What is your Loyalty Driver?

Filed Under (OP Sales Training) by Don on 13-03-2007

Do you have one?  Did you lose it or have you forgotten what it looked like?  In the office products industry loyalty is a difficult animal to define.  Years back it was easy to identify, your customer received a quality product at a fair price and delivery was quick as expected and customers didn’t price shop you on everything, every time.  In today’s marketplace most people are more loyal to their brand of gasoline than they are to their office supplier.  Is the internet the only reason for this change?  I agree it is a part but not the only reason. 

Call it generational or call it mentality but either way it is a significant challenge for reps and dealers.  The internet has been the great equalizer in this industry.  It exposes your prices, good or bad, for everyone to see.  Some dealers elect to not show any pricing on their public site requiring a login to get access.  This is for self protection only and serves to only force the customer to shop elsewhere.

However, how aggressive a price do you have for public consumption?  We have multiple contracts and pricing levels that can make even the most educated rep go insane!  Back in the “day” you had one price and that was it.  Sometimes you would negotiate a price for large volume customers or for bulk purchases, but now that isn’t the case.  Bob the CPA can get just as good a price as Joe the Fortune 500 customer in most cases.  If you make public to aggressive a price then you chance one of your customers who may not be getting the lowest price to shop without “logging in” and then to their surprise they see a lower advertised price.  That makes you look like a crook and you will have some explaining to do to save face. 

Today’s customer wants it right now at the lowest price always, with terms and if you don’t deliver you’re out and the next guy is in.  But wait that’s not all!  Suppose you give them all that but one day they get a competitors ad in the mail featuring a loss leader item like you are selling them at a savings of $1 less.  What do you think will happen now?  Right!  They will buy from the competitor to save that $1.  No loyalty.  I have loyal customers that will call me and say “Your competition has this item for $1 less, will you match the price?”  Of course I match the price, I don’t have a choice. Never mind that the customer had to stop what they were doing and place the call and spend labor wages on the phone with you.  If she were being paid $15 per hour and spent four minutes on the phone with you she just shot that $1 savings out the roof in lost productivity.  But, she was loyal and gave the opportunity to keep her business.  What happens now is she will begin to watch every ad that comes in to see if you are overcharging her. The underlying question here is what did you do create that loyal customer? 

Let’s examine what you probably did right.  You gave her a fair market competitive price, next day delivery, net terms, good customer service, accurate billing, easy convenient order placement and probably even said “thank you” for her business.  All of these points are expected.  However, the internet has impersonalized shopping and many of the customers are unfamiliar with the advantages of relationships with their suppliers.  My loyal customer called me because she feels that we are friends, we have a relationship that spans many years and she has learned that I really care about her and the company she works for.  I have that same attitude with all my customers, the attitude of caring, because I really do care about them and their success because without them I can’t make a living either.  This is a learned relationship that has been developed and nurtured over time. Relationships are like that, they take time.  That is your primary loyalty driver, the relationship. 

Our mail order competitors Quill and Viking don’t consider a business to be a customer until they place their third order.  They budget $150 in marketing funds to acquire each customer.  They use bribes, otherwise known as gifts or freebies to get their attention and use this to lure away your customers when your back is turned.  I’ve lost good customers to this strategy, customers I considered loyal.   Why?  I posed that very question to them and the answer wasn’t what I expected.  I expected them to say my price was too high but that wasn’t the issue at all.  In fact they even said my price was slightly better.  They just wanted the free stuff!  What?!  That’s right, all they wanted was the free stuff.  The mentality has changed again, now they want it cheap and I have to buy their loyalty with free gifts!  Loyalty driver number two is free stuff. 

At this point you can probably think of several other loyalty drivers.  Let’s face it, giving good customer service isn’t hard.  Loyalty driver number three is killer customer service, the kind you write letters to the editor about.  This kind of customer service is a no-brainer so why is it so hard for big enterprises like Dell Computer to understand that when we buy their product and have to call for customer support we expect to talk to someone who clearly understands and speaks English, someone with a little sense of humor who can talk without reading from a card or flowchart, a person with a personality.  Banking is becoming the same way, they brag about how great their service but the truth is their service stinks!  Going to the bank is about as customer friendly as the airport security line. 

Loyalty driver number four is your attitude.  People buy from people, you have to make friends first and sell second.  Your talk and manner has to be positive in nature.  You can’t be down on life and expect your customer to be excited when you walk through the door.  It is spring time and my allergies are in high gear, I feel terrible!  When I answer my phone my attitude kicks in and when the customer says “How are you?” I enthusiastically reply “Wonderful!”  I’ve had customers ask me “Do you ever have a bad day?”  Of course I do, but I will never let it be made public information.   

Now it’s your turn.  Examine your customer base and customer history.  What’s your loyalty driver?  Where did you succeed and where did you fail? Did you make notes and learn from the experience?  Did you notice that I left off “Experience” from the list?  Why do you think I did that?


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