Over the course of my 35-year career working with hundreds of building material companies on thousands of projects, I’ve found that there are three basic problems that hold back growth.
This is true whether we’re talking about residential or commercial, new construction or repair/remodel.
And these three problems have nothing to do with product quality, pricing, or customer service.
When a building material company isn’t growing as quickly as it would like, it’s almost always because they’re:
- Calling on the wrong person
- With the wrong message
- Using the wrong method of communication
Mistake #1: Calling on the Wrong Person
Most companies who want to sell to home builders will focus on the purchasing department. That makes some sense because it’s the person who orders the products. However, they usually don’t have a lot of involvement when choosing products that aren’t commodities.
If you want to sell to builders, the first thing you should do is broaden your target from selling homebuilders to selling residential new home construction. Who you call on then will depend on what kind of product you’re selling.
- If your product will help them sell more homes, you will have more success by talking to the builder’s sales or marketing departments.
- If your product reduces construction time or costly callbacks, you should talk to construction management.
- If a subcontractor installs your product, you may want to sell the contractor on your product before the builder. Even if the builder thinks your product is better, they have to sell the installer on this change.
- If you have patience, you can even focus on new homebuyers. Production builders won’t make a product change for a single homebuyer but they pay close attention to what buyers are asking for. For example, as they notice that more homebuyers are asking for “Healthy Homes” they will start to be more interested in healthier products.
For architects, you’ll want to broaden your target again, this time to commercial new construction.
- If your product benefits the owner in the long term due to lower operating or maintenance costs or longer service life, you may want to call on the building owner or facilities manager. They are much more educated and involved than they used to be. They are also the ultimate decision-maker and will get little pushback from the architect or general contractor.
- If your product saves time or labor, you may want to call on the general contractor as they are looking for ways to save on both of these.
- If you offer shorter lead times you may want to call on the distributor and encourage them to offer your product as an alternative.
- Even within the architectural firm, you want it to make sure you are talking to the right person. And rather than trying to sell a project, you should be trying to convert a customer so you become the preferred product.
With distributors, the real success happens on a local level. This is true even when their corporate purchasing has approved you and placed an order.
- Local matters when selling to distributors. Each branch manager is responsible for growing their own business. Each of them only has so much space and they can decide what to stock and promote. The more you know about what sells the best in what region and why, the more you can focus your efforts for the greatest growth.
This is the same with dealers, contractors, big boxes and home improvement. If you aren’t satisfied with your growth in a category, think about who else you could call on. There may be someone who can have a powerful influence on the decision-maker.
Mistake #2: You’re Using the Wrong Message
Most building materials companies focus their sales message on product performance and what makes their product better.
The problem is that your customers are not looking for a better product unless they’re having a problem with the one they’re currently using. If the one they’re using now is good enough and they’re familiar with the problems that come with it, then they’ll be happy to deal with them instead of taking on the risk of changing to a new product.
They may see the benefits of your product, but you’re still an unknown. They’ll be worried about unexpected problems and surprises.
To be effective, your sales messages should:
- Be fast and easy to understand. Most building materials websites have all the information they need on their websites but customers don’t want to invest a lot of time uncovering the good stuff.
- Focus your message on your best type of customer. Too many companies are still trying to be all things to all people so they come off as easily forgettable vanilla ice cream. If you want contractors, figure out which type of contractor is good for your business and aim our messaging at them.
- Fix a pain point they may not have known could be fixed. You can find these by asking “What do you wish could be different about dealing with your current supplier or this type of product?”
- Make the customer’s life easier. Most customers no longer trust that building materials companies will do what they say. That means they have to keep checking on details like order status and shipping. If they can rely on you, you just made their life easier.
- Making them more successful. Younger people are getting involved in the industry and they don’t want to follow accepted practices about success. They want to chart their own course. How can you help them?
- Rely less on data and facts and more on a sales message that just makes sense.
- Pass the grunt test. You should be able to show a complete stranger the homepage of your website and have them tell you what you’re selling and what it does within five seconds of scanning the page.
If you want a better understanding of how to have a more effective sales message, I recommend the book Building a StoryBrand: Clarify Your Message So Customers Will Listen by Donald Miller. I was so impressed with his approach that I invested a few thousand dollars to attend one of his workshops and I now use his process when developing new sales messages.
Mistake #3: Using the Wrong Method to Reach Customers
- Position your company as a leading expert in your category with better content and more of it.
- Make it easier for customers to find you online by improving your SEO.
- Make fewer and better sales calls. Reduce unnecessary and expensive travel and entertainment expenses. The goal should be to grow your sales with technology rather than face-to-face meetings.
- Increase the number of inbound leads.
- Eliminate or reduce the investment in trade shows and other live events.
- Spend your marketing dollars on programs that can reach the largest number of people who will contact you at the lowest cost. For example, if you create a video showcasing the same information you share at trade shows, you can reach many more people and it won’t end after three days.
- Only develop marketing programs that can be measured. “The boss liked it” or “We won an award” are not measurements of the effectiveness of a marketing program.
- Embrace failure. If you are not trying things that fail, you are not trying hard enough and you are just following your competitors.
- Research and test everything. Before you develop a new marketing program, interview a few customers and salespeople. After you have developed the idea, try it out on those same customers and salespeople to see if there’s anything you have missed.
- You probably already have enough money in your budget if you’d stop doing the things you’ve always done, like trade shows and printing literature.
If your business is not growing as fast as you’d like, you are probably making one or more of these three mistakes. Fix them and you’ll start seeing the kind of sales your product deserves.
If you are stuck in the world of in person sales calls, trade shows and printed literature you are acting like a tortoise when your customers and competitors are moving at a faster pace. Just like a tortoise you will continue to make progress but at a much slower pace.
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