Sometimes, I feel like my message isn’t getting across.
I talk a lot about the ways the industry and building materials customers are changing. But instead of adapting, many companies are still doing business the same way they always have.
So, I thought maybe an analogy would drive the point home.
You’re Not Playing the Same Game as Your Customers
Let’s think of the way building material companies are doing business now as a game of football.
When you came into the industry, everyone was playing football. And it’s the game your company has been playing for years. So, you pick up the pigskin and start playing football, too.
You want to keep getting better (grow your sales, capture more market share, and so on), so you look over at your competitors and how they’re playing football. And you figure if you’re going to beat them, you’ll have to get better than they are at playing the game.
So you train, practice, and compete. You work hard to be a better football team so you can win against your competitors.
But you also need to please the customer. So once in a while, you squint and look over at what they’re doing. You see them playing on a big, green field with white lines on it. They’ve got players in uniforms and a referee keeping an eye on everything. There’s some kind of ball involved, too. Looks like you’re playing the same game. So, you go back to working on your passes and tackling drills.
But what you don’t realize is that they’re not playing the same game as you. If you picked up the binoculars and really studied what the customer was doing, you’d realize they’re playing soccer, not football.
Football Players on the Soccer Field: The Wrong Approach to Sales
If you’re taking an old school approach to sales, it’s probably because you’re focusing too much on your competitors and what they’re doing.
If you’re still doing things way everyone else is, you haven’t kept up with the customer.
The customer has changed a lot in recent years. The internet was a big game changer, but just having a website isn’t enough. Social media and the explosive growth of online sales have changed customer expectations more dramatically than most building materials companies realize.
One of the biggest differences is that customers are much more independent now than they were five or ten years ago.
Manufacturers used to have a lot more power. The customer would just go along with whatever way the manufacturer did business. Now, the power has shifted to the customer. They’re a lot more informed and have a lot more decision-making power. They’re doing a lot of online research and vetting companies long before they even send you an inquiry. By the time you hear from them, they’ve already half made up their mind.
They’re playing a completely different game now. They’ve moved on. While you’re trying to get better at football, they’re looking for really good soccer players to bring on their team.
If you want to succeed, you need to take a step back, hang up the shoulder pads and start learning how to play soccer. Instead of just trying to be better than your competitor, you need to analyze the customer’s needs and learn to meet them. Don’t try to force them to do business the old-fashioned way, the way you’re used to. Adapt to their new approach and sell to them accordingly.
You’ll find they’ll be a whole lot more receptive if you’re playing the same game.
Better Yet, Get Off the Field
Let me share another analogy.
The customer’s expectations are changing. They’re used to buying things online in their personal life, without having to really talk to anyone about it, and they’re wondering why buying from manufacturers can’t be more efficient. When they want to know something, they grab their smartphones, type in their question and get an answer. So, why can’t they find the information they need on your website or without scheduling a call with a sales rep?
They value independence and autonomy, but that’s not what they’re getting from most manufacturers.
So, what can you do to be different?
You can offer them support. You need to stop thinking of yourself as a player on the field and start seeing yourself as the coach on the sidelines.
You see, everyone wants to feel like they’re running their business, not having it run for them. That’s why they’re willing to ignore pushy salespeople and companies with websites that don’t tell them anything other than to call for more info.
They want to work with sales reps and companies who are able to spot their strengths and weaknesses and offer support and solutions where they need it. Do they struggle with labor shortages? Are there problems with their marketing? Are they being undercut when it comes to price? Whatever it is, they’re looking for a manufacturer that will help them overcome these challenges.
Coming back to the soccer analogy: they’re in a competitive field. If they’re going to win, they don’t need someone who will sell them better cleats and then walk away – they need a coach that will give them the guidance and support they need to keep succeeding.
The Differences You’ll Notice
So, what happens when you start playing the same game as your customer – or better yet, start acting as a coach?
A few things.
First, you’re likely to become their preferred supplier. When you give the customer more than just a product – when you offer education, assistance, and superior customer service – you’re giving them something they want to hold on to. They won’t want to give that all up just because your competitor’s product has a cheaper price tag.
They’ll also want to keep doing business with you because they don’t want the competition to get the kind of support you’re giving them. In a lot of soccer teams, the coach is the secret weapon – they can win against faster, more experienced players because of the coach guiding them through the match. When your customer sees all the benefits that come from working with a supportive supplier, they’ll do everything it takes to keep you on their side – and keep their competitors from getting those advantages.
There’s also a bit of simple math that works in your favor. The support you offer your customer is likely to grow their sales. Growing their sales means you grow yours, too. If your marketing helps them increase their sales by double digits and they use your product in every building they’re involved in, then you’ve doubled your sales to them by double digits.
You can only be as successful as your customers, so it’s in your best interest to help them grow.
Stop Practicing the Wrong Sport
Before you put in more hard work trying to get better at what you’re doing, take a minute to look at what your customer and what they need. You might discover that you’re playing the wrong game.
But it’s not too late to pivot. If you help your customer get better at the game they’re playing, instead of trying to get them to play by your rules, you can capture a bigger share of the market while your competitors are still busy tackling each other on the football field.
What Others Are Saying
“Thank you for this post. I glean a lot of encouragement from your game-changing-toned pieces. Thanks for fueling the creative pursuit in our industry.” Kristin Michael, Brand Marketing Manager, Huber Engineered Woods