How to Break Out from “How We’ve Always Done It” for Real Growth
The wood in this photo reminds me of how so many building materials companies and their competitors are all stuck as they continue to do business the same way, year after year. How can you have an advantage when everyone looks and acts the same?
The beginning of the year is a great time to step away from your business and try to see the forest for the trees. Instead of trying to continue to get better at playing the same game, why not consider how you could tilt the playing field in your favor.
Here are my recommendations for the best places for a building materials company to start.
1. Confront the Changing Role of Salespeople
As most companies make do with fewer and fewer sales staff, the role of salespeople is changing. Most companies still take an old-school approach to sales: “Yes, you now have a bigger territory than we used to have for each salesperson, but just do your best and call on as many people as you can.”
The salesperson is also often left on their own in their territory. The assumption is that they have product knowledge and know how to sell, so just let them do their job and sell.
But the role of the salesperson and the organization of the sales department need to be changed if you want to grow.
To most companies, salespeople are salespeople. The reality, however, is that most salespeople are more like account managers. They spend most of their time keeping existing customers happy and keeping competitors away. This is an important task, and it takes a different skill set than a business development person.
This is an important task, and it takes a different skill set than a business development person. The successful account manager has deep knowledge of the customer and knows how to get through your company’s bureaucracy to make it easy for their customers to do business with you. (Most companies make it surprisingly difficult for their customers to get what they need from them.)
The building materials companies I work with who are the most successful at gaining new customers and growing their business have dedicated business development people or teams. This really is a different skill set than account management and you shouldn’t be relying on the same people to do both.
In 2017, take a look at reorganizing your sales department.
2. See Your Website as an Additional Salesperson
Your customers are finding you or your competitors online before you can call on them. By the time they contact you, they are already far along the path to deciding which product to purchase.
And when I say website, I mean everything that is online, including social media, SEO, content marketing, your blog and marketing automation.
Your online strategy has the ability to attract many more new customers than any other affordable method. It doesn’t just generate leads that may or may not be used by the sales people. It builds a relationship with the prospect and lets the salesperson know when the prospect is ready to buy, what they plan to buy and how they are going to use the product.
To get the best result from your investment, you should go outside to a firm that specializes in this total approach to online marketing.
3. Be a Disruptor or Get Ready to be Disrupted
The building materials industry is being disrupted because it is ready to be disrupted. Too many building materials companies, like fiberglass insulation companies, are still hiding behind their investments in factories while smaller, more nimble companies take more business from them every day.
New building materials disruptors keep coming on the scene. Disruptions come in the form of new products, materials, business models, installation, pricing, distribution, information and more.
New products such Nest Thermostats and materials such as spray foam are disrupting many businesses. The companies with the best websites are disrupting their competitors by being the best source of information and pulling away customers. Online sales of building materials are poised for big growth, which will disrupt the way your products go to market.
With the rapid advancement of drone, artificial intelligence and robot technologies, expect them to soon disrupt your business in unexpected and unforeseen ways.
If I haven’t created a concern for you yet, maybe this quote from a world-renowned architect will:
“I believe in the near future we will 3D print our buildings and houses.“ – Neri Oxman
You need to either be a disruptor or be ready to be disrupted. The best defense against being disrupted is to take your company to a much higher level in the customer’s eyes and create a higher barrier of entry for the disruptor. Business as usual is based on being good enough, but just being good enough will soon make you very vulnerable.
4. Give Seven-star Customer Service
I always ask building materials customers who their best suppliers are. After they tell me, I then ask why they are their best supplier. One of the main reasons they give is the high level of customer service—a level that is so high it stands above the many other suppliers they deal with, not just direct competitors in the same category.
The customers of these companies are willing to pay a little more and are a lot less likely to switch to another supplier.
Since it costs a lot less to keep a customer than to gain a new one, it only makes sense to give your customers what they want. And that is the best customer service possible, as defined by them, and not by you.
No matter how good you think your customer service is, take it to a new level. Your target should be to take it to what a normal business person would think is an unnecessarily high level.
Great customer service is not just the people in cubicles with headsets; it’s a company-wide commitment.
5. Encourage and Honor Failure
I live in Boulder, Colorado. It is one of the start-up capitals of the world, in food, technology and other areas. I learn so much from being around people who are smarter than I am, and Boulder is full of scary-smart people. I recently had lunch with a real rocket scientist.
I have also met a lot of people who are starting a business, and one of the things they all have in common is they don’t have a fear of failure. When I ask what they’ll do if their idea fails, they all tell me, “I will have learned what didn’t work or what mistakes I made and I’ll start my next business.”
The other thing they have in common is that these people are setting out to change the world with their new company. There are no small thinkers here.
Many of the people who will disrupt you and take away your business think the same way. As most building materials companies are run by old white guys who only see failure as failure, they are at a disadvantage in today’s world.
Trump Won Because He Valued Failure
Trump may not seem like someone who values failure in any way. But he does value failure when it is used as a means to success in the long run.
Here’s a quote from Trump’s son-in-law, who ran a big part of his campaign:
We weren’t afraid to make changes. We weren’t afraid to fail. We tried to do things very cheaply, very quickly. And if it wasn’t working, we would kill it quickly. It meant making quick decisions, fixing things that were broken and scaling things that worked.
The shift to marketing online makes it easy and inexpensive to test many ideas. Think about how encouraging failure could help you succeed when you have half the marketing budget as your competitor. Trump spent half as much as Hillary. Think about taking your same marketing budget and getting twice the return on investment.
Expecting, recognizing and rewarding failure will grow your business faster and at a lower cost per sale
You’ve Gotta Change if You Wanna Grow
While many other types of businesses are already evolving in their approach, the building materials industry is, as usual, behind in adopting change. Here are three final thoughts:
- The world is going in this direction. You can either embrace it now and be ahead of your competition or wait until you are forced to play catch-up.
- These changes don’t have to cost more money. They are mostly about attitude and leadership.
- If you choose to make any of these changes, you will face a lot of resistance from inside your company. You will hear, “This will cost a lot.” “What if it fails?” “Do we really need to do this?” Remember that this resistance comes from a comfort with the status quo and a fear of the unknown, not necessarily from smart decision-making.
If you are open to change and would like help developing the right strategy and implementation plan, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org