Like any business owner, I shop among various vendors for most of the goods and services my company needs. Salespeople who can offer higher quality, better service, or a lower price often find me a willing listener—at least until they, themselves, do too little listening and too much talking.

But in one area where my company relies on outside help, I am loyal to a particular supplier. By “loyal” I don’t just mean that I’m satisfied with this vendor or that I have no complaints. I mean that I have stopped shopping. I can’t imagine an offer from one of this supplier’s competitors that would tempt me away. The relationship that I enjoy with the firm is too valuable, to me and to my company, for me to consider giving it up.

This vendor does good work at competitive prices—that’s a given. But I’m sure that, if I cared to look, I could find a lower price. I could probably find quality and services that looked as good, too, at least on paper. I don’t care. It’s the relationship that has had me stuck like glue for 15 years and counting.

Now, here’s a point that gets missed in almost all discussions about things that companies can do to build loyal, lasting relationships with their customers: As with every truly powerful relationship that you or I have ever had, this one is not actually with a corporate entity. It’s with a person. Specifically, a salesperson. His company just reaps the benefits.

My guy won a small piece of my business in his specialty area 15 years ago. Soon he had all of it. He is deep into my company with his relationships; he knows all of my key people, regardless of their positions on the organization chart. He knows my wife, my children, my best friends—and I know his. He knows my business as well as any employee I have. We have solved a lot of problems together.

If I create a new product, he is involved in the strategy as well as in the design and execution. I have learned that I avoid a thousand headaches if I rely on him not just as a supplier but as a business partner. He is as complete a “solution” as I could wish.

His name is Kevin Mergens. His business happens to be printing. In addition to being his own best salesperson, Kevin is the owner of Absolute Print Graphics in Minneapolis. His company printed this book. He helped to edit it, too, though that role isn’t in his job description. If he learned to write books, I wouldn’t even need me.

Satisfaction vs. Loyalty

When companies say they want more loyal customers, they mean they want customers who give the company a greater share of their business over a longer period of time. Organizations spend a great deal of time and energy on efforts to persuade customers to become loyal.

Those efforts often take the form of loyalty programs that provide incentives for repeat business. Examples in the business-to-consumer world include airline frequent-flyer programs and the discount cards offered by retailers such as booksellers, grocery stores, and pet-supply outlets…

Duane Sparks

About Duane Sparks

Duane Sparks is founder and chairman of The Sales Board, the authoritative source of practical and leading-edge information about the art and science of selling. He has created Action Selling sales training products and learning systems that transform sales organizations. Duane is author of these best-selling books: Action Selling, Selling Your Price, Questions (the Answer to Sales), Masters of Loyalty (How to turn your sales force into a loyalty force), and Sales Strategy from the Inside Out (How complex selling really works).

Discover how the best sales training process can make spectacular improvements in sales skills. Action Selling: How to Sell Like a Professional (Even If You Think You are One).