Loyal customers stay with you longer, give you more money, and are easier to sell to than anyone else. As loyalty increases, so do profit and margin (with less time and effort). Cost of sales generally decreases along with sales cycles and customers’ tolerance for mistakes. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, references flow in; the most loyal customers actually sell for you. However, earning that level of loyalty requires effort.
A loyal customer is different than someone who’s merely satisfied. Satisfaction happens when a salesperson (or company) fulfills a customer’s needs, wants, or expectations. Loyalty, on the other hand, occurs when a customer offers consistent support or allegiance to a provider (or salesperson).
In other words, satisfaction is dispensed by you to your customer. Loyalty, on the other hand, is a gift from your customer to you.
You satisfy; they’re loyal.
Simply providing customer satisfaction doesn’t necessarily lead to loyalty. A customer who is just satisfied won’t necessarily remain loyal. After all, satisfaction — simple fulfillment — can probably be supplied by virtually anyone.
On the other hand, loyalty is generated after providing consistent and successful satisfaction. It’s a process. Here’s how we think it looks:
- Suspect (Completely unaware of you)
- Qualified Prospect
- Preferred Customer
- Loyal Customer
- Zealot (Fiercely loyal)
At each stage, you’re earning more commitment from your customer.
Notice that we’re talking about individuals here. This level of engagement is given by people, not entire companies. Your successful efforts as a salesperson are converted directly into customer loyalty.
How can you earn customer loyalty?
- Educate. Providing valuable information that helps your customers is one way. What kind of information will make your customers more successful? By finding information your customers need — but might not have — and sharing it, you can differentiate yourself and earn loyalty. Develop tools for your customers that highlight best practices and your thought leadership. Constantly ask yourself, “what am I seeing out here and how does this apply to my customers?”
- Promise a lot and deliver more (where you can). Don’t over-promise, but also don’t under-promise. In either case, it’s dishonest. Instead, seek to understand your customers’ needs and wants and deliver on them. If you discover an opportunity to do something extra, do it. For example, if you notice that an upcoming legislative change might have an impact on your customers and their business, share it with them.
- Respond thoughtfully to each request. Customers appreciate their suppliers the most when they offer thoughtful perspectives on the options they face. As a vendor, you have the opportunity to influence decisions that extend beyond your offering. Be intelligent about the way you do so. How does your offering affect other aspects of your customers’ lives or businesses? What expertise can you offer that will help them.
- Understand that not all customers are created equally. Some customers will never offer you the level of loyalty we’re talking about. These price-buyers (only about 4% of buyers fall into this camp) demand a lot from you and give little in return. It’s wasteful to fight for something you won’t get. If you’re not dealing with a win-win negotiation situation, it probably makes a lot of sense to move on.
- Listen. Without a doubt, the greatest asset any salesperson has are ears. Use them. Listen for opportunities to deliver on your customers’ wants and needs. Listen “beyond the order.” Many salespeople have a tendency to turn their ears off when they understand what to recommend, the best salespeople think — and listen — strategically. That means listening between the lines, looking for challenges, trends, opportunities. Look for ways to make it easier, faster, cheaper, or better to work with you and use your offering.
- Think ahead and look out for your customers. By knowing your market and understanding its trends, you can anticipate your customers’ future needs. Nothing impresses people as much as someone who helps them navigate market changes.
Customer loyalty leads to sales success. Take steps to earn it where you can.