One of your goals should be to become your customer’s preferred brand, product, or supplier. If you are the one they prefer, a lot of great things can happen:
- Price becomes less important. Your customers keep telling me to tell you that they are not looking for the lowest price. They are looking for a competitive price along with other value-added* reasons to do business with you. And even when price is still an issue, you are more likely to get the opportunity to meet a lower price.
- Block your competitors. When you are the preferred source, it’s like building a wall that makes it much harder for your competition to sell your customer.
- Stay in the loop. Customers will share more information with their favorite suppliers. You will learn about opportunities before others do and you’re less likely to be blindsided by an unexpected change.
- More willing to listen. When you have a new product or a reason your customer should give you more business, they are more likely to listen to you. If they trust that you have their best interests in mind, they will listen with an open mind.
Whether your primary customer is an architect, a contractor, builder or someone else, they all have their favorites and you should work to be one of them.
Going Through a Nightmare
Some years ago, I did a major kitchen remodel – the kind where you knock out the walls, expand things, order cabinets from overseas, and throw in a fancy commercial gas range that’s not really meant for home cooking. It was my first time doing this kind of thing and everything I read about it said major remodels, especially the kitchen, are a nightmare.
My wife and I interviewed three different contractors for the project and to compare bids. They all had excellent references and photos of projects similar to ours. In other words, they all were qualified. So, you might think that price became the most important consideration. It didn’t.
One of the contractors stood head and shoulders over the others because we felt most comfortable having him at our side as we walked through the nightmare of our kitchen remodel.
Before we saw the bids, my wife and I said to each other, “I hope he’s not too much more than the others.” We assumed that he would cost more, and we were already assigning a value to the benefit of being less stressed.
And that’s what I want to help you achieve. Not a kitchen remodel, but that feeling. How do you give your customers that feeling, the one that makes them feel they would prefer working with you?
We saw our contractor as our guide. And believe it or not, but your customers are also, now more than ever, looking for a guide.
Everything Is Changing – And It’s Changing Quickly
The nightmare your customers are going through is a pretty big one compared to my kitchen remodel.
When they face a repetitive task like designing, building or repairing a building, they are already masters. The reason they are looking for guides is the amount and pace of change that they are being confronted with every day.
They are being hit with changes like BIM, offsite construction, manufacturer direct sales, online sourcing, new technology applications, the future of dealers and distributors, the role of Amazon and many new products and processes.
They are not used to change. They are certainly not used to this pace of change. And they are definitely not used to these types of changes, the ones that upend the rules of the game.
They understand that new products come and go. They know what to expect and how to deal with this. They are not used to just how fast new products are being introduced and accepted, but they understand the process. All they have to do is to learn to work at the faster speed of today’s market.
What they struggle with are the other changes. These are very new to them, and they’re coming from many different directions and appearing very quickly.
Another challenge they face is how to sort through all of these changes to decide which ones are for real and will last and which ones are just temporary blips.
Currently, your customers are learning about these changes by networking with other companies in the same business, from their associations or at trade shows. They are also getting aggressive sales pitches from companies that make money from these changes.
They are also forced to learn when their customers direct a change. More and more they are being confronted with demands like, “If you want to do business with us, you will now do this.”
One source of information and guidance that’s still missing for your customers, however, is the building materials manufacturer.
Many building materials manufacturers are still behind the curve when it comes to understanding and planning for these changes. They are taking a wait-and-see attitude and then reacting when a change is forced on them by their customers or competitors.
There are also many building material companies who are all over this change thing. Their radar is set and they’re looking for change. They are researching and thinking about these changes. They are planning a strategy for dealing with them and deciding which changes they should embrace and how.
There’s a missed opportunity with these companies, however. They are embracing change, but the problem is that they are only thinking about how these changes will affect or can benefit them. They’re not thinking about how these changes will affect their current customers and how they can help them evolve and adapt.
Show Your Customers You’re Ahead of the Changes
You can gain a real advantage in all this upheaval if you present yourself to your customers as the company that understands the changes the customer is going through and how it will affect their business. If you show a willingness to help them transition and work through these periods of change, it will count in your favor immensely.
When you do this, you’re not appealing to their rational decision-making – you’re getting them to make an emotional choice. When my wife and I decided on the contractor we worked with, it wasn’t because we carefully pored over stats and figures, considered all their previous projects in detail or did some rigorous analysis. No, it was because the contractor made us feel like he understood what we were up against and that he would be able to help us work through it. He made us feel like we had someone to guide us.
That’s the feeling you should be giving your customers.
When your competitors are sending the signal that they’re continuing to do business as usual, you need to signal that you’re going to do more than sell your customer a reliable product at a competitive price. Those things matter, sure, but your customers need more than just a good product if they’re going to move into the future.
They need to see that you’re not just aware of the changes that are coming to the industry, but that you’re embracing them. That way, they know you’re a company who will help them advance during these changes, not one who is always catching up.
Becoming the Preferred Company
There are many different tactics to position yourself this way and become the preferred supplier for your customers.
You can offer them support and education to help them transition to these new ways of doing business. If you’re willing to give them that kind of assistance, you can bet you’ll always be the first supplier that comes to their mind.
These changes are difficult for your customers. By helping them manage, work through and adapt to them, you’re giving them new skills and increased confidence when they need them most. When they look to the future and wonder how they’ll make it through all the changes that are coming, you’ll be part of that plan.
If you can be proactive about this, you’ll get the kind of loyalty you could only dream of if all you were offering was a reliable product at a competitive price.
Your Product Matters – But It’s Not All That Matters
Let’s talk about your product for a minute. No, I don’t know what product you sell, but what I do know is that your competitor probably has a very similar one. When I speak with architects, builders and other types of customers, they tell me the same thing: “Mark, it doesn’t matter how many products we look at, most of them are more similar to each other than they are different.”
Yes, every company’s product is a bit different than the one offered by their competitor, and I’m sure yours is, too. But that’s just not enough to sway your customer. It will take more than being 10% better than the competitor to convince a customer to switch to your product and to stick with it over the long run.
10% better might make a big difference if customers thought purely in rational terms, but they don’t. They’re human, so their decisions are always partly driven by emotions. But that doesn’t mean they’re being irrational – often, their emotions are telling them something important. It’s the emotional part of them that has them worried about the coming changes, that has them fearing for where their company will be in five years and that has them looking for some kind of reassurance that they’ll be okay.
Tell Yourself the Right Story
There’s a mistake a lot of building material companies make when they’re trying to position themselves toward their customers. They think that everyone wants to work with whoever is number one. They want to work with the biggest, the best company, the one that has the greatest products. So, these building material companies think the way to become the preferred company for their customers is to become the hero of the story.
It’s great to be number one, but no one actually wants to work with the hero. When you work with the hero, you end up playing second fiddle. The customer doesn’t want to be the secondary character in your story; they want to be the hero in theirs. If you want to win them over, then, you have to help them be the hero by helping them be more successful.
Heroes never do it alone. King Arthur would have failed without Merlin. James Bond would never have survived being captured by so many villains if Q hadn’t equipped and prepared him for his missions. And Luke Skywalker would have never mastered the force or gained the confidence to face the Empire if he hadn’t been mentored by Yoda.
You need to be your customer’s Merlin, Q, or Yoda. Help them face and overcome the challenges they’re facing, and not only will you make them the hero of their own story, you’ll make yourself an incredibly important part of it, too.
Customer’s Want to Be with the Smartest Company
Customer has learned that it is harder for the leading company to accept and deal with change. They start to believe that they are invincible. Change is a threat to their leadership position so the less change, the better.
Your customers know that change is here and it’s happening. There’s no avoiding it, so they are looking for the building materials companies who recognize, understand and have a plan for these changes.
Think about it. If you were a car dealer, would you have more confidence in the future with GM or Tesla? Would you rather have lunch with the Mary Barra, the CEO of GM or Elon Musk, the CEO of Tesla?
That’s what I thought.
It’s the same with your customers. They want to be with the building materials companies who have the best handle on the future. And if you are knowledgeable about these changes and have an opinion or a plan for how to deal with them, then you become one of those companies.
It happens when the subjects of the future and change are a regular part of your discussions and customer communications. It happens when you talk about how this will make both you and the customer more successful and you talk about it with confidence.
How to Become the Preferred Company in One Sentence
To sum it all up in a single sentence: Understand the changes the customer is facing, help them adapt to these changes and make them more successful by being the mentor to their hero. If you can do all that, you’ll quickly become the preferred supplier and build an extremely loyal relationship with your customers.
*Value-added means different things to different customers. I am willing to pay a little more for a beer at my favorite bar because they know my name. For you, a value-add can be as simple as acknowledging orders when your competitor doesn’t.
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Thanks for the following comments. I’d like to hear your feedback and suggestions on how to sell architects.