Is your customer contact a group hug?

Rachel Klein, Director of Strategy, Avenue

B2B sales force turnover continues to worsen, with total churn of 22.4 percent in 2015, significantly higher than the year before. The high cost of replacing and retraining sales reps is painful enough. But there is a potentially more damaging risk that can arise from this rapidly revolving door — one that is best summed up as the “Loyalty Giveaway.”

Loyalty Giveaway is when customer loyalty resides primarily with the sales rep, or other customer-facing employee, as opposed to the company or brand that provides the product or service. Where does loss of customer loyalty begin?

Everyone knows the story of the boy too shy to talk to the girl, who enlists the help of his friend to become his mouthpiece. In the end, the friend and the girl develop the relationship, while the boy gets left out. Why? It’s hard to develop a relationship with — and loyalty to — someone with whom you have no direct, meaningful connection.

It’s much the same with sales-driven B2B companies, which too frequently delegate all relationship management responsibilities, including customer communication and the customer experience, to a single sales rep (who then becomes too much of a “star” to the client). If that rep walks out your door, the customer relationship and its revenue are likely to follow.

Problems beyond loss of loyalty
As if loss of loyalty, and the eventual loss of your customers, isn’t enough, there’s another major downside to the “single sales rep as the star” model: immediate loss of sales opportunities.

Even the best sales reps will selectively sell, naturally concentrating on what facilitates their individual sales goals rather than the company’s overall objectives. If the client sees only their one “star,” they get incomplete information, potentially missing or misunderstanding the company’s full offering. As a result, upselling and cross-selling is curtailed, and the customer never comes to fully understand the company values (and value adds) that can motivate additional buying.

Reverse the risk of lost loyalty
Fortunately, you can prevent all of the above losses if you pre-empt the “single sales rep as the star,” model by creating what will be an entire organization of stars in the client’s eyes. This can be accomplished in five ways:

1. Define your customer experience. Loyalty grows from providing an unparalleled overall experience that the customer wants to repeat. Some people call this “brand experience,” and it is indeed guided by your brand strategy — but it’s all about the customer.

Arriving at your unique strategy to empower a positive customer experience requires answering fundamental questions:

  • What does your customer base desire and value?
  • What is your compelling and differentiating value proposition?
  • What are the values and beliefs that make your organization stand apart?
  • What promise are you making and how do you want your customers to feel every time they interact with your company?

Once you define your strategy it will in turn define and guide the kind of experience you need to imbue in every customer communication and interaction.

2. Create a constellation, not a single star. You need to create a consistent, compelling, captivating experience across all touch points in a customer relationship, not just via a rep or any other individual. Your entire organization should become a “constellation” of customer-facing stars, comprised of company leadership, experts and functional roles beyond just sales. (See sidebar for elaboration.)

3. Focus your hiring. Creating that constellation begins with better hiring. Once your core brand values and customer experience are established, you know what kind of salespeople to look for — those who share your values and beliefs. While this seems like a no-brainer, finding sales reps that are inherently aligned with your value system remains a challenge for most B2B organizations, which instead focus primarily on hiring based on capabilities, not character.

4. Provide actionable training. Identify the trainable behaviors you want your people to display, those that reinforce the brand experience you want every customer to enjoy. To what lengths are sales and customer service reps encouraged to go to please the customer? How much room do they have to create a customized solution for their client? Be specific and train with situational examples and role-play. Then regularly acknowledge individuals who display these behaviors in order to reinforce them.

5. Deliver innovations and value that make customers stick. A powerful means to avoid Loyalty Giveaway is through innovation that delivers exemplary value to the customer. This can encompass products and services, value-added programs, insights and advisory consultations, and certifications and training, among others. When your offering delivers exceptional value, you create a “must-have” situation that makes customers stick with you.

There will always be sales force turnover, but that doesn’t mean you have to turn over your customers to your salespeople. By creating a multifaceted approach to customer communications and relationship management, any B2B company can prevent the Loyalty Giveaway.  

Rachel Klein is the Director of Strategy for Avenue, a Chicago-based marketing strategy and activation firm.