There are many ways to sell building materials and I’ve covered just about all of them over the years.
You can sell distributors by helping them meet their customers’ needs. You can show facilities managers how your product will make their job easier. Hell, you might even be one of the lucky few who gets their money’s worth by exhibiting at the International Builders’ Show.
There is, however, one approach that I haven’t covered before. It’s one that can work very well, so I think it’s time to fill that gap.
Three Association Sales Success Stories
Building strong relationships has always been a cornerstone of sales, but many people feel that relationships are dead in building materials. That’s unfortunate, because it means few companies are taking advantage of this incredibly powerful tool.
That’s what this approach is all about. If you like relationship selling, this will help you get even better at it. If you need a way to revive your relationship-building, this is a great way to do it.
The basic idea is to use your customers’ associations to help you grow your business. To show you how it works, I want to tell you about three people who have done it successfully.
1. Reaching Home Builders on Their Turf
I first learned about this approach years ago when I got to know a sales rep for a large and well-known building materials company. Her market was new home builders and she was selling an insulation product that performed similarly to its competitors but sold at a premium price because of the brand name behind it.
Not an easy sell, to be sure. It’s hard enough to convince customers to give up their current product and take a chance on yours. It’s even tougher when you can’t wow them with flashy technical specs and promise them improved performance.
She started as a territory sales rep meeting with distributors, contractors and builders. Given that she was fighting an uphill battle, she quickly realized that she needed a differentiator. If the product she was selling couldn’t offer a unique benefit, she could at least take a unique approach to selling it.
She did that by joining the local National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) chapters in her territory. Like most members, she paid her dues, attended monthly meetings and went on golf outings to network with builders.
But she took it one step further – she got involved.
She started by meeting with the builders who were leaders in the local chapter. She introduced herself, asked what builders wanted to accomplish with the association and how she could help them meet their goals.
Before she knew it, she was on a committee. Her work on that committee introduced her to even more builders and got her actively involved. She didn’t just show up and wait to be given an assignment – she made it a point to participate and in some cases even took the lead on some initiatives.
She was doing more than just shaking hands with builders. She was showing them what it would be like to buy from her. Anyone who saw her work on that committee could tell that she was a proactive problem solver. They came to know her as someone trustworthy and reliable. They knew that when she said she’d do something, she’d actually follow through and do it.
Now the higher cost of the product she was selling didn’t matter. She grew her sales, but not because those builders were impressed with the insulation. Her sales grew because they were impressed with her.
You won’t be surprised to learn that her career took off after this massive success. She went from a territory sales rep to a national accounts manager handling the largest builders. She never gave up her winning strategy, however. Even in her new position, she stayed involved with associations, moving from local to state, then getting involved on a national level.
2. Better Than the Trade Show
Another salesperson I know took a different approach to this. He is the Director of Sales and Marketing for a company that sells custom railing to architects and homebuilders. He works for a smaller company with a smaller sales team and a marketing budget his larger competitors would burn through by the end of the second quarter.
He is involved with the AIA and the NAHB at a national level. He serves on and leads some committees that appeal to the type of builders and architects he wants to reach. This a major time commitment, since he isn’t just a member but trying to actively make a difference in these associations.
You might have heard me advise against exhibiting at the AIA or IBS trade shows. And yes, setting up a booth at those events can be a waste of time and money.
But that doesn’t mean the associations themselves aren’t worthwhile. In fact, both the AIA and NAHB are great organizations for their members and could do wonders for you as well. Getting involved with them is a great way to offer support to your customers while growing your business faster than you would by investing in an exhibit.
If you’re focused on selling contractors, most types of contractors have associations you can join. Roofers have the NRCA, for instance, while Plumbers and HVAC contractors have the PHCC. Engineers and technicians also have associations like the International Institute of Building Enclosure Consultants (IBEC).
A quick search will help you find the right association. Or you can ask your customers which ones they’ve joined.
3. Use Your Expertise to Benefit the Association
Yet another person who has had success with this strategy is a VP of Marketing for a building materials company. Recently, he got involved with a contractor association.
That association was doing the normal things like hosting a convention and trade show. Despite this, they were struggling. Membership had been on the decline and they couldn’t find a way to bring the numbers back up.
Contractors are skilled people who do important work, but drumming up interest in their association just isn’t their bread and butter. But that’s precisely what a VP of Marketing does best.
So, this VP of Marketing used his expertise to develop a program to dramatically increase their membership and participation.
Does this directly benefit the building materials company he works for? No, not exactly. But it doesn’t matter, because it still translates into more sales. Those contractors now know him as someone who knows exactly how to get results. He’s someone who has their back. He’s not just a building materials marketer – he’s one of them.
Because of that, his sales team is finding a more receptive audience with their contractor customers.
How to Succeed with Associations
If you want to grow your business by joining associations, doing the bare minimum isn’t enough.
Paying your dues, slapping the association’s logo on your website and showing up at events to network won’t move the needle. To see actual growth, you need to be more involved, take proactive steps and not shy away from leadership opportunities.
These are the five keys to succeeding with associations:
- Find the right person. Not everyone in your company will be suited for this kind of approach. Remember, it’s all about relationships, so the salesperson taking the lead on this should be an extroverted people-person who knows how to make a great impression.
- Be patient. Joining an association isn’t going to grow your sales overnight. If you have an itchy trigger finger and start trying to sell your product right away, you’ll leave a sour taste in the other members’ mouths. It’s best if you don’t even think of it as a sales strategy. That way, you can stay focused on helping the association and let the sales come organically.
- Find out what the real problems are. Every association has a few challenges they really struggle with, like declining memberships, disorganization, difficulty moving initiatives forward, or trouble with outreach. Find out what those problems are and do what you can to help solve them.
- Bring new ideas to the table. Many associations are stuck in a single paradigm. Since most members have roughly the same professional background, they often share the same assumptions and have overlapping instincts. As an outsider, you can bring a fresh perspective and push them out of their rut. So, don’t waste your time on a committee waiting for someone to give you a task. Propose ideas and volunteer to move things along.
- Don’t be afraid to shake things up. Focus on the elected leaders of the association. They ran for office and won. They want to keep that position and earn their title by making a difference. You might just have the big idea they need to achieve that.
Selling through associations is only one of the many ways you can sell to various types of customers and become more successful. If you’re stuck and aren’t seeing the kind of growth you should be, don’t hesitate to reach out and tell me about your situation. I can help you find the strategy that will optimize your sales and help your business grow faster.