The Apple Farmer

There once was an apple farmer who owned a beautiful orchard. The orchard produced many apples, which the farmer used to make apple pies that were thought to be the tastiest around.

Each day, the farmer would pick apples from his orchard and bring them into the building where the pies were made by a crew of bakers. One day the head baker told the farmer that he needed more apples to keep up with production. The farmer ran out of the building to his apple cart, but instead of pushing the cart in the direction of the orchard to pick apples, he turned to the road and pushed the cart three miles into town, where he paid full-price for apples at the market.

He brought the apples back to his bakers, who were very happy to see that he had returned so quickly with this new material for production. The next day his bakers needed additional apples, and, once again, instead of picking apples from his own orchard, he went into town and bought apples.

One day, the farmer’s wife asked him what he was doing. “I’m buying apples for our pies. Look how many I bought today!”

“What about all of the apples on our trees?” she asked.

“Oh, I think I got most of them.”

She grabbed him by the hand and walked him out into the orchard. There, they saw that the branches of his trees were still heavy with apples, many of which were rotting and falling to the ground. They saw a squirrel nibbling on a piece of apple he had found under a tree.

“What you’re doing is pretty silly,” said the farmer’s wife.

“I gotta go. I need to get into town and buy some apples or we won’t be able to keep up with our pie production.” He turned and ran to get his cart so he could get to the market before it closed.

Are you running your business like this farmer? Here are a couple questions to see if you are:

What percentage of your customers are giving you all of the business they could? I’ve started asking this question regularly of my clients and audiences. The average answer, across many companies and industries, is about 20%.

How much money are you spending on buying new customers before you finish “cultivating” your existing customer base?

Like the farmer going to market, it’s tempting to throw money at customer acquisition tools, such as advertising, direct marketing and sales promotions, before fully developing the most important asset you have: Your existing customers.

Yes, of course, it’s impossible to pick every apple in your orchard, and there are times you will need to replenish your supply of new customers. But you invested significant resources in planting those trees, and nurturing them as they grew. Don’t let your apples rot.

Take Notice

Think of companies of whom you are a customer, that enjoy some, but not all of your business. Do any of them do a good job of working to earn a larger share of your business? Or, do you think they forego focusing on developing their relationship with you, while they try to find new customers?

How do you compare?

Are you the farmer? How did you answer the questions I posed above? Are you buying a disproportionate number of new customers, while letting customers you already have “rot on the trees?”

Try this

Forward this newsletter to colleagues in your company. Ask them how much they think your company resembles the farmer. Have a discussion on this topic: What can we do to shift resources from buying apples, at a premium price, to farming our own orchard?


  • Jayakumar Hariharan
    Sep 24, 2008 - 05:20 am

    In these parts of the world, there is a popular saying that goes: “The flower in your own front yard never smells as nice”

    The apple orchard is familiar territory, and therefore, taken for granted. Often, the same happens to our most cherished relationships – wife, children, relatives, friends, and yes, customers.

    Jay, from Bangalore

  • Jayakumar Hariharan
    Sep 24, 2008 - 05:31 am

    Interestingly, does an intimate relationship lead to:

    We = freedom to take each other for granted!

    Jay, from Bangalore

  • Steve Yastrow
    Sep 24, 2008 - 07:14 am

    Thanks Jay –

    I always love waking up and seeing your comments from Bangalore waiting for me!

    I think in a true We relationship, we take each other less for granted, because we take a vested interest in each others’ success, in addition to the fact that we are more interdependent in a We relationship. (I get into this in Chapter 4 in We)

    Thanks again.


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