectation, and what revenue operations is about. It’s aligning people and processes that are responsible for optimizing customer lifecycle management. So that’s business development, customer success, sales, and marketing. We also have an install team– they’re great, but they’re service providers. Lacking that integration meant that we weren’t effectively sharing information. It meant that we weren’t leveraging the strengths of our people. And ultimately, I don’t think we were managing our customer mix well, which means that we’re falling short on the customer promise in some cases. This wasn’t a people issue, this wasn’t anybody trying to be malicious or anything like that.

It was all about structure. We created and implemented a structure, which especially for a small company, it made it difficult for us to communicate and share bandwidth. Bandwidth is key because in many cases we have small departments, and we rely on capacity from other departments to be able to go out and complete the activities we need to. Since we’ve amalgamated, we’ve seen some real improvements. An example of that is our marketing department. We’re a department of one in terms of head count, but we rely on people in the field to help with our bandwidth, whenever needed. When we talk about marketing, most people probably think that means email marketing, social media, corny taglines, and, you know, that’s not entirely wrong.

We try to stay away from the corny taglines, but sometimes it happens. For me as a purist, marketing is about information management, it’s about gathering and analyzing information. That’s what helps us identify these opportunities and threats early on. It helps us to make customer mix decisions. It helps us create impactful value propositions and that’s just to name a few things. There’s so much that comes out of the information that we receive, and we look at the trends and we extrapolate what’s happening in our world. Where we’ve really put our focus, this year is making sure that we own the data and marketing is accountable for our information, gather and transfer. We utilize our sales team, and our customer success teams to help us collect this information.

We’ve worked on establishing strong relationships with the filling, the promise side of the business. So that’s our trucking group and that’s our production group. We have a weekly opt-out meeting now, which we didn’t before, where we can discuss any issues that are coming down the pipe. Whether it’s things like the quality of the sod capacity or was there an equipment breakdown or what does demand look like? Are there any large jobs coming? How do we work as a team to make sure that we’re not hitting any roadblocks in any of these functional areas and that we can deliver the best possible outcome to our customer? The summation of all of this is that alignment and bandwidth sharing, as well as clear communication. This allows us to focus on areas where we can collectively make gains versus where we will be expanding energy just pursuing our own functions or priorities, which may or may not play a big role in us achieving our high-level corporate goals.

Lisa: Well, as a professional in communication, and an ongoing student in communication, you really nailed it because so often communication people think one way, and you seem to have organized the team in such a way that there’s this ongoing two-way communication so that you can act on it. So, kudos to you guys. Thank you, Brett. I could keep talking with you, but I know that time is of the essence. So, can we end this podcast with you showing some tips or articles that you feel would be useful to anyone listening into this?

Brett: Yeah, so there’s a book that I’ve been reading in terms of personal and professional growth that has really helped prioritization and workflow. And it’s a book called Atomic Habits by James Clear. There are a couple of concepts from the book and many of them are introduced early in the book. The first one that resonated with me is a quote and it is “you do not rise to the level of your goals, you fall to the level of your systems” and seasonal agricultural business depends on our ability to process information, to be proactive, not reactive. And if you’re focused so squarely on the finish line, you’re not going to be able to anticipate those obstacles that are in your way and what are required detours you must take to stay on the overall trajectory.

We’re talking about systemizing the information gathering and creating accountability to make sure that it’s being done. And, to me, this is another layer that is important to create processes that help us make this information gathering and sharing habits. The other concept that’s introduced early in the book is the idea of the aggregation of marginal gains or how small improvements everyday lead to big results. You’re better off working on making 1% improvements every day versus sinking all your time and energy into chasing perfection. This is what I mentioned before, since we’ve focused on customer lifecycle management, and we’ve tried to build stronger communication lines between our production and distribution departments, we’ve been able to collaborate more effectively within these functions. We’ve seen improvements this year that may not be a home run in and of themselves, but if you compare that with the results from previous years, you can see where we’re moving the yardstick forward. Sharing that back with the team and celebrating the fact that little victories are worth celebrating, is important as well.

Lisa: Fantastic. Well, thank you so much, Brett. I really appreciate you sharing that book and, your experience of what you have been through the last year and of course, previous years as well. You’ve been very generous with your time. I’m going to wish you a good day and a happy weekend.

Brett: Thanks very much, Lisa. It was great to be here and, enjoy your weekend as well.

Lisa: You’ve been listening to Peaks and Valleys. The podcast on seasonal business peaks and valleys is presented by Market Maker Agriculture, a long-term hold private equity company that invests in agribusinesses across North America that have seasonal cash flows. For more information about Market Maker or suggestions for our topics or guests, contact seasonal@marketmakerag.com