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How Jobsite Visits Can Grow Building Materials Sales

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How Jobsite Visits Can Grow Building Materials Sales

This is Mark Mitchell from Whizard Strategy. Glad you joined us again today for this episode. And once again, I’ve got an amazing guest. She’s going to teach us some new things. Our guest woke me up to the importance of this subject about a week ago. We have not really considered how important it was. That subject is jobsites, how important a jobsite is and knowing how to use the jobsite to your advantage.

Now, I would say that this is primarily about commercial building material sales, but it would also work with residential. I believe from what we’ve talked about that the importance of getting the construction manager of a home builder can also be important when you’re thinking that the purchasing agent won’t give me the time of day, or won’t think about it.

Well, if the construction managers have a problem on a residential site that you could solve, then they’ve got the ear of the purchasing person. So while we’re probably going to be talking about things like architects and general contractors and subcontractors and project managers if you’re doing residential new construction, I think there’s going to be a lot of good stuff for you here.

And so, I’d like to introduce everybody to Carolina Albano. She is what I call a “Cracker Jack salesperson.” She’s got energy. She’s got knowledge. She is a go-make-it-happen kind of person that I’ve known for a number of years. We first met each other when she was at niche-y[1] , and she had several other positions since then. And she got to come to Boulder and be in one of my workshops. So Carolina, tell us about your background.

Carolina: I started out in the building materials industry as a technical trainer back in 2008. I was hired to develop a training program for installers because the company manufactured – not necessarily a difficult system, but it was something new, a new rainscreen that building envelope installers weren’t used to. So we created an installer program to help spread the word and help promote the product. So I started out as the trainer and then the company realized that, “Oh, she’s got a couple engineering degrees. She knows what she’s talking about.” I learned all about building codes and testing and certifications. And so, I ended up hiring people to take over the training and eventually developed a trainer program. I’ve been teaching installers and I’ve been developing training and been doing material testing and certification for a very long time.

Then I kind of got bored of being in the house. So, I switched over to sales. I made the leap of being a technical person and jumped into being a salesperson, which is a totally different world – different way of thinking, different mindset, different words spoken to different clients in different ways. But I found that all of the stuff that I learned in the technical field of a building material manufacturer was gold as a salesperson. And it put me ahead of my peers because I’m able to solve problems on the spot at a job site or understand the competition a little bit better or understand the other products that are working with the product that I’m trying to sell.

Mark: Great! And I understand you’ve got a new venture. Do you want to tell us a little bit about that?

Carolina: For many years, I’ve been kind of an unofficial coach to my peers, coworkers, my network, the people that I love and know. And so, I decided to go out there and be bold and offer professional coaching and executive coaching for people in the building industry and especially people who are in sales teams.

One of the top things I hear from clients is “how do I get my salespeople to not be scared of walking into a job site?” So, I decided to develop a how-to jobsite class which we’re about to launch, and we’re very excited about it.

I’ve been going to jobsites two or three times a week for the past 13 years, and I still get scared to walk into a jobsite. So, my goal is to share everything that I’ve learned – what to wear, what not to wear, what to do, what to say, what not to say, who to approach, who are the people you talk to when you meet and why it’s very, very important if you want to be a successful salesperson of a building product to know how to handle yourself at a job site.

Mark: And that’s what we’re going to talk about today. I always like everything to have context. I’m seeing the context of companies all the time. Say, first of all, “how can we get specified in a commercial project?” or “how do we keep from getting value engineered out of a specification?” And when you and I were talking a week or so ago, I thought about the need to have a relationship with the general contractor and the subcontractor. Make sure the distributor gets all those people on board, make it easy to get pricing from you, get their questions answered things like that. And I’d never in my mind related it to the jobsite.

I saw the jobsite as maybe a place that you go the first time someone’s going to install your product to make sure it goes well, and you go when there’s a problem. But other than that, why would you go to the jobsite? You opened my eyes to the importance of that.

So, I guess I’d like to talk about how you see the importance of the jobsite and how you shouldn’t just go there because they’ve never installed this type of cladding or whatever, or because they called up and something’s not working well. Can you give us your perspective on why the jobsite is important?

Carolina: It’s important for you to get to know the jobsite and be comfortable at a jobsite because those calls are going to come, right? The call of “somebody screwed something up, you need to come here and fix it.” And you don’t want that to be the first time you go to a jobsite, so it’s very important that you get familiar with what goes on as a salesperson or even as your engineers and the developers and designers of the product. You want to see how the end user is using your product, what they’re having a hard time with, what redesigns the product needs. It’s important for you to know how people are using your product, that can give you ideas for other products to develop as well, or ideas of what other materials are being used with your product so that you can make branding partnerships potentially.

And then of course, the relationships you make to the developers, the owners, and the owner’s rep – that’s gold, because they’re representing the people with the money. If they like you and they see that you’re a problem-solver, that you’re not running away from issues, they’re going to call you back. And it will help you defend the spec. Your competitors are the people that are at the job site. They are the ones that are going to have their spec defended.

Mark: Okay. The other thing that you brought up that I think is really interesting is the importance of the owner, which I see is more and more important. Sometimes I say to people, “well, maybe calling on the architect isn’t your best path.” If you have three salesmen and the competition has 60 that do nothing but spend time with architects, maybe your three people should spend time with the owners.

The other thing that I think is if the owner likes you, the owner has the money and the money is power. And so the owner could be working on a different project with a different architect in a different GC, and the owner can say they really want to use your product. Maybe you weren’t even in the spec, but the owner has such confidence that they’re going to have a good experience with your product. And they’re confident that you’re there to make sure things go well. So, when they say that all of a sudden, the GC goes “well, I think I’ll find some other things to value engineer.” And the architect probably goes, “oh, good! I don’t have to make that decision on the go” I think that’s a really important thing.

What do you think? What do you see or in your experience are the biggest mistakes that we’ll just say a person that has no experience in a job site, and etiquette protocol could make?

Carolina: The most common I think is not having your PPE. That means something different now after the pandemic, but before the pandemic PPE meant your hard hat, your safety glasses, your vest, and steel toe boots. It’s showing up at a jobsite either with sandals or not prepared. The GC can provide you with a hard hat and a vest, but you’ve got to be wearing the right shoes and the right clothes. Don’t be all dressed up – don’t go in there in your suit and tie and your fancy shoes. You’re there to connect with these people, right? So, dress appropriately. Number one mistake is that and the other thing is parking in the wrong place.

Many times, a sales rep will park right in front of the trailer. And then there’s like a truck trying to make a lumber delivery and it’s like “whose car is this? Move your car.” So, parking there is like not understanding the layout of the jobsite.

Another mistake is not knowing how to read blueprints. You’d be surprised how many people just don’t know how to read CAD drawings and what you’re going to do at a job site that, you know, the first thing that GC is going to say is, “This guy is here from so-and-so. Hey, can you take a look at these plans? What do we do with this transition? What do we do at this corner? What do we do over here? This window jam? Because the windows are recessed” and you don’t even know what you’re looking at. So, you’ve got to understand your product and understand how to read plans before you step into a jobsite, because chances are, they’re going to ask about it.

Mark: Well, help me understand. Part of me being a skeptic is thinking that by the time there’s a jobsite, all of these decisions have been made. So, if I’m going to value engineered out, that probably happened before there’s even a construction site. Am I correct there?

Carolina: That’s true sometimes before you get to the actual installation date, but the VE changes happen during construction. So, it depends on how early you’ve been calling on these people, and you can go when they’re breaking ground and then come back by and then come back by again. The VE thing happens during that process, so there’s still time. You can’t win them all like that, but sometimes you can.

Mark: No, you’re not gonna win them all. But you know, you’re going to build some relationships, build some trust and credibility with a number of the people and decision-makers. You may not get that one, but they’ll be like, “Hey, I can now put a face to this company. And I kind of feel good. This person knows what they’re talking about. They would add value. So we should give them a shot, maybe on a future project.”

Carolina: Yeah, and if you’re bold, you can use it as an opportunity to ask, “Hey, where are you guys headed next?” It takes courage, but if you feel like you’ve built rapport, they might tell you “we’re going to do a holiday down the street and it’s over six blocks away.” So then you go to that one and maybe you’ll win that.

Mark: And maybe it’s like, you know “Steve from the Hilton hotel project told me about this project, Bob, I’d like to come see you” With the advent of a design build and maybe the GC not wanting the world to know and maybe the owner wanting to keep the project as quiet for as long as possible, you may not see it on a Dodge report or something like that. That ground-level knowledge of where the GC or the people in the construction trailer are going – you may be the first to know about that.

Carolina: So I think that’s good, but you bring up a funny point. There’s a large four story multi-use project going up here in Boulder that I could see when I look out my window. So, I’ve been watching it from the bare dirt as they’re progressing with it. And I remember when it was bare dirt and there was a construction trailer there. And, I noticed like two times I saw a woman pull up in a car, get out of their car in high heels and a really nice professional outfit you’d wear to an office and put a hard hat on and then walk into the construction trailer and I was kind of like “wow.” I mean, I don’t know, maybe you’re not planning on walking around the dirt a lot. You just think, “I’ll get in my car and go in.

They go in the trailer here. So I guess I can dress up.” But that can be a tricky subject to touch, being a young woman in a construction site. And back when I started, there were a lot less women. We’d see a lot more women wearing hard hats out there. I saw one yesterday at the job site I visited. So, it speaks to how you want to be treated and how you want to be perceived. And this goes for men and for women.

If you’re going in there in a suit or a tight dress and heels, sure put on your hard hat, but are they going to listen to technical advice from you or it’s harder to get through that barrier, even though you may be very well equipped and your brain is filled with amazing things? It’s hard for them to see past it. Unfortunately, that’s how we’re built. That’s how humans are built. First impressions are so important at a jobsite.

Mark: There was a saleswoman or sales representative, I think in Wisconsin, that worked for a client of mine that sold manufactured air and moisture barriers. I loved her LinkedIn profile page because it had a picture of her on a jobsite with a hard hat on with their company’s logo. I mean, it just looked like, “Hey, I’ll get into mud with you.” I really liked how she handled that and I thought that worked well.

Now, is the protocol just to to show up? Do I call somebody and say,” can I stop by Tuesday at 10?” And I’m assuming that I go to the construction trailer and then like, “Who’s in there? What happens? Who do I work with?” How does that all work?

Carolina: That’s a great question. The answer is, it depends.

I mean, you always have to check in, right? Like there’s always, especially these days with lock downs you have to check in, you have to take your temperatures. Some jobsites give you wristbands for safety’s sake. Especially on large commercial projects – like I remember when the 9/11 building was being built. It was a highly secure site. So not only could you not show up, you had to make an appointment and they did a background check, so it depends on the purpose of your visit.

But I will tell you that when I was a head of the technical department and we were going in to check out either warranty claims or certain sometimes like the superintendent would call, or the site engineer would call and say, “Hey, the installer is not doing good what’s going on? Come check it out and just come any time you can just show up anytime you want.”

And especially if you’re going incognito you can just kind of show up and not let anybody know that you’re there, but somebody at some point needs to know you’re coming and who you are and who you’re with. Otherwise, you could get kicked out. I’ve been this close to getting kicked out of a job in Virginia once. So, you ideally make an appointment, especially if nobody knows who you are at the beginning. If it’s your first time, absolutely somebody should walk you through.

Mark: I’ve gone to several jobsite visits and walked into the trailer. In my experience there’s the project manager – either from the GC or in some cases it could be the owner, but usually it’s the GC. And there are a bunch of drawings and things and blueprints. And then there’s a couple of other guys, you know, looking at blueprints or discussing things and so forth,

Carolina: Giant Gantt chart on the wall with the timelines.

Mark: So, who’s in there and who do I need to talk to? And who’s important or how does that all work?

Carolina: Well, it depends on what part of the spec you’re on, right? It depends on, you know, if you’re into plumbing, are you electrical? Are you building envelope? Are you concrete?

There are different trades at any given time inside the trailer. There’s usually the head honcho person always around that’s in charge of scheduling and in charge of making sure the work is flowing correctly. There’s usually somebody in charge of receiving stuff. But it can change on any given day. So, my trick is to show up and say, “Hey, I’m Carolina Albano with my company.” And then I give them my business card. Typically they will give you their business card and you know exactly who you’re dealing with.

Mark: Now, do you find that you can be proactive and not until there’s a problem. I mean, you can go check in and so forth, but beyond checking in or whatever, you know, are you able to say “what are the biggest challenges that you’re facing on this particular project? I just want to see if there’s anything we can do to help. Is there a lead time issue with another product? Are the installers comfortable with the product?” My approach would be to proactively try to find if they’re having some sort of issue or worry in today’s world.

Carolina: That’s a great question. The general contractor has, I think, the hardest job of all of the players involved in the construction. I think the biggest trick to all of this is just to ask “how’s it going?” And then shut up. Because most of the time, they want to vent to someone and what comes out of their mouth is gold. So, bring a notebook and take notes because they want to talk to you. You just have to open the door.

Salespeople, we talk a lot and, in this case, you just need to listen. Just ask a really open-ended question like, “how’s it going? How has it been? How are things? How are deliveries? I heard there’s a lumber shortage.” Just let them talk, because they’re going to tell you everything. Then you can say “what else?” And they keep going. They really do.

Mark: Right there. That’s golden. I mean, I have this problem where I talk too much like I don’t listen enough. I always want to share. I feel like I’m too often like the Ginsu knife commercial – “but wait, wait, there’s more!” So that’s always a great reminder to all of us to just shut up and listen.

And then I love that point about giving them another reason to keep going because one is, they’ll feel closer to you because you allowed them to vent. And then there is a surprising amount of time, I find that they mentioned something that you can help them with, either your product, your company, just something about your service that they didn’t know until you asked if you could help with this.

If you went and had three conversations with three GCs in the same locality on jobsites, well now you’re going to see a common thread of what are the biggest issues. It could be labor shortage, it could be trained installers, it could be the parades going down the street. It could be the weather. And now you’re going to find the other jobsites are going to have a similar thing. And you can start to think about whether there’s anything you can do to make that better, ease that pain, help them out with that.

Carolina: Yeah. And you can develop not just training, but “here’s what I can do for you tailored around all of those problems that they face every single day.” And it’s like, “okay they’re just my easy button. This I’m just going to call Carolina because she knows how I feel. She knows what’s going on and she can solve my problems. I don’t have to explain things to her. She knows how to solve it, or she knows someone who can.”

Eventually, the goal is for you to know so many people. I know my competition and I know the players around my product. So if I can’t help them, I’m happy to send them to a competitor that offers a product that I don’t offer. Once you’ve done this long enough, you get to know enough people and you get to say, “you’re having a problem finding a sub because there’s a labor shortage. Everybody’s busy. Well, how about this sub? I know all of them, here’s a list of six that I know, and I like trust.”

Mark: Right. And I found subs all can say, “Oh, I hate working for this firm because of this. But boy, I love working for that firm because of this.” And a GC sometimes sees it like a sub is a sub, this is how much they are per hour in this market. This one’s a little better than that one. This one’s a little more reliable than that one. This one’s a little more expensive. But they don’t go beyond that and understand the nuance.

Let’s get back to your advice – if we can kind of pull this together. One is the importance of jobsites within the grand scheme of things. If you just spend your time doing lunch and learns at architectural firms, you’re not going to be as effective as if you take it all the way to include perhaps the owner, if you get an opportunity, the GC, the sub, the distributor and on the job site. And that maybe something that has not been given enough importance or has not been recognized as much. And so, I think that was my number one takeaway from this.

Then number two is to be prepared. Like how many people don’t show up with their PPE and know how to get out and look the part with the boots and the hat and so forth.

And then the third one is the importance of being able to read blueprints. It seems like, you’ve got to have those three down or you’re not going anywhere. It’s like to show up even if you have the PPE and you just want to walk in with a sales brochure and think that’s going to do something, you’re probably wasting your time. If you can’t get at that point, we’re down to the details about like, there’s this window return, and we don’t know how to handle this.

And then this drawing, I’m not sure if it’s correct or whatever the issue is – and you tell me if I’m wrong here, Carolina – but you don’t have to know everything. Like, they’re going to ask you questions you cannot answer. And that’s okay. But if you can read the drawing and go, “Oh, I see why you have a question, let me get our technical guy and get you an answer.”

Don’t avoid going in there because you’re afraid they’re going to ask you a question you can’t answer, but if you’re at least able to read the blueprints, understand the issues you are going to run into something like, “how did that get designed?”

Carolina: Yeah, that’s the reason that they’re happy that you’re there, because they ran into an issue where the architect drew something that’s impossible to bring to life. That happens all the time. What’s great about that is that that’s how you learn how to solve problems onsite and right away. And of course, you’re not going to be born knowing that, it’s going to take some time, but if you can understand the problem, then you can help them find a solution.

You may not be able to answer it because you may not have the authority, right? Like, if it’s a highly technical product, you’re going to have to go to the mothership and say, “Hey, is it okay if they do this work-around they’re proposing?” But you have to understand the question and to understand the question, you have to be able to read the blueprints and read the drawings.

Mark: Yeah. And the other thing for young people, or just people new to the industry, they can feel intimidated. And in my experience, if you walk in – I don’t care if it’s stone, a job site to an architect, to a builder, a contractor – and you’re just honest with them about being new at this and that you want to be of value to them so you’d appreciate any tips they can give you or advice on how to do a better job or teach you thinks they think you should know.

I’ve never run into somebody yet who says “I don’t have time for that.” People always tell me, “Mark, we need to meet with reps. Okay. We may not seem like it, but we need to meet with reps because they keep us up to date on changes, new products, new ways of doing things. What frustrates us is when a rep comes in as a sales person and does it has no regard to what we do, our problems, our life, how their product fits into what we’re doing. They’re just there to tell us 10 reasons why their products better pay. That person is not of great value to us.” They’re so desperate to take any rep that wants to do a better job and help them to do a better job.

And it’s not about better sales techniques or knowledge about your product, but it’s knowledge about the customer, which is always the thing. I find so many building material companies do a good job of hiring. They do a good job of giving product training, and maybe they do some sales training, but they almost never do any customer training. Like “This is that guy. There’s this thing called a jobsite. Here’s this trailer. Here’s who’s in it. This is what they’re facing every day. This is how you can help them. And if you help them, here’s how it can benefit you.” That’s the part that you have to kind of learn on the job, or maybe you are fortunate to have known a salesperson that’s been around a number of years to take you under their wing.

Carolina: It’s rare. It’s rare. And I’m finding that sales managers these days are just too busy. People are doing multiple jobs and people are too busy and the labor shortage is big. And so, we’re hiring people and we’re not able to train them. And that’s part of why I decided to develop this training program, to step in and help with that. And you just have to walk into a jobsite with the will to serve and the will to help out. They do want you there. Sometimes most of the time, you know, these guys are strapped for time. There are delays all the time and labor’s expensive and hard to come by. And, sometimes the architect knows what they want and when they want it.

And they want the installer to tear things down unnecessarily sometimes. And so you, as a manufacturer, you’re the lifeline. You can be the person to step in and talk to the architect because you already have a relationship with them because they expect your product. And you can say, “no, they didn’t. They did the right thing. It doesn’t make sense to tear this down.” So, I mean, they do want you there, you just have to come in there with the right intention.

Mark: Yes. Which to me, I think is the intention of being helpful, the intention of being empathetic or wanting to understand their issues, not assuming that if they just use your product, it would solve everything. I think that’s an important part of it. Is there any other? This has been really great. Is there any other areas that we’ve not touched upon Carolina that come to mind?

Carolina: Well, so sometimes there can be a site audit or a site checklist. That’s what we used to do on the technical side, because depending on the type of product, you have a full audit of an installation. Another good time to go to a job site is when they’re doing a mock wall. If you’re doing a building envelope that the builder is going to do a mock wall for large projects, that’s a great time to learn because you’ll see they usually have a window or a door and then either a corner and inside corner or an outside corner. And so, you’ll see how your product is installed and how it wraps around corners and just little nuance like that. So maybe in constant contact with maybe the sub – “I would be like your first lifeline and find out when are you guys receiving material. When are you installing?”

And make it a point to take pictures of the jobsite, and that helps you to sell yourself on social media. I love showing photos of my jobsite visits and my projects. It helps you to sell to the next person. It’s your testimony.

Mark: I think that’s a great addition. We hadn’t talked about that. Also I think when you go to the jobsite – beyond the trailer to out where they’re actually working with your product – I’ve never not learned something even if I’ve seen it installed 20 times. I look and go, “Oh, look how he’s doing. That’s interesting.” You notice something. You learn something and you can also provide suggestions that maybe they’re having an issue with, how do I cut this, or how do I do this, and you’ve learned from other jobs site visit ways to maybe aren’t in the installation manual, but are perfectly allowable to do, but make things go a little with fewer props.

Carolina: Yeah. You share things that you learned from other installers. I’ve seen it done this way.

Mark: Right. Well, this has been really great. And I look forward to having you speak on this very subject in more depth at the upcoming Whizard Summit. Tell people how they can connect with you or get in touch with you.

Carolina: You can connect with me on LinkedIn – Carolina Albano. I’m on LinkedIn pretty much every day. We have a special landing page for “how to jobsite” where you can enter your name. If you’re interested in taking the class, enter your name in there, we’ll give you a freebie. And then we’ll let you know when we’re launching the class. And for my coaching I’m at, Industruct – industry structure.

Mark: I’ll have this all in the notes. If you click on it to the podcast or YouTube, I’ll have all that written in there, but I also want to say that I’m always telling people how important LinkedIn is in building material sales. And I use Carolina as an example of someone to follow. We each need to be who we are as people and Carolina does a great job and she would be a person that I’d recommend that you connect with and then just watch what she does because she does a great job. And see if you can get some tips by just following Carolina. And I highly recommend that if this area of job sites is of interest to you, that you connect with Carolina to see when she has that put together. And so that you can be the master of jobsites, I guess maybe have a diploma or a degree or something. But thanks again for joining us Carolina. This has been fantastic.

Carolina: Thank you so much. And I follow you and your advice, and I’ve been doing that for years, and it’s gotten me places.

Mark: Thank you so much. And thank you to everybody for listening in. I love to hear from you, if there are other subjects that you’d like me to cover.

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