Customers' loyalty begins with likability

A colleague of mine was recently sharing with me an experience he had while remodeling his home.

He was spending many thousands of dollars and was planning to do much of the work himself. Since he was paying cash for the needed materials rather than taking out a home equity loan, he was definitely price conscious.

When he totaled up the needed materials, the national home warehouse chain had all of the materials in stock. The local hardware store, however, would have to special order many of the materials such as cedar siding, which would delay the project several weeks. What's more, the warehouse store's bill of materials would be about 20 percent less due to its tremendous buying power.

Knowing this man for several years and his frugal spending habits, I thought this was going to be yet another David versus Goliath example of a local merchant being unable to compete with a national chain. I was shocked, however, when my friend told me that he chose to pay more at the local hardware store.

I asked him why, and he said, matter-of-factly, "Because I like them."

Now he did continue by saying that he negotiated with the owner to reduce the amount he would pay, but it was still significantly more than the warehouse chain would have charged. I asked why he willingly overpaid and he said that his decision ran deeper than price.

He told me that the owner and the employees at the hardware store had given him hours of free advice over the years, and in the past, had even sent him to the warehouse chain when they couldn't find a product faster or for less. He said their complete honesty and integrity had won him over and that the extra money he spent was worth every penny if it helped keep them in business.

Plus, the staff had demonstrated complete integrity when they previously referred him elsewhere, and he felt he had a contract with his conscious that dictated he do the same.

My friend's experience made clear one of the primary truths of selling:
People do business with people they like. Period.

It's ironic, however, how so many companies and their salespeople overlook this truth. Companies typically arm their salespeople with data sheets to include a bulleted feature and benefit list that depicts why their product or service is superior to each competitor's in specific categories. Perhaps their company offers a shorter implementation time, expanded options, or a lower price.

Rather than building personal rapport and initiating relationships with their prospective clients, the salespeople at these companies are taught to focus only on the tangible and pay no mind to the intangible - themselves.

This is an incorrect approach because selling is a people business. A company's product or service doesn't have to beat the competition on every specific point. This is impossible. Honestly, the product or service sometimes doesn't even have to be the best on any single point alone.

Consider my friend's example above. The only "best" that matters is that the prospect likes you, the salesperson, best.

Sure, you have to be competitive in pricing, product functioning, delivery schedules, etc. However, the intangible value of you, as the salesperson, and all of your experience, expertise, honesty, integrity and rapport building ability, is great even if it's difficult to quantify.

If it were not, the local hardware store would have long ago been run out of business. What's helped this specific hardware store and thousands of other companies compete with the giants is the loyalty of their customers.

So how do you, as a salesperson, build this loyalty?

I believe the first step is to consider the successful relationships you have built in your professional and personal life. Without question, the primary reason most of them exist is because the other person likes you.

But how and why do these people like you? This leads to the second step worth considering which is your behavioral pattern.

No matter how great someone appears during a first encounter, people are skeptical, and buyers sit atop the skepticism list. Therefore, the people with whom you've built healthy and ongoing relationships undoubtedly like you because you've been honest, courteous, trustworthy, friendly, positive, dependable, etc., over an extended period.

History can often be your best teacher, so review the specific actions you've taken with these people that have helped to earn their trust and confidence and repeat them with prospects.

Building trusting relationships can be more difficult in a professional setting than in a personal setting.

Many buyers have been burned, conned and are leery of salespeople. Always remember that you're calling on a prospect for their reasons, not yours, and that this trust takes time to develop.

Unlike the companies with slick marketing materials, your positive attributes can't be listed on a product data sheet. However, if you work diligently to build these relationships, as did the employees of the hardware store with my colleague, they won't be easily lost when a seemingly more attractive offer appears.



Roy Chitwood is an author, trainer and consultant in sales and sales management and is president of Max Sacks International, Seattle.