DEVELOPING A DIALOGUE WITH CUSTOMERS STARTS WITH A DEPENDABLE DATABASE
, by Debbie Coakley, Contributing Editor
As growers are hit more often with information from a variety of sources, agribusinesses need messages that are even more relevant than they've been in the past. That's putting a lot of pressure on companies' databases to deliver the necessary customer knowledge to develop on-target direct marketing campaigns.
"The more we know about a grower, the more personal and relevant communications can be," says Jeff Springsteen, customer relations manager for Bayer CropScience, Research Triangle Park, N.C. "That leads to a relationship. It puts us in a position to have a 'conversation' with growers to help them determine whether to buy our products."
Warren Riedesel, marketing communications manager for corn for Pioneer Hi-Bred International Inc., Johnston, Iowa, adds that the high-tech nature of the agricultural industry makes it more important than ever to improve relationships with customers and treat them as individuals.
Below, three companies describe how their customer databases and extensive customer knowledge allow them to develop successful direct marketing campaigns.
For Bayer, a high priority is understanding the relationships between entities within its customer database. "With close to a million entities in the database, quality data is top priority," Springsteen says. "High-quality customer data is essential to allow a solid analysis of customer interactions and profitability trends."
The company works in partnership with AgData to prioritize, customize and personalize the data. "The information returned to our internal teams must be actionable, timely and accurate," Springsteen says. From this database, the company expects to receive market analysis, trend analysis, customer profiles, market segmentation, online access and actionable information, such as lists of best customers and cross-sell opportunities.
Bayer's database includes retailer and grower demographics, EDI sales, program payments and complaints. "This information is supplemented by point-of-sale data gathered through our loyalty programs," Springsteen points out.
He emphasizes that updating customer demographic information is crucial. Bayer regularly crosschecks its database with third-party services to ensure addresses are accurate. As a result, Springsteen notes, the company has reduced the costs of returned mail and incorrect phone numbers.
Bayer's database provides information and support tools that include a comprehensive plan for collecting and evolving customer information, including the ability to track all customer interactions. "We continue to develop a plan to better relate to and serve varying customer segments based on their value, past interactions and available customer information," Springsteen says.
One example of how Bayer used its database to create a direct mail campaign is the "Fly with Us" campaign, which targeted top-tier Puma customers from the past two years. By mining purchase and acreage information from the database, loyal customers were identified, mailed the potential to earn a flight coupon and thanked for their recent Puma purchase, and incented to purchase again in 2004.
The campaign's goals were to lock in loyal users and maintain a cumulative net sales volume within this group. "Replies have been tremendous, with 52 percent of customers responding to the direct mail piece," Springsteen reports. "They said this initiative was one factor they considered when determining their product purchase this season."
Pioneer is able to access a wealth of sales history and other information from customer transactional records, incorporate it into its in-house database and use it to communicate through direct mail and other vehicles. "Because we sell through commissioned sales agents in most parts of the U.S., when someone purchases Pioneer brand seed corn, we have more accurate transactional and demographic records than if we were distributing through dealers," Riedesel says.
Pioneer's sales reps, as part of their ongoing sales activities, maintain and update demographic data such as crops grown, acreage ranges and whether or not customers have livestock. "The Field Information System, which sales reps can access on their laptops, is constantly being improved to make sure our capture and management of customer information is as accurate as possible," Riedesel says.
The database also serves as a communications tool for efforts besides direct mail, according to Riedesel. For instance, the company has the Pioneer GrowingPoint customers-only Web site.
One example of how Pioneer has used its database to create a direct mail campaign is the December 2002 "glove offer mailing." Riedesel says the goal was to encourage farm operators to "raise their hand" and express interest in discussing their 2003 season seed corn needs with a Pioneer sales representative.
The mailing was sent after the company's early-savings invoicing deadline had passed in late November 2002. The target audience was previous-season customers who resided in counties with a 5-plus bushel-per-acre Pioneer yield advantage over competitive seed corn companies and who had not yet invoiced Pioneer brand seed corn for the 2003 season. "We went to the database and identified those people," Riedesel explains, "and then sent them a mailer indicating we would still like to do business with them and offering a free pair of leather gloves for talking with their Pioneer sales representative."
The recipients were offered three options for response: they could call their sales rep, return the postage-paid reply card or go to the GrowingPoint Web site. "We had a high rate of response," Riedesel concludes. "Many growers ended up purchasing seed corn as a result of the promotion."
A core component of the customer relationship management strategy for Syngenta Crop Protection Corp., Greensboro, N.C., is its database of customers and prospects. "It allows us to target our resources and tailor our messages to fit customers' needs," says Mary DeMers, senior communications manager for Syngenta's horticulture crops.
The information for Syngenta's database comes from a variety of sources, including the company's sales force, campaign response mechanisms, Web site inquiries, customer resource center, channel partners and industry associations. "Synapse, our database business partner, warehouses, maintains and does data hygiene," DeMers notes. "Demographic updates from outside sources are done on a yearly basis."
One example of how Syngenta has used its database to create a direct mail campaign is the potato calendar, first sent to potato growers in 2003 and then again in 2004.
Calendars were mailed to more than 1,000 U.S. potato growers. Each calendar contained four business-reply cards spread throughout and targeting a different season of the year. "The calendar gives a great overview on how our products can fit their needs," DeMers says. "It's a handy resource to display in the office or shop."
She points out that the calendar reinforced brand and portfolio awareness throughout the year, as well as captured agronomic and demographic information from the reply cards.
DeMers says the database was crucial in helping target the growers to whom to send the calendars. "The calendar was well-received," she reports. "We even had customers calling to request more calendars."
While databases help companies target their direct marketing efforts, customer information does not have to be limited to communications.
"The more people inside an organization who can take advantage of the information, the higher the return on investment," explains Suzanne Hearn, vice president of business development for AgData.
For instance, Hearn says companies can utilize data to support their channel strategy. "Companies can use grower preferences to tailor their offer to retailers and assist retailers with representation of the manufacturer-to-grower value proposition in terms that resonate with growers."
Dick Olmsted, vice president of marketing for FarmMarket iD, agrees that predicting customer behavior is becoming more of a priority for companies. "They have the ability to take all of their data and continually crunch it to be more predictive," he says. "The result will be a better understanding of their customers before spending money on direct marketing activities." AM
Debbie Coakley is a freelance writer based in Warrenville, Ill.