In commercial or residential building material sales, whether you are selling an architect, big box, contractor, builder, or other type of customer, there are three basic kinds of sales:
3 Types of Building Material Sales
1. The Switch
You convert a customer to your comparable product.
2. The Upgrade
You convince a customer to upgrade to a better or more expensive product.
3. The New Product
You introduce a customer to an innovative new product.
Switching a Building Materials Customer
It’s not all about price. Price is certainly important, but trying to sell on price alone might not justify the cost and hassle for the customer to change suppliers.
It’s not all about quality. Your product may be better than its competition, but the reasons it is better may not matter to the customer.
Understanding the customer’s current situation is critical to making the sale. Whose product are they using? Who supplies and installs it? What do they like about the product and supplier? What problems are they having? What are their pain points? Even the happiest customer has something they would change.
Craft your sales presentation to fit their situation. Can you address some of their pain points or show them how they would be more successful with you?
It’s more about the benefits of doing business with you than it is about the product. That being said, I’ve seen these two dealbreakers a lot:
- How will they get your product? I’ve seen customers not switch because they have a bad relationship with your distributor.
- Does their installer like your company and product? If they don’t, they can prevent you from making the sale.
In switching customers, make sure you don’t overlook these two potential problems.
Upgrading a Building Materials Customer
Selling an upgrade can be harder than switching a customer from a competitor.
A common mistake I’ve seen is people assuming the most persuasive argument to upgrade is, “You’ll make more profit.” Builders, contractors, and big box buyers realize that there is a price ceiling beyond which few customers will go. They balance sales volume with cost control to improve their profits. Greater profits almost never depend on just selling an upgraded product.
To sell, you have to show the customer how they will benefit from your upgrade. You must understand the customer’s primary motivation. Then you can demonstrate how your upgrade will help them succeed.
For architects, it’s reputation. They’re concerned that designing a building with problems will damage it, and convinced that a great building will enhance it.
For builders, it’s profit margin. Adding the cost of your upgrade to their prices doesn’t work because they have to stay competitive with other builders. Upgrading affects their profit margin unless they can cut costs elsewhere. Convincing them to make tradeoffs is the way to go. Be warned that you’re just on a list of potential upgrades, and you might be #93 out of 100.
For big box buyers, it’s the CEO’s vision for the company. One year the CEO might care about turns and the next it could be improved service, or more pro business. Once you understand the company’s goals, you can show the buyer how your upgrade will help achieve them.
For contractors, it’s labor costs. The best way to sell an upgrade is to convince them your product will lower his labor costs. This can mean fewer callbacks, faster installation, less experience required to install, and more.
For other potential upgrade customers, the same course of action applies. Once you figure out their situation, you can show them how your upgraded product will benefit them.
Selling a New Building Materials Product
When I say ‘new,’ I’m talking entirely new, not ‘your latest model of an existing product.’ I’m talking about something like selling house wrap for the first time.
Imagine that first customer’s thoughts. What is house wrap? What does it do? Why do I need it? What is the risk? Has anyone else used it? Who will install it? Where do I buy it?, etc, etc.
With new products, there are fewer potential customers. Just like with consumers, there are early adopters or people willing to try new ideas. The key is to identify these customers and focus your sales efforts on them. These are also the customers that more risk-adverse customers watch. When I lived in Ohio, I could read a paper from New York or LA and see what I’d be wearing in the future.
Once you find a market for your product, selling it is much easier. Explain what the product is, what it does, and why to use it.
You can relate the product to something the customer already knows. For example, if I were trying to explain an airplane to someone from the 1850s I would compare it to a train. I might say, an airplane is a train that flies like a bird and gets you to your destination much faster.
Chances are your product won’t be that far out, but you still need to make sure the customer understands it.
The biggest challenge with new products is that it takes time to grow sales volume to meaningful levels. Another problem is that unforeseen problems can pop up with cutting-edge products. As word of these problems spread, potential new customers will frequently only remember your product’s problems.
To minimize this, you need to carefully monitor your initial customers for problems and act quickly to fix them. If the person monitoring customers was on the product development team, it’s important to ensure that they can recognize and acknowledge problems with the product they’ve invested so much in. They might feel that problems with the product reflect poorly on them.
New products also take patience from management and a willingness to change plans as the product gains acceptance. I’ve seen too many new products fail because management wouldn’t give them enough time to succeed.
As you approach your next sales and marketing effort, take the time to think about what you are trying to do. Develop a plan that targets the right people, in the right medium, with the right message.
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