Lessons from the Frontline
An interview with David Postill, Vice President of Marketing, AGI, on how digital products are helping his company rapidly scale and break new ground globally.
AGI is a global leader of innovative solutions for Fertilizer, Seed, Grain, Feed, Food handling, storage and conditioning.
Hi David. Thanks for taking time to speak with us today. We’re very interested in learning about the exciting work you’re doing with AGI, but before we get there, why don’t you tell us a bit about your background.
It’s been an interesting journey! I’m drawn towards Canadian-based companies looking to scale globally, taking on big, global competitors with often limited resources. It’s in these moments where the opportunity for innovation and disruption occur, forcing organizations to rethink how they do business and go to market. It’s a very exciting situation to be in.
I’ve worked at large, multi-disciplinary marketing agencies with tier-one clients in the traditional packaged goods and automotive sectors, and in-house at DSM, a Halifax-based company specializing in nutrition, health and sustainable living, as well as the Toronto Symphony Orchestra (TSO) during transformative times for both organizations. I joined AGI as I saw the agriculture sector, which is massive, ripe for disruption as a new generation of digitally-savvy farmers search for innovative solutions to drive efficiency, mitigate risk and compete on the world stage.
Tell us about AGI and its mission.
AGI’s mission is to be the global leader in building the world’s food infrastructure. We’re a Canadian company punching well above our weight globally, led by a visionary CEO willing to invest in good ideas and aggressively grow the business.
How are digital products helping you realize AGI’s mission?
Agriculture is a laggard in terms of technology adoption, yet we’re seeing a generational shift as Boomers are retiring and their sons and daughters, who are digital natives, are taking over. They’re running large, complex enterprises – $30M+ businesses with tens of thousands of acres and are catering to an increasingly global customer base. And the risks are high – they can lose it all in a single, bad season. These new farmers naturally question why they must manage their day-to-day operations through traditional, outdated processes. They’re looking for digital and technological solutions to be more efficient and profit driven.
So we needed to reinvent how we approach marketing – moving away from traditional, transactional processes towards providing real, long-term value to the end customer through digital products. We’re now very focused on the “customer journey” – harnessing business intelligence and insight to anticipate what our customers want, putting AGI in a position to service unmet needs and requests before end users and our dealers even ask. It also helps us see patterns of issues that may develop around sales, awareness, servicing and post-sales that are common and that we can solve for now.
Can you give us a few examples of how you’re doing this now?
AGI Grow is a great example. It’s the first free, web-based farm-management app, which we developed with Apply Digital, our digital product partner. AGI Grow helps farmers maximize crop yields and better manage their overall operations across any device – it can be used right in the field. The app also allows them to better engage AGI by providing our dealer network with the tools they need to deliver better service, support and information. So on the one hand we are providing true value for our customers by giving them a very useful tool to help them day-to-day, while making their interaction with AGI as seamless and easy as possible to ensure their success.
We’re actively rolling out digital products that touch on the broader issues and themes in the agricultural community, too. We’ll soon launch Farmers Table, a social platform to provide farmers with a forum to share best practices and discuss common challenges. In 2019, we’ll also be leaning heavily into supporting our dealers with bespoke tools that make selling our solutions easier.
What’s your advice to others in a similar position – those who recognize the need to embrace digital solutions to connect with their customers and rapidly scale their businesses, but don’t quite know where to start?
It is very situational, not cookie cutter. In our case, we want to scale quickly and we can’t just wait to build an internal team. Searching for and attempting to attract strong talent across multiple areas of digital expertise to do this right would have taken far too long – a challenge I suspect many companies face. So I decided to partner with a team of experts externally to help guide us on our journey.
Finding the right partner is critical of course. Having been on the agency side, I know that there’s no 360 agency/vendor model that works anymore. Digital marketing has grown so quickly and the available tools so vast that no one agency can legitimately say they can handle all parts of the customer experience with real depth and expertise. I’ve found success in strategic partnerships and relationships with specialists, like Apply Digital, that are deeply embedded in my business to help guide us forward. I believe that a lot of the brands that are in trouble right now haven’t figured out this new dynamic.
Gautam Lohia, co-founder of Apply Digital, sums it up nicely: pick agencies similar to how a general contractor would pick sub-trades for building a home. A good contractor doesn’t go to one person to do everything, instead they will find the best people in a specific trade to do the necessary tasks.