- October 17, 2022
Partner Success Story: Central Farm Service Saves Time by Partnering With AgVend
SVP of Agronomy: “Every time we interact with someone at AgVend, there’s a mutual goal of bringing better service, better communication to our customer, and improving the lives of our team at CFS”
Central Farm Service (CFS) is a full-service ag retail cooperative across southern Minnesota, parts of northern Iowa, and even in a little bit of western South Dakota. It has the four classic divisions of agronomy, as well as feed, grain, and energy, and has about 4,500 member owners.
CFS implemented AgVend’s Digital Enablement Solution in November 2020. Through the AgVend-built Grower Portal and Sales Hub, both the CFS team and their customers gain centralized access to customer information and communication.
CFS member owners get a convenient way to manage the business they do with their CFS advisors, and the CFS team uses the Sales Hub to get a holistic view of the customer and better manage internal workflows across the business. CFS uses AgVend for agronomy and grain, with both feed and energy about to go live.
Below is the transcript from an interview with CFS’s SVP of Agronomy, KC Graner, and has been edited for readability.
The agricultural industry is relationship-based. How does CFS use a digital platform to enhance relationships and customer experiences?
The cooperative itself was born on relationships between farmers, and then again on relationships between agronomists and their farmers. One thing that I look at is the necessity to continue to serve growers the way they want to be served and communicate with them the way they want to be communicated with.
But, what we see as we look forward is not looking at what we’re using today. It’s how we prepare for what we see coming in the future.
For us, that means a streamlined salesforce–our ability to get the same amount of sales team in and be able to have those sellers interacting with the volume of customers that we have today. So, having an online platform [like AgVend]–one that allows our sellers to become more efficient, and allows our sellers to touch more customers, and allows our teams to segment so we have the right sellers calling on the right customers–I don’t think it takes the relationship out of agriculture and out of ag selling. It just enhances it.
So when I think about our customer experience in the past, our customers were used to monthly paper statements—sent by mail—that were often wrong, outdated, or confusing.
That was the baseline window that made us look for a new solution and ultimately start with the AgVend platform.
It doesn’t take away from customers’ abilities to communicate more traditionally or stop into the office, but instead gives them immediate access to their information whenever they want it. And, more importantly, it helps us expand how we communicate and engage with them in different ways.
Now, we can leave agronomic insights for them, we can message them market information, we can push them notifications about product opportunities based on whatever we’re seeing. AgVend creates a consistent conduit for us to interact with our customers differently.
AgVend creates a consistent conduit for us to interact with our customers differently.
You’re making life easier for your customers, but what about your teams? How does your sales team feel about implementing and using a digital enablement solution? How are they embracing it?
Great questions. Some of the sales team had two or maybe even three decades of muscle memory—that’s tough to change.
It’s justifiable that any agronomist would be cautious when it comes to adopting anything new and digital because a lot of new solutions in the digital space haven’t worked.
But I’m really proud of my team. This November, it’ll be two years with the AgVend platform, and the team has really latched onto the notion of what type of value the portal can bring to their customers, how it can help them differentiate their customer’s experience with some of our competitors, and ultimately, how it can make their life easier.
The team has really latched onto the notion of what type of value the portal can bring to their customers, how it can help them differentiate their customer’s experience with some of our competitors, and ultimately, how it can make their life easier.
Some of the folks that were part of the initial rollout thought the intent was to replace them with an app. And I can see why they thought that, because that was the perception of digital at the time. So watching some of them get through that and understand and witness for themselves what they can do to free up time and bring that better experience to the customer has been huge.
A few of the people that originally doubted the platform are probably our most active users today. It makes sense if they’ve been around the longest, they’ve learned how to adapt. And so the best users are those who have adapted quickly and employ it every day.
Your sales team adapted and now they embrace the AgVend solution. How did you facilitate that change and really help them embrace the opportunity?
The change management of bringing on digital was new to me. However, when I think back on it, it really wasn’t much different than other changes that need to be led. I’m not sure there’s a special sauce to how it’s done.
I’m still a big believer that any major change you make will take a good three years to mature:
We partnered a lot with our AgVend Partnership Manager, who—every one of them I’ve met has been outstanding—really took ownership of our team’s progress, from the goals we set out and then attaining them to providing one-on-one support with our different users that were struggling to see the vision.
But, you know, at the end of the day, any change is either successful or it fails because of a lack of communication of the vision. And so I was really intentional on making sure that my team had visibility and understood how I was thinking about and approaching the change. I’ve got such a great team when it comes to thinking outside the box.
Once they got behind the idea, they really latched on to it and are now competitive with the tool. So mixing together all those different facets of change management and then also having just an outstanding team willing to change was a big part of it.
After seeing how your team has embraced the AgVend-built platform in the last couple of years, what’s been the biggest benefit to them?
I don’t know if I can single out just one benefit. I think that you can immediately tie it to the customer benefits that help the goodwill of our brand–in our agronomists, out in the field. And you can tie it to internal benefits. It’s about a 50/50 mix.
We can really differentiate with that customer benefit. We can differentiate with the fact that I’ve had some growers tell me they’re willing to pay X dollars more per ton of product just because the ability for them to account for their business is now so much better because of the portal. And their mom, who’s their CFO for their 4,000 acre farm, literally says, you need to buy from this place because it makes my life so easy.
I’ve had some growers tell me they’re willing to pay X-dollars more per ton of product just because the ability for them to account for their business is now so much better because of the portal.
So on the customer side, there are all those different value pieces. We talked about agronomic insights, communication, and account statements. I mean, just connecting everything and making it easy for them is huge on the internal side–the other 50%, which is just as important–and the time it saves. I mean, it’s the common denominator for all of us.
I have yet to meet a good agronomist that has a surplus of time, so the ability for us to leverage technology to reduce the non-value-added interactions with customers and amplify the value-added interactions with customers is outstanding. Our internal workflows to take a sale, turn it into a ticket, and get a job done–to be able to utilize the portal’s technology and allow them to do that on the go, do it from home easier, do it from out in the field where [our agronomists] would much prefer to be, or do it wherever they are, is a game-changer for us.
To be able to utilize the portal’s technology and allow them to do that on the go, do it from home easier, do it from out in the field where [our agronomists] would much prefer to be, or do it wherever they are, is a game-changer for us.
There’s been a lot of indication, especially in this last year, that the strategy of moving to digital and bringing that to our customers is beneficial, because the boots on the ground that are doing all the work are starting to recognize the time savings of it.
Why have a digital platform for CFS and for your customers?
So why have a digital platform for both sellers and customers? It’s kind of funny. When I first approached this idea and was seeking out vendors to create something, I was only thinking about it from a customer perspective. That’s what the industry had been telling us at the time, and that’s what I’d kind of been trained to think about.
So I was really blessed to be connected with AgVend through some people in my network that I trust. They introduced me to AgVend’s CEO, Alexander, and really immediately I felt a joint passion for bringing a new customer experience and being able to make customers’ lives easy.
And so AgVend really brought an almost instantaneous solution for that. Once we decided we were to go through with the partnership, AgVend really encouraged us to expand that vision to the other half of the business, the internal half, the workflow half, the efficiency half.
And now we’ve added more than just agronomy – we have grain live, we’ve got energy going live, we’ll have feed going live in the near future.
The efficiency, just from a business management standpoint–people like me that need to manage a P&L, that need to manage a tight labor situation, need to manage the ability for people to have more flexibility, and therefore enfranchisement with their work. The things that the portal can do has enabled a lot of those decisions to be easier and a lot of those workflows to be smoother for us.
Why would you tell another retailer to think about or really consider using AgVend as their partner for a digital enablement platform? Would you recommend it to others?
So the reason I would well, one of the main reasons I would point them towards AgVend or support them if they came to me for referral would be when I look at any ag retailer of pretty much any size and scale, even really large ones that would dwarf CFS–and we’re a decently sized organization with $1,000,000,000 of revenue this year.
But I think the fact that AgVend has an international team of outstanding programmers at the speed at which we’ve been able to witness them move when we’ve had requests or ideas to enhance the platform is the best I’ve ever experienced.
The last 15 years in ag has seen pretty slow development. You hear providers say “This update is going to be coming out in the second quarter.” And the joke that I always think about is, “Okay, is that second quarter this year, next year, or three years from now?”
Because we’re so used to programming being so slow, AgVend is hyperfast. It’s a two or three week sprint. If they’ve decided to prioritize something, they get it built and it’s working. We’ve never had a flaw with our AgVend platform–no big glitches, no giant breakdowns.
And so I would encourage any other ag retailer looking at getting into this digital space that if they want to leap forward, and leap forward pretty instantaneously, that AgVend needs to be their partner.
It’s not just about the product. It’s about the support. A lot of software companies–at least the ones I have an experience with–you buy their widget, they get you going on it, and then they kind of just step back and wait for you to call and say it’s broken, fix it.
Whereas with AgVend and working with the local partnership managers and even their programmers too, it’s constant communication. It’s constant contact. AgVend holds you accountable to making sure that the value that they sold you on is happening, and if it’s not, they do whatever they can to help fix it.
AgVend holds you accountable to making sure that the value that they sold you on is happening, and if it’s not, they do whatever they can to help fix it.
We started out by talking about how ag is a relationship-based business and when I look at the last two years, the relationships that have been built between the AgVend team and our team–it’s not just because we like each other when we happen to get together–is because every time we interact with someone at AgVend, there’s a mutual goal of bringing better service, better communication to our customer, and improving the lives of our team at CFS.
Every time we interact with someone at AgVend, there’s a mutual goal of bringing better service, better communication to our customer, and improving the lives of our team at CFS.
And when the end goal is making both the customers’ lives better and our CFS teams’ lives better, good things are going to happen. That’s probably my favorite part about AgVend, is the fact that we’ve been able to leverage some technology, which is just a software program, into something much more special and something that’s almost hard to put a value on.