“Buyers have changed and loyalty’s dead now. Customers don’t care about the relationship anymore!”
I’ve been hearing that whine a lot from sellers. Most recently, it was from a client of mine, saying: “I’ve been supplying my long-time customer with free donuts and baseball hats every month for the last 20 years and now they’ve suddenly moved to the competition!”
This left my jaw on the floor. So, I had to break the bad news to them. “That customer of yours,” I said, “doesn’t suddenly have a problem with loyalty. They just don’t want to be loyal to you anymore. It’s your job to know why that happened.”
Time for a reality check. Your customer still wants to be loyal. After all, switching suppliers takes time and energy—and they don’t have a lot of either of those right now. Yes, they’ve plenty of incentives to stick with a known supplier. Yet, many are still making the jump. Here’s why. This is a volatile marketplace. Prices are going up, supplies are going down, and there’s no more business as usual. People are shopping around to reduce risk and increase their value.
To conclude from these market forces that all of it is somehow proof that “younger people today just aren’t loyal” or that it’s the customer’s job to be endlessly loyal to one supplier who treats them kindly…well, that’s just nonsense!
What’s changed about loyalty is what your customer measures to earn their loyalty. You only have the right to expect loyalty if you’re continuing to meet what your customer requires from you today—not five years ago. You must perpetually cultivate loyalty based on their current business objectives, needs, and trends in the marketplace. As a seller—and one who wants to become and remain a top performer—the way you earn loyalty today is by focusing constantly on three big ideas: understanding, familiarity and service, and aligning your solutions with the results of each one.
Remember the blockbuster movie, Avatar? “I see you” was a central idea to its story. It is a profound need of all people to feel seen and understood. Be honest with yourself. With all that’s changed in the market, how well do you really understand the needs of your customers right now? You don’t earn loyalty automatically because you’re the legacy supplier and you’ve been “good to them” in the past. Nor are you entitled to it simply because you’ve curried many favors, brought them hats, or dropped off donuts. People today care about the value you bring to a business relationship. Full stop. It’s your job to define that value, monetize it, measure it, and report it back to your customer regularly. That’s how you communicate to them clearly: “I see you.” Then—and only then—will they consider reciprocating.
Your client wants someone who is a trusted insider—not someone who treats them to baseball games and dinner (which, let’s face it, usually just pulls them away from cherished time with their families). They want to do business repeatedly with someone who takes that deep sense of understanding they have about the value they deliver, aligns it with the solutions offered, and then shares it wide and deep within the customer’s organization. That means being an inside seller: building multiple relationships within the customer’s business and showing them how you make all parts of their operation profitable. You become familiar because of the value you bring and because of the scale on which you deliver that value.
Treating someone to a two-hour lunch on a Friday doesn’t earn someone’s loyalty. But what does nudge them in the right direction is when you’re able to say: “I have something to offer you that will make your operation more efficient.” Understand the difference. The first gesture—while generous and kind—just meets a personal need. Picking up the tab doesn’t help that customer at all with the business problems they need to solve. Being in service to what matters to them, on the other hand, really does. The shape of that service varies. One client of mine conducts monthly, highly detailed, face-to-face meetings with one of their customers. Yet, with another one, that same type of service simply takes the form of a phone once every fiscal quarter. The customer defines the level of service they want. It’s your job to ask them. Deliver on that need and loyalty follows.
Yes, it’s in everyone’s best interest for your customers to remain loyal. And, as a seller, it’s your job to make this happen. Take note: how loyalty is rewarded has changed for your customer, but also for your employees. There’s a different set of assumptions at play when addressing employee loyalty within your own business or sales team. We’ll look at that separate challenge in the next article in this series.