It’s time to put away the golf clubs and pull out Google Reader: Sales are no longer just about personal relationships.

If you think customer loyalty is driven by personal relationships or because of your hard work, then not only are you wrong–but you’re putting your revenue at risk.

The reasons for customer loyalty have changed dramatically in the past decade, according to research published in the book, “The Challenger Sale” by Matthew Dixon and Brent Adamson. Relationships and hard work now come in second and third on the list of what customers value most–and what will drive them to change providers.

Instead, customers today are looking for sales people to be experts–not in the products or services that they offer, but rather in the customer’s own business. Sales people who can demonstrate that expertise in the sales process are winning big deals away from formerly entrenched competitors.

Here’s how customers consider your value, from lowest to highest:

  • If you know your product, you are a human catalog
  • If you know your services, you are a technician
  • If you can match your products and services to the customer’s needs, you are a sales person
  • If you know a customer’s problems and business, you are a consultant
  • If you know a customer’s industry, market challenges and competitors, you are anexpert

Customers are moving their business from sales people to experts. If you want to be the big winner in your market, you have to increase your expertise and demonstrate that expertise in meaningful ways to your customer.

Here’s a course of action.

1. Learn your customer’s industry, business challenges and competitors. You don’t have to become an encyclopedia of information to be of increasing value. Instead start with just a few steps:

  • Read and subscribe to your customer’s industry’s top two or three blogs.
  • Put keyword notifiers in your Internet search tool for the top three or four key terms for your customer’s industry issues.
  • Read the trade association newsletters and website materials of your customer’s industry.

2. Ask your customers about changes in their industry. Focus on these four categories: technology, regulation, mergers/acquisitions and innovations. These categories are forward-looking and often are the market drivers with which customers need the greatest help.

3. Suggest how you might help your customers. Explain how your products and solutions address their upcoming challenges. When you are demonstrating expertise, the language you use is important. Focus on their issues more than your offerings. Use the language of:

  • Time: How you can help them to be faster and more responsive to the market and to compliance deadlines.
  • Money: Saving and making money is always a motivation for a buyer considering the value of expertise. In addition, there is the measurement of money in relationship to the market. How will working with you change their position in the marketplace in the area of value, price, cost or share?
  • Risk: The impending negative impact of something that you point out can be a powerful motivator for action. Loss of market share, penalties for non-compliance and the risk of being technologically overrun by competitors are all threats that can help customers see you as a valuable expert.

Achieving a level of expertise value has a big impact on customer loyalty. Increasing your relevant expertise can help you trump your competitors’ hard work and personal relationships.

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