Are Your Customers Loyal to Your Company or Your Salespeople?

Last Updated Oct 22, 2007 3:34 PM EDT

Are Your Customers Loyal to Your Company or Your Salespeople?Imagine you've done some research and determined that your customers would be happy to buy your product again. That's great news, right? Having loyal customers reflects well on your company and it's products, but new research out this week from three marketing professors urges businesses to look a little more closely at exactly where your customers' loyalties lie.

One of the authors of the study, Lisa Scheer, a professor of marketing at the Missouri University College of Business, comments on the research, which looked at business-to-business relationships between 362 industrial buyers and manufacturers' salespeople:

"Companies that believe they understand loyalty among their customers may be fooling themselves. They may not really understand precisely where that loyalty is directed. Is it to specific individuals who service them and work with them, or is it with the company and its products or brands?"
The research found that though companies had other suppliers that offered identical products, they often stayed loyal to a particular supplier because of a personal relationship with the salesperson. Which is not entirely a bad thing. Still, Scheer asks, "What happens if a salesperson leaves to join a competitor? To ignore where loyalty is truly directed puts a company at risk."

So what can should you do to find a healthy balance between loyalty to your company and loyalty to your salespeople,

Scheer and her colleagues suggest that companies utilize more in-depth surveys to better understand factors that result in loyalty. Current approaches, she said, are often too vague â€" only asking "how likely are you to buy these products again or patronize us again? They don't get into why's."
The study, "Customer Loyalty to Whom? Managing the Benefits and Risks of Salesperson-Owned Loyalty," can be found in the Journal of Marketing Research.

(Image of handshake by chuckp, CC 2.0)

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    Jessica lives in London where she works as a freelance writer with interests in green business and tech, management, and marketing.