Agriculture retailers are on the front lines of an evolving industry.
As commodity prices remain low and external factors like the 2019 floods result in lost acres, impacting farmers’ bottom lines, retailers are faced with a customer base whose needs are always changing. Because farmers’ needs are always changing, if you’re going to continue to meet those needs in the best possible way, you’ll need to start by listening to the farmers, both directly or indirectly, and letting that guide how you approach and serve them.
You could spend your time interviewing every single farmer in your market and finding out from them what they need, but there’s no way to do that at scale. That’s where data and technology come in.
Nearly all IT conversations in ag focus on eCommerce or Precision Ag, which, while important, aren’t relevant for many farmers. Most farmers likely won’t make large purchases via eCommerce. And while Precision Ag is helpful to some, it can be inaccessible or simply not useful to others.
But IT has more applications than just eCommerce and Precision Ag. In fact, there are so many applications that you as the retailer likely won’t be able to take advantage of them all, especially if you’re just now starting to integrate technology into your practices.
So it takes some picking and choosing what’s going to be the best for your business. Here are three top technologies and tactics we recommend to help your bottom line.
1. Business Intelligence tools for market and wallet share analysis and execution
With the amount of farmland virtually static year over year, the ag industry is functionally a zero-sum game. That’s why most retailers focus on either market share or wallet share expansion as their primary means of revenue growth.
But basing your analysis on aggregate and unsegmented market statistics is going to result in some challenges for your business:
- Including all 2.8 million U.S. growers in your market share analysis is going to deflate your current share and inflate the potential opportunity out there
- Knowing how much market share you have can be helpful as a performance metric, but if you don’t know how to move the needle in the right direction, it’s just a vanity metric
The remedy for both of these challenges is simple: make sure your analysis is based on detailed and segmentable datasets.
Your target market will consist of farmers within an actionable geography, have a demonstrated need for your products based on their crops and acreage, and have a spend potential large enough to be able to purchase your products.
Any segment that doesn’t meet these criteria should be removed.
Once you know who comprises your market at an aggregate level, the next step is to make sure you know who the grower are and how to communicate with them.
2. CRM and Marketing Automation for marketing and sales alignment
For many ag retailers, marketing and sales are often unaligned and operating in their own silos. Marketers tend to favor “brand awareness” campaigns, taking out ads in ag publications and on ag media sites; while salespeople engage in a direct approach, focusing on communicating with growers on a one-to-one basis, building trusted relationships with them over time.
Thanks to digital technologies, the two processes no longer have to be isolated. In fact, when marketing and sales work together to leverage their respective strengths, the results can be quite powerful:
- Your salespeople can’t communicate every single update or new product to their prospects and customers. In fact, some farmers may be uncomfortable with too many sales touches. With email, social, and digital programmatic display ads, marketers can help stay in touch with sales’ top segments with much less effort and better results.
- When marketing and sales both use the same CRM for leads and customers, both teams have a full picture of the grower’s behavior beyond just purchase history: interactions with marketing content, most viewed webpages, favorite marketing channels and much more.
- When your CRM is augmented with third-party data (see below), both marketing and sales can use that technology to understand how to segment audiences, tailor messaging, and provide the right sales proposals to meet the farmer's needs.
Regardless of whether you’re prioritizing current customers or new prospects in your marketing and sales, it’s always going to help you to have the most information on the farm operation as you possibly can:
- Where are the fields?
- Who are the key decision-makers in the operation?
- What has the farmer planted in the past? How has their operation changed over time/what are the trends?
Even if you think you know all your customers, you probably don’t know everything about them. Knowing the entirety of the operation can help regardless of how you’re reaching out to farmers.
3. API & data files for custom use cases to improve the customer experience
Every step in the customer journey is a potential roadblock that could drive your customer out of the funnel. Not only that, but the longer something takes, the more likely a customer will be to remove themselves from the sales process.
That’s where you can use data--through an API or data file--to improve the customer experience and help them move along the path to purchase faster:
- Pre-fill order forms. When you know a farmer’s name, email, address, and phone number, you don’t need to collect that data from them. Use third-party data to pre-fill order forms, making the purchasing process quicker and easier.
- Improve delivery and logistics. When you know where the fields are and where the decision-maker physically resides, you can more intentionally select your delivery and distribution points around those locations.
- Manage your inventory better. You want to have just enough inventory to cover all the needs of the farmers in your market. By combining objective crop and field planting data with purchase history, you can better plan your inventory so as to drive down your costs and increase your overall bottom line.
The uses of data in ag retail are virtually limitless. Even though the industry is shifting and changing, don’t be shy about adopting new technologies and data in your business practices.
Instead, embrace them, knowing that you have more to gain than lose in terms of market growth, customer relationships, and overall experiences among your team.