Jim Schweigert President, Gro Alliance

A third-generation seedsman, Jim Schweigert grew up in the family seed business and was exposed to industry issues at an early age. He earned a Bachelor of Arts in public relations from the University of Minnesota and worked for corporate public relations firms in Minneapolis, Chicago and Atlanta before joining the family business full time in 2003. He has since been active in the American Seed Trade Association, the Independent Professional Seed Association and earned his master’s in seed technology and business from Iowa State University. As president, Schweigert manages client contracts and crop planning, as well as business development and new market opportunities. His unique background and experience make him one of the seed industry’s leaders in innovation. As such, he was honored as Seed World’s 2009 Future Giant and currently serves as chair of the board of directors for Seed Programs International.

Every week, I receive the latest deals from satellite TV providers. They offer incredible “introductory” rates for switching to their service. While these deals are likely effective at customer recruitment, how do current customers feel? Should a new customer be rewarded with a better deal than a current one? Why don’t loyal customers get a deal?

The timing of these questions could not be more relevant for seed companies. More than 80 percent of the U.S. corn and soybean market is going through consolidation. Sales staffs are being merged and brands are being consolidated. Relationships between seed companies and customers are changing more now than in any other single year.

The market is churning and the opportunity to acquire new customers seems ripe for the taking.

However, in the excitement for new customers, it’s imperative that existing customer relationships aren’t ignored.

Your Current Customers are More Important Than New Ones

Farmers are receiving compelling offers every day to switch brands. Those that are likely to make a change will be those with the weakest ties to their current supplier. While you can’t prevent your customers from receiving the offers, you can make sure they see your company’s value over the others. By defending your current customers with as much effort as you put into recruiting new ones, you demonstrate how valuable you are to their farms.

Long-Term Relationships are Worth More Than One-Time Deals

Long-term relationships are the hardest for another company to break. Building these should be a core element of your expansion plans. Further, customers acquired with “one-time” or “new client” deals are the less likely to be loyal. They are more interested in the perks from changing brands than in a long-term relationship. Loyal relationships allow both parties to share information and invest in each other for mutual benefit.

Every current customer is a potential new customer to your competitors. Showing your customers their business is valued and that loyalty has benefits, encourages them to pass up on the latest great deal to switch brands. You’ll know you’re succeeding when every new offer from a competitor ends up in the same place you put your last satellite TV mailer … in the recycle bin.