Partner Success Story: Co-Alliance Partners With AgVend For Higher-Value, More Impactful, Customer Conversations



VP of Sales & Marketing: “It allows [sellers] to be more impactful when they step on the farm and it allows them to make sure the conversations that are face to face are really high-value ones.”



Co-Alliance is a large cooperative with locations in Indiana, Michigan and Ohio, serving farmer owners across those three states. Consisting of four core divisions, (energy, agronomy, grain, and swine and animal nutrition), Co-Alliance leverages AgVend’s digital enablement platform (consisting of a white-labeled Sales Hub for internal employees and Grower Portal for farmer customers) as a way to enhance the relationships they’ve got with their customers.

Branded by the co-op as Co-Alliance Connect, the team at Co-Alliance has leaned into the platform as a way to maximize the reach and impact that sellers are able to have with their customers. In an atmosphere where digital tools are often labeled a relationship detractor, VP of Sales & Marketing Amy Kinsler has seen the organization use the AgVend platform to take their customer support and service to the next level, and really lean into the platform’s digital marketing capabilities to “soften the beach”, so sellers are calling on qualified leads who are ready to buy.

Below is the transcript from an interview with Kinsler. It has been edited for readability.


Ag is a very relationship-focused industry. How do you see digital platforms and solutions as an opportunity for enhancement as opposed to a disruption of those relationships?


Well, I think it’s a fair concern, especially because we have a lot of sellers that are relationship-driven and we have a lot of buyers who really value those loyal relationships.

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.

It allows [sellers] to be more impactful when they step on the farm and it allows them to make sure the conversations that are face to face are really high-value ones.


It allows [sellers] to be more impactful when they step on the farm and it allows them to make sure the conversations that are face to face are really high-value ones.

A lot of the business information can be found via searching the client’s Connect platform or via a quick report run by the salesperson.



That can be a lot of change for businesses and their teams. How do you manage that at Co-Alliance?


It really comes down to change management and understanding there’s a lot of different technological aptitude, so really considering: How are you getting your sellers on board when rolling out this new change to them?

We’ve taken a little bit of a different direction as we’ve launched the [Co-Alliance Connect portal]. What we found is that it’s extremely customer-friendly. This is really a platform that presents the customer’s business to them and allows them to be able to navigate that business and see its entirety in one spot.

So for us, we’ve actually led with customer adoption instead of internal adoption first. And that has been an eye-opening approach for us. Instead of really putting this weight on our sellers and asking them to go out, sell the platform, and then help a customer navigate it, we’ve built our own support structure so that we’re collectively driving customers to it.

We’re getting the customer signed up. We’re making sure that their accounts are synced, and that they’re having a good experience. Ultimately, this is drawing our sellers in, right? Because they’re getting questions that drive them to utilize the platform to be more efficient.

So I feel like we’ve almost inverted the typical process, but we did it because that customer experience is so good and so intuitive that it’s driving our sales team there. If they see the customer likes it, they’ll start to use it a lot quicker.



When you think about the customer experience, what’s one of the biggest benefits of Co-Alliance Connect, your AgVend-built digital enablement platform?


Paying bills online. We’ve seen a tremendous jump in that already and we only launched it two months ago. Historically, we would have had about $1,000,000 come in digitally with the old platform we had. And already in two months, we’ve seen over $4 million come in. So we know that customers are finding that, using it to pay bills, and that they like that option.


Historically, we would have had about $1,000,000 come in digitally with the old platform we had. And already in two months, we’ve seen over $4 million come in. So we know that customers are finding that, using it to pay bills, and that they like that option.


What has surprised you most since launching Co-Alliance Connect?


What surprises me is how many customers are actually using the quotes in the orders, and the fact that they’re finding that on their own. We’re not training the customer today to go there and use it. They’re just intuitively finding it and asking for a quote or for an order.

That’s meant we’ve had to really double down on our training and prepare our team to provide that customer service back. But it shows you that the customer is interacting on the platform and using all of the tools that it brings to them.



Implementing new tech isn’t easy. As you brought Co-Alliance Connect online, was that a heavy lift? How does partnering with a third-party like AgVend facilitate that transition?


I think there’s a lot that sits on the Co-Alliance team to make sure our data is clean, make sure our accounts are syncing so that when the customers come onto the portal, they have the right experience and view the right information. So there’s been a heavy lift from our support team to do that.

But we also rely heavily on AgVend’s support team. There are a lot of questions that come along that we can’t track down, a lot of data that we need cleaned up and AgVend has been able to help us do that pretty quickly.

So, there’s no question that for us to be as effective as we’ve already been in just two months, that it’s largely due to both of our teams interacting really closely with each other and making sure that we’re addressing concerns when they happen.



You talked a little bit about different segments and making sure the right sellers are calling on the right customers. How are you also making sure that the right customers are seeing the right messages at the right time through the digital marketing component?


So from our perspective, we’ve been doing digital marketing for a while now. This is something that we’ve really seen a lot of efficiencies in. We see a clear ROI on it. I mean, from a financial impact, it’s a much more palatable marketing campaign to do digitally than the traditional email or billboard or a traditional postcard or billboard or radio ads. So we’ve really been leaning heavily to digital.

The problem with the digital platforms that we were using was the amount of manual work that had to be done to get the engagement rates right, because the reason that you do a campaign is to soften the beach for the seller, right? So they can go out with qualified leads to follow up on.

[With previous systems], we found that we were spending a lot of time downloading reports, looking at the metrics, figuring out where customers engaged, and then customizing those reports.

For each seller, we have nearly 70 clients. And so you can imagine the amount of heavy lift that was. And it never was timely insights because that takes a lot of time to round up that information and get it back out to the right teams.

Now, we can bring all that into one platform where the seller can come and they can see the way customers engage, they can see customer history, and how they’ve engaged in the different campaigns that we’ve done.


Now, we can bring all [of those marketing metrics] into one platform where the seller can come and they can see the way customers engage, they can see customer history, and how they’ve engaged in the different campaigns that we’ve done.


And, that is what will really drive us forward. We will start utilizing more digital campaigns, putting more effort out there, and really engaging the customer much more often digitally, because we have a streamlined tool that will show how they interact and what our follow-up actions should look like.



How important is the transparency you can provide to both sellers and growers in terms of how your teams are interacting and driving engagement?


It’s critical. I talked earlier about bringing in AgVend and Co-Alliance Connect and how we’re bringing that to our customers to really drive that experience for them, which then pulled our sellers along. I don’t want the impression to be that we left them in the dark because it’s also critical that they have to know what’s happening.

They have to know how we’re engaging with customers so that they can be effective, so that they can be in the know, so that then they can drive the action that we’re trying to drive through a marketing campaign. So it’s really important that we’re messaging our sales team, “Hey, this campaign’s coming up. These are the different tactics that we’re going to be using.”

We like to get feedback from our sellers. We like to include them as much as we can. You know, I talk a lot about our broad company campaigns, but we do a lot of customized campaigns just for a seller so that it’s very personalized. Our marketing team looks to really almost be a consultant for our sales team to allow them to be more effective and again, efficient in touching a lot of customers at once.

So when it comes to a marketing campaign, we’re always vetting it through the sales team, we’re always giving them a heads up and then we’re providing them clear feedback on how that campaign is being executed.



Why AgVend? What would you tell an ag retailer who is considering a digital enablement platform for their business?


We’re a big organization, we have a lot of customers, we have a lot of sellers. We have a lot of moving parts, a lot of data. And for us to have someone else that could come along and help us interpret it and help us get it into a format that is presented to a customer in a convenient, easy to navigate option–to me, that has been tremendously powerful.

I don’t think that’s something that we could have ever created ourselves and understood the way it needed to feel intuitive to a customer. So that piece was really critical and one that we just don’t have the capacity to do at Co-Alliance.

We have been on the path with AgVend for nine or ten months now and we’ve had a team of AgVend folks that are alongside every step of the way, continuing to pave the path forward, helping us identify any issues, giving us ideas of things that have been successful in the past and helping us apply that to our journey. So for us, that’s really valuable.


We’ve had a team of AgVend folks that are alongside every step of the way, continuing to pave the path forward, helping us identify any issues, giving us ideas of things that have been successful in the past and helping us apply that to our journey.

And then finally, as you look down the path – if we had created our own platform, the likelihood of it getting stale and the continued investment in it was probably not going to be the best for clients.

So teaming up with AgVend, who’s always looking at what that customer experience looks like, what does that seller experience look like? How do we keep making it better? How do we keep improving the platform and providing efficiencies and higher quality return?

Because we’re on this platform with AgVend and a whole bunch of other retailers, we’re providing insights and feedback, which will lead to a much more powerful platform here as we move through the next several years.

It’s been a really fun process. Honestly, we’ve started and stopped on the digital journey several times and this has been one of the ones that we started to overthink. We started to kind of really, you know, hesitate in our launch, hesitate in our process. And as soon as we hit go, as soon as we got a few customers on it and got their feedback, it was overwhelmingly positive.


As soon as we hit go, as soon as we got a few customers on it and got their feedback, it was overwhelmingly positive.

The confidence that gave our organization to push forward and to go–I’ve never seen us move so quickly down a change path. I think that speaks volumes for the platform. I think it speaks volumes for the AgVend team and how they built it and I think it speaks volumes for the Co-Alliance team too, because we recognize that there’s a change wanted by customers and we needed to serve that up.

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