When We Listened

Last week our CEO, Stephanie Liska talked about the importance of listening to your customers. I’m here to tell you it works in terms of getting an understanding of what the market wants, and then going about delivering that. That’s what we did in creating. www.BeckAgConnects.com.

Traditionally, those in ag who grow our food and fiber shared information and best practices over the phone and in person, and unless they fork out the money to travel to a conference somewhere, that often limited them to interacting with people in their local area. About five years ago we noticed more ag professionals taking these conversations online. As we listened to the marketplace, we decided it was time to extend our experience sharing conversations beyond the phone and webinar to include an online community.

We started by surveying the social media landscape in 2010. We found that most social media platforms (think Facebook) were open to anyone and attracted non-ag audiences. The conversation went everywhere. It was hard for farmers to capture good useable information this way. We identified the need for an online ag community that was monitored and focused on discussions about agriculture for ag professionals only. We created a start-up community and then requested feedback in a pilot program.

Of the farmers interviewed, 98% reported they would be more likely to seek and share information in a private community rather than a public social media network.

That told us we were on the right path and that it was important to balance the need for a secure discussion area with the need to provide the social tools that enable peer interaction.

We moved to create www.BeckAgConnects.com, a secure platform for everyone in production agriculture. That includes producers, retailers, consultants, veterinarians, etc. The goal is to have a place to connect with peers from all over the country. Ag companies relevant to the conversation play a role as well. They help producers understand products and practices that are gaining traction, things that can help the business of agriculture.

There are many ways for farmers to talk to consumers, but there was a need for a private community for business to business conversations.

Along the way we validated our decision by listening more. We learned in a 2011 grower insight study that there’s a segment of the grower population that wants to learn passively. They would prefer to read information, rather than hear and discuss it immediately. This matches up with so much of the research that you see that says farmers first go online to learn about a new product or technology before they’re ready to discuss it with a salesman. 2013 research from Successful Farming shows a typical purchase funnel, where Stage 1 is deciding on needs and gathering information. The web plays a key role in that process, along with traditional ag media.

Our study confirmed that all growers wanted access to information from third parties and trusted advisors, but what we learned was that we needed to offer the formats to serve different learning styles. Some people are auditory learners and our traditional Ag Tele Panels on the phone or on a webinar serve those people well. Some are readers and we found that they like to learn by finding written information and consuming it.

By 2012, it was estimated that 86% of the ag community had high speed internet access and 76% of growers visited manufacturers’ web sites. In 2013, Purdue University reported that for the first time social media was a growing source for growers to gain valuable information to make decisions that impact their operations.

The challenge comes in the sifting. Look at Twitter, for example. Depending on who you follow, the story looks very different.

Our goal with www.BeckAgConnects.com is an online community where those in agriculture can feel comfortable talking business. We all know that some of the behind-the-scenes stuff in agriculture isn’t pretty, and it’s hard to get some consumers to understand that, especially if they started with an agenda. We’ll leave that work to other groups.

What you’ll find at www.BeckAgConnects.com is good solid information that you can act on. Often times it’s the minutia that doesn’t capture the headlines, but it’s important to the bottom line of the farmer.

Next week I’ll spend more time talking about the vision of where we’re going with this. In the meantime, we’d like you to join us on www.BeckAgConnects.com.

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