East central Ohio-based precision ag consultant Tim Norris has been working hard at developing his consulting business, Ag Info Tech, to the point where he could personally focus on growth opportunities while his employees work on customer service and sales.
One important goal Norris set in this journey was finding a way to make it easier for employees to start and facilitate the sales process, from creating and tracking quotes to setting up the installation to scheduling service. The two-year project, called AgriVault, is nearly ready to go prime time at Ag Info Tech. And its tools and functionality — which now includes grower data collection and management — has attracted enough attention that Norris began offering AgriVault to ag retailers earlier this month.
In 2011, he began working with a local Web developer, Damian Clem of VivioSoft, to turn his vision into reality. But along the way, the AgriVault project expanded beyond order tracking. The package now includes the ability to collect and manage data in a way that growers can easily access and understand, and that makes it easier for salespeople to share and discuss the particulars of the data with customers.
“The project has evolved to where we are now incorporating yield data analysis,” says Norris. “It has morphed into something a lot greater than we anticipated, and something we can sell and market both to our customers and other dealerships.”
Norris is not unlike many small business entrepreneurs who spent years early in his consulting career as a “doer.” To grow the business, he knew he would need to find ways to automate some of the things he was accustomed to doing, or being called on to do by employees.
Being a central point of contact throughout the sales process, among other day to day responsibilities, was taking a tremendous amount of his time. He knew a lot of the information could be automated and made accessible to his employees electronically, reducing time and frustration for everyone.
“One of the things I noticed missing at our company was a good way to track orders, whether sales orders for machine equipment or tracking orders for soil sampling,” says Norris. “I started thinking about an automated solution, and figured that an online solution would be the best medium to use.”
The first goal was to build in the ability to track quotes in a central location. Salespeople can use AgriVault to construct the quote with prepopulated products, services and pricing. Each week, the sales staff can review where quotes stand and advance firm orders through the system, which ensures that products are in inventory and that the service call is scheduled. Payment plans can also be viewed and selected.
The product lookup system is designed so a record can be found either by the name of the unit, the part number, or the account number. This allows easy use by any salesperson, as well as the accounting manager at the office.
Norris, or anyone else in the company, can get a definitive look at where sales and service stands via the AgriVault Dashboard, which includes detailed order and sales status for all open orders and quotes, and a calendar of sales and service activities.
Once a quote is accepted by the grower and becomes a sale, it moves to a “pick list,” which cues the office manager to check to see if needed equipment and parts are in stock or need to be ordered. When everything that’s required is in house, a work order can be printed and is ready for fulfillment.
AgriVault also handles soil sampling orders. “If the grower has fields that must be sampled in the fall, for example, both the grower and the salesperson will get an e-mail listing all the fields ordered for sampling,” says Norris. “The grower can click on a link to AgriVault and click on a field once it is harvested. That moves the field over to a pick list so the salesperson knows that field is ready for sampling.”
Once a field is sampled and results are returned, the field can be moved to “complete” and the grower is billed.
Each AgriVault service will be sold as a module, says Norris. Equipment, fertility and soil sampling will be available together or individually to suit any business.
Getting growers to embrace data and analysis has been a goal of Norris’ for a long time, but spatially reported data has proven confusing and unpopular with the bulk of his clients. To help improve data use and understanding, a premium service of the AgriVault system creates tabular presentations from spatial data. The data is exportable from SMS, the predominant software used by Ag Info Tech and its grower clients.
Norris and Clem have added some useful tools to the data aspect of AgriVault, including the ability to subtract out headlands from yield data, and to incorporate notes about a given season; for example, excessive rain or drought, or other weather event.
One other cool tool being added to the system is the incorporation of historic weather data. Growers and salespeople will be able to incorporate up to seven years of weather information about their fields to help in the analysis and decision making process.
For more information on AgriVault, visit www.agrivault.com.