The digital relationship between farmer and supplier – ease of use


In early 2019, global research firm McKinsey published their survey of more than 700 farmers across the United States. The results made clear that despite technological advances in the supply of goods and services, a large gap still exists between what farmers want from their suppliers, and what they actually get.

What lessons and actions can ag retailers take from these results? How can we strengthen the digital relationship between the farmer and supplier?

Limited digital functionality when interacting with suppliers is identified as a key pain point for farmers in the McKinsey report. This goes beyond store interfaces that are simply a bit clunky. For example, most farmers want to complete their daily task using just one device. Currently, the majority need to switch between multiple apps or devices, and many also still rely on manual input systems like local spreadsheets or paper-based records. What changes can be made to ensure a smoother experience for the farmer which, in turn, leads to greater interaction with and trust in the supply chain?

The McKinsey data, while generally showing a preference for in-person interaction where possible, highlights two key points in the customer journey where desire for a viable digital option reaches its height. At these two points, 45% of farmers say they prefer pure digital interactions to phone or face-to-face engagement.

So, where in the customer journey does digital engagement reach its highest levels, and what are the biggest farmer demands at those points? The first is during the initial-research stage, where they seek “easy product comparison and easy search,” and at the product-reordering stage, where “ease of ordering” is named as the most important pain point. At both stages where digital interaction reaches its peak, ease of use is named as the most important pain point for them.

Going beyond the McKinsey report, there is another important stage in the customer journey that often creates unnecessary friction and delay: the manual nature of the agronomist-farmer relationship. Often the agronomist must manually write a recommendation before emailing it to the farmer, who then must return the communication in order to place an order. There are other variations of this stage in the customer journey but, ultimately, they often rely on time-consuming back and forths that delay the order’s completion.

“Ease of use” is a vague term, but limited or frustrating experiences can quickly sour the digital relationship between farmer and supplier. Most farmers aren’t looking for significant changes or a complete change in their working relationships. Instead, they want the existing systems to work better. This includes a recommendation and ordering process that can be done instantly, with automatic recommendations and orders placed via a digital platform in just a few seconds. Providers in the supply chain should consider how they can ensure a smoother experience for the farmer which will, in turn, lead to greater interaction with and trust in the supply chain.

For suppliers, easing the digital relationship between the farmer and ag retailer is vital. Using advanced data connectivity, it’s possible to remove the most common obstacles and ensure a frictionless process. This doesn’t require a massive upheaval, or for all the individual app and software providers to rework everything individually. Connectivity makes it possible to source all those individual data points, refine that data, and then use it for another valuable output. Pulling together all the data sources suddenly makes it easier to see a farmer’s purchasing record, or even for sales reps and agronomists to bring more tailored and specific recommendations. Connectivity unlocks this value, no matter your individual ERP system and setup.

From a farmer point of view, they generally want to make their purchases, see their account balance, and receive tailored and precise advice from their agronomists without any friction. From an ag retailer’s perspective, they naturally want to offer this functionality without the need to spend millions on a new platform – they want to use the system they’ve got today. Most ag retailers have multiple systems that need to be connected together in order to do so. For example, connecting numerous back end systems with an online selling portal can be expensive and incredibly complex, even seemingly unfeasible. Data connectivity makes this possible.

Ease of use is one of the greatest obstacles to smooth purchasing and strong farmer-ag retailer relationships. With a simple and discreet adjustment, it’s possible to unlock a far greater experience that creates a far more usable, enjoyable, and valuable experience – an experience that will foster greater customer loyalty and strengthen the digital relationship between farmers and their ag retailers.

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