As the US is slowly getting back to ‘normal’, whatever that even means still, it’s becoming more and more obvious that some things in our lives, and especially how we buy our goods and services, have changed to the point where they won’t go back to the way things were pre-COVID. Digitization of processes, routines and procedures, although this has been happening for many years already, is something that we have seen increase exponentially in velocity over the past 14 months, and it’s pretty clear that the results are here to stay even when COVID will only be a distant memory. Who doesn’t like to be able to purchase movie theatre tickets and select seats before arrival, visit the doctor online, or pay your restaurant bill on your phone with a QR code?
Every disruptive event creates both winners and losers, and digitization is no different. Those businesses and people that are part of the disruption are winning, while those that aren’t get forced to rapidly make changes to the way they operate. In my role as Senior Sales Executive at Agworld I’ve seen first-hand how digitization impacts many aspects of life, and even the sales processes of an agricultural software provider!
Pre-COVID a lot of digital agricultural technology suppliers deployed a hybrid sales & support-model that relied on both telephone interactions or Zoom meetings as well as in-person visits. While digital agtech can be sold and supported online, the classic agricultural in-person business culture still played a role in the minds of most suppliers, hence they still invested in staff that would visit a number of growers each day and use tried-and-proven in-person sales techniques.
Many growers have told me over the past 6 months that COVID has shown them how and why this is changing, and that they understand the shift in dynamics that causes many suppliers to move away from their traditional sales model. The Agworld sales team works almost 100% digitally, meaning that customer visits to prospective customers are rare, and we don't envision this changing very much unless our customers tell us otherwise, while our competitors have started to pivot back to the earlier approach of in person meetings. At first I felt that this could be seen by our clients as a disadvantage for Agworld, especially with people that still prefer person-to-person interaction, but increasingly I get told by growers and ag retailers that they understand exactly why we do what we do.
“When I speak to an agtech business, I expect to buy agricultural software, not a steak and beer.” was what an ag retail executive told me a few weeks ago, and the quote stuck with me after he explained it to me: “If your product is truly digital, it does not need an in-person visit to sell it to me or to support my staff in using it. If an in-person visit is needed, it’s probably a bad sign for the quality of the product that is being sold. Also, if you come visit me and take me out for dinner, that means that I pay for your travel and our dinner in the price I pay for your products - it’s that simple.”
I found this a very interesting line of reasoning and one that probably holds stake for most digital agtech providers out there. Our sales and support staff have been significantly more accessible for our customers and our response time has yet again improved, enabling us to increase customer interactions while having less travel. Not to mention we get to spend more time with our families; our customers appreciate and respect that line of thinking too. Overall, less travel is making our team more efficient and energized. Overall, the gains that have come from COVID, like virtual meetings, have meant savings for many businesses, and in the case of Agworld we have re-invested those savings into increased development of our product and systems, ensuring we meet the future demands of our clients on a daily basis.
Of course in-person visits still have a place in every business, but evaluating and choosing an ag-technology provider remotely is incredibly telling for the soon-to-be “easy to use” product and customer service you’re investing in. If this can’t be accomplished without an in-person visit, it should raise a red flag. We can save our in-person visits for celebrating partnership milestones. Steak and beer taste much better with a side of victory!
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The Agworld Customer Success team is known throughout the industry for its high level of service and quick turnaround times, which takes much of the frustration away for users when they have a question or experience an issue. The way I see it, the continuous digitization of the sales and support process due to COVID will only enhance the value of our service levels even further; improved efficiency always leads to better service for customers. For Agworld this not only aligns with our values and customer feedback, but ultimately our customers' views that they expect to buy software that is easy to use, not pay for a steak and beer to convince them it is!