The people in red on the infographic above are the influencers who can make or break you. Sometimes they are obvious and sometimes they are hidden, they are always important.
At last year’s builders show, I watched as a closet manufacturer was making their pitch to a builder. They had a great product story that they told to the builder yet they didn’t get the sale. I thought they hadn’t convinced the VP of Purchasing whom they were pitching. But no, it was the woman standing next to the purchasing manager who nixed the deal.
And no she wasn’t the purchasing manager’s boss, she was the VP of Marketing. She was left out of the pitch. All the reasons the closet manufacturer presented as to why they should buy their closet system were aimed at the purchasing person and not the marketing person and her objectives.
She wanted to know how converting to these closet systems would help sell more homes. She knows she has a price point to hit and the product tradeoffs she needs to differentiate her home from other builders.
Whether you’re marketing a commercial or residential product, you can lose the sale by not paying attention to the influencers. It’s easy to identify and focus on the person who actually places the order. You can get sales this way, but you’ll also miss out on a lot of sales too, and maybe you’ll never know why.
Here are some of the most popular and powerful influencers to consider as you develop marketing and sales programs to reach them.
- Customer sales people
- Code officials
- Big box employees
For example, you may have a new product that has many benefits but requires some changes in the installation process. There’s a good chance that the contractor and his installers are going to be less than excited about your new product and as an influencer, they will try to prevent the switch to your product.
The primary motivation of a contractor is cost of labor. They view any new products that require a change in installation as making them less efficient, which costs them money. They are also concerned about losing money because of callbacks or even legal liability.
Contractors are notorious for not reading instructions and tend to learn installation techniques by trial and error on the job site. They know that this leaves them open to more callbacks or liability issues. You should consider the contractor as an important influencer if your product requires a change in installation techniques. This usually means calling on the contractor as part of your sales process, perhaps on the job site and offer to be there for the first job to train them.
Code officials can also be an important influencers with new products. Even if you have code approval, the local code inspector can be a problem if he is unfamiliar with your product.
In Lowe’s or Home Depot, the store personnel can be a big influencer. You can get the buyer at headquarters to buy your product so you are on shelf, only to fail in store because of the influence of the store personnel.
For example, I was working with a manufacturer of a new high tech door access and home monitoring system that had a premium price. It was available at Lowes and they wondered why their sales were so slow. I visited several Lowe’s stores and discovered how the influence of in-store personnel was killing sales.
The first problem was that no one knew the product was even in the store. When I couldn’t find the product, I asked at the information desk. In each case, the person had never heard of the product and had to ask several people or look it up on their computer to find it.
When I finally located the product it was on an end cap which should be a great location, except that it wasn’t next to the category aisle. I went to the category aisle and looked at products until I was approached by an associate who asked if he could help me. I told him I was looking for a new door lock and handle set. He took me through the whole “good, better, best” selection process except he never mentioned my clients product. When I asked about my client’s product, he hesitated a minute, as he wasn’t very familiar and needed time to even recall what the product was about.
I could tell they weren’t familiar with this new product, and because of that, I think they were intimidated to sell it compared to other existing products. In two of the stores I visited they actually asked me why I would want to buy my clients’ product as they thought it was a waste to spend that much money. Influencers strike again!
On the other hand, influencers can also be your advocate. Most of the time, the actual buyer literally has a shopping list. They need so much quantity of a product like windows, a garbage disposal or a furnace for a new home or a roof for a commercial building. Their shopping list usually says “good enough at the best cost” and almost never says “better” or “premium” or “costs more”.
The influencer may be your only path to selling up to premium, higher margin building material products. The influencer with the most power is the building owner, homeowner or new home buyer. If they want something there’s almost a 100% chance they will get it. This is usually an inefficient way to make a sale as you have to do it one sale at a time. There are only a few companies, like Kohler who can do this successfully where a customer will tell a contractor or dealer, this is the premium product I want.
It’s much more effective to reach a single person that can then result in hundreds or even thousands of future orders. One example of how you could do this, would be to go after architects. Rather than simply chasing individual projects, focus on educating them on the reasons why they should use your better or best product as the rule rather than the exception.
With homebuilders, look beyond the purchasing or sourcing department and their shopping list. Right now they want to sell more homes. If you feel that your product can help them sell more homes, then take your case to the head of sales or marketing. They have a lot of influence today and can convince the purchasing departments to purchase your product. Look for advocates like this.
Don’t lose sales to influencers or miss out on sales that influencers can help you make. Before you rush to make your next sales call or develop your next marketing campaign, step back, identify the influencers, both positive and negative, and make sure you’ve got them covered.