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Changing the Game in Agribusiness CRM Part 1 E-mail

Nick Poulos        Volume 1, Issue 1
Managing Director, Chrysalis Marketing
Customer Relationship Management
and Integrated Direct Marketing

Agribusiness fascinates me. So do the issues of customer loyalty, customer focus and customer relationship management. As an industry we feed and clothe the world. As marketers we have the unique pleasure of working with some of the most genuine people imaginable; we also have some of the most complex business and marketing challenges as well. Food production, safety, the challenges of a future world with 9 Billion people, global warming, abundant water, disposal of waste together with the larger issues of corporate social responsibility and creating a sustainable future are among the tremendous issues we must address as an industry. When we add to this mix, the impact that social media and the instant communications network of today, managing the voice of the customer and the point of contact take on entirely new challenges. One area in which many agribusiness and agrimarketing professionals fail to realize the full potential for their firms is in “customer relationship management” – in delivering relevance and value to our customers and business partners.

One distinct advantage that we have as agribusiness leaders and marketers is that we “can get our arms around” our target world much more completely than almost any other business model that springs to mind. Another pair of advantages has been our innovation and adaptation of technology. With these tools at our disposal, we should be able to build customer-based, customer-focused business models more effectively than our business peers in another industry. There should be a roadmap we can follow. My hope is to use “CRM Compass™” to start an on-going industry dialogue. I believe that the roadmap has been clouded over by certain promises made by technology providers, because even today Customer Relationship Management is not a technology play. In some ways, I think Customer Relationship Management and Loyalty Management must rely upon basic blocking and tackling of sales and building trust and relationships; in other ways, I think it is about “changing the game.”

CRM Compass™ is offered as an on-going communications forum in which we hope to explore the agribusiness customer business models and the issues surrounding customer loyalty, channel management, the use of social media and call centers to support field sales and Customer Relationship Management. To begin with, I’d like to get us thinking about changing the game in agribusiness. Let me set the “intellectual stage.” The discussion is about “Value” and how our customer is the key.

In his 1987 work, Changing the Game, Larry Wilson coined the acronym T-A-S-T-E. It stands for Trust, Accountability, Support, Truthfulness and Effort. The work was aimed primarily at sales people. It called out the need to “change the game” in multiple contexts of sales as the world was changing. That message was vibrant in those days but resonates with even more clarity in today’s ”flat-world” that is defined in many ways by the web and the speed of light.

In 1996, Adrian Slywotzky wrote Value Migration in which he examined the destructive force “change in customer-defined value” can wreak on industry leaders who fail to pay attention to their customers needs and buying behavior. In this landmark book, Slywotzky introduced the concepts of “business designs” and “profit patterns.” He instructed us to stop thinking in simple sports metaphors of football and basketball for the “mental models” we use to describe “the game of business.” He reminded us that the best metaphor available is chess. Agribusiness would do well using a chess game analogue. 

Examining industries as divergent as steelmakers, department stores and the computing industry, Slywotzky demonstrated that one reason why market leaders had lost their lead and with it their market valuation was that they had failed to manage the ever-changing nature of value. “Value”, of course, is a customer-defined concept, and one that changes virtually with each transaction a customer, or client, has with your firm. It was the failure of the automotives, companies such as DEC, US Steel, and so many others that failed to monitor the change in value and as a result found themselves 180 degrees from their heights and in some cases out of business all together. The value-delivery management “contract” failed in the customer contact efforts, in the efforts to create accurate single profiles of customers, prospects and in the sales effort. It is time again to “change the game” in CRM.

Blending the lessons from Wilson and Slywotzky, we are able to harvest strong lessons.

In the overall context of Changing the Game, Wilson was talking about how the sales world functions. The theme for Wilson was how the “game” is changing for salespeople and organizations that are trying to stay abreast of, and to (the extent they can) anticipate what their customers will need, want and expect: in other words, value.

To Wilson, T-A-S-T-E requires 100% reciprocality between both parties. When applied successfully there would be between both parties 100% Trust, 100% Accountability, 100% Support, 100% Truthfulness  (transparency, in today’s idiom) and 100% Effort from both parties. In the context of account management or professional services, the value of this approach both for the team assigned to create and deliver the work as well as for producers, growers, and our channel partners more than likely is completely obvious, especially in today’s world. In an agribusiness model that is customer-based, customer-focused business model, one that effectively uses CRM as its underlying strategy, shouldn’t T-A-S-T-E be a primary principle and guarantee?

My simple answer is a resounding “yes!” In other words, in a successful creation and implementation of Customer Relationship Management, this acronym has a firm place as a prime operating principle. I submit that nowhere does T-A-S-T-E have as necessary a place than in CRM in the agribusiness world.

On the opposite side: if an agribusiness were to implement CRM incorrectly - especially without the foundation of T-A-S-T-E - wrongly or in reverse (let’s call it: “anti-CRM”) can we see in that failure to be customer focused and customer based some of the root causes of the current stress over who owns the farm gate?

CRM is a strategy based on customer focus, on customer knowledge, and on delighting the customer. CRM includes customer experience management, customer knowledge management as well as a portfolio management approach to customers. Additionally, effective CRM provides “value “ as defined by the customer - at each point in the customer’s lifecycle and allows multi-channel interaction (web, phone, in-person, social networking, etc).

CRM’s strategy defines how a company delivers value to its customers and profits and growth to the firm as it practices customer-based, customer-focused delivery of its products and services. Tied back to the strategy are issues such as business practices, training, communications, data, capture and use, business process, operations, compensation, etc. (viz., people, process, & data).

The benefits of successful CRM implementations are well documented. They include:

 1.  Increased sales
 2.  Increased profitability
 3. Increased product penetration
 4. Increased customer satisfaction and loyalty
 5. Increased employee satisfaction
 6. Decreased cost-to-serve
 7. Increased retention of the existing customer base during times of economic uncertainty.
 8. Increased likelihood of acquisition of new customers

T-A-S-T-E, I would submit, inherently lives in successful CRM practice.

Our follow-up will take a look at the definition of T-A-S-T-E and the critical role of Trust and building relationships when developing successful CRM practices and putting the T-A-S-T-E approach into practice.

CRM Compass™

Read More about Changing the Game in Agribusiness CRM:  Part 1, Part 2, Part 3 

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