My regular readers know I’m frequently critical of the performance of building materials salespeople. I’m not prejudiced against them – my criticism is simply based on the feedback I get from builders, architects, contractors and other types of customers.
There is, however, one strength salespeople have over marketing: they can get to the point quickly. I have yet to meet a building material salesperson who can’t tell me what they’re trying to sell me and why I should be interested.
Marketing should be doing the same thing, but there are a surprising number of building material companies with marketing programs that make it very hard for the customer to understand what they’re selling and why anyone should be interested.
Your Three Critical Messages
If I ask a salesperson what they’re selling, they can always tell me and lay it out in a very simple and easy to understand way. They’ll say something short and precise like “We sell metal cladding” (or vinyl siding, or windows, or insulation, or roofing…)
The salesperson can also tell me what the product is for. They’ll clearly state whether it’s for commercial new construction, residential remodeling, do-it-yourself projects, or facilities maintenance.
They’ll usually get even more specific and tell me that their product is for low-rise commercial new construction, high-end residential remodeling, aging-in-place homeowners, or multifamily facilities managers, for example.
The final piece the salesperson can fill in for me is how the product will benefit me. Will it reduce labor, improve occupant satisfaction, last longer, lower installed cost? There’s no need to guess because they’ll tell me straightaway.
For all my criticisms of salespeople I have yet to meet one who can’t give me these three critical messages in less than a minute.
Missing on Website
Just like the photo of the guy above, when I go to their company’s website, these three critical messages are often missing or hard to find.
That information should be front and center. But too many building material company websites are designed to communicate with existing customers, not attract new ones. The result is a website that makes it very difficult for new prospects to learn why they should consider buying from the company.
Why It’s So Hard to Get a Clear Message
1. You Assume You’re Already Known
Your default assumption is that every potential customer already knows who you are and what you’re selling.
So, you look at the kind of messaging very well-known companies like Apple or Kohler uses and think that you can be just as creative – no need to state the obvious by telling customers what you sell.
But if your website attracts any traffic at all, you’ll see that the majority of visitors to your website don’t really know who you are.
At worst, they won’t even be able to tell what product you’re selling. But even if you make it clear that your company makes windows, you probably don’t tell them what they’re for and why they’re better. And if you don’t tell them, they will answer these questions themselves and the answers they make up are likely incorrect and far from the message you want to communicate.
It’s easy to forget the tremendous amount of turnover in your customer base. Every day, builders, dealers and distributors hire new employees and give them major responsibilities. Even if you used to be well known, there are 5,000 new architects a year who probably have never heard of you.
General contractors and facilities managers are getting more involved in product selection, too. And big boxes are constantly moving new people into areas that can affect you. If you’re banking on the market being like an episode of Cheers where everyone already knows your name, you won’t be speaking to any of these new potential customers.
2. Use Meaningless Buzzwords
You use meaningless terms like “innovative” and “leading” to describe your product. These either don’t describe any customer benefit or they give you no credibility.
The customer decides whether you’re innovative and whether that innovation has any benefit to them. These marketing messages misunderstand innovation. You just do innovation, you don’t claim it. Apple, Amazon, and Elon Musk don’t tell you they’re innovative. They just innovate and let you come to that realization.
3. You Tout Features Instead of Benefits
Features like new colors, 20-year warranties and nationwide distribution have no value if I don’t know what you’re trying to sell me.
Once again, these features only appeal to your current customers.
4. You Expect the Customer to Do All the Work
Expecting me to connect the dots and do the work for you is sure to make me leave your website. Most first-time visitors to your website will spend less than eight seconds deciding whether it’s for them or whether they should move on to another one.
If I spent enough time on your website, I could probably find out for myself what you make, what it’s for and why it might be better for me. The problem is that I have no reason to spend that much time looking through your website for this critical information.
It’s surprising how many times I find the three simple pieces of information I really need spread out across the site: in the About Us page, in a sentence halfway through the product page and even buried somewhere in a case history page.
Stop making it so hard for your website visitor to want to buy from you.
If it takes your salesperson less than a minute to make me understand what you make, what it’s for and why I should be interested, why can’t your home page do the same thing?
These days, your website is the foundation of all your sales and marketing. All of your sales and marketing efforts, then, should start with your homepage.
If I see your tradeshow booth and then go to your website, both of them should offer the same message. But that’s not always the case.
And if I receive a sales presentation and later go to your website, the message from the sales presentation should be the same as your website. And yet, it’s all too common for a building material company’s website to have nothing to do with the presentations their sales team gives.
Two Unorthodox Solutions
If you want to make sure that your marketing message attracts customers and spells out the value you’re offering them, there are two simple things you can do.
1. Ask Your Salespeople
Ask your salespeople what they’re selling, what it’s used for and why it will benefit the customer. Work their ten-second pitch into your website’s main message.
It’s also good to ask them what kind of customer they’re most likely to present to. Don’t have a website that targets one kind of customer while your salespeople are focused on calling on another type of customer. You need to be in alignment.
2. The Grunt Test
Take your laptop out with you and ask random people who are not familiar with your company and are not even in building materials to take a look at your homepage.
Give them just three seconds to look at it and then close your laptop. Then, ask them to tell you what you’re selling, what it’s for and why it’s better. If they can’t give you an accurate answer, your need to redesign your homepage until it passes the grunt test.
Many companies fail the grunt test because people in building materials make their products and message much more complicated than it has to be. Really smart engineering and technical people are frequently guilty of this.
They have PhD-level knowledge about their products and they can only communicate it to other PhD’s. It’s much smarter to communicate at an 8th grade level because that’s where you will find 10 times more prospective customers.
The PhD-level stuff can still be on your website for those people who are interested. It just shouldn’t be at the front. PhDs and technical professionals are used to doing research and digging deep for what they want. Your potential customers? They need it right in front of them.
I first learned about the grunt test at a Story Brand workshop I attended. If you’re interested in this approach, I encourage you to watch this video from Don Miller of Story Brand (you can fast-forward to about minute six and stop watching around the 30-minute mark).
The purpose of this video is to sell you a workshop. And while I highly recommend Don Miller’s courses, the middle of this video explains what I’ve written about in this article much better than I can.
Making it easier and quicker for prospects to understand what you make, what it’s for and why it’s better is as simple as cutting and pasting a few different words on your homepage.
Coming up with those few words, however, will be much harder than it seems if you do it correctly. When I went to Don’s workshop, we spent two full days coming up with these few right words.
If you want to see your sales grow, take a lesson from your salespeople and make it easier for your prospects to buy from you by perfecting your message.