Maters of Loyalty
The Right Lever Can Move the World – You can see loyalty happen.
The call on George’s customers ran longer than expected, so Mike and Tony had to rush to make their next appointment on time. They said goodbye to a jubilant George, scheduled a debriefing conference call with him for the next day, and sped off to Bob’s office.
Bob was pleasant enough during the introductions. Tony made a point of presenting Mike as a high-level executive, and Bob was gracious, though not overly impressed. But they had no more than settled into their chairs when Bob opened the meeting with a line that made Mike’s blood run cold.
“Carol told me you have some ideas for us, and I’ll listen to your pitch,” he said. “In fairness, though, I should tell you that we have a talented group of software developers, and I’ve pretty much decided we’ll take care of this purchasing-system project ourselves. I’ve only got about 20 minutes, so let’s get started.”
Holy smoke, Tony, you weren’t kidding about this call being a tough one, Mike thought. We’re dead on arrival. What now?
Tony, however, seemed unflustered. “We appreciate you giving us the time, Bob. Carol has told me a little bit about your role in the company. May I ask how you developed your interest in business finance?”
‘90 percent of our salespeople would have given the client what he asked for: a product pitch.’
The query surprised Bob, and he stopped to think. It obviously wasn’t something he got to discuss often. “That’s a good question,” he said. And Bob began to talk—about himself. Tony listened attentively.
There’s my answer to, “What now?” Mike thought. We’re in Act 2, so we stay in Act 2, building a personal relationship. I’ll bet 90 percent of our salespeople would have thrown the system out the window and given the client what he asked for: a product pitch. We’re probably still doomed, but at least the guy is talking.
Tony asked Bob a few more questions about his background and his role in the company. Bob began to loosen up a bit as he answered. He may have been no closer to changing his mind, at least consciously. But he’s becoming engaged in the conversation, Mike observed. This isn’t what he expected.
Tony moved seamlessly into Act 3 by mentioning his previous meetings with Carol and her staff. He asked questions based on concerns he had uncovered. Bob clearly was impressed by the research Tony had done, and his answers grew more candid. He began to think out loud, working his way through some of the issues Carol’s people had raised.
Bob seriously cares about making the right decision on the purchasing system, Mike realized. He’d be deaf to a sales pitch from someone trying to talk him out of his grow-your-own plan, but he doesn’t mind discussing his situation with someone who seems to understand many of the issues involved—and who also seems to care.
Then Tony asked the question he had revealed to Mike at lunch: “Bob, if your people come up with solid ideas that will improve business operations, how much importance do you place on trying to implement those ideas?’”
“Well, I try to find ways to empower our employees so they’ll feel invested in what the company is doing and how,” Bob replied. “People buy in when they’re involved in decision-making.”
“When they buy in,” Tony asked, “how does that affect a project’s success?”
“It’s huge! Employees can make or break a project depending on whether they buy in.”
“This is a subject that really interests me,” Tony said. “I’m curious about your opinion. When employees feel invested, as you say, how does that affect their loyalty to your company?”
That question obviously touched on a key concern of Bob’s, and he began to talk about it, growing more passionate as he spoke. His resistance had been thawing, but now it seemed to Mike as if a dam had broken.
You can see loyalty start to form, Mike thought. You can actually watch it happen! Bob’s body language changed. The whole context of the conversation changed. It was like night and day. He has stopped seeing Tony as a guy trying to sell him something, Mike realized. Now he just wants to dig in and figure out a better way to do things—with our help.
‘You can see loyalty start to form. You can actually watch it happen!’
Mike tried to listen with the same attention Tony was showing, but his mind wanted to process what he was seeing. When we walked in, Bob was seriously invested in his grow-your-own scheme for purchasing management. He wouldn’t have met with us at all if Carol hadn’t prodded him. He expected us to try to sell him out of his plan. Now he’s discovering that Tony has questions instead of just preconceived answers—and that the questions are informed by research Tony already did with his people. The game has changed. This is no longer just a sales call. Bob has started talking to us as if we’re his business partners. It’s like we’re now on his team, working together to decide how his operation could become more effective.
Mike realized that he had seen a similar change come over George’s clients in their previous call. I wasn’t as attuned to it, but it was all there, including the change in body language. They were ready to buy TechShare before we actually presented it—because they had bought us. And not just on a ‘satisfied’ level, but on the ‘loyalty’ level. They wanted us on their team. He smiled, remembering George’s delight after the successful call.
Mike snapped back into the present conversation when Bob stopped talking abruptly, as if catching himself on the verge of saying something he shouldn’t. He had been talking about preparing for “changing circumstances.”
Something big and hush-hush is in the works at this company, Mike thought. You were about to talk out of school to Tony, weren’t you, Bob, just like Janice did this morning when she discussed the secret acquisition. And on the first call!
Tony hesitated for a second and made a note, then tactfully dropped the point about “changing circumstances” and asked another question about what the purchasing situation looked like from Bob’s point of view. Good decision, Mike thought. Don’t press him for insider information until you’ve built more trust. In fact, you’re probably building trust by refusing to press.
The 20 minutes Bob allotted for their meeting had become 45, without Bob minding at all, when Tony did a quick Act 4, agreeing with Bob on the major needs they had identified. Then Tony moved on to Act 5, telling a short version of his company story.
“Bob, you said you put a high priority on empowerment so that your employees feel invested,” Tony said. “My company’s management feels the same way. That’s exactly why our sales-consulting process includes meetings with people who use our products, like Carol’s folks, and not just with people at the management level. It gives us a far better understanding of our clients’ needs before we start trying to figure out solutions.”
He pointed at Mike. “Mike is the executive who pushed hardest to make user meetings a regular part of our process.”
That’s my cue, Mike thought, recognizing the demonstration of “orchestration” skills as Tony positioned him as a resource that made their company a good match for Bob’s. As Bob turned to him with new interest, Mike spoke briefly about his conviction that people at all levels of a company are likely to have valuable insights into the organization’s problems and opportunities.
‘My sales force should be doing that…They’re always in such a rush to get to the decision maker.’
“You know, my sales force should be doing that,” Bob said thoughtfully. “They’re always in such a rush to get straight to the top decision maker. I think they miss a lot of important information.”
Good idea, Mike thought. And I’ll bet it’s one that never crossed your mind before. See, partner? We’re already a great resource for your company. He noticed Tony smiling, as if sharing the same thought.
Tony moved to Act 6, speaking briefly about the TechShare program and why he thought it might be a good alternative to address Bob’s key concerns. Then he started to wrap things up. TFBR, Mike thought, recognizing the structure of Tony’s next comments. Tieback, Feature, Benefit, Reaction.
“You’ve given us some extra time, Bob, and we appreciate it. But we don’t want to mess up your schedule too badly. I’m sure you’d like to look at all the best options available,” Tony said, tying back the conversation to a point upon which Bob had agreed earlier. “I can document the things we’ve talked about, as well as what I learned about your situation from my meetings with Carol and her staff.” (Feature, Mike thought.) “That will give you a complete needs analysis so you can easily evaluate your financial options.” (Benefit, Mike thought. Now ask him for a reaction.) “How do you see that helping you?”
“I think that would help all of us get on the same page,” Bob answered.
“Good. I’ll prepare the analysis and my recommendation, put it into a proposal, and come back and present it to you and Carol. I know that she has next Tuesday morning available. How does Tuesday at 9 a.m. look for you?”
“That will work,” Bob said. “I’ll look forward to it.”
Cha-ching! Mike thought. You just accomplished your Commitment Objective to get the proposal meeting, Tony. I didn’t think you had a prayer.
Mike restrained himself until they left Bob’s office and climbed back into the car to head for the airport. “That went pretty well, I think,” Tony said in deliberate understatement.
“Pretty well? Pretty well? Hoo-hah!” Mike began hand-drumming on the dashboard and stomping his feet in celebration. “I’ve never seen a sales call turn around like that!”
Tony laughed as he started the car and pulled out of their parking space. “Yeah, that was one for the books,” he said, letting his excitement show. “Do you want to know when I felt we were really over the hump and that he was seeing us as potential business partners? It was when you explained why you believe salespeople should talk to employees at different levels of a company, and he said, ‘My sales force should be doing that.’ I owe you for that one, Mike.”
“Do you want to know what jumped out for me about that call?” Mike asked. “Wait a second, I want to write this down.” He held up his notes.
“First,” Mike explained, “you didn’t let Bob push you straight into Act 6 with that business about, ‘Let’s hear your pitch in 20 minutes.’ You knew the conversation belonged in Act 2, and that’s where you kept it. That was the moment when you gave us a fighting chance to save the call.
“What really amazed me, though, was that I could actually see Bob start to turn from a resistant customer into a trusting business partner. I saw the change in him as his perception of you changed. You were a salesperson to him, then you were a consultant and orchestrator, and then you were a relationship builder. I watched loyalty happen! I could see it and sense it and feel it.
‘I could actually see Bob turn from a resistant customer into a trusting business partner.’
“You recognize the signs, don’t you Tony—the changes in body language and attitude, the whole feel of the conversation? I’ll bet you look for those signs to guide you and keep you on the right track instead of running up dead-end alleys.”
“Sure,” Tony agreed. “You can absolutely see trust and loyalty happen. It goes back to the five major buying decisions. When the customer’s buying decisions are being made in the proper sequence, the loyalty meter rises.” Tony gestured with his hand, indicating five consecutive higher levels. “Loyalty is an intangible quality, but it’s a tangible force when you’re using a communications process that follows the customer’s decision process.”
‘When the customer’s buying decisions are being made in the proper sequence, the loyalty meter rises.’
Mike nodded, his assumption confirmed. “You also impressed me by using your company story to tie into his feelings about empowerment and involvement. I don’t believe that most of our reps recognize what a powerful loyalty tool their company story can be. I know I didn’t fully appreciate it until now.”
Tony’s eyes left the road for a glance at Mike’s list. “What’s that last note about?”
“I’m not sure how to express it,” Mike said. “Since I’m familiar with Action Selling, I knew you were using the system. I could identify the steps and the processes. But I could never catch you following steps or using techniques, if you know what I mean. Nothing was forced or unnatural. You never seemed like a salesperson following a formula—or even like a consultant following one.”
Mike reached for an image to capture what he was trying to convey. “It was like watching Fred Astaire dance,” he said finally. “No matter how much work went into the choreography, he always seemed perfectly natural. He never seemed to be trying. You came across the same way. I guess ‘genuine’ is the word. You were always just…you.”
‘I use the system, it doesn’t use me.’
“I think I know what you mean,” Tony said. “But that’s the way the system works. It doesn’t ask me to try to be somebody else. It just gives me some skills to use and an effective framework for managing the sales process, including the relationships involved. It doesn’t replace my thinking or my creativity. It isn’t a box that I have to squeeze into. Instead it leverages whatever talents and abilities I bring to the table. So, yes, I like the way you put it: I use the system, it doesn’t use me.”
They reached the departures level of the airport and Tony pulled to the curb. “Did you get what you came for, Mike?” he asked. “This all seems pretty straightforward to me. I still don’t feel as if I revealed any deep secrets about trust or loyalty.”
“Ah, but you did, Tony. I think you’ve given me several. If I can put it all together and communicate it to the sales force in the right way, I have a hunch our business is going to take another giant leap forward.”
They climbed out of the car and shook hands. “Thanks, Tony. I mean it,” Mike said. “You’ve shown me a way to make the company grow. I understand why your clients are so loyal to you. I feel the same way. You’re not just one of our salespeople. You’re more like … a trusted business partner,” he smiled. “You’ve helped me with the need that never goes away—the need to get better at what I do.”
Tony shook his head. “The fact is, Mike, I should thank you. I’m not some natural-born, superstar salesperson. You handed me the loyalty lever when you introduced the system. Who was it that said with the right lever, he could move the world? All I do is grab onto that lever and never let go.”