If you want to become more successful as a building materials salesperson, marketer or company, consider reinventing yourself. When you see or define yourself this way (salesperson, marketing person, company), you are defining yourself as your competitors do and missing a big opportunity to differentiate yourself.
The Bar Is Set Low
Your architect, builder, contractor or dealer customers deal with many building materials companies and they all tend to run together. You might see a big difference in your product line, your brand or even yourself, but that doesn’t mean your customers do.
I always ask building material customers, “Who are your top three suppliers and why?” They always give me the same two reasons for their top picks: excellent customer service and highly knowledgeable.
Product knowledge may seem like a “well, duh.” Of course you have to have product knowledge. Everyone has product knowledge, right? Well, you don’t have to deal with too many building material companies before you discover that no, not everyone has it.
But that’s just the start. Many people in building materials make the mistake of thinking that being knowledgeable simply means knowing a lot about your product. There are other kinds of knowledge that your customers value. Product knowledge is just the type of knowledge that will get you to first base with your customer.
I also like to ask customers to tell me about the bad experiences they’ve had with building material companies and their salespeople. They all have a number of stories they can’t wait to share about the lack of knowledge they see every day from sales reps. There are many great building material salespeople, but the majority are woefully inadequate.
The point I’m trying to make is that the bar is set so low that it’s not that hard to stand out as a great salesperson or company. I’m talking about the type of salesperson or company where the customer is a lot less likely to switch just for a lower price.
If you want to take this idea all the way, you need to stop thinking of yourself as a building material company or salesperson. You need to start thinking of yourself as a trusted guide or consultant.
Your customers are overworked, understaffed, rushed and overwhelmed. They cannot be experts in the hundreds of different types of products they deal with. And they definitely can’t keep up with the innovations and fast-paced changes that are happening in building materials every day.
They are looking for help. They rely on educational events from trade shows and associations. They also network with others in their industry. They still get a lot of information from some of the better written trade publications and bloggers. And finally, they spend more time online than you probably realize trying to keep up with all the changes so they can make more informed decisions.
By positioning yourself as a consultant or advisor, you can speak directly to their need for knowledge.
How to Become a Trusted Advisor and Grow Your Sales
1. Stop thinking of yourself or your company as the hero. Your job as a knowledgeable expert is to make your customer the hero. If this is Star Wars, they’re Luke Skywalker and you’re Yoda:)
2. Expand your knowledge so you know more about your category than any of your competitors. If you sell vinyl siding, your category is cladding. Not only should you be an expert in vinyl siding, you should also be very knowledgeable about every other type of cladding, like brick. You don’t need to know more about bricks than a good brick salesman; you just need to know more about bricks than any other vinyl siding salesperson.
3. Know more than your competitors about your customer’s business. If you’re selling to homebuilders, you should know more about the homebuilding industry than your competitors. You should be able to talk with your customers about their business more knowledgeably than your competitors can.
4. Never stop learning and always be curious. Your customers don’t have time to waste and they value people who can talk intelligently about the changes and new challenges they face every day.
5. Stop selling and start consulting. The old rules of selling are becoming less effective in today’s world where the customer is much more knowledgeable and follows a different path to purchase. As a trusted consultant, your first job is to understand their needs and find the best solution. Hopefully, that best solution is your product, but it may not always be and you should be open to this. When you do this correctly, the additional sales you’ll gain will far surpass the ones you lose when your product is not the best solution.
6. Every sales call is a research project. Whether you gain a sale or not, one of the most important takeaways from every customer interaction is what you learned from it. Make that your goal and find a way to share the information you gain across your organization.
7. Companies have a role, too. I spent a lot of time talking about why salespeople should become trusted experts and the same holds true for marketing people and companies. Your website also needs to be the go-to source of information and guidance for the customer. If you sell windows, your website should be a comprehensive source of information about windows so people will visit it even if they buy from a competitor.
To advance from merely being an individual or company that sells a building product to becoming a trusted advisor takes commitment, a willingness to learn and some natural curiosity. You’ll also need the confidence to admit when you’re wrong.
Being Open and Knowledgeable Pays Off
If you walk into an architectural firm that is busy designing a hotel, you’ll probably have a lot of assumptions about what is needed simply because it’s a hotel project. When you keep your mind open and keep digging, you will find that each hotel project has some subtle but important differences that are easily overlooked. When you take the time to find these, you can provide the architect with even better recommendations and add a lot more value to your relationship.
You may not work for a company or a sales leader that believes in the value of becoming a trusted advisor to your customers. If that’s the case, I encourage you to start down this path independently. In the end, you will deliver the increased sales that your company’s leadership is looking for and you will do it much more rapidly.
What Others Are Saying
“Nice article, one of your best.” Michael Schettine, President, AccuFrame
“Excellent” – Randall Fitzgerald, Owner, Fitzgerald Group