According to research we conducted for HARDI, 9 percent of a customer's annual business is switched to a competitor due to a supplier failure, compared with only 2 percent caused by disruptive selling. (Read the results of that study in this book on Amazon.) The No. 1 priority for distributor sales reps (aside from helping to prevent these service failures from happening in the first place) must be to build customer loyalty. Loyal customers will give reps the opportunity to fix problems when they do arise before moving business, and they'll trust you to help them out when one of their other suppliers screws up.
You may have heard me say that if you want loyalty, you should get a dog. Internal rep turnover, disintermediation and pricing transparency are all sabotaging customer loyalty, but – that said – the more your customers trust you, the more loyal they'll be. Trust today looks a bit different than it used to, but it still has economic value. Consider the ways that today's sales reps build customer loyalty, and you'll notice that not one of them works without trust:
Serving as a customer advocate. If a sales rep has built trust with a customer, that customer will be willing to shift responsibility for solving a problem off of their own shoulders and onto that of their sales rep, because they have faith that their rep will take care of it (even if the solution goes against the distributor's policies).
Being responsive. Trustworthy sales reps are timely. When a customer calls them, they won't try to get back to them within 24 hours, but within 24 minutes. Opportunities to resolve issues caused by your own company – or to swoop in and respond to an issue caused by a competitor’s failure – come and go quickly. To be the recipients of these kinds of calls, reps must be trusted to respond quickly.
Proactively adding value. Loyal customers trust that their sales reps will work on projects that benefit them, such as solving technical problems or introducing profit-enhancing improvements.
Clerical and administrative tasks may shift away from field sales reps in the future, but trustworthy reps will continue to serve as the foundation for customer relationships.