AGI’s year of digital transformation
How the global food infrastructure giant reinvented itself as a content powerhouse.
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“We are evolving from a physical infrastructure company to a physical and digital infrastructure company,” mused David Postill, still marveling at the scale and velocity of change over the last 14 months.
Postill is SVP Marketing and Customer Experience at AGI. When we think of big food companies, we perhaps think of manufacturers like PepsiCo, Nestlé and Kraft Heinz. AGI operates at a different level of the food ecosystem, creating the equipment, facilities, processes and technologies which support the global food infrastructure. Its business is built across five platforms — seed, fertilizer, grain, feed and food — and 35 brands, and it operates in 102 countries.
“I’m a kid from small-town Ontario,” said Postill, “and I grew up in a farming community, so I knew a little bit about the AGI brands when they invited me to come on board, but I had no idea either of the scale, or the success they’ve had over 25 years.” The company started in Western Canada selling one piece of equipment to local farmers. Gradually, the inventory grew, the equipment became larger, more engineered-to-order. “So you go from one piece of equipment to these giant engineered-to-order facilities all over the world,” Postill observed.
It was a complex business before the pandemic; the pandemic just raised the stakes.
What changed under COVID
“I think everything changed, to be quite honest,” Postill said. “Historically, we had a lot of salespeople on the ground. On the B2B side of things, we would rely on events, trade shows. As everybody got stuck at home, we really had to reinvent everything.”
That meant a complete pause on trade shows – “We would do hundreds around the world and that went to zero overnight,” Postill said. “We pivoted to a content play. We launched something called AGI Live — we came up with it in about 30 days. It turned into a series of webinars. We were skeptical about how many farmers and engineers would sit down for a webinar, but the adoption has just been astonishing.”
AGI also had to change its approach to equipment training, which used to happen in person, in seminars, or even by going to farms to calibrate equipment. “We adopted a learning management system and went entirely digital with it.”
Postill believes in-person will return, likely next year, but the fast learning on virtual events will continue to have application. “Like auto shows, at farm shows the farmers like to physically shake the equipment and test-drive it, and that I think will come back. But a lot of the commercial shows with customer meetings, product launches, seminars – that’s been beautifully adopted by technology.”
After starting out on Zoom in the early pandemic days, AGI turned to Hubilo, the virtual and hybrid event platform, which provided more functionality like break-out groups.
A boom in online engagement
“The engagement we’ve found on the website and in social media has skyrocketed,” Postill said. “We can’t produce content fast enough, the way it’s being consumed.”
Postill had moved to rationalize AGI’s web presence when he joined the company almost four years ago. “When I arrived, we had about 42 independent websites, and nearly 80% of them were not even mobile-optimized. It was a soup of online presence. We had to have a home base for our universe of content.”
But it wasn’t that simple. “We needed to sunset all of those brand websites, migrate them into a single platform, and then build it so that it’s scalable around the world; IP sensitive and content sensitive based on whomever is coming in. In India, we sell rice equipment, so we customize the experience for the user in that market.”
This all required a CMS platform. “We had a terrific partner here in Canada called Apply Digital, a digital agency that helped us through this exercise – that’s ultimately how we got to Episerver.” Episerver, since rebranded as Optimizely, came on board about three years ago, and AGI heavily leverages its automated content and product recommendation capabilities. “We just can’t go fast enough in that area,” said Postill. “That unique product mix for that unique customer; as much as we can personalize that experience, that’s top of the list for us.” The centralized AGI website is extensive, responsive and dynamic.
For example, Postill points to the huge variation just in the U.S. corn and soybean belt, from specialty crops to vast corn and soybean operations. “That creates a demand for very different products just within what you’d think would just be classic farming. The farmer is not who we think he is. The days of mum and dad and the three kids are long past. These farms in the Midwest and Canada can be 10 to 20,000 acres. These are giant operations, and they expect leading-edge solutions.”
AGI’s social media required a similar reset. “It was very fragmented when I got here. We decided to gather it all up, strengthen the core – the master AGI brand – and then create some freedom for the relevant brands that have a unique audience around them.” He has a social media team of three people. “We’re a big user of Salesforce Marketing Cloud, Social Studio as well, and it connects beautifully to Optimizely.”
Mad about testing
When what was then Episerver acquired Optimizely, it acquired extensive web experimentation capabilities, friom A/B and multivariate testing, to testing which can be run simultaneously on different web and mobile pages. The acquisition was recent, so we asked Postill whether he’d yet done much with the new tools.
“Oh, a ton. I am a testing junkie,” he said. “We’ve done a whole bunch of things, some large, some small. It’s very easy to work with: good templates, and it’s user-friendly. My team can get trained very easily, then do a lot of testing and experimenting. I’m always surprised at what we learn.”
Dig deeper: How changes in the worldwide supply chain impact customer experience
Stepping into ecommerce
AGI has different go-to-market strategies, partly depending on geographic region. “We’re a B2B, B2C, B2B2C kind of mixture,” Postill said. “Across AGI’s farm segment, there is a highly developed dealer network, which accounts for about half of AGI’s business.” Much of the rest is engineered-to-order products sold direct to engineering and procurement departments of large corporations. “In Brazil, we sell direct to end-users. That’s just the way the market is structured,” he said.
AGI is experimenting with D2C ecommerce, and has a Shopify-based project currently in beta. This is the shopaggrowth.com portal. “There we’re selling one line of equipment, called a post pounder. It’s been an interesting test to see how we can become that omnichannel solution you see in other categories. We think dealers will still be really important to us, but there is a need for end-users to be able to buy direct in some places.”
Essentially, this is an attempt to figure out how ecommerce will work for a complex offering like AGI. They haven’t yet decided on their long-term ecommerce partner. “We simply decided to a beta test first – how do we manage shipping and delivery, state taxation, partnering with dealers? The making of the sausage for us is really complicated.” He expects to issue a formal RFP, probably in early 2022.
There’s another element to AGI’s ecommerce investment. “It’s direct selling on our SureTrack platform. That’s a mixture of hardware and software solutions we sell.” One example is an app to manage grain storage conditions remotely.
Assets are the anchor
Postill added a DAM to the stack, opting for Bynder. “It interfaces with Optimizely, it connects with our PIM system, and boy the efficiency gains we’re getting out of that,” he said. “It’s feeding our CMS, feeding our social platforms, it connects into our engineering platform. My team will tell me the hours they used to spend tracking down images, and now it’s right there with one click.”
We asked whether, in addition to now serving omnichannel content to existing customers, the content play had a role in customer acquisition too. Postill said his philosophy was to “offer utility at various friction points.” His remit at AGI, he says, comprises not just pure marketing, but the entire customer journey. “We bond with them at a brand level. Then as they move through the purchase cycle, they’re more willing to listen to us when we actively try to acquire them. It’s partnership that gets us to the place of acquisition.”
Recapping the stack
- Optimizely (CMS)
- Salesforce Marketing Cloud (CRM and Social Studio)
- Bynder (DAM)
- Hubilo (virtual events)
- Shopify (beta test ecommerce)
- Demandbase (ABM)