A building materials distributor who regularly reads my work and attends my workshops shared some interesting thoughts with me. He said it was his way of returning the favor for the many valuable insights I have provided him over the years.
Naturally, I was pleased to hear this and I appreciated him taking the time to share his real-world experiences, as jarring as they may be.
I thought the image of a broken chair reinforces how critical your channel customers are to your success, as you’ll literally fall down without them.
Here’s what he told me, along with my commentary
1. Manufacturers Are Clueless
Manufacturers are clueless as to what distributors do for them. You always said you need to travel with your sales folks and that happens. But when they do travel they spend very little time on the puzzles that distributors are trying to solve. It is all about random stop-by and promotion.
MM: Your distributor sees it for what it is and so do their customers. If you aren’t providing value, it will be harder for you to get customer meetings.
2. Traveling Regional Reps Are a Waste of Resources
Traveling regional reps are outdated and a waste of manufacturers’ resources. The whole Regional Sales Manager is broken – I cannot tell you how many times they overstay in a conversation and make customers uncomfortable.
MM: The successful rep can avoid this by balancing travel and in-person meetings with virtual communications.
3. Good Customer Service Is Essential
Do give me a good inside salesperson or customer service rep who knows the website interface, the product and can get answers fast!
MM: I’m seeing more companies successfully shift to this model as it better meets the needs of today’s customers. It’s about how quickly and easily a customer can get information from you. To be more responsive, you need to empower your people to provide customers the answers they want without having to check with someone.
4. Improve Your Materials and Online Interfaces
Quit building new mousetraps! Use your precious resources providing well thought out software interfaces and materials that make it easy to do business with you! That is the puzzle!
Every manufacturer I work with has a hard to use or outdated way of delivering sales and project management material to the distributors. A 250-page PDF backup price book is not the solution to your web interface sucking!
MM: Even better, what if your customer can get the information they need easily and quickly without having to talk to anyone? Better for you, better for them!
5. Give Your Sales Reps More Customer Training
Manufacturers should have their new sales folks “boot camp” with a distributor for a week – not telling them “how it is” but working with the actual puzzles customers face as they come up!
MM: Building materials companies will give their sales reps product and sales training. They rarely give them customer training.
6. Put a Feedback System in Place
Develop a robust, ongoing, repeatable feedback system to learn from your distributors! Actually pay someone to qualitatively survey your customers on an ongoing basis.
MM: When I work with a new company, one of the first things I do is interview their customers. It’s one of the most important steps I take. I am always amazed at what I learn that the company has totally missed. It usually uncovers small changes that a company can make that lead to big sales growth.
A Couple More Thoughts
When I first read all of this, I thought, “What a wake-up call!” After thinking about it some more, I have two more thoughts to add:
- Building materials companies continue to struggle with understanding their channel customers, including distributors, dealers and contractors.
- Companies need to rethink how they sell their products. The ability to get customers the information they need, the way they want it, at the time they want can be a bigger competitive advantage than product performance or price.
These changes were already on their way. COVID is just making them happen faster. What are you doing to keep up with these changes?
I want to thank my distributor friend for sharing his thoughts. If you have any thoughts of your own on how building materials companies can improve their sales and marketing, please don’t hesitate to send them to me.
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