Most building materials companies think they are, or should, be batting 1,000. The reality is that very successful companies, like professional baseball players, are only batting .333. Your customers have set the bar for great at .333 because they’ve been conditioned not to expect more.
I’m using this baseball analogy to show you how the builder, contractor, dealer, distributor, and architect see and judge you in three ways. In all three cases, while they would love it if you could bat 1,000, they will be happy if you just hit a .333.
Your customer experiences you from three different perspectives. And each of these can account for one-third of the batting average they give you. And the higher your batting average, the more of their business you will receive.
The first way to hit a .333 is with your product. The second opportunity to hit a .333 is with your company, which your customer sees as different from your product. The customer’s experience with your company is usually the weakest point and, therefore, the easiest area to improve your batting average.
The final way to increase (or reduce) your batting average is through your distribution channel or how the customer receives your product. Just because your product goes through someone who is out of your control before it gets to your customer, doesn’t mean your customer will separate this from your product or company. Your customer’s experience with the distribution channel either helps or hurts your batting average.
To be a player today, you have to be good enough to play in the big leagues. Your competitors and your customers require that you bat at least a .333. And as in baseball, batting .333 is all it takes to be an all-star.
The demands of today’s big league marketplace require that your products, company and delivery method are at least adequate or “good enough.” In baseball terms, being good enough just means that you show up for the game and get to bat.
Being just good enough in product, company or delivery, however, won’t raise your batting average. Being good enough only gets you a .000 batting average. The real trouble comes from not being “good enough” in any of these three areas. That will reduce your batting average and you’ll have to make it up by excelling in another area.
To earn a .333, the majority of your customers have to rank you as having a great product, company or supply chain. And “great” doesn’t just mean performing well; it means being better than your competitors (ideally, much better) and having your customers recognize that.
Product Batting Average
Most companies focus their efforts on having a great product. If they are trying to improve anything, it is most often in the product area.
Your customers see your product, sales, and marketing as a unit that is separate from your company. This is because they make a decision about your product based on its attributes and their interactions with your marketing campaigns and sales teams.
The customer’s experience of agreeing to buy your product is usually a much easier and more enjoyable process than the next step, which is dealing with your company.
Your customer is looking forward to buying your product as if they were booking a stay at a 5-star hotel. But when they start ordering from you, it’s like walking into the hotel lobby to check in and discovering that the 5-star experience they were expecting is a lot more like dealing with the DMV.
Product, sales, and marketing are expected to improve. They will get investments in training, R&D, market research and bigger budgets. They also have a very high profile and are measured by sales volume. If sales aren’t growing, the thinking goes, it must be the fault of this area—it couldn’t be the customer service department or the shipping clerk.
And just like a high profile, highly paid baseball star, they are also the most likely to be cut from the team if they underperform. This gives them some motivation to play as well as they can every day.
Company Batting Average
When making customer calls with building material executives, one of the most frequent comments I hear is, “Have you ever tried to deal with your company? Do you know how difficult and frustrating it is for me as a customer? Do you know how much more time I could spend selling more of your products if it wasn’t so difficult and time-consuming to do business with you?”
That 5-star hotel product check-in quickly goes from “Here’s how great it will be for you if you buy our product!” to “This is our process. It was designed for our convenience and only makes sense to us. If you really want to buy from us, it would be a good idea if you learned how to deal with our system and the best way to do that is through trial and error. Our best customers have figured out how to outsmart and work around our systems to get what they need. Good luck to you.”
Sales, marketing, and product people have a clear sense of what success looks like. They also understand that the customer is their boss and meeting the customers’ needs leads to sales growth. But for some reason, the internal departments don’t hold the customer with the same degree of respect or importance.
Customer service, order processing, technical services, shipping, pricing, billing, accounts receivable and many other departments in a typical company all seem to work independently and even at cross purposes. They also get to set their own measure of success—and they measure and report themselves so they never have a bad report.
A department employee is much more concerned with their boss than the customer. Customer problems, issues, and complaints are swept under the rug to keep the boss happy. It’s more important for the department not to look bad than to improve things for the customer.
Their measure of success is purely financial: did you do more with less? It usually has nothing to do with improving the customer experience.
Instead of asking, “How can we sell more?” or “How can we help out our customers?” internal company personnel are more likely to ask, “How far can we cut customer service before the customer notices?” or “What do customers expect? We can’t do that.” Of course, what they really mean is, “We’re not allowed to do that.”
Every company should have an “Oh Shit Department.” There are always “Oh Shit” problems in building materials, most frequently with a contractor on a job site. Maybe they forgot to order something, or didn’t order enough or ordered the wrong product. And sometimes, it’s the company that screwed up.
There can also be a last minute change to a bid where a contractor needs a price NOW, or other similar issues.
Whatever the problem is, building materials companies are really bad at dealing with “Oh Shit” situations. They don’t see these as opportunities to increase their company batting average and grow their sales; they just see emergencies as costly disruptions to their orderly, lowest internal cost process.
The department head will look bad if they go over budget. There is no incentive for them to help out a customer; that’s not one of their goals.
They also have a big need for rules and control. We can’t have someone decide on their own to use FedEx. That might cost $20. Of course, it’s OK for an exec to spend that same $20 on a cocktail in Las Vegas. We trust the exec to make the right decision, but we don’t trust anyone who works inside.
You can even make the mistake of assuming that the end user will blame the contractor or dealer. That’s not how it works. You either get the total blame or at best, share it equally with the contractor or dealer.
Armstrong Ceilings is a company that appears to get it. At a trade show, their booth had the following headlines:
Clips and Accessories Overnight
The Answers You Need When You Need Them
In order to promise this, they must have a really good “Oh Shit” department. An “Oh Shit” department should be empowered to solve the customer’s problem ASAP without the need for cross department, niceties.
A new trend in marketing is using the power of stories. It’s as if we’ve moved past features and benefits to stories. , it’s true that they are important and that people love to describe things by telling stories.
Remember the old adage that a customer who has a good experience will tell one person, but a customer who has a bad experience will tell ten people. Ask yourself what kind of stories you’re creating for your customers to share.
Are they, “You won’t believe how they went out of their way for me. They didn’t have to do that.” Or are the more likely to be, “Let me tell you what this company did this time. They’ve taken incompetence to a new level.”
If you aren’t ready to improve the batting average of your company and measure internal departments success based on customer satisfaction instead of cost reduction, you should change their name to the “Sales Prevention” department.
Many of these improvements are more about attitude and trust than they are about a lot of added cost. The problem is that almost no building materials companies excel in this area. If they’re lucky, they don’t get a negative batting average for the company. But that’s only because customers have such low expectations when dealing with them. The customer already expects them to be more like the DMV than a customer-oriented company.
Because so few companies recognize the importance of this or acknowledge that they have a problem, this is the smartest place to focus on raising your batting average. You can invest in a new and better marketing program, only to have your competitor develop an even better one. But if you focus on your company batting average, your competitors won’t even see it—but your customers definitely will.
Unless you sell direct, your batting average is also determined by the distributor or dealer who carries your product and the contractor who installs it. The end user expects a certain level of service from these people, and most of them achieve it. They have to be “good enough” or they will quickly be driven out of business.
There is a two-edged sword with your distribution channel. If they do poorly, you are at risk of getting a negative batting average in this area. If they perform “good enough,” you get a .000 average in distribution.
The other risk is when your distributor, dealer or contractor does such an outstanding job that they are the preferred source. On one hand, this is an opportunity to drive up your batting average, but what frequently happens is that they become more important than you.
For example, I think the distributors ABC and Ferguson do an outstanding job and make life difficult for their competitors. They can also make life difficult for you as they become more important to their customer than you. Unless your product or company are batting .333 or better, the distributor, dealer or contractor may have more control over what product gets sold.
The best way to ensure that you don’t get a negative batting average here is to be careful who you sell to and through. You don’t want to be with just anyone; you want to be with the smarter, more successful companies.
And when you are with one of the best, you have two choices. The first is to spend so much money on marketing that they can’t afford not to offer your product. But remember, offering your product doesn’t mean preferring your product. I’ve seen many brands that had to be carried because of how many people were looking for it but then I then watched the distributor, dealer or contractor talk the customer out of using that company’s products.
This can happen because they make more profit from the other company, but it can also be because they prefer doing business with them.
The second, and smarter, option is to make sure you are one of the best suppliers to your customers. Make them prefer doing business with you because you really are like a 5-star hotel and a lot less like the DMV.
The Batting Averages of Most Good Building Materials Companies
They hit .333 in product, sales and marketing because of competition and customer expectations.
They hit .000 in company and distribution because they don’t have to do better. There is less competitive pressure in these areas and customers have low expectations.
What is your batting average based on how your customers view your company? Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you’d like to find out what it is and how to raise it above your competitors’.