Blog for Building Materials Companies

How to Start a Building Products Sales Conversation

  |  Posted in Sales

How to Start a Building Products Sales Conversation

I have an ongoing relationship with a number of my clients. In addition to working with their marketing departments and their agencies, I also am also a resource for their sales team.

With some clients, I have access to their CRM, I participate in weekly sales conference calls and am available to their reps if they want my assistance.

I recently had a manufacturer rep contact me with a unique situation that was also a big opportunity. The situation was that he had been given 15 minutes to make a presentation to 12 lumber dealers at their state association meeting.

Two of the dealers were customers of his; the other ten were not.

The rep wasn’t sure how to best use those 15 minutes. He knew that he could spend them on a brief and rushed sales presentation. But he also knew that would probably not result in any new business.

If he was lucky, one of those ten dealers might be looking for a new supplier. The main reason customers look to switch today is because they are unhappy with their current supplier. It’s becoming harder to find companies who let their customers become unhappy. You just can’t afford to let that happen.

The odds of him landing a new customer in that meeting were not very good. The only upside was that the ten prospects might remember him and his company if they ever happen to be looking for a new supplier sometime in the future.

The other problem is that the products, pricing and business practices of most companies are all basically the same. This is because most companies are stuck in the mindset that business should be done the way it has always been done.

Yes, going to the meeting and presenting to the dealers, even for 15 minutes, was a good idea. The sales rep knew that much, but he just wanted to see if he could improve his odds of converting some dealers. So, he called me and asked how I would use 15 minutes in front of an important audience.

I shocked him when I told him that, if I were him, I would not talk about his company or his products. I would not try to sell them anything.

If no matter what you say, the dealers will, at best, see you as a replacement for their current supplier, you’re wasting a valuable opportunity by trying to turn this into a “Super Sales Call.”

Even though you’d better see yourself as better than the competition, the customer probably won’t. First of all, the customer expects you to present yourself as better, so they discount what you say. They also know that if your competitor were to present right after you, they would also show them why they’re better. So, it’s a draw.
If you are one of those “I can sell anything to anyone” salespeople or your company actually is better, the customer probably still won’t switch.

The problem is that, even if you are better, you’re probably not a hundred times better (or more). You are probably only ten percent better. To the customer, the time, cost, hassle and risk involved in making the change are not worth it unless you are better by a large percent.

Wow, it sure took me a long time to get to the point!

For you to really understand the importance of what I told the sales rep about how he should use his 15 minutes, I needed to put it into context. This isn’t just some sales trick; it’s a very powerful way to be more successful in selling building materials.

It’s very powerful because it doesn’t just differentiate you from the competition; it elevates you above them. It gives the prospect a strong reason to switch to you. It makes it much harder for a competitor to take your customer away from you.

This sales tool also won’t cost you anything. All it takes is a little bit of your time, some curiosity and a desire to get in the head of your customer.

Wow, when I read over what I’ve written so far, I feel like it’s almost time to ask you to get out your credit card for the answer :). Don’t worry; I’m not one of those guys 🙂

Here’s how I told the sales rep to use his 15 minutes in front of the dealers.

I told him to talk about the problems facing lumber dealers for 15 minutes. He didn’t have time to do his own research, so I gave him some talking points.

  1. Every year, it gets harder to be a successful lumber dealer.
  2. Many of your competitors are larger than you and getting bigger. They have more resources and bigger budgets.
  3. Your builder customers are also getting bigger and more sophisticated. They are more demanding, more knowledgeable and better negotiators.
  4. Relationships count for less.
  5. It’s harder to compete on, or even match, the prices of larger competitors.
  6. Big boxes are after your pro customers.
  7. Big boxes and other large competitors can frequently buy products at a lower cost and pass those savings on to their customers.
  8. As business continues to improve for larger manufacturers, you are becoming less important to them. Their level of support and service may be dropping off.
  9. You are now evaluated based on how much profit the large manufacturer makes from you instead of how much you buy from them.
  10. At my company, we recognize the challenges that you’re facing, and we’re committed to helping our dealer customers become more successful.

The result?

The rep called me right after the meeting to let me know how well it went.

Here’s what he told me:

“I’ve never had a meeting with a dealer, let alone a group of dealers, like that before.”

“They told me things dealers have never shared with me before.”

“When the meeting started, I could tell by their body language that my presentation was something they had to sit through as a courtesy. It was like they already knew what I was going to say because they had heard it a hundred times before from every other rep.”

‘As soon as I started using your talking points, their body language immediately changed. They all became very interested in what I had to say.”

“They started nodding their heads up and down and looking to each other in agreement.”

“They started to share their opinions about each of the talking points I was using.”

“Their view of me started to change from a sales rep to one of them.”

“They forgot about my 15-minute time limit.  We continued to meet for 90 minutes!  I was the one who had to end it because I had to leave for another meeting.”

“My current customers now see me as more important to them.”

“I can now contact any of the dealers at any time because I am one of the only reps who truly understand them.”

“Three of the dealers—who aren’t customers—asked me to contact them about starting to buy from us.”

What if more of your sales calls had results like these?

You can do this with any type of customer.  You can and should use this approach with architects, builders, contractors, distributors, big boxes, facilities manager, owners and more.

This is not just for those really important sales calls. This should be part of every sales call.

You will soon be one of the few reps that customers respect, listen to, and trust.

Just remember to start every sales conversation about the customer’s situation.

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Thanks for the following comments.  I’d like to hear your feedback and suggestions. 

“I really enjoyed this lesson. Thanks, Mark.”
Maria Dominguez, NCIDQ
Panel Specialists, Inc.

“Nice article. Your suggestion to the sales guy was a great one. Too many times, sales people, myself included, feel we need to bring the answer to the customer when we well know the actual answer is a little different for everyone. The true value comes when you have an understanding of the problem, and you can work together to find the solution.”
Stephen Crouch
Vice President of Operations
Builder Partnerships

“This is a fantastic reminder.! Thank you for sharing Mark.”
Kim Farber
Business Development
Allied Modular Building Systems

“Excellent perspective!”
Trade Sales Manager
Renaissance Windows & Doors

“Excellent article as always Mark.”
Greatly appreciate your insight into the building materials industry.”
Cody Guhl
Outside Sales Representative
ABC Supply Co.

“Another brick-to-the-head (er, powerful reminder) from Mark Mitchell! ???? This is effective because marketing and sales are not about YOU and YOUR PRODUCTS. Marketing and sales are about your customers and solving their problems. And, since decisions are made based on emotion 90% of the time vs. 10% rationally, it’s no surprise that this recommendation will make sales easier 100% of the time.” 
Allison DeFord
Felt Marketing

“Great article Mark. Very insightful and inspiring.”
Anthony K. Wright
Director, Strategic Marketing and Analysis, Quanex Building Products

“To me, this is what relationship based sales is all about. Great article Mark.”
Barry Schmit
Sales Executive
Midland painting & decorating

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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.