From initial trial to commercial expansion: how BVT sells to growers
By: Ian Collinson, Sales Manager
BVT’s sales process, like our product, is tailored to the agriculture industry we serve. For those new to how the industry works, it can be like reading a foreign language. We’ve gotten a number of questions about how the sales process works, so I thought I’d answer a few of them, share the ins and outs of how we get growers to adopt BVT technology and talk about how that works in terms of our overall expansion plan.
How are things progressing with BVT’s sales expansion in the US?
When you introduce a new technology into the agriculture market, you want to track season-by-season progress with a few key metrics:
- Solid revenue growth in your launch market, which we are seeing in the US Southeast;
- High retention of current customers and signing of ones, which we are delivering in Georgia; and
- High levels of interest in new markets, which is the case in Michigan, the Pacific Northwest, and California.
2020 was the first full year of commercialization for BVT. We secured revenue from 20+ customers, which marked the transition of the company from a concept to a commercial entity. Sales momentum is going strong in 2021, and we are hitting all our commercial progress objectives with significant interest and pending orders in all our key US states from Florida and Georgia, up to the Carolinas and Michigan, and west to Oregon, Washington and our largest single market opportunity, California. You can read more in our news announcement.
How do we get from initial grower interest to a large-scale acreage sale?
When it comes to individual growers, that progress happens in increments, typically over several seasons. A grower will start off by piloting BVT on a smaller percentage of their crop field, with the expectation that positive results will encourage them to expand it to their entire operations over two to three seasons. Those early adopter growers will often influence other growers in their area as well, expanding our reach organically.
For overall market adoption, BVT goes through four market stages over three to four growing seasons, starting with the largest opportunities within each crop type:
Stage 1: Awareness. Proof of concept and initial trials with key influencers in that geography.
An example of this is what we have secured in California, where BVT has two of the world’s largest berry growers trialing our product this growing season.
Stage 2: Pilot. Small-scale sales are secured via grower demos, sometimes with special promotions such as 2-for-1 offers.
One of this year’s new customers is Maple Spring’s Farm in North Carolina. Owner Ethan Lineberger says “We have been hearing exciting things about the potential the BVT system could unlock for our business…We are excited to try BVT across all our berry crops this season and if performance lives up to the hype we plan to double our acreage using BVT next year.”
Stage 3: Launch. This is where commercialization happens, with initial revenues coming from a small percentage of the acreages of large, influential growers as they validate the product.
A good example of a BVT customer in this stage is Major League Blueberries, which saw a 22x return on investment and a crop yield increase of over 25%.
Stage 4: Expansion. Revenue growth is achieved through increased share of acres with existing customers and more new customers as word-of-mouth spreads.
This is where Major League Blueberries is now with BVT adoption. Watch our interview with co-founder Winn Morgan to learn more.
How are berry sales progressing in each of our key US regions?
Take a look at the graph below. The blue circles represent the total acreage opportunity for each region. California, our largest market opportunity, is also our newest market, with recent state regulatory approval. Our plan is to progressively move these blue circles from bottom left to top right, like what you see for Georgia.
We’ve been in Georgia’s blueberry market the longest, initiating grower trials as far back as 2018. Now, three growing seasons later, we’re well into the expansion phase there, and Georgia is currently our largest commercial market. We’ve seen a 100% increase in revenue from blueberry growers – retaining 100% of last year’s customers, and securing 11 new growers. We’ve just installed over 2,000 hives in Georgia for this growing season (the bloom period is now occurring).
The journey from awareness to pilot, launch and expansion in Georgia went from a single grower to two, then 11, to now 24 growers this year. Treated acres went from 8 to 60, then 450 to the 900 acres we have this year. Those 24 growers represent 4,100 acres of blueberry crops. As we expand share of wallet with these customers in subsequent years, we will get closer to that total 4,100-acre opportunity. This example of our progress in the Georgia market is what we also expect over three to four growing seasons in other key US regions, including Michigan, the Pacific Northwest and California.
What time of year does BVT sell its system to growers?
We are in contact with growers throughout the year, with sales discussions starting four to six months before their crop’s bloom period. That’s when we plant the seeds of awareness (pun intended) and educate them on the benefits of bee vectoring and biological fungicides for disease management.
With traditional chemical fungicides, growers can decide to spray as disease issues come up during the growing season and can find their product of choice at their local agricultural retailer. With bee vectoring, prior to the growing season and bloom starting on their crop, we work with growers to order commercially-reared and managed bees in advance (this is the case for bumblebees) or coordinate with beekeepers on hive delivery (this is the case for honeybees) in order to use the BVT system. We help them with setup, provide support during their bloom period, then, during and after harvest, we help growers evaluate the effectiveness of the BVT system in terms of disease management and increased yields.
Bloom periods vary depending on the region, from a December start in Florida and progressing geographically northward as the weather gets warmer, to an April/May bloom period in Michigan and the Pacific Northwest. As you can see, we keep our sales team hopping throughout the year!
When do we invoice our customers?
BVT sends out an invoice after the system has been set up on a grower’s site to coincide with the start of the bloom period for that customer’s crop. For longer bloom seasons, we send a second invoice if bees need to be replenished.
Where are we in our sales activities right now?
We’ve been working hard to expand sales efforts across the US. We hired a new sales rep to service the Pacific Northwest, and we are looking to hire salespeople for the Midwest and California. And in addition to the revenues expected in some of the above market regions for 2021, we have also started selling our new honey bee dispenser system.
We look forward to sharing more news with you soon as we continue with the strong sales momentum right up to the growing season for each region.