Is relationship building the key to customer loyalty?

Harvard Business Review (HBR) has just published the second in a four-part series featuring findings from a study by the Sales Executive Council which analyses the productivity of over 6,000 sales representatives.  5,000 business customers were also surveyed as part of the study.  The findings challenge some long-standing beliefs about what drives an effective customer engagement strategy.The research identifies five ‘types' of sales representatives (relationship builders; hard workers; lone wolves; reactive problem solvers and challengers).  The findings suggest that the most successful - by far - are the ‘Challengers'.  They are assertive and unafraid to take control of sales conversations.  They are capable of teaching their customers, not focusing on features of benefits but bringing insights in their conversations with customers.  They also have finely tuned understanding of what drives individual customers.  Not only are the Challengers the most successful, but Relationship Builders constitute only 7% of the high performers identified in the study.If this finding is surprising, the survey also finds that where the sales experience itself is of a high quality, this is more likely to drive customer loyalty than just about anything else, including brand, product or price.  If the sales representative is one who can challenge the customer and bring new insights, then this can have a real impact.And if you are surprised so far, wait till you get to the section about how asking customers "What keeps you up at night?" is 'the worst question you can ask'!The first and second part of the series are available on the HBR blog.(Thanks to @Thepastamaster for alerting me to the story)