Maters of Loyalty

The Black Belt in Loyalty – Mike gets a glimpse – but a glimpse of what?

So would you like to go ahead and make us your primary supplier?” Tony asked.

“Yes, I would,” Janice answered. “Let’s get started.”

“Thanks, Janice,” Tony said. “I appreciate your business. I promise we’re going to make you very happy with this decision. Now, when shall we schedule a quick training session for your staff on how the ordering system will work? Would Friday be convenient?”

“Let me check the calendar. Yes, let’s say Friday at 9 a.m.” Janice turned to Mike. “You’d better hang onto this guy,” she said, nodding toward Tony.

No kidding, Mike thought. He managed to smile back at her as he struggled to sort out his thoughts.

Mike was in awe, that much he knew. But he wasn’t sure why. On the surface, everything he had seen and heard during the morning’s sales call was perfectly familiar. Tony had followed the steps of the Action Selling ® system, just as it was taught.

In previous meetings with Janice he obviously had identified and gained agreement on her key needs. His concise presentation of the primary-supplier arrangement had been targeted straight at those needs, hitting all of the client’s hot buttons, with no extraneous talk about features or benefits that didn’t concern her. He had asked for her commitment and received it. Mike even recognized the followup business about the training appointment as a textbook example of what Action Selling ® called Act 8: After the sale, schedule a “future event” to get the buyer looking forward to the next step instead of backward to the investment she just made.

To anyone who knew the system, everything that happened during the call was as plain as day. Yet Mike felt as if he had watched the transaction unfold at some new, higher level.

He had a handle on one big difference, at least. Tony asks for commitment, Mike thought, but he asks for bigger commitments than our other reps.

The first clue to that one had come early, shortly after Tony picked up Mike at the airport and they got acquainted. They would make three calls today, Tony explained. The first was on Janice, who had been a customer for about six months. Starting from a trial basis, he had slowly gained a greater percentage of her business.

“She now does about 30 percent of her buying from us, with the rest split mainly among three of our competitors,” Tony explained. “Today I’m going to present an arrangement that would make us her primary, first-call supplier. We’d get at least 90 percent of her business. My Commitment Objective is for her to agree to grant us primary-supplier status.”

At the sound of “Commitment Objective,” Mike noted again, as he had on the phone, that Tony seemed to think naturally in Action Selling ® terms. “So you’re going to sign her up for TechShare?” he asked.

“That’s part of it,” Tony answered. “TechShare has features that will meet some of her needs, so I’ve incorporated it into the proposal.”

Part of it? Mike thought, stung on behalf of his brainchild. For a guy who has sold 30 TechShare programs, you seem awfully cavalier about it.

When he listened to Tony presenting the primary-supplier deal to Janice, however, Mike realized that the loyalty program he had so carefully devised was, indeed, only one element in the solution Tony described. TechShare was in the proposal solely because it addressed certain key needs that Janice and Tony had identified. At least, that was how he presented it.

In explaining TechShare, Tony covered its cost-saving advantages, but he stressed it mainly as a good way to streamline the processes of returns, credits, and inventory balancing. Those were the issues, Mike observed, that really grabbed Janice’s attention.

But the main reason Janice committed to Tony’s larger objective—to grant his company first-call status for high-demand products—was because of commitments he made to her in return. In particular, he vowed to be relentless in finding and delivering the products she needed, when she needed them—and Janice believed him.
He has built some serious trust here, Mike noted.

Make that extreme trust, he thought, finally putting his finger on the strangest element of the sales call. Now that he thought about it, one part of the discussion had been downright remarkable.

‘Tony has built some serious trust here.’

It happened while Tony was talking about Janice’s need for greater efficiency in her product-acquisition process. At one point he broke off awkwardly, as if catching himself on the verge of saying something he shouldn’t.

Janice stepped right into the silence. Turning to Mike, she said: “It hasn’t been announced yet, but we’re about to acquire a competitor. There will be synergies in areas including procurement. In plain English, that means some of those people probably will lose their jobs. So this is strictly confidential. But that’s why I need to get product-acquisition straightened out.”

Turning back to Tony, she said, “Thanks for the discretion. But go ahead.”

Caught up in listening to Tony’s presentation, Mike hadn’t fully recognized the oddness at the time. But now it registered: She’s been discussing sensitive, confidential information with an outside salesperson These are the kinds of needs Tony uncovers? The solution he was presenting to her is for problems she isn’t even supposed to talk about? Is she just careless? Or is it him?

“Want to grab some lunch?” Tony asked as they climbed back into the car after leaving Janice’s office.

“Sure.” Mike pulled out a pad and scribbled some notes:

“You know,” Mike said, “I’m surprised Janice has told you about the acquisition her company is planning. Does she talk that freely to everybody?”

Tony looked alarmed. “I know you’ll respect her confidence, Mike,” he said, in a protective tone that carried a hint of don’t you dare burn my customer. “No, Janice isn’t a blabbermouth. I’m positive none of our competitors know about this. She took a risk telling me. It’s just that this is a situation she needs to prepare for, and…”

“And she trusts you,” Mike finished for him. “She trusts you so much that by extension, she trusted me. Don’t worry, my lips are sealed. But what I want to know is, how did you develop a relationship with her that goes that deep? I mean, it’s not as if you’re childhood pals, right? You’ve only known her for, what, six months?”

Tony was puzzled by the question. “Well, that’s Action Selling ®, right? I mean, that’s what it’s for. That’s what it does. The conversations you have with customers are completely different from the conversations you used to have. It’s all right there in the system. And you’re the one who brought in the system. Thanks a million, by the way.”

Tony paused to gather his thoughts. “I guess I don’t understand your question,” he said at last. “If you’d never heard of Action Selling ®, and you asked why Janice sees me as a trusted consultant instead of a garden-variety salesperson, I’d know what to tell you. I’d say, ‘Well, I learned this great sales system, and it changed everything—my whole approach to selling. Heck, my whole life.’ But you do know how Action Selling ® works. So what can I tell you?

‘I earn her trust every time I call.’

“I mean, why does Janice trust me? Because I earn her trust every time I call. Why does she tell me about her pressing needs? Because I ask her what they are. Why does she assume I genuinely want to help her address those needs? Because I do. It was Action Selling ® that taught me how to earn her trust, and how to ask the best questions to uncover needs, and how to show her that I’m there to help, not just to sell her something. You’re the guy who introduced the system to the company. You already know all this.”

‘I’m there to help, not just to sell her something.’

Yeah, Mike thought, except that somehow you “get it” in a way that most of us don’t.

“I appreciate that, Tony,” he said. “But the fact remains that while all of our salespeople learn the system, you’ve now outsold the average rep 31 to three when it comes to TechShare. And in the call I just saw, at least, you didn’t even sell TechShare as the primary solution.

“What’s more,” Mike continued, “practically all of our reps have built stronger relationships with customers using Action Selling ®, but I can pretty much assure you that most of them don’t hear confidential corporate information on sales calls.”

“Hey, it’s not as if that’s an everyday thing for me, either,” Tony protested. “Janice just happens to be in a tight spot…”

“Which she just happened to feel comfortable talking to you about,” Mike interrupted. “Let me lay my cards on the table. We need organic growth. We don’t just need new customers, we need to get more business from our existing ones. We need customers who aren’t just satisfied with our products and services but are loyal to us over the long haul. We need to take things to the next level. We need more salespeople who can do what you just did with Janice. Yes, I could see you were using Action Selling ®. But it’s as if you do it at a black-belt level.

‘We need customers who aren’t just satisfied, but are loyal.’

“Look, Tony, I don’t know what the secret is and, evidently, neither do you. But you either understand that selling system in a deeper way than anyone else or you execute it better. Maybe one leads to the other, beats me. But I’d like to try to figure it out. I need to figure it out. Are you game?”

Tony stopped for a traffic light around the corner from the Scottsdale restaurant where they would have lunch. “You know, one thing you just said might be significant,” he mused, as if thinking aloud. “I never thought of it in these terms, but…”

“What?” Mike asked.

“You said that I don’t ‘even’ sell TechShare as a primary solution. As if that’s surprising.”

“Well, isn’t it?” Mike asked. “We’re talking about loyalty. TechShare is our loyalty program.”

Tony made a turn, and pulled into the restaurant’s parking lot. “Mike, I know TechShare is your baby,” he said. “I don’t want to overstep here.”

“You’re worried you’ll offend me? Believe me, Tony, I’ve got bigger problems than having my feelings hurt. If you think something is wrong with TechShare, please say so.”

‘How can you talk as if customer loyalty is about a loyalty program?’

“No, there’s nothing wrong with TechShare,” Tony said. “It’s a great tool. What confuses me is just…Well, if you know what Action Selling ® is, how can you talk as if customer loyalty is about a loyalty program?”