There was so much interest in and so many comments on my post on the hardest sale in building materials that I decided to continue it with a Part Two.
Going After the Challenging Sales
Early in my career, I worked for an advertising agency that focused on building materials. In addition to the clients I managed, I was also looking for new ones. I asked other account executives who they saw as the most difficult or challenging client that we would like to get.
I asked them two things:
- Who was just a plain mean, nasty individual that you had to convince in order to get their business and you just didn’t want to call on?
- Who are the dream clients that are either so large or so desirable you couldn’t imagine actually landing them?
I based my new business target list on these two criteria. I wasn’t looking for the easiest sales – I was looking for the more challenging ones. That’s because when a sale is too easy, the customer can be just as easily swayed to leave you by a competitor.
When I invested the time and effort to go after the most difficult or larger opportunities, they became some of our most loyal and long-standing clients.
I also did this because I wanted to up my game through trial and error.
Why So Many Building Materials Salespeople Take the Easy Road
I don’t see enough building material companies or salespeople going after the tough sale.
Part of this is the fault of company leaders who demand instant results and success. Many companies also have a culture that does not support failure. And when you’re stretching yourself to go after a more challenging sale, you’re guaranteed to face failures as you learn and improve.
Too many salespeople give up too soon, often the minute a customer doesn’t return their calls or agree to meet with them. They don’t allow themselves to dream big and go after customers that they see as being out of their league.
The first and most important thing a salesperson needs is the desire and drive to go after these tough customers. They need to humble themselves, get started and understand that they will need lots of practice. The only way to practice is to start calling on these challenging customers and learning from everything that happens while you’re doing it.
The sales techniques that have worked for you in the past, probably won’t work when you are pursuing these customers.
It’s like you’re a great rabbit hunter and now you’re going after some big game.
Building a Better Culture
The leadership of building material companies needs to encourage and support the efforts of the few salespeople who are willing to put themselves out there and go after the type of customer that will really make a difference in your company.
A friend of mine, Chuck Shin, runs Builder Partnerships and is a respected consultant and coach to hundreds of homebuilders. One of the things Chuck teaches these builders is how to be better negotiators so they can get what they want from building material salespeople like yours.
In our culture, there’s an aversion to negotiating. Unless we’re buying a car or something in a yard sale, we accept the price and terms for most things we buy.
Chuck teaches his builders to improve their negotiating skills by making it a part of every transaction. When they check into a hotel, they negotiate a better room or a better rate. When they buy a plane ticket, they negotiate an upgrade or a better rate. When they go to a restaurant, they might even negotiate for a free dessert.
The point I’m making is that, just like Chuck teaches his builders to be better negotiators through practice, you will become a better salesperson through practice. And the more difficult the situation, the better you will become.
How to Get Bigger and More Difficult Customers Than You Thought You Could
As I mentioned in Part One, mastering tough sales in building materials requires two things: patience and preparation.
It’s also very helpful to have the support of management.
Here are the steps to landing tough or really big customers.
1.Pick one to five targets. But no more than that because you will have to know a lot about each target and make repeated efforts in order to land these customers.
2.Put yourself through a refresher course in your product category. You should learn as much as you can about why your customers use the product that you sell. How do they view it? Does it help them be more successful or is it simply a necessary evil?
For example, if your target is a builder and you sell materials used in countertops, ask them to tell you about countertops what do they say?
You should read the last 12 months issues of trade magazines that talk about your products or your customer’s business.
Go online and Google what you think a builder may be typing into Google and see what comes up.
Look for bloggers who write about either builders or your product category. What do they have to say?
Go shopping for your product online, in dealerships and see what new home salespeople say about your type of product.
Talk to everyone who touches or deals with your type product. And when I say type of product I am not talking about your company or brand – I am talking about the product category in general. Not exploring what customers think of GAF roofing shingles but learning what customers think about roofing shingles in general.
Perhaps your product starts with a one- or two-step distributor. Maybe it involves a lumber dealer or an architect. There is certainly an installing contractor and perhaps a builder or architect. You want to talk to every one of these people.
Think of yourself as a detective or an anthropologist trying to discover things you did not know.
3.Next, you want to learn everything you can about your target customer’s type of business. For example, if it’s a homebuilder, a roofing contractor, a general contractor or an architect, you want to learn everything you can about their type of business in general.
4.Now you’re ready to learn everything you can about your individual target customer. Start by looking at their website and reading everything you can. Google their company and read everything you can with their name, especially any news articles.
Review LinkedIn profiles to learn more about the person you have to sell to as well as the leaders of the company on LinkedIn. It will tell you a lot about their background and how they think.
5.Take a fresh look at your competitors with the goal of finding out why it makes sense for customers to do business with them instead of you. Once again you should study their website and do some online research. Interview as many people as you can to learn what your competitors do well and what their customers wish they would do differently or better differently or better. Don’t just look for their weaknesses also look for their strengths.
The real differences probably have little to do with product quality or pricing. I find that companies are either strong or weak in some areas that are easy to take for granted, like customer service, shipping, technical support or simply doing what they promise.
No matter how happy the customer is with your competitor, there is always something they wish was different. I’m pretty sure that my wife loves me, but if you sat down with her and asked what she wishes Mark did differently, you could fill at least 20 pages of a legal pad with her list.
6.A final and critical step in order to close the sale is to understand is what are all the steps the customers has to go through in order to switch to you. Most sales people assume it is easier for the customer than it really is.
They may really want to start buying from you, but a seemingly small thing in their process may slow down or even prevent them buying from you. You need to understand everything the buyer has to go through to make this change.
7.You are now better prepared than 90% of other building materials salespeople, and you are ready to go after your target list of challenging customers.
There are 100 or more ways to start. It really doesn’t matter which you choose – just start with whatever makes sense to you. If it doesn’t work, try another approach. The important thing is not to give up when the going gets tough. You need to be relentless in your pursuit of these customers.
With each step that you take – whether it’s a phone call, a sales call, an email or any of the many other approaches – you will learn something. You will also begin to have some success. And as you start to become successful, each new tough or large customer will become easier.
There will be some target customers that you just aren’t going to win no matter how persistent you are. Most salespeople let that get to them, and they give up too soon. I encourage you to go further than you think you should before you give up on them and move on to the next target.
You can also put them in your tickler file and check back in the future. People and circumstances are constantly changing, and you may someday find success with people who initially had no interest.
You Owe it to Yourself
Every building materials salesperson should have some challenging targets, and they should have the guts to approach them. There is no downside to this. Even if you do not land one of these difficult customers (and I think you will), challenging yourself like this will make you much more effective with your normal, everyday customer.
If the leadership of your company is not supportive of this effort, go ahead and do it anyway. You’re investing in your future. You might not always be with the same company, and there are many other companies looking for building material salespeople who have the skills to go after the largest and most challenging customers. You owe it to yourself to build those skills
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