“To a tee,” Mike said, looking Neil straight in the eyes. “You want to know what else I learned in Arizona, Neil? I learned that there’s nothing wrong with our loyalty program. But there was something wrong with the way I thought about it—the way we all thought about it. A loyalty program is just another product—or a bundle of services. Loyalty itself is something deeper, richer and much more valuable. Tony’s customers don’t become loyal to us because they buy TechShare. And they don’t buy TechShare from Tony because he knows some secret way to sell this particular program. People become loyal to other people, the way you became loyal to that saleswoman. The reason Tony’s clients buy TechShare is because they first buy Tony.”
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.
“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.”
“Are you kidding?” Tony exclaimed. “Even if I can earn a customer’s loyalty, I have to work hard to keep it. Never mind the fact that we’ve got serious competitors who want loyal customers as badly as we do, and who are always trying to beat our prices, or forge better relationships, or both. Even when the competition isn’t pressing me to come up with more creative solutions, the customers themselves are. In this case, my competition is the client’s own technical staff.”
“Well, sure,” Tony said, as if this were perfectly obvious. “That’s what it means for customers to ‘buy me’ or ‘buy my company,’ isn’t it? If I’m always trying to differentiate from the competition, then I’m always selling loyalty. Therefore, first they have to become loyal to me, then they have to become loyal to my company, and so on. It’s just another way of saying the same thing.”
“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.”
Yes, but why was the boost in Tony’s performance so exceptional? Tony had no idea. Mike probed, but got nowhere. In some way, Mike began to suspect, Tony must understand the system on a deeper level than most. If he couldn’t explain how or why, maybe it was for the same reason a fish couldn’t describe water. Is it something so obvious to him that he can’t imagine the rest of us don’t know it? Mike thought. I need to see this guy work.
“Satisfaction” won’t cut it. True loyalty does not exist until a customer has stopped shopping, as I have for my printing needs, and is highly resistant to your competitors’ appeals. Unless you are Harley-Davidson, and your customers tattoo your corporate logo on their bodies, your products or your brand won’t generate that kind of loyalty. Neither will your programs or other corporate-level initiatives. This is especially true in the B2B world, where rewards programs do practically nothing to keep customers from leaving.
Action Selling’s emphasis on questioning skills is key. Great questions do a lot for a sale, but above all they build trust. No matter how good the pitch, a customer who has been pitched has no reason to trust a salesperson enough to keep on taking those steps. But a customer who has been expertly questioned—and listened to, and understood—has every reason to believe that the salesperson cares about him and his real needs. Of course a customer will walk hand in hand toward a solution with a partner who has earned his trust and obviously is dedicated to finding the best solution. I would. So would you.
His whole demeanor has changed. He talks about the various elements of our sales organization much more clearly and precisely. He seems able to visualize what has to happen and why—which of our needs are most pressing and where the greatest leverage can be found. Even his questions have become more penetrating. He’s no longer just thinking about how to boost our growth rate but about how we should track and measure the improvements we’re going to achieve. Not might achieve, mind you; the improvements we’re going to make.