How do you deepen relationships and drive growth when customers pull back? The Corporate Executive Board's Sales and Marketing Practice surveyed more than 5,000 individuals at its members' customer organizations to find out what makes them willing to 1) keep buying from that supplier, 2) buy even more over time, and 3) advocate on that supplier's behalf across their organization. The results reveal clear, if somewhat unexpected, strategies for winning that kind of loyalty in a down economy.

Conclusion No. 1: It's Not What You Sell, but How You Sell It

Contrary to conventional wisdom, customer loyalty is not necessarily tied to just product quality, brand recognition, and service excellence. While those things matter, customers place significantly greater emphasis on satisfaction with the sales experience itself when committing to a particular supplier (accounting for 53% of a customer’s overall loyalty index).

Conclusion No. 2: It's Not About Discovering Needs, but Sharing Insights

Within the sales experience, customers place far higher value on suppliers who teach them something new about how to succeed—for example, new ways to reduce operating expenses, penetrate new markets or mitigate risk. Alternatively, customers place significantly less value on suppliers who simply identify the needs they already know they have.

Conclusion No. 3: Don't Lead with Your Differentiators, Lead to Them

Creating a value-added, educational interaction with a customer means rewiring the sales pitch to deliver insight, not extract it. The value of a supplier's insights and unique capabilities must be conveyed within a story that first reframes how customers see their world, and then lays out a compelling reason for change. Only then is a supplier's solution viewed as truly meaningful and perceived as a solution to a problem worth solving.

Conclusion No. 4: Ignore Advocates at Your Own Risk

The CEB study found that the No. 1 criterion senior decision-makers care about when arriving at a purchase decision is widespread support across their team. Suppliers who focus exclusively on corner office relationships without systematically building a strong network of customer advocates within an organization will not only fail to build customer loyalty but likely fail to win the deal at all.

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