You work hard to keep your customers happy. And you should. It’s in your job description.
But if you expect customers to reward those efforts by sending you more business, you might be disappointed.
According to the Walker Loyalty Report, three out of four executives who were surveyed said they were satisfied or very satisfied with their suppliers. Yet 65% said they would defect to the competition for the right deal.
There’s a crucial distinction between satisfied customers and loyal customers:
Satisfied customers buy from a particular supplier, and they’re happy with what they bought. But that doesn’t rule out their buying from other suppliers in the future. Loyal customers choose to do business with a particular supplier – now and in the future. In other words, satisfaction attaches to the product or service the supplier provides. The buyer’s needs or wants have been met. Loyalty is about relationships. It means you’ve become part of the tribe. Your buyer has your back, will look out for you, defend you even to their own detriment – and expect the same from you.
Products and services can stimulate loyalty, but most often loyalty attaches to people and groups of people. It’s a social bond.
Because loyalty goes both ways, its most important element is trust.
Buyers trust you when they have confidence in (1) your ability to handle their needs and (2) your commitment to do so. You win trust – and, therefore, their loyalty – by demonstrating:
1. Comprehensive knowledge of the customer’s industry, company and strategies.
Think of this knowledge as the price of admission to the tribe. Without it, you can expect to be dismissed as a perpetual outsider or, worse, a potential liability – not worthy of taking up the time of the busy purchasing and user department staffs. This doesn’t mean you can’t ask questions. You can and you should, of course. But your questions should never betray a basic ignorance of the industry, the company or their strategies. Your questions should build on your already comprehensive knowledge and clarify specific issues or explore new developments.
2. In-depth knowledge of your full range of product and service applications, as well as the competition’s.
Think of this knowledge as your defensive arsenal. You use it to protect your customer – from unexpected surprises, from competitive pressure, from making costly or career-threatening mistakes. Without this knowledge, your buyers can’t trust that you’ll have their back when they need you most.
3. A sensitivity to office politics.
You also must understand the rules of the tribe. Very often your primary contacts aren’t the only people involved in decision-making. Even if they want to go with your product, they need ammunition to persuade others. And they need to be sure you won’t do something to hurt their relationship with their boss, colleagues or other tribe members.
4. A reputation for being able to put it all together, helping customers meet their goals, providing wise counsel and solving business problems.
This is where confidence binds with trust and leads to loyalty. You’re able to act on your knowledge. And actions speak loudest of all.
Sooner or later, loyalty faces a test. And that’s when your buyer really finds out what you’re made of. You must find opportunities to put your expertise and knowledge into action. And to win the highest degree of loyalty, look for ways to show that you put the buyer’s needs ahead of your own – for example, by showing your willingness to recommend a competitor’s product if it suits their needs better.
Adapted from “High Performance Sales Organizations: Achieving Competitive Advantage in the Global Marketplace,” by Kevin Corcoran. Published by Learning International, Stamford, CT.
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