Targeting is one of the most effective strategies you can use to win more customers and grow your sales. Most building materials companies have a growth goal based on the economy and how aggressive their competitors have been. If you take this approach, you are very likely to lose ground to your competitors, no matter how much you spend on marketing.
Companies usually don’t have an effective strategy to achieve their growth goal. Too often they take a “Spray and Pray”* approach. There is a goal that is given to / or developed with the sales force that goes something like, “Grow Sales X% or Grow Sales by $XXXXXX.”
A marketing campaign is developed and tactics such as trade shows are planned to support the sales team in their efforts to reach the sales goals. The sales force is then sent out into the field and everyone hopes it will work. I call this the “A Wing and A Prayer” approach.
Why “A Wing and a Prayer” Doesn’t Work
1. Assumes Plan Will Work
Plans and programs are not Beta tested. To develop a plan, many companies do a little market research, throw in a few gut feelings, continue with some efforts that worked in the past and then add some playing catch-up to what the competitors have been doing.
Even in the best of cases, this type of plan is likely to be at least 30% or more off-target and ineffective.
In the worst case, the plan is even more off-target where the only sales gains achieved by simply making enough sales calls from this “A Wing and A Prayer” strategy are an outcome of an “Even a Blind Pig Can Find an Acorn Once in a While” scenario. This is not about the caliber or work ethic of the sales team; this is about them being sent to a gun fight with a knife.
2. No Flexibility
With this “our program will work” approach, all of the marketing and sales support budgets are committed for the next 12 months. As soon as the sales people start using the plan in the field, they will find its strengths and weaknesses. Yet, there is no budget left for any course corrections. The sales people are left to their own resources; they either find ways to put band-aids on the program or they abandon it all together and develop their own sales presentations.
Companies who depend on the internet for their sales and marketing realize how critical it is to be able to trial programs and modify their approaches on a continual rather than an annual basis. The internet is becoming more and more important to building materials companies. And the companies who become more flexible on- and offline, will outperform the competition.
3. No Focus
“Spray and Pray” planning sees the market as all builders or architects, for example, as prospects. The plan is based on the similarities of customers rather than their differences. This means it is not focused enough so it “kind of” works with customers rather than “really works.” It’s vanilla ice cream when it should at least be strawberry, and ideally mint chocolate chip.
When you move away from a “Spray and Pray” approach and focus on giving fewer customers what they really want, you will make more sales. The most effective strategies are not appealing to some customers, but they are very appealing to other customers.
When you don’t target your customers, you will always be a “good enough” alternative as opposed to being the “we have to have this” product.
4. No Teamwork
Without a targeted approach, your sales, marketing, customer service, leadership and other key areas are not working together to maximize the results of your sales efforts. You will gain fewer customers than you could and your sales and marketing costs will be a higher percentage of sales.
5. No Learning
When you don’t have a targeted approach, the only people who are learning what is working and where there are opportunities or threats are the sales people. The rest of the team is disconnected and knows less about the needs of the customer and their pain points.
A Solution to “Spray and Pray” Plans
Growing the sales of your current customers is also an overlooked and relatively easy way to grow your sales. This post is focused on growing your sales through gaining new customers.
I use this approach with many of the companies I work with, and it has never failed to work. It works in the short term, and it also has longer term benefits as it overcomes the problems with “Spray and Pray.”
The first step is to change your thinking from we want to grow our sales or sell more to customers to…
We Want to WIN More Customers
Winning a customer is different than selling a customer. The sales person may be at the forefront, but it takes a team to win a customer.
If you were a sports team, you would win games by having great skills but also by studying and adapting to your opponent in the next game.
The same is true if you were a general who was trying to win a war by winning many battles. While the enemy may be the same, the situation with each battle is usually very different and requires changes to your strategy.
Though some customers may feel like it, don’t ever think of the customer as an opponent or enemy. A better comparison may be to think of them as someone who either has a different point of view or is simply unaware of the benefits of your offer in a way that they understand.
Just like building materials companies make the mistake of seeing the similarities in customers, your customers also make the mistake of seeing most building materials companies as more similar than different.
Start with Spring Training
Select a rep who is experienced and a team player. You don’t want a know-it-all here. Ask the rep to select five customers that they would like to have. These should be prospects that the rep feels you have the best chance of winning.
They can also be an existing customer where you only have a small part of their business. I think of these customers as new ones, because the only reason you are probably there is to give them leverage with their preferred supplier.
Let the rep select the customers. Do not make them choose larger customers. At this stage, the goal is to win customers, no matter the size.
Assemble the rest of the team comprised of people who will roll up their sleeves to get things done and are empowered to make things happen. Make sure they aren’t afraid to try something that fails because one of their goals will be to learn what does and doesn’t work.
The team should be made up of the sales rep, perhaps their manager, someone from marketing, customer support and any other areas that interact with the customer. This can include shipping, order processing, technical support, finance or others. The team members will be different based on the type of customer you want to win. A builder is very different than an architect or distributor.
While the goal is to actually win those five customers in spring training, the bigger goal is to find out how to most effectively win a hundred or more customers in the coming months.
Assemble the team and explain the goals. The President or CEO should be part of this introduction and be receiving regular reports on the progress of the team. This is important for two reasons. First, it reinforces to the team the importance of what they are doing. Second, it helps to get people who normally work in different silos to work towards a common goal.
Appoint a team leader. This does not have to be the salesperson. It should be someone with a high level of commitment to the program and is willing to invest the time.
Draw a line in the sand by having the rep schedule a meeting with one of the customers followed by scheduling meetings with the other target customers in the following weeks. The first meeting should be eight to twelve weeks out.
The sales rep’s assignment is to find out everything they can about the target customer before the meeting.
The sales rep needs to know information like:
- Who are their customers?
- Who are their competitors?
- How do they view your category of products? How important is it to their success?
- Who do they buy from today? Why?
- What do they wish their supplier did differently or better? Customer service, shipping, information, website, other?
- What are their pain points?
- How open are they to change?
- What do they think of your company?
- What are their goals?
- What are they most concerned about?
The marketing team or person should learn about the customer and their competitors. Simply reviewing their website is a good first step.
The other team members should research what are the typical interactions your company has with this type of customer and then think how those experiences could be improved.
To be effective, each department needs to be open to trying different ways of pleasing the customer that may be different than, “The Way Things Are Done Around Here.”
During this development time, the team should communicate on a regular basis. Assuming they are not all located in the same location, my normal process is to have a weekly 30 to 60-minute conference call.
This is all about building a presentation that will win customers one at a time. It is usually most effective to start with your existing presentation and then to modify it.
Taking the Field in Preseason
Here’s what to include in the presentation you take to your prospective customer:
1. A customized look – This can be as simple as including their logo at the opening.
2. What you know about their business – The next section should be all about them. This is based on what the rep has learned from discussions with the prospect. This shows them that you took the time to learn about them and that you see they are unique. This also makes them feel that the rest of the presentation is about how you will better meet their needs.
3. A bit about you – Tell them who you are. Make this brief and focus on what makes you different and more focused on the needs of the customer. They don’t need to see photos of plants or people in science labs. You also shouldn’t include a company timeline. This is the area where most companies put too much information that the customer doesn’t care about.
Think of the three most important points you want them to take away from the presentation. Everything else you include competes with the most important message and increases the likelihood that they won’t remember your key points. Anything you include here should tell them how it benefits them. For example, don’t brag about your new shiny plant as if it makes you impressive. Explain how your new plant means you can and will provide your product/service better for your customers.
4. What you know about the category – Now you should demonstrate and share your knowledge about your product category and what are the trends. This is about educating them more about the product category and not about selling your products or company.
5. How you understand their problems – Next, you should cover the most common problems or issues this type of customer has with your type of product.
6. How you see your product fitting their needs – It’s now time to cover how your company has recognized the pain points they face with your competition and how you have resolved them. For example, this can be a shipping issue where your shipping person can make the changes so that you can outperform the existing supplier.
7. What you can deliver – Finally, you should cover anything special or extra you are willing to do for them. Done correctly, you will have given the prospect a serious reason to consider becoming your customer.
Post Game Analysis
Throughout this entire process, the team will have learned a lot about how customers interact with your product. Maybe even more importantly, they will also have learned how to work together as a team focused on winning.
You should be developing the other presentations as you are working on the first one, so be prepared to make changes as you proceed. As soon as the rep makes the presentation, the team should have a discussion. What was of most interest to the customer? What was not important and maybe unnecessary? What was missing or could be better?
Use this information to improve the presentations after each customer presentation.
The person delivering the presentation should pay attention to the customer’s body language and watch where their eyes light up and heads nod in agreement…or where heads nod off to sleep.
Your presentation will get better and better. You will also learn differences you may want to make to future presentations based on additional differences between the customers.
Working on these presentations for your original five target prospects, you will have won some new accounts and also become ready to go after more, a lot more.
The Selling Season Starts
Now, you can explain the program to the rest of the sales reps and ask them to select five targets they want to win. They also should be given a questionnaire of the information you need about each prospect.
Based upon your initial work, you can supply the rest of your team with a presentation template they can easily use to tailor their own presentations.
Keep the entire company engaged and celebrate your successes by keeping everyone informed. Have a big poster on the wall as well as online with the targets and progress. Celebrate each new customer.
Focus on the wins and not the losses. The batting average of most major league baseball players is under 300. If you win 30 new customers out of 100, that’s probably something to celebrate.
This approach is measurable, affordable and very effective.
Going the Distance
You can use this same process with very large customers, but it can take a much longer time to win them, so you need to be patient and keep at it.
Growing sales by winning customers is very different from just selling customers. It necessitates a stronger approach than a make-more-calls strategy. Your customers, and customers-to-be, are people needing to solve problems. Understanding their business, what their pain points are and how you can solve their problems will help you win their business. Going forward with this information also helps you provide the improved service that helps keep their business. All of this supports a winning record which will continue to grow your sales.
*I stole the term, “Spray and Pray” from Carlos Quintero of Sales Effectiveness, Inc. the co-author of our book “How to Become a Building Industry Sales RAINMAKER!” I don’t know where he stole it from:).