Why is Client Loyalty So Rare?

Why is Client Loyalty So Rare?

With Maggie’s car lease maturing, we decided to visit her local dealer. This would be her third new car from the same dealership and she has been a loyal patron of their service department as well. We met with a salesperson (whom we’ll call Jake) for nearly two hours. Jake was seemingly doing many things right. He was personable and attentive, used our names often, offered the test drive and injected occasional witty humor. While his product knowledge wasn’t up to par and he admitted to being with this dealer only five months (and to working for about “twenty other local car dealers”), his outgoing personality and aptitude for client service more than made up for his deficiencies.

Much to our surprise, as we’d only planned to look, we eventually ended up in the negotiation stage of the process. When Jake presented a new lease offer, he explained it as, “A flat deal – we’re not making any money and we’re not losing any money.”

I’ll refrain from getting too deep into the details of what ensued and simply say that within five short minutes Jake’s sales manager was saying, “We haven’t ‘moved’ anything this morning … What if I could eat your taxes and tags?”

Stop the music! Our new friend Jake had just stated that the original proposal was a break-even deal for the dealership – how could it be that all of a sudden they magically found another $1,100 to pay the Commonwealth of Virginia for Maggie’s taxes and tags?

There’s more to the story, but the upshot is that via mistakes and lack of integrity this dealership may have lost our business. However, the big-picture lesson dawned on me a few days later…

In-it-For-the-Minute vs. Relationship Selling

As many of my readers know, I sold Acura automobiles from 1995 – 2006 — in one location. While Rosenthal Acura was (and still is) a special place — as evidenced by its low turnover — industry-wide, things aren’t quite that impressive. Countless salespeople come and go and I’ve observed many approaches to salesmanship. What I’ve noticed over the years (and this is certainly not limited to the car business) is that most salespeople have what I call an in-it-for-the-minute mentality for selling.

In short, they view sales as a job — not a career.

This is an important distinction. Someone who thinks of their selling profession as a career, is more likely to work toward building relationships – with superiors, with coworkers and most important with their clients. If Jake and his dealership were interested in this relationship, they sure didn’t show it. In fact, instead of noting Maggie’s loyalty to both the sales and service departments, the manager’s only justification for lowering the price was entirely self-serving. “We haven’t ‘moved’ anything this morning,” he told us. Clearly, making a sale wasn’t about Maggie … it was about them.

Smart, Valued and Important

Clients have three emotional hot buttons:

1) They don’t want to feel foolish — like they’ve made a mistake by patronizing your business.

2) They don’t want to feel that the seller doesn’t value them as a client.

3) They never want to feel unimportant to their salesperson or the establishment as a whole.

These guys knew Maggie was about to buy her third vehicle from them, that she’d been a regular service client for the previous six years and that she lived and worked within just one mile of their dealership. Additionally, they knew that I had spent 11 years in their business. There are at least a dozen thoughtful, yet low-effort ways they could have made us feel smart, valued and important in those two hours. Disappointingly though, they failed to do any of these things. And worse, they failed to even acknowledge Maggie as a valued, long-time client. Not a word. Not a single gesture.

70% Repeat/Referral Business … But Not Seeing the Forest Through the Trees

This encounter served as an epiphany for me. In reflecting on our experience, I really came to understand why my Acura clients had been so loyal to me over those 11 years. And I understood this lesson in a way that I never had before. Forget dealerships and car buying for a moment – how rare is it to find a salesperson anywhere who doesn’t fit the negative stereotype? How often do you find someone who looks at you as a future friend, rather than a commission; someone to whom you are excited to refer others; someone who will actually still be there six months from now — an actual salesPERSON?

Thinking back on our interactions with Jake the way that one can only do a day or so later, here’s what became crystal clear: While personable and friendly, Jake was unmistakably only interested in closing a sale and making his commission. Having spent so long in the business, I can intuitively say that he probably wasn’t going to remember us for very long, likely would not follow up with Maggie and probably won’t be working for this dealership by the time Maggie is ready for her next car. This is, at least, mine and Maggie’s perception — our truth.

Your Turn

What are you doing to have your clients feel smart, important and valued? What sets you apart from your competition? Why should people buy from you? As always, I value your feedback, comments and thoughts here on this blog and look forward to continuing this conversation…


  1. Steve,

    Great points in your post. I like how you illustrate how Jake was only concerned with himself. The great salespeople focus on what is important to the client. As you know, I was a client of yours at Acura, and we’ve remained friends for quite some time. I confidently referred many buyers to you, knowing you would always focus on THEIR needs, and not just making a sale. Funny thing happens when you do that, you effortlessly close more sales. I don’t agree with “the customer is always right.” But, I do assert that “focusing on the customer is always right.”

  2. Steve,
    I had a similar experience at a dealership several months ago. It seemingly starts at the top and works it way down. I’m a real estate agent and most of my business is referrals from past clients; they are the best source of new business!

  3. Steve, Thanks for the well expressed problem…I will use it in my next sals meeting. We do train on this very thing often and it is a constant GOAL! You are so right about customer service. It is so lacking EVERYWHERE these days. Been to the Doctors lately and waited for a hour past your apt time, with busy receptionist who treat you like cattle?…. and been rushed through? No follow up, No how ya feeling? How about working with the Bank, a loan, refinancing or’ Oh my GOD’ a realator. They all want your business now and then its over just as you say. Our society is so transient and ‘quick fix’ orientated that a true professional like yourself is difficut to find or make. We will continue to try! Again Many thanks for you continued patience and feedback, Jim Burns

  4. @Cindy: one of my favorite things about Facebook is asking friends for their recommendations

    @Ian: Like Zig Ziglar always says, “You can have everything in life you want if you will just help enough other people get what they want.”

    @Jim: You’re so right. Great service is so rare … and here’s how that can be good news: It’s easy today for ‘good guys’ to finish first.

  5. By the way, we ended up with a CR-V from Fairfax Honda. Eugene was our outstanding Salesperson, Michael was our straightforward Sales Manager and Jim Burns followed through for us to make this experience a very positive one. Thanks, guys!

  6. There are so many little ways to turn a customer off and most of the time we have no idea what we’ve done or not done to lose our audience. Folks often walk away turned off but don’t provide the needed feedback so that we can re-examine or correct our behavior. Your article is a must read for all sales people who may be oblivious to the deal killing effects of their words and actions.

  7. Steve, I thoroughly enjoyed your post. You shared some great points about placing the importance on creating solid long term customer relationships.


  8. @Jim: precisely right!

    @Josh: isn’t that what it’s all about?! — I know that’s what you preach so eloquently.

  9. @Steve, awesome article. This is so very true in every possible industry: car sales, insurance, store retail, etc. Without our clients, the businesses would cease to exist.

  10. Great post Steve! Loved the personal story and how you tied it into how we want to ensure all our clients feel valued and important. I wish more businesses would take a note!

  11. There are a lot of companies that try to copy the habits that make dynamic companies so successful. They are hardly ever successful in transferring the corporate culture necessary for doing so. I think it is because it is so hard to capture the intangibles that you allude to. It’s hard to train someone how to be genuine. The desire to build a genuine friendship and long term business relationship is inherent in the individual and grows organically as a corporate culture. Thank you for sharing your insights into what makes a successful sales culture!

  12. @Scott: As my auto/home insurance guy for so many years, you absolutely epitomize impeccable client service.

    @Mina: Thank you for the kind words. When it comes to design/construction, you and your team set an outstanding example for others to follow.

    @Jonathan: You’re so right. Like Cindy said above, it starts at the top — then an impeccable hiring process
    becomes paramount.

  13. Well written, Steve. If the relationship with the client is at the forefront, everyone wins! In our business, we find that if we treat the client the way they want to be treated, the referrals that come can’t be stopped! The referrals are worth FAR more than any one transaction.

  14. Right on, Alyce. You are certainly living proof of exactly that!

  15. Great original post Steve. And thanks for answering my offline question regarding retail stores that have taken their employees off commission. I now recall the same employees professing several times “I am not on commission, so does not matter to me”. Seems like that extreme does not make a customer feel S.I.V. either!

  16. Perfect timing with this post….My wife got a flat on, of all places, Rt 66. I went to her rescue and found out the hard way that she was missing the tools to jack up her vehicle jack. Luckily, I keep a floor jack in my truck and encounter this quite a bit while helping other, random people on the side of the road.

    We purchased the vehicle in 2007 and never had a need to check use/check those tools. Like most people, we just assumed they were there when we bought the car.

    When I called the dealership, I had to tell the story a few times b/f I ended up speaking with the Parts Department, who wanted to charge me $60! When I told him I didn’t want to pay and that it was a dealer error, he suggested I speak with the Sales Associate I purchased the vehicle from. I asked him to look up the name of the guy and told him it was purchased in 2007, his reply was, “That’s over 4 years ago! He’s probably not here anymore. I’ll transfer you to the Sales Manager.”

    LMAO – What a great expectation to set! Turns out the Sales Manager wasn’t too helpful, but the Sales Associate who sold us the vehicle was! 🙂

  17. I love this post, Steve. Its message(s) could not have been delivered more clearly and memorably. At first it looked a bit long-ish to me. But as I read it, I saw you illustrate important facets of a most sensible sales and relationship building process with a story which easily kept my interest. A great learning moment through your skillful storytelling.


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    Why is Client Loyalty So Rare? | Driven to Excel

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