I had the opportunity to spend two days with 30 building material companies at my Whizard Summit.
During the workshop, we took time to delve into each of their situations one by one. But even though we heard from many companies, the same issues came up repeatedly.
Here are the three challenges that were on everyone’s mind.
1. Finding and Training New Employees
Most companies told us that they’re now going outside the building materials industry to find the talent they need.
That’s allowed them to get talented people who bring a lot of fresh thinking to their organizations. But it takes at least one or two years for these new employees to understand how the industry works. They teach them about their products and the company, but it’s not enough – building materials is very different than any other industry.
After that year or two spent learning the ropes, the new hire finally has an “Aha!“ moment. They’ll walk into the boss’s office and literally say “I now know how this business works!” From that point forward, they become a much more valuable employee, but everyone’s trying to find a way to reach that point sooner.
I was pleasantly surprised to hear that a number of companies give new employees a copy my book in order to get them up to speed sooner.
All of the companies I spoke with were also concerned with finding the marketing talent they need in-house. Many of their current marketing people have done an excellent job with their traditional marketing programs, but they’re not up to the task of managing a digital marketing strategy. They’re great at doing trade shows and paid advertising but they don’t have the skills needed to move everything online, let alone understand SEO and how to keep an eye on the right metrics.
So, most companies need to go external to hire digital marketing experts. But they’re facing the same problem. Because so few digital marketers have any experience at all with building materials, they have to work with someone who doesn’t know the industry.
2. Keeping Up with Changes in Sales and Distribution
I heard from a number of companies who are having a hard time keeping up with all the changes in the way building materials are sold. There’s a shift to online sales, off-site or factory construction and new channels like Grainger that are continuing to expand the types of products they sell to facilities managers. There are also changes in the marketplace as facilities managers are more involved in product selection and general contractors are expanding their roles beyond project management and into materials selection and installation.
With so many things changing so quickly, most companies are feeling like they’re falling behind.
Distribution channels are changing at an unprecedented rate. Companies have had to start adapting to each of these as they come, often without an overall strategy. This has created channel conflict that building material companies are struggling to manage.
3. Transitioning to Digital Marketing
Every company I spoke with recognized the need to shift from the traditional marketing methods they’ve been relying on for years to an up-to-date digital marketing strategy. Every single one of them has a website, of course, but they know they’ll fall behind without getting better results from their website, improving their social media presence or using CRM or marketing automation.
Finding the Right Resources
The companies that only have a website but haven’t otherwise transitioned to digital usually don’t know where to start or where to find qualified external resources. They’re more likely to be sold a bill of goods by companies like Salesforce or HubSpot without understanding the difficulty and commitment it takes to properly implement these powerful tools.
They fall for the sales pitch of “Start paying us today and, don’t worry, we’ll train you.” And they will train them, but the problem is that it will be like sending an eighth grader to a Masters level class. With these digital marketing tools, they’ll be able to do a few things. But those few things don’t have enough value to justify the monthly cost.
Companies that need to transition are also being taken advantage of by creative firms. These firms promise the world and then fail to deliver because they try to apply what has worked in other industries to a building materials company. Just because they had success marketing cars or watches doesn’t mean they can translate that success into marketing insulation or external cladding.
Improving Digital Strategies
Many companies are already well on their way to digital, but they’re facing two major challenges: fully integrating their traditional and digital marketing approaches and keeping up with the constant (and often confusing) changes in digital marketing.
We’re also in a new era of accountability for sales and marketing. With countless ways to measure the effectiveness of digital marketing, it’s not good enough to just rely on subjective measurements anymore. Does the boss like the new website? That’s great, but it’s not good enough. You also need to know how many new customers came to you through the new website.
This accountability is good news. It means no more wasted dollars on marketing that looks good but doesn’t drive sales. But it also comes with a new challenge. There’s so much data available that it’s easy for people to cherry pick impressive-looking but low-value results (like getting a lot of Likes on Facebook or followers on Twitter) and tout them as a measure of success. Building material companies will have to find a way to pick out and focus on the high-quality data, without getting distracted by the irrelevant stuff.
The companies I spoke with at the Whizard Summit faced a lot of other challenges, such as the continuing problem of operational silos within their companies and the tendency to stay with strategies that have worked in the past rather than try new approaches. But these were the three that seemed to trouble them the most.
You might also be surprised by what I didn’t hear. No one spoke about pricing as a major problem they were facing. With so many major changes happening to the building materials industry (and to commerce in general), these other concerns didn’t feel so urgent.