Getting your messaging right is critical. The text on your trade show booth, the headline that shows up on the homepage of your webpage, your sales presentation – your messaging are the words you’re using to convince customers to stop and consider your product and why it might be the better choice for them.
It sounds simple enough, but it’s where I see a lot of building material companies go splat like this ice cream cone. Usually, it’s because they don’t see it from the viewpoint of their customer.
Think of your messaging like a sign at the head of the trail. If you’re walking through a state park and come across different trails, the signs will tell you which one will take you where you want to go. You’re not going to go down each individual trail and find out which one is right for you. No, you’ll use the messaging up front to decide which one will be worth your time.
That’s exactly what your messaging does. It starts your customers on a path. It lets them know whether your product is one they should seriously consider. And if the messaging fails, they’re not going to look into your product just to humor you; they’ll look elsewhere until they find a competitor with a compelling message.
I want to help you create the best messaging for your building material product, and that starts with avoiding some common mistakes. In this article, I’ll discuss five of them. If you can avoid these, you’ll be able to convince more customers to consider, and ultimately buy, your product.
1. Highlighting the Wrong Benefit
A benefit’s a benefit, right?
Not really. Not when you’re trying to get someone to put money on your product. In that case, you need to sell them on the right benefit.
What’s the right benefit? For one thing, it’s something that’s a need-to-have, not a nice-to-have. It’s something that’s integral to the customer’s success and profitability, not a neat little extra. They’ll love the neat little extras, of course, but that’s not how you get their attention.
Let’s say you’re trying to sell to home builders and the first thing they see when they come across your product is messaging that tells them how your product will improve the energy efficiency of a building. Great. That’s a nice thing to have. But for a home builder, it doesn’t really speak to their biggest concern. Their biggest concern isn’t energy efficiency – it’s selling more homes or making more profit per home.
I can already hear some of you saying that energy efficiency is a way to sell more homes. That’s true, but you should never make the customer connect those dots. You usually only have seconds to convince them to give you the time of day. You need to hook them right away by speaking directly to their biggest concerns. Once you tell them your product will help them sell more homes, you’ll have their attention and you can tell them all about the energy savings that come with using your product.
What you need to do, instead, is take a step back and ask yourself two questions. First, who do I need to convince? Are you trying to get a builder or subcontractor to use the product? Are you trying to encourage a dealer to promote your product? Or are you trying to have an owner insist that your product be used in their building?
Once you’ve answered that, you can move on to your second question: what’s in it for them? Why do they decide to use one product over another? What’s the big benefit they’re looking for?
Once you’ve answered that question, you’ll be able to create messaging that speaks directly to their most important needs.
2. Presenting a Benefit That Doesn’t Outweigh the Cost of Change
I sit on a lot of sales calls where the salesperson convinces the customer that their building material product really is superior, really does provide additional benefits, really would be an improvement over what they’re currently using – but they still won’t buy.
Building material companies and salespeople often underestimate how much work and expense can be involved in changing over to a new product.
The customer might have to learn to deal with a new company, close out a current agreement and then start a new one, and there might be a learning curve while the customer figures out how to install and use the product.
All those things would be manageable if it wasn’t for the fact that buying a new product and getting a new supplier also means being exposed to a lot of risk. The customer has to worry that there will be distribution issues, that you might go out of stock more often than their current supplier, that your delivery estimates might be a little more generous than realistic, that there will be callbacks on your product, or that your customer service and support just aren’t as good.
This is what your messaging is up against. In order to succeed you also need to help the customer minimize the cost and risk of change. The way to do this is to understand how the customer sees the cost of change and to walk them through how you are going to help them make the change as smooth as possible.
3. You’re Selling Them on the Present, Not the Future
It’s natural to sell your product based on the benefits it will give your customer today. But what a lot of your customers are really concerned with is the future.
I don’t just mean staying profitable so that they will still be in business next year. What I mean is that technology is rapidly changing the way buildings are designed, built and maintained, and a lot of your customers feel like they’re constantly one step behind.
Many of your customers got into the business learning how to do things the old-fashioned way. Builders and contractors got their start because they liked working with their hands. Owners and developers might have been looking for a solid investment in traditional real estate. Now, they’re competing with startups that use advanced technology and come with plenty of new ideas about how to revolutionize the industry. Your customers are not just worried about turning a profit; they’re worried that their whole way of doing business is about to be left in the dust.
When your messaging sells them on a benefit they can have today, it’s really selling them on a benefit that might soon become obsolete.
All of your customers want to be ready for the changes that are coming in the world of building and construction. Your messaging needs to show them that working with you will help them adapt.
4. You’re Spelling Out the Benefit Instead of the Pain
Here’s one that even a lot of smart marketing people still haven’t caught on to.
Building material messaging often focuses on the benefit a customer will get from switching to a product. It will tell them how much more business they can get with your product, how much more money they can earn, how much faster they can get the work done and so on.
The problem with this is that we don’t respond as strongly to benefits as we do to losses. Think about it. If you’re about to make the same amount of money next week as you did this week, it won’t shake up your world. You’ll just coast along. But if you thought you were going to lose money next week, you’d go into panic mode and start looking for a solution.
It happens even on a small, everyday level. One famous study found that participants were willing to pay a certain price to buy a mug. But if they were given the mug, they would only part with it for double that amount. Losing the mug mattered more to them than getting it in the first place.
Your customers are the same (they’re only human, after all). When you tell them that your product will help them earn $10,000, that’s like asking them to buy the mug. When you tell them that your product will prevent them from losing $10,000, it’s like you’re asking to buy the mug back from them. Losing $10,000 will speak a lot louder than gaining the same amount.
Your customers worry about the pain more than they value the gain. Your messaging, then, should also include the loss they’re avoiding, not just the benefit they’re gaining.
5. Not Making Your Product Important Enough
Building material companies often think their customers care about every single product and pay attention to every little detail.
It’s true that every single component of a building is, in some way, important to the owner, the architect and the builder. But that doesn’t mean they all get treated as important.
Think of all the components and products that go into a building, from the fixtures, the lumber and insulation all the way down to the caulking and screws. Architects, builders and distributors have to worry about all of these but there’s no way they can put a lot of thought or energy into each of them. Instead, they’ll focus their attention on the five or six products that cause problems and give them the biggest headaches.
If your product is in the same category as one of those six problem-causing ones, you might be on the customer’s radar. If they can’t get a real, workable solution from their current supplier, they’ll be looking for a new manufacturer and a new product.
But if your product category is, say, number 92 on their list of product concerns, you’re as good as invisible. If you want to sell to them, you need to find a way to rise up in the list and become a top priority.
Climbing into the top 10 isn’t impossible, even if the customer isn’t experiencing any urgent issues with your competitor’s product. The best way to do it is to get a really good understanding of the key issues your customer is facing. Is it the threat of their competitors? Is it the rising cost of building materials? Is it labor shortages? Whatever the problem is, you need to find a way to speak directly to it.
If you’re selling windows, don’t go into the sales call taking about windows. Unless they’re having problems with their windows or their window supplier, they really don’t want to have to start worrying about windows on top of everything else.
Start with their problems instead. Outline the challenges they’re facing and the worries that are keeping them up at night. Show them that you understand exactly what kinds of problems they’re dealing with. Then – and only then – start telling them about how using your windows can help alleviate those problems, whether it’s through easier installation that requires less labor, better delivery times, or the cost savings of dealing with a quality product that has fewer callbacks.
When you start speaking directly to the things that worry them, you won’t be number 92 on their list anymore.
Your Best Messaging Solution: Understanding the Customer
There’s a common root to all these messaging problems. All five of them could be avoided if building material companies just knew more about their customers.
If there’s any magic formula to sales and marketing, it’s this. Understanding your customer does a lot more than just fix your messaging. It’s what truly sets you apart from your competitors.
There’s a noticeable difference when a salesperson demonstrates that they really understand the customer they’re calling on. The customer body language changes. They’re receptive. Their guard is down. They start seeing you as more of a partner than someone who’s just looking to sell a product.
They compare this to the kind of selling they get from the competition and start thinking “This is the manufacturer that really gets us.” And that’s a kind of respect you can’t get just by having a good product.
The big question, then, is how you go about doing this. How can you get to know the customer better?
The first step to any research is usually reading, and this is no exception. Become an avid reader of the trade magazines and email newsletters for your customer’s industry.
After you’ve done your reading, you need to do a bit of sleuthing. When you’re speaking with a customer, spend at least part of the call with your sales hat off and your Columbo hat on. When you’re calling on a customer, part of what you’re doing is engaging in a bit of fact-finding. You want to learn more about your customer and their industry, and you’d be surprised at how willing they are to open up if you just show a bit of curiosity.
That’s really all it takes.
Get Your Messaging Right
If you want to get your messaging right, you need to avoid these common pitfalls. Make sure your messages speak to:
- What the customer really needs to be successful (and how you can help)
- A benefit big enough to move the needle and a reduction in the cost of change
- Their need to adapt to changes in the market and in their industry
- The losses you can help them avoid
- Why your product should be higher on their list of priorities
Your first step is to do your homework and learn more about your customer. Then, put yourself in their shoes and review your messaging. Does it speak to what they care about? Does it show an understanding of their business? If not, go back to the drawing board.
And if you still struggle after learning about your customer, bring in an outside expert to diagnose the problems with your messaging. Someone with a bird’s eye view of the industry can often identify problems that you can’t see because you’re too close to the situation.
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Thanks for the following comments. I’d like to hear your feedback and suggestions on how to sell architects.
“Another block-buster of info.”
“Thanks for the great content Mark. I have been using some of what you write about to better serve my customers a distributor of building products.”