Farming depends on many things, but two critical inputs include high-yield state-of-the-art seeds, protection agents to help crops withstand weeds, pests and disease, and data-driven decision power at each stage of the growing season. As a global agricultural inputs manufacturer pursued a post-merger integration, it sought a partner to help transform its go-to-market strategy.
As part of a large-scale merger, the company had ambitious five-year cost-cutting and revenue growth targets. Executives believed the suite of products, solutions and capabilities of the combined companies uniquely positioned it to address the full spectrum of its end customers’ farming and business needs—but recognized that substantially growing the business while cutting costs would be challenging. Doing so would require smart, timely decisions about how to navigate its transformation.
The agricultural inputs manufacturer sold primarily through large retailers, the vast majority of which belonged to national or global chains. These retail partners were responsible for driving farmer demand, fulfilling orders and providing a variety of services and post-sales support. A second, growing route to market (RTM) employed direct-to-farmer seed sellers. The company hoped to double down on its already strong retail position while strengthening the direct-to-farmer RTM for farmers who preferred this experience.
The agricultural inputs manufacturer knew that changes to its sales force size and territories would be mandatory because these changes represented quick hits relative to cost and revenue targets. However, the manufacturer recognized it would also need to implement larger and more time-consuming RTM changes and field restructuring to achieve its larger objectives. These RTM and structural changes would likely necessitate further sales force restructuring, resizing and redeployment. This left the company with a fundamental choice: Make short-term changes to the sales force first and then move on to more strategic ones later (disrupting the sales organization twice) or wait to make one set of comprehensive organizational changes (and disrupt the organization only once).
Based on our extensive commercial transformation experience, ZS recommended the latter. A single-step transformation focused on simultaneously restructuring and optimizing the RTM and sales force strategy would dramatically reduce disruption to the sales organization and customers, mitigating business risk while better achieving cost and revenue objectives. The agricultural inputs manufacturer engaged ZS to design its new RTM strategy then optimize its sales team structure and resource allocation. ZS also created a comprehensive partnership program to align the manufacturer’s fragmented legacy dealer programs.
The new RTM and sales force strategy aligned the company’s offerings with shifting farmer preferences while anticipating future demand for comprehensive solutions and digital offerings. Three aspects of the RTM strategy were particularly critical:
Step 1: Aligning routes to market (RTMs) with farmer buying preferences. We combined senior leader insights spanning the agricultural value chain with desk research on future industry trends to anticipate future farmer buying preferences and to design five RTMs aligned with these anticipated preferences.
Step 2: Determining the optimal retailer mix for each RTM. We assessed the current performance and future potential of each RTM to arrive at the ideal number and mix of retail partners serving each.
Step 3: Right-sizing retailer distribution. We reviewed the client’s current retailer mix to determine the optimal distribution and make detailed recommendations for where to add or subtract retailers.
To ensure investment in the right relationships moving forward, we assessed thousands of retail locations for performance, capabilities and brand loyalty and then segmented them accordingly. Using this objective view to filter which retailers exhibited the most desirable partnership traits, we designed a retailer rewards program to drive portfolio growth, maximize the impact of partner incentives and reinforce the relationship between the client, its partners and its customers. After this exercise, only a small percentage of retailer locations from named key accounts landed in the top tier, highlighting the degree to which the client’s legacy retailer program had rewarded the wrong partners.
Sales force optimization included restructuring field roles and reporting, determining the optimal size for each team and optimizing the territories, districts and regions for each team. Restructuring decisions spanned existing field roles and were based on customer segment-level growth and customer experience priorities. The optimal structure was arrived at through a deep assessment of effectiveness, efficiency, agility and disruption trade-offs for different structure options. The resulting structure proved optimal because it allowed for:
- Greater role specialization for high-value farmers
- Better role coordination for the purposes of integrated solution development and delivery
- Better connectivity between salespeople at the retailers and the company’s own direct farmer engagement
- More cost-effective coverage of midsize and small retailers and farmers
We employed advanced analytics in sales force sizing to explicitly model workload and expected ROI associated with different coverage levels by type of farmer. This modeling allowed simulation of alternative sizing and effort allocation scenarios, providing detailed insight into the relationship between sales force sizing and its impact on future costs and revenues. The results demonstrated a major conflict between the company’s cost-cutting and revenue growth targets. As a result, cost-cutting targets were reduced by the uppermost executives to allow the sales force sizing necessary to maximize future profitability. Territories were then designed to optimize coverage of the highest ROI farmers while simultaneously minimizing relationship disruption. The outcome was substantially increased coverage of the farmers who represented the greatest opportunity to the company (including both existing customers and prospects), resulting in greater than $100M in incremental profit contribution.
The company exceeded its U.S. growth objectives in the two subsequent years after the transformation. The success of the transformation provided a foundation and built the manufacturer’s confidence to pursue further RTM and sales force transformations that are redefining the industry.