Technology and marketing teams are on the hot seat to drive digital initiatives for their midmarket companies

Rural farm fields might be one of the least likely places to find a digital transformation success story, but as with any business initiative, no project can be started without a clear timeline and a strategy scaled to suit organizational needs, budget and operational bandwidth.

Flexible leaders willing to work together and push the envelope are also key.

Beth Turner, VP of Retail IT, Alabama Farmers Cooperative

Beth Turner, VP of Retail IT, Alabama Farmers Cooperative

After 28 years with the Alabama Farmers Cooperative, Beth Turner, VP of Retail IT, knows the technological wherewithal is as wide as the age gap of the co-op’s 55 retail managers across the state.

Today’s customers expect access to a Wi-Fi network while shopping, and employees require access to business applications while on company devices, Turner explained.

Samantha Carpenter heads up Digital Marketing and Social Media, but like many young marketers, she brings a unique background to her role. Before joining corporate headquarters, she studied animal science and managed one of the co-op’s retail locations.

Turner’s institutional knowledge coupled with Carpenter’s fresh perspective on customer engagement helped the pair make a strong pitch for investments in digital signage and Smart TVs as well as a reduction in print advertising that’s yielded nearly $160,000 cost savings.

In addition to freshening up the co-op’s Facebook page that hadn’t been touched in over a year, Carpenter’s established a presence on Instagram, LinkedIn and Twitter to promote specific products and announce weekly sale items as well as sharing important educational information from the state’s agricultural extension agency.

Samantha Carpenter, Director Digital Marketing and Social Media

Samantha Carpenter, Director Digital Marketing and Social Media

“Someone recently posted a video to their store’s Facebook page of a farmer out in the field taking soil samples,” she shared of many retailers’ increasing willingness to engage digitally with customers.

The co-op’s social media presence helped reduce annual print advertising costs exceeding $200,000, but Carpenter knows she still needs to reach older customers not parked in front of their computers or glued to mobile devices.

She adjusted her media buy to monthly magazines still popular among many farmers that will deliver an estimated 25 to 40 percent reduction in advertising costs. Installation of the Smart TVs in an initial pilot across a handful of retail locations will not only reduce the need for printed sales circulars but allow those retail managers to sell digital advertising space to other local businesses.

AFC is a regional federated supply and marketing agricultural cooperative, so Turner said her office cannot force procedures to which farmers and growers are resistant.

But the co-op model does mean everyone shares a mutual interest in profitability, and global companies employing robotics and data collection are eyeing agriculture as an area ripe for growth.

She’s employing the two-man team that includes Carpenter to create training videos for a new application-based point of sale system that would enable sales reps to support farmers out in the field.

“If they see a peer using this system to manage active inventory and place orders from the barns, then they believe they can do it as well,” Turner said.

She’s also preparing for an update to precision agricultural software, AccuField, that collects field data and soil quality information that’s loaded into tractor’s iPads and pulled back into retail store systems.

“The relationships you build when out meeting with these store managers and staff is invaluable when implementing new technology. They know we understand their needs.”