Agribusiness may be going increasingly digital, but with the right technology ag retailers can maintain the personal touches that have made them trusted advisors.. A 2019 report by global research firm McKinsey highlighted that farmers are nine times more likely to trust in-person sales reps than their own online research.
Furthermore, it noted that two-thirds (67 percent) of farmers rely on reps and dealers during the initial purchase stage, and more than three-quarters prefer human interactions to digital ones when they have questions about a product’s usage and service.
However, some of the biggest pain points for farmers when it comes to the buying process come down to reps not having access to the information they needed at the point of purchase: 50 percent couldn’t get pricing data, 41 percent said they couldn’t easily compare products, and 36 percent were unable to get the specific product details they wanted.
This lack of – on the face of it, basic – background knowledge means that, through no fault of their own, many ag retailers offer limited value to customers. Moreover, a lack of interoperability between systems means agronomists are unable to assess factors such as regional conditions or, crucially, access the specifics of an individual farmer’s business.
That information should, in theory, be readily available for them – but it isn’t. So how can ag retailers develop an omnichannel approach that maintains the agronomists role as a trusted advisor, while also creating engaging digital experiences that allow growers to manage their account, orders and gain valuable insight from their field data?
- Connect the data dots
Farmers would, naturally, prefer to work with agronomists who have all the relevant background details immediately at hand. This means understanding the customer’s specific requirements and having access to information on all the applicable products and services their employer has to offer. The McKinsey report also noted that farmers want access to reps on an ongoing basis, and ideally 24/7.
The challenge is that farmers’ interactions with ag retailers typically come through a broad range of channels in line with the customer’s context at any given time. This can take in conversations with both agronomists and reps, which can be conducted in-field, in-store, over the phone or online. It’s all too easy for key information to fall between the cracks and for sales opportunities to be missed.
To make matters worse, we have all come to expect more of the customer journey now.
In essence, this means customers are looking for expert guidance from people they trust that builds on the smart use of their data, and they want it as and when they need it. That’s a big ask in a market as vastly complex as agriculture. With start-ups seeking to differentiate through these types of digital-first experiences, the incumbent ag retailers need to play catch-up, and fast.
This means taking advantage of advanced data connectivity across the supply chain to remove the barriers for reps. In practice, retailers need digital hubs capturing information from across all customer touchpoints and offering quick access to key account management information and payment options through intuitive digital dashboards
This technology-led approach unlocks better customer service. It’s informed by personalized insights that build stronger customer relationships, supplemented by real-time omnichannel support.
- Show the CRM of the crop
This year Proagrica conducted its own research on the situation US ag retailers are facing. Respondents still reported widespread usage of manual spreadsheets and a limited uptake of customer relationship management (CRM) systems.
It found that manual processes, stifled communication and a lack of visibility into farmers’ business situations are the top concerns for ag retailers. The survey noted 69% of respondents reported using precision ag tools, yet only 16% employed CRM systems. Meanwhile, 77% primarily still use spreadsheets, email and phone calls to manage customer relationships.
Moving away from those limiting and time-consuming tools in favour of better connectivity for reps and developing CRM systems is the key to driving efficiencies and improving customer satisfaction. Customers and reps need to be able to see orders, account balances, messages, recommendations, quotes and contact details at the touch of a button.
- Planting the seed of an idea
Advanced data connectivity doesn’t just have to help retailers streamline farmers’ existing working practices. It also helps reps to recommend and specify newer products and services that would help customers future-proof their operations.
The McKinsey report noted that farmers learn about most of the latest breakthroughs at trade shows or via independent research, rather than through reps and sales channels. Greater connectivity would better place reps and agronomists to share innovations directly – extending an opportunity for ag retailers to further cultivate customer relationships.
- Make better use of agronomists’ time
If agronomists and reps have the data that farmers want at their fingertips, it means less wasted time going back and forth checking over purchase history details or sourcing information. Instead, their time could be used in a much more productive and strategic ways: as McKinsey puts it, “better automation and ‘smarter’ tools can allow field reps to focus on high-touch outreach”.
In the long-term, this benefits the ag retailer, which will be able to identify specific products that meet the farmer’s needs while also fulfilling its own targets. For example, if product A and product B are both applicable, but product A would be more beneficial for the ag retailer (in terms of meeting quotas or managing rebates, for instance) then the rep can focus on promoting that product.
At Proagrica, we’ve been working to develop the data integration, analytics, and dashboard tools that field and phone reps need.
To find out more, please visit us at www.proagrica.com.