Do As I Mean ... and As I Say!
The Independent Professional Seed Association provides an update on how its activities are helping independent seed companies survive in today’s constantly evolving business landscape.
The headline sends me back to my childhood, and gives me a few flashbacks of my ongoing efforts at parenthood as well. Sometimes it’s not what we say, but what we meant to say, that is key to our communications. Unfortunately, discerning that additional information and insight is sometimes easier said than done.
This article is an opportunity to provide an update on activities at IPSA, the Independent Professional Seed Association. Formed in 1989, IPSA provides educational and training opportunities and business management tools to help regional, independent seed companies grow and thrive in an increasingly competitive marketplace. The association hosts its 22 Annual Conference, an industry-leading meeting filled with exciting speakers and relevant topics and materials, on January 18-20, 2011 in St. Louis, Mo.
The Association’s members are regional seed companies that have certainly faced tremendous changes in the past decade, including substantial brand consolidation and new competition emerging from companies whose traditional role has been to supply inputs to the agriculture. Interestingly, in the face of significant brand consolidation, market share has not experienced a commensurate decline—in fact, market share remains about equal to historical levels. While some in the industry might be expecting to read the obituary of regional, independent seed companies, the words of Mark Twain ring loud and clear: “The reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated.”
As IPSA leaders were making budget decisions during the spring of 2010, an idea came to mind that the association could benefit from a member’s survey that looked forward— toward the challenges and opportunities facing regional, independent seed companies. Further discussion revealed the value of including that report as a presentation at the upcoming Annual Conference, and to use it as the basis for an anticipated strategic planning effort early in 2011.
With the budget approved and in place, staff drafted a Request for Proposals for a member survey, Annual Conference presentation and strategic planning initiative. It was exciting to have nearly a dozen proposals to review, from several of the leading consulting companies in the industry. After the dust settled, the board decided a proposal submitted by The Context Network provided the best combination of industry knowledge and expertise in a complete, well-designed package.
During the fall of 2010, the association asked its members and prospective members to say what was on their minds through electronic surveys. Questions ranged from what their biggest concerns are for the future to how well IPSA does in meeting their needs. And in true agrarian fashion, they shared a piece of their mind with us.
Highlights from the survey included the following:
• Nearly everyone who responded to the survey (98.1 percent) had attended at least one IPSA Annual Conference; just over one-third have served on an IPSA committee, and 17 percent have held office with IPSA.
• Pressing industry issues most frequently included the following responses:
• Industry consolidation
• Access to competitive sources of germplasm and/or biotech traits
• Dissemination of critical industry information on a timely basis
• IPSA programs and benefits most appreciated by members included:
• Networking among peers and suppliers
• IPSA’s Annual Conference
• Access to information on current issues or from other member companies
• Regarding IPSA, nearly three-quarters of respondents found IPSA’s communication value as important to highly important, while two-thirds said they received some to significant value from IPSA. Further, more than two-thirds found IPSA to be responsive to very responsive to their questions or concerns.
• IPSA members place great value on and regularly use the IPSA website (nearly 90 percent), and rely to a lesser extent the use of webinars or direct contact with staff.
But sometimes it is tough to “say what you mean” when responding to a survey—especially when someone else has pre-determined the questions and limits your choices for response. IPSA leaders and our partners at Context wanted to make sure we provided every opportunity for input, and added two interesting twists to the traditional survey process to help assure we gathered as much input as possible.
The first opportunity was for Context to interview seed companies one-on-one to get a good feel for what is on the minds of independent, regional seed companies. This input was combined with industry knowledge garnered from countless visits with suppliers, consultants and others with first-hand knowledge of the seed business. This information will be used to gain further knowledge and insight with respect to the survey responses, as well as serve as a source of outside knowledge to help shape IPSA’s strategic vision for the future.
The second opportunity is unique, to say the least. IPSA and Context released the Annual Conference presentation in draft form to IPSA’s members more than six weeks before the Annual Conference. The goal with this release was at least two-fold—to gain additional insight and input from members, and to make them aware of the presentation in advance, allowing them to be as well prepared as possible to engage in dialogue at the Annual Conference and the subsequent strategic planning event.
“To date, the survey process has validated the important roles IPSA plays for independent regional seed companies,” says Context partner Blake Sieker. “Our efforts to further define strengths and optimize value extracted for IPSA members will continue to unfold as we support the organization’s strategic plans for the future. Through careful understanding of IPSA’s membership and their competitive role in the channel, we’ll work to fortify the organization’s future.”
IPSA’s leaders are excited about the opportunities to come from this unique member survey and feedback session at our Annual Conference, as well as the opportunity to look forward more clearly for members in their next strategic planning session. The stakes have never been higher, and the need has never been more critical than now for groups such as IPSA to “do as I mean … and as I say!” Greg Ruehle
Editor’s Note: Greg Ruehle is the chief executive officer of the Independent Professional Seed Association