Maters of Loyalty
From Problem Solver to Business Partner – The customer need that never goes away.
George’s client’s building had a spacious lobby area, its furniture arranged into several conversation pits. As he had promised, George arrived early and staked out a spot for them to meet. It was a perfect setting for their pre-call meeting.
After a little Act 2 relationship-building talk, Tony got straight to business. “What’s your Commitment Objective for the call, and how would you like us to help?” he asked George.
“I want them to agree to sign up for our loyalty program, TechShare,” George answered. “The ultimate decision maker and two key influencers will be in our meeting.”
He turned to Mike. “I’ve already talked to Tony about these clients. I really want to lock them up on this. I’m glad you’re able to come along on the call, Mike, because TechShare is your baby, and your presence will demonstrate that we take their business seriously.
“As for you, Tony,” George continued, “I told them that you’re our No. 1 guru on implementing TechShare. I’d like you to help me present it to them. I want us to tag-team them on Acts 5 and 6—Sell the Company and Sell the Product—so that we walk out of there with a committed, loyal customer. As for how we’ll do it, exactly,
that’s why I wanted this pre-meeting.”
George seems bright, capable, and professional, Mike thought, and he talks in Action Selling terms just like Tony does. Come on, Tony, show me what you know but solid reps like George don’t. Save my job, buddy. Help me resurrect TechShare.
Tony leaned forward in his chair to answer George. “Wait, back up,” he said. “I want to question your basic premise. You’re saying we’ll turn these clients into loyal customers if we can sell them TechShare—because it’s our loyalty program. I’d say that’s backwards. First you have to sell them loyalty. Then maybe you can sell them our loyalty program.”
‘First you have to sell them loyalty. Then maybe you can sell them our loyalty program.’
George looked blank. He glanced at Mike, but got no help. “What do you mean?” he asked.
Tony smiled at him. “You and the other reps in the office have asked me how I sell so many TechShare programs. But I could never articulate my so-called secret until Mike started to prod me about the relationship between loyalty programs and loyal customers. Now I’m getting a better handle on it.
“George, the fact that I sell a lot of TechShare programs is almost incidental. It’s like a symptom, not a cause. My customers don’t become loyal because I’m good at selling a loyalty program. They buy TechShare because I’m good at selling loyalty.”
George flicked his eyes nervously to Mike again. Don’t embarrass me in front of a vice president, Tony, he thought. What are you talking about?
“Don’t worry, you know this already,” Tony assured him. “You just don’t know you know it. This is what the Five Buying Decisions are all about if you simply take them to their logical conclusion. In any sales situation, the first thing the customer must decide to buy is the salesperson, right? Well, on a pedestrian level, that means clients are satisfied with you—maybe even pleased. But on what Mike calls the master’s level, it means your customers become loyal. They trust you. They see you as a valuable asset. They’d much rather deal with you. In fact, they stop shopping.”
Tony was getting onto a roll. “How strongly do you believe that if you want to sell a product, you first have to sell yourself, then sell your company?”
‘At the Master’s level, customers become loyal. They stop shopping.’
“I absolutely believe it,” George answered. “That’s fundamental to Action Selling. It’s made me a much more effective salesperson. But…”
“No ‘but’s,’” Tony interrupted. “TechShare is a product, George, it isn’t ‘loyalty.’ Mike gave it tangible features and benefits. It’s become a great product, like all of our products. So, it’s another example of ‘what’ we sell, right?”
“Sure, I understand that,” said George.
“Loyalty is more about ‘how’ we sell than ‘what’ we sell,” Tony said. “Increased loyalty should be the ultimate outcome of every single sales call.
‘Loyalty is more about ‘how’ we sell than ‘what’ we sell.’
“Here’s how I see it,” he continued. “Customers will buy products from you without necessarily being loyal; they only have to be satisfied. However, they probably won’t bind themselves to our company with a loyalty program like TechShare unless they’ve become loyal to you first—to you, the salesperson.
“I couldn’t tell you my secret because I didn’t realize until today that it was a secret. You want to know how I sell so many TechShare programs? It’s because my underlying goal is never just to sell TechShare. What I try to sell is loyalty—to me, first of all, then to my company. If I can do that, and if the client’s situation is appropriate, then TechShare usually just rides along like a passenger on a train. I’ll say it again: A loyalty program is not loyalty. It’s only a comprehensive way for customers to act on the loyalty we’ve already built.”
‘Increased loyalty should be the ultimate outcome of every single sales call.’
Mike saw George’s eyes widen in understanding and realized his own eyes were doing the same. There it is! he thought. That’s what Tony has been trying to tell me.
Mike scratched some notes:
George, meanwhile, had been absorbing Tony’s speech. “I think I get what you’re saying,” he said finally. “But I’ve become a lot better at ‘how’ I sell, since we got the training. And I mean a lot better. Yet you obviously do something that I don’t to take your clients from ‘satisfied’ to ‘loyal.’ What is it? And how will I do it in the call we’re about to make?”
“I’ve been wondering about that while Mike and I talked,” Tony said. “I have a hunch, so bear with me for a minute. Action Selling describes three roles that every effective salesperson has to play, regardless of the system he’s using. The first one is ‘orchestrator.’ That means leveraging resources and coordinating selling activities in ways that demonstrate how the salesperson’s relationships and the resources of the salesperson’s company can provide good solutions for the customer. You’re being an orchestrator by bringing Mike and me along on this call. How else have you demonstrated orchestration skills for this client?”
The first role is Orchestrator.
George hardly had to think about his answer. “I set up all of their users with tech support on the speed dial of their phones,” he said. “They love that. Some of them call it the ‘Bat Phone to the Commissioner.’ Also, I organized a special training event for my key accounts in this client’s industry. I brought in an expert speaker to talk about trends in their market. They attended, and they were happy with it.”
Well, I’m impressed, Mike thought, wondering how many reps had thought of the Bat Phone idea.
The second role is Consultant.
“Sounds like you have the orchestrator base covered,” Tony said, sounding impressed himself. “What about the other two roles a salesperson has to play?”
“The second one is ‘consultant,’” George answered.
“Right,” Tony said. “How have you acted as a consultant with this client?”
“I’m pretty good at diagnosing problems that come up, I think, and I’ve helped these people with some,” George replied. “The speed-dial idea was my solution for their concerns about access to technical knowledge. And I suggested a change to their ordering process that helped to smooth out an inventory problem.”
“How do you learn about these kinds of problems?” Tony asked.
“Mainly by asking questions,” George said. “It’s all about Act 3. Sometimes I think of myself as a doctor and the client as a patient. If I ask them, ‘Where does it hurt?’ in the right way, they usually tell me.”
Mike liked George’s answer, but he was starting to despair. George knows the Action Selling process, and he follows it. So where does he fall short, Tony? Where are you going with this?
Tony, on the other hand, looked energized, as if something George said had confirmed his hunch. “Okay, that’s ‘consultant,’” he said to George. “And the third role?”
The third role is Relationship Builder.
“I don’t remember,” George confessed.
“The third role is ‘long-term relationship builder,’” Tony said.
“Oh, yeah, that’s it.”
Tony smiled as if the mystery were solved. “Yes, George, I think maybe that is it. That may be the thing I do that you don’t. Because instead of ‘long-term relationship builder,’ that third role just as easily could be called ‘loyalty builder.’”
George and Mike both goggled at him. “Explain that, please,” Mike said.
Tony laughed, delighted. “I think we’ve discovered what you came here to find out, Mike. At least, it’s a big part of the answer. The relationship-builder role is about consistency in using the Action Selling system. It’s about working through the process with the client over time, every time. That applies especially to Act 3—Asking the Best Questions to uncover the customer’s needs. But there’s more to ‘needs’ than just specific problems you can help the customer solve.
‘The relationship builder role is about consistency using Action Selling.’
“George, you said you feel like a doctor when you’re doing Act 3. You try to find out where the customer hurts. That’s a great description of the ‘consultant’ role, and it’s important. But it’s only the first step. It’s essentially reactive. To build extreme trust and loyalty, you have to move beyond that. You have to become proactive. If a customer’s arteries are blocked, recommend surgery. But then start practicing preventative medicine.”
‘To build extreme trust, you have to be proactive.’
“What do you mean?” asked George and Mike almost in unison.
Good question, Tony thought. How do I explain this? “All right, look,” he said. “What is every client’s greatest ongoing need, the need that never goes away? It’s to keep getting better at what they do, right? They need to keep getting better to remain competitive. They need to keep getting better to become leaders in their industries or to stay in the leadership position.”
Tony was struck by a sudden thought. “For instance, why is Mike sitting here with us right now?” he asked. He turned to address Mike. “You solved a huge problem, scored a huge success, and became a corporate hero when you introduced Action Selling. But did all your problems go away? No. Now you need the sales force to get even better, and you have to figure out how.
‘Every client’s greatest need is to keep getting better.’
“It never ends,” Tony continued. “Not for Mike, and not for any customer you’ll ever have. Do you want to create real loyalty? Solve problems, yes, but then keep going. Keep digging for ways to help clients build their businesses. Don’t just be a doctor they call when they’re sick. Be a proactive business partner. Be like a personal coach who never stops trying to help them with their need that never goes away—the need to keep getting better at what they do. A customer who trusts your ongoing commitment to help improve their business will be a loyal customer.
‘A customer who trusts your ongoing commitment to help improve their business will be a loyal customer.’
“That’s what I think the ‘long-term relationship builder’ role is about,” Tony said. “Heck, that’s exactly what we mean when we say we want ‘loyal’ customers, isn’t it? We mean we want customers who are willing—no, eager—to form long-term relationships with us. That’s what our competitors want, too, regardless of how they
sell. We’ve just got a better system for achieving it—if only we use the system consistently.
“Loyalty isn’t TechShare, guys,” he concluded. “Loyalty is a long-term relationship, with or without TechShare involved. But if our salespeople build loyalty first, TechShare often will follow.”
Bingo! Mike thought, scribbling notes furiously.
George took a while to think. “That makes a lot of sense, Tony,” he said finally. “Does this mean I’ve got the wrong Commitment Objective for the call? Should I not try to gain their agreement to sign up for TechShare?”
“No, I don’t mean that,” Tony said. “A Commitment Objective requires the customer to agree to take some specific action. Loyalty isn’t an action. It’s a necessary foundation for the action you want the customer to take. From what you’ve told me, TechShare would work very well for this client. So I think that’s still our Commitment Objective. The question is, how will you build a sufficient loyalty foundation to achieve it? Which is just another way of saying…”
‘Loyalty isn’t an action. It’s a necessary foundation for the action you want the customer to take.’
George jumped in to finish Tony’s sentence. “Which is another way of saying, ‘How does a salesperson sell himself?’” he said. “And that starts with Asking the Best Questions and listening carefully to the answers.”
“See? You do know this already,” Tony said. “Okay, we want to be able to demonstrate to these clients that we’re not just here to sell them something, and we’re not just here to bandage their flesh wounds, either. What questions will position our TechShare presentation so we can demonstrate our commitment to help drive their business forward over the long haul?”
George, Tony, and Mike all jumped in excitedly, throwing out possibilities, George filling in Mike when necessary on the customer’s situation. They settled on three key questions for George to ask the clients, with a preliminary question to set the stage for asking each of them.
Mike wrote down the three questions, along with their lead-ins.
“Hey, it’s time to meet the clients,” George said. “Tony, Mike, thanks to both of you. I think you just showed me how to take my game to a whole new level.”
“The thanks belong to Tony,” Mike said, as they rose and walked toward the elevator. “I’m not done picking your brain yet, Tony, but I feel 10 years younger than I did this morning. Let’s go sell a TechShare program.”
“Amen,” said George. “But first let’s sell some loyalty.”