Blog for Building Materials Companies

Better Questions in Building Materials

  |  Posted in Sales, Strategy

Better Questions in Building Materials

It’s no wonder that building materials marketing is ten years behind other industries when they don’t ask the right question.  The order comes down from above, “We need to grow our sales, and I want a plan to grow our sales ASAP!”

The sales, marketing or product person who has been given this assignment immediately starts with the first question.

How Are We Going to Grow Our Sales?

This leads to the second question.

What Are We Going to Do to Grow Our Sales?

Unfortunately, this question too quickly leads to an answer like we need a new website or CEU presentation, display, promotion or heaven forbid, another brochure.  These answers to the what are we going to do question come either from what you have done in the past or what the competition is doing.

There is also the bright shiny object approach which is where the idea of an app comes from. Trust me the last thing the building materials industry is another app that no one wants or will use.  The other bright shiny object approach is the new market, such as “We need to start selling to the multifamily market”.

When you take this approach, you will never find an original solution.   You are also literally just throwing something against the wall and hope that it works.

The leads you back to the first question.

How Much Will This Cost and How Long Will It Take?

This is when you ask the wild card question.

Who Will Do This?

The next step is to present your solution to the boss by telling him “What You Are Going to Do.”

Unfortunately, this is how I see most building materials companies try to grow their sales.  The sales, marketing or product person who was given the assignment to grow sales is now off the hook.  The boss can check “grow sales” off his list because a solution has been recommended and he just has to wait for it to be completed.

The measurement of success now is, did the idea, such as a new website get done on time and on budget? The measurement is not, did sales actually grow?  The measurement and rewards, in most building materials companies, are for activity and not results.

Ready to Play “You Bet Your Job?”

In most other industries the person is measured on whether or not sales actually went up.  You get no points for activity; you only get points for results.  And you better feel strongly that you have a plan that will grow your sales, because the name of this game is, “You Bet Your Job.”  If sales or share don’t go up, they will find someone who can grow their sales.

When I first started in this business and worked for an agency, I saw this first hand.  My client was one of the leading building materials companies. This was back in the days before websites, when printed brochures were the answer to everything.  This client had a large marketing budget, so they liked to produce lots of brochures.

My clients were marketing managers.  When it was time for their annual review, they would walk into the review with a big stack of all the brochures they had created in the last year.  There were at least six marketing managers, and they eyed each other to see who had the largest stack of brochures.  I would get pressure in the weeks before their performance review to complete more brochures so they could be added to their stack.  I couldn’t believe that they were measured on how much stuff they got done and not whether any of it worked.

Measured By Activity Instead of Results

I recently experienced another example of this at a large commercial roofing manufacturer.  I was called in by the marketing department to meet with a product manager who was under pressure to grow his underlayment sales.  When I met him, he told me, “I need to grow my sales, so I want you to create an IPad app for my product.”  I said, “There must have been a mistake because I don’t create apps I find out what it will take to grow your sales and present you with the solution and I can tell you my recommendation will not include an app.  An app is not going to grow your sales.”

I asked him to tell me why he thought an app would grow his sales.  He told me it didn’t matter whether it grew sales or not he just had to show his boss that he was doing something, and an app sounds cool.  If the app doesn’t grow sales, he can just tell his boss that he tried something, and it didn’t work.  That can’t be his fault.  I walked out shaking my head.

This leads me to the question that no one asks which is the most important question.

Why Do You Think This Will Grow Our Sales?

When you ask this question, it forces you to think it through more thoroughly.  This question should also lead you to consider why this may not work.  You should ask, “Why Will The Customer Buy More or Change Their Behavior Because of This?”

The Why question needs to come from the boss. The person or team who has been tasked with developing a growth plan needs to assume that they are going to be asked tough questions.  Most of the time, they count on an impressive presentation and how fast they develop a solution to gain the bosses approval.  If they get tough questions, that means the boss doesn’t like it.  The boss should ask tough questions, especially when he really likes the idea to make sure he and the team aren’t missing something.

Ask Better Questions to Get Better Results

You should also make people accountable for the actual growth in sales and worry less about how they do it.  What I am in presentations with the big guy, he approves the plan and then asks when it will be done.  I have never understood why they don’t get out their calendar and schedule a meeting in the future with the team when the subject will be a review of the sales results.  If your agency was part of the presentation, they should also be in that follow-up meeting.  Imagine what would happen if more people felt responsible for sales and worried less about the typeface on the website.

If you need a fresh perspective on the How, What and most importantly the Why of your sales growth, I can help.

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About The Author

I am the leading sales growth consultant in the building materials industry, I identify the blind spots that enable building materials companies to grow their sales and retain more customers.  As I am not an ad agency, my recommendations are focused on your sales growth and not my future income.

My mission is to help building materials companies be the preferred supplier of their customers and to turn those customers into their best salespeople. Contact me to discuss your situation.