The Importance of Ag Retail Digital Transformation in the 2020’s

You know what they say about growing a tree: The best time to plant it was yesterday. But the next best time is today.

That philosophy is no different when it comes to digital transformation in the ag retail space. Now is not the time for complacency, or sticking with “what’s always worked.”

We hear plenty of reasons from ag retailers why it’s not the “right time” to start their digital conversion. Do any of these resonate or sound familiar?

  • “We’ve already tried digital, but we don’t get adoption.”

  • “My growers want to buy from the sales team … not an app.”

  • “I don’t think we’ll get the full value from it.”

  • “We aren’t big enough to need it.”

  • “We already lived through the .com era.”

  • “Growers aren’t going to abandon their trusted advisors to buy online.”

Another familiar statement from retailers is that they already have a digital option. Though, many times it is followed with ‘it has seen low adoption and usage since due to a poor user experience.’

We hear you, and understand how massive of a task digital transformation can feel like. But there’s also no time to waste.

Embracing digital can:

  • Make your organization more efficient by improving system communication and reducing duplicate efforts

  • Save your company money

  • Provide better service to your growers

  • Expand your customer pool

  • Make life easier for your internal team

  • … and plenty more

 

So… why now?

The ag retail landscape is evolving quickly. And true leaders in the industry will recognize where growers are heading, then prepare their organizations to meet them there.

Customers are calling for an improved digital experience – in ag retail, but also in the world at large. They want easy access to information, notifications to the devices already in their hands, and simple lines of communication. Growers getting those digital tools elsewhere. Their engagement with other brands provide a baseline for what they expect from other companies. There’s no reason why ag retailers can’t meet that baseline too.

Not to mention, we live in an increasingly digital world thanks to the worldwide Covid-19 pandemic. As more and more organizations were forced to initiate digital transformation (often very quickly), customers’ expectations rose. They got progressively more digital experiences from brands, and their lives with those brands got easier. Companies that couldn’t provide that same level of experience were the ones that customers moved on from. But that doesn’t have to be your organization.

The transition to digital is a journey, and it may never feel like the “right time” to start. But taking small, consistent steps will eventually turn into a much bigger metamorphosis.

Those steps also have to be strategic: It’s not about just throwing an app at customers and hoping for the best. If that app isn’t creating efficiencies for your team or providing an overall better customer experience, it may not be the answer. Thinking about where you could improve internal efficiency, listening to your customers when they voice what they want, and incorporating feedback from your team are all great places to start.

There are massive benefits to gain from embracing digital. But on the other side of that, the consequences of not doing so can be a significant blow, especially in this era.

 

What’s the cost of waiting?

Time, efficiency, money, customers, employees, you name it. Procrastinating your shift to digital can cost you plenty, both in the short and long term.

Here are just a few real-world examples of what can happen when you put off your organization’s digital transformation:

  • Manual mishaps: One organization we heard from still used manual order processing. This led to an order being misplaced for a couple weeks (during a time of market volatility), and eventually a large financial loss. It was a simple mistake — but one that could have been avoided if digital processes had replaced manual ones.

  • Postage and paper costs: It might seem small, but the cash savings can be significant when your company moves contracts and forms to eSignatures. No more printing and mailing!

  • Customer loss: One retailer instituted a digital app, but it made for a poor customer experience. The customer— a large grower—decided to drop that retailer. Meanwhile, a different retailer who took the time to build out a better digital experience using the AgVend-built Grower Portal was able to gain that grower’s business. Customers are not afraid to take their business elsewhere, and the more work you do to build out the digital experience they’re looking for, the more likely you are to win their business when they decide to move.

 

Moral of the story: Start now

The world is changing (rapidly), and our industry needs to evolve to keep pace. Embracing the full value of digital can create efficiencies for your organization and team, plus ensure the strongest possible customer experience.

Those growers sure aren’t waiting around. You might think they will stay loyal, even if their experience isn’t ideal. But in today’s world, it might be time to rethink that philosophy.

One research study showed almost 59% of customers would walk away from a company after several bad experiences. Seventeen percent said they would leave after just one poor experience. And while that study was not ag-specific, we can still apply the same lessons to this industry. Your growers are customers outside of ag too, and are starting to demand better experiences from their ag suppliers. It’s time to give them what they want (and need).

So how to get started?

Start with the experience, not tech. Your growers don’t necessarily care about technological features or the latest trend. They care about what doing business with you feels like. Figure out how to deliver differentiated value to your customers (then, how tech can help support that goal) — not the other way around.

Don’t think of it as an “all or nothing.” Digital conversion is a process — one in which you take first, initial steps, and then build upon those. It’s not about trying to do everything at once (or not doing anything at all). Start small, and iterate on each of those steps. Think of digital transformation as a marathon, where you have to complete each mile before running to the next.

Target where you’re losing efficiency in your business. What are the tasks or processes taking up huge swaths of your employees’ time and energy? Putting preliminary effort toward finding technology that will help you reduce those operational costs can go a long way. When your team isn’t spending the bulk of its time on long, tedious processes, they can spend more energy doing things that will actually scale your business: cultivating relationships with growers, strategizing, and building new customer bases.

Find the right partner. There are a lot of options on how to implement a digital platform. Having the right partner is crucial. Ensure that they are looking beyond the basic blocking and tackling of paying invoices online and bringing new market opportunities to your business. The partner is supporting your organization and leading digital adoption.

Whether you’re a large or small organization, all ag retailers have common challenges. Inventory management, handling customer communication during challenging supply situations, logistical issues like quickly getting signatures on contracts, and high staff turnover can all pop up in this industry.

To meet those challenges, creating better processes, removing tedious tasks, and constantly improving the customer experience are all important. Luckily, a robust, strategic digital game plan can spur all of those solutions. Initiating that change can feel time-consuming, confusing, or stressful. But the costs of not taking steps toward embracing digital are potentially even higher.

The best time to launch a digital transformation is, of course, yesterday. But if you’re looking for the next-best option to start planting those seeds, it’s today.

 

AgVend is the leading digital engagement platform to serve the producer of tomorrow. Our white-labeled information and commerce portals are designed to strengthen the relationship between the ag distribution channel and their grower-customers. The AgVend team is composed of individuals with decades of experience in agriculture, digital marketing, and enterprise software for the Fortune 500. Headquartered in Minneapolis, Minnesota, AgVend operates a distributed organization model with local coverage in all major US and Canadian ag regions.

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