Covid-19 side effect: Agribusiness creates new ways to maintain client contacts

How the 'new normal' affects present & future Agribusiness client contacts
November 19, 2020
Covid-19 side effect: Agribusiness creates new ways to maintain client contacts

Globalization processes have created accelerated and deepening ties in all its aspects – economic, social and cultural. As a result of technological developments in transportation and communication and political and economic developments, a global process of trade between countries and multi-national corporations has taken shape.

 

Prof. Anthony Giddens coined the term ‘Globalization’, defining it thus: a code name for a varied series of processes that have made the world an instantaneous,  independent border-free place.
In the agricultural sector corporate representatives have traveled worldwide, creating connections unlimited by time or place, setting up agricultural projects, developing innovative products, participating in exhibitions across the globe, in order to present their products and make contacts.

 

Recent months have given the impression of an apparent end to the globalization era, as in a relatively short time Covid-19 has become a pandemic, putting the entire world on hold, travel has been cut short, borders closed, exhibitions were initially postponed and later became virtual; thus marketing and export reps found themselves in a new reality, that obligated them to find creative solutions to preserve their contacts with customers, producers and distributors worldwide. We turned to representatives of four leading companies in various sectors, and posed two identical questions to each of them. The respondents were: Eyal Inbar-Hishtil, Gottfried Pessl-Pessl Instruments GmbH, Maoz Aviv-Empower Africa, Chaim Schwartz-TEFEN Flow and Dosing Technologies. We present their responses in this article.
The Questions were:
1. Effects of the ‘new normal’ on the present – How do you manage your relationship with your clients, vendors, distributors? What do you do to maintain and manage your ties with them during the pandemic?
2. Effects of the ‘new normal’ on the future – Which of these new methods do you think you’ll use in the future to engage with your customers when life returns to normal?

 

Eyal Inbar, Export Sales Manager at Hishtil

 

 

In this year’s first Lockdown in March, we arrived with merchandise prepared and many opportunities, but the global Lockdown put some of them on hold, since customers in Europe were also in Lockdown.
Once the first Lockdown ended, large orders/demand arrived resulting from a phenomenon in which many people in Israel and abroad found consolation in gardenwork, by starting / increasing their own vegetables and herbs plantings.

 

Earlier this year, as in previous years, we managed to participate in two important Shows (IPM & Fruit Logistica),.Then flights became unavailable, and we progressed to various other channels of communication: conversations, Zoom meetings, email and telephone. In parallel, we have created new communication channels, for example:
- Publication of articles in media abroad, and producing videos about new and current products, which we distribute to clients.
- Frequent regular weekly conversations with sales managers in Europe.
- During this period we switched Hishtil’s distributor in Sweden. Initial activity was conducted on Zoom.
- New agent in Japan – We appointed a company in Japan as our new distributor.

Some steps were part of a long-term work program, but Covid-19 has undoubtedly accelerated them. For example, in June we hire additional salespeople in Germany, and we're about to hire a new Sales Manager for Scandinavia.

 

Pre-planned professionalization processes proved their value in our new reality, e.g., as part of the hobby gardening market forecast, during the past year we introduced an array of robots for the production process, and as of today this enables us to provide the highest quality and meet the increased demand.

As for the current reality’s influence on future activity, Eyal says, “Reality teaches us that it’s possible to attend a Zoom meeting with a staff of several people, to be precise, make decisions and complete the meeting’s agenda. Our frequency of flights will undoubtedly decrease significantly, although we can’t completely forego personal meetings with the client, but it’s possible for the most part.
As to Shows, the important shows haven’t yet been closed, but it’s still unclear, we’ll wait and see.

 

Gottfried Pessl, CEO at Pessl Instruments GmbH.

 

 

We are a global team with partners and clients around the world, so that working and maintaining relationships remotely was our reality well before the pandemic. Conferences, summits, trade shows, and other agricultural events, where we had the chance to meet everyone face-to-face, were cancelled and travel was restricted, so we had to look for ways to maintain personal contact between headquarters and the METOS network, as well as to remain available for our clients. In practice, this meant more video calls and phone meetings, but also less time spent on the road. This is where our network of local distributors once more proved to be a great asset. With their help, we are able to offer continuous support to our current clients. You can stop operations in a factory, but plants and animals don’t care if there is a pandemic going on -- you have to take care of them no matter what! We are glad our technology is there to help farmers do their job.

 

It’s hard to expect life will return to “normal” as we knew it before the pandemic, at least not immediately. We see that the COVID-19 situation has increased demand for remote monitoring systems, and we will continue to raise awareness about the use of this technology for better risk management, protection of the environment, labor optimization and food production.


Maoz Aviv, Agronomist, Director of Agriculture at Empower Africa 

 

 

Empower Africa is focused on creating connections, facilitating adequate communication, and maximizing collaboration between parties interested in doing business in Africa. Using our digital platform, the Empower Africa Business Network brings screened, approved, trusted organizations and individuals together, enabling them to engage directly, close deals and create synergy that accelerates growth in Africa’s private sector. We provide an online marketplace that you can only enter if you are a transparent and reputable business. I can say that when the pandemic started, we were already strategically prepared. Building the EA Business Network gave us the advantage of maintaining our relationships during the pandemic and developing an effective tool for driving business digitally.
 
Today, our company maintains very close contact with our partners – governments, businesses, local farm owners and investors. As an agronomist company director, I use my expertise and experience to help clients navigate Africa and achieve success. As a result of the pandemic, we’ve been relying on a variety of digital tools including our own platform, which have kept us close to our clients despite the great distances. That being said, when the storm passes and the skies finally open up, our agriculture division and business development teams eagerly await to return to field work, enjoy face to face meetings, and create impact from the grassroots level.
For our Agricultural Solutions and Consulting (ASC) services, it’s important to be physically present with customers while making tough decisions, engaging in the actual processes and understanding reality from up close. This familiarity with the clients’ needs in real-time, and the focus we put on communication and trust, is what allows us to come up with strong data-based solutions. To be honest, I’m not sure how fast or even whether life will “return to normal”, but I can guarantee that Empower Africa will be using insights from the pandemic and these unusual times to create new connections among stakeholders, generate more jobs, promote trade (instead of aid), investment, and awareness for the incredible opportunities Africa has to offer.

 

Chaim Schwartz, Vice president sales & marketing, TEFEN Flow and Dosing Technologies

 


No doubt this new reality in which we can’t meet personally with clients/distributors is most challenging and demands greater creativity, thought and preparation. At TEFEN we hold sales staff meetings to understand the difficulties and to try to come up with solutions, where the aim is to send uniform messages to clients and distributors. In these meetings we analyze the feedback we receive from clients, and try to improve communication with them.

 

We create a working routine with clients using all means at our disposal, as reflected by bi-weekly meetings using Zoom/Team with each and every client, even if it’s a brief half-hour meeting. At the same time, we make phone calls more frequently than in the past, at least once a week, with the goal of maintaining “alertness”, and of remaining high up in the client’s hierarchy.
To maintain high visibility with the client, we endeavor to make more use of communications media, to publish articles and success stories. At the same time, technical guidance meetings are held for small teams, to maintain participants on a good contact level.

 

On the technical level, as well, we try to make information accessible to the client, to enable him to carry out annual servicing/simple repairs on his own.
Chaim says no doubt some of the “routine” imposed upon us will also continue into the future. Communication through digital means will continue to be an important tool for sending messages and information. Investment in level of information accessibility and presentation to the client will continue at a high level, and there will be an increase in on-line sales activity.
Clearly, the extent of travel abroad will decrease, since some activities will be done digitally.

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