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New Selling Skills in Building Materials

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New Selling Skills in Building Materials

Traditionally, the best salespeople have been the ones viewed as hunters. All you have to do with a hunter is show them a prospect and get out of their way. They believe they can sell anything to anyone.

You might send these hunters out when:

  • Dodge Report shows there is a huge project that your company wants
  • There is a large builder, contractor, distributor or big box that is targeted as an opportunity
  • New customers, such as offsite builders like Katerra or online sellers, make it on the prospect list

Sometimes it falls on a local or national sales representative to pursue the opportunity. If they can’t land it, a senior leader may step in, thinking that if they can just get a meeting they can secure the sale.

Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t.

Here’s Why It Usually Fails

Commercial Projects

You want a large commercial opportunity you found on Dodge, and so do many of your competitors. The contractors and owners recognize this and will play everyone off each other until the price is so low the winner is lucky to make a small profit.

And the losers devoted a lot of valuable resources that may have been better spent pursuing other more profitable, easier to sell opportunities.

Large Prospects

You may think your superior selling skills puts you in control of the situation. In reality, you’re entering the customer’s world. They get pitches from building materials companies every day. They know how to play you better than you know how to play them.

New Prospects

Salespeople frequently make the mistake of just seeing a large new customer for their products without taking the time to understand the different needs this type of customer has.

Sourcing people at Katerra have told me they get two types of sales calls.

First, there are salespeople who approach them with “You buy a lot of this. I sell this. How much do you want to buy?”

The second approach is “We’d like to learn more about how you use our type of product. We want to see if we can help you be more successful.”

This second approach is the only one with a chance of success.

If hunter-style selling is working for you and your company, I suggest you keep at it. Read on, if you’d like to learn some new skills and work smarter.

Marketing Support and Sales

Great salespeople realize that time is the most important resource they have. The more effectively they use their time, the more successful they will be.

Salespeople are used to being on their own. They know their territory or customers better than anyone because they are living in it every day. They have a good sense of who they should pursue and which customers are at risk.

In the past, marketing provided support such as trade shows, ads, brochures, websites, and other stuff. It was very rare for salespeople to see that a marketing program made the difference.

To the salesperson, marketing was mainly viewed as incidental – not important but it can’t hurt to have it on your side. If customers have heard of our company, that’s good. If a customer stops by our trade show booth, that’s good. If I have a brochure to hand out on a sales call, that’s good.

Another reason sales can have an “it can’t hurt” view of marketing is that they are seldom consulted about what they need or what the customer wants. Marketing programs are frequently developed in some universe that may not be tied to the reality of the salesperson’s world.

If marketing generates a bunch of leads, it won’t do much good if most of them are not worth the salesperson’s time. And with your new “Big Brother” CRM system, you may have to follow up on every one of these leads multiple times and report your activities.

The majority of these inquiries may not be worth your time but you are not allowed to make that judgment call. Somebody in management thinks that every lead is a good lead. And if we don’t sell them, it’s the salesperson’s fault for not following up.

Better Marketing Enables More Sales

Many marketing departments are making great strides. They’re improving the quality of the programs they’re developing and getting better results from them.

Marketing in building materials used to be very subjective. “The CEO likes the new website or trade show exhibit, so it is a success.” This made everyone an expert in marketing. You wouldn’t let a marketing person prepare financial statements or run a factory, yet people from almost every department are allowed to tell marketing how to do its job.

Marketing also didn’t help themselves as they only wanted to be accountable for completing tasks. “The new website was completed on time and on budget and an important person likes it” was the measure of their success. It didn’t really matter if the new website helped grow the business. If they pat themselves on the back just for completing tasks, everything marketing does is a success

That’s changing. Everyone else in a company is measured in terms of results. And now marketing will be as well.

Technology allows marketing to measure the results of their programs and to make improvements based on information rather than opinions. Just like salespeople have to report when they lose a sale or a customer, marketing will now have to report their successes and failures.

And just like good salespeople learn from their failures, so will the marketing team.

New Selling Skills

Here are three ways for salespeople to make the best use of this new type of marketing.

1. Learn How to Let People Buy from You

New marketing tools are designed to help prospects find you and prepare them to buy from you. You no longer have to sell everyone – more prospects will come to you presold. They are looking for someone to guide them to the right product or relationship.

I still see companies where the salespeople are focused on outbound efforts while the marketing department is learning how to attract more qualified inbound inquiries. The best marketing programs are prequalifying the inquiries and nurturing them until it’s time for the rep to get involved.

These inquiries frequently come from individuals or companies that sales reps did not have on their radar screen.

The larger the customer, the less likely you know everyone in that company. You may know a few people. You may even know the people you think are the decision-makers. Who you don’t know is the younger person who has been given a problem to solve – the younger person who would rather find the answer online instead of meeting with someone.

The best marketing teams are making it easy for this person to find your company or products as the solution to their problem.

In addition to developing better inbound programs and making constant improvements by measuring results, marketing is also developing more effective outbound programs.

2. Help Marketing Help You.

Marketing can’t help you get in the door of a prospect if they don’t know who the prospect is and what their needs are.

As your CRM program develops into a sales support system that you can’t imagine living without, and as marketing links their programs to your needs, you’ll need a new level of communication.

The more feedback you can provide your marketing team the better. Now that marketing can measure their results, it’s important that they know what to measure and you can provide very valuable feedback.

For example, it’s easy to measure how many likes, shares, readers, comments, traffic, and inquiries a marketing program generates.

Higher numbers are better than lower number numbers, but if they don’t result in sales those higher numbers may not have a lot of value.

I worked with a company that increased its web traffic from 14,000 to over 70,000 monthly visitors in just nine months. The marketing team was very impressed with themselves until the VP of Sales told them that their sales weren’t growing.

We figured out what they were missing and turned more of those visitors into customers. If they hadn’t gotten feedback from sales, they would have continued to only measure part of the picture.

In order for marketing to help you sell more, you need to provide them with feedback. Try to avoid your personal opinions and focus on what you hear from customers.

If you felt that something marketing did helped you out in some way (no matter how small), let them know.

It can be as small as a customer saying “The boss really appreciates how your company supports us on social media” or “Everyone is reading that new labor-saving white paper you produced.”

3. Creating Digital Relationships

As your marketing team gets better at making the right people aware of why you are a better solution, you can do the same.

Most salespeople are very strong when it comes to personal relationships. If you use those same skills online, you will start to build digital relationships with many more people than you could have with in-person meetings. I recommend that you start by being more involved on LinkedIn.

As your marketing department is making it easier for prospects to get to know your company online, it just makes sense for you to make it easier for prospects to get to know you. An added benefit is that the customer also lets you know more about them through social media.


Salespeople who approach prospects like hunters used to be highly valued. It was impressive to see them go out and land a high profile client.

Now, building materials companies have a bigger picture of their success. They can see exactly how many prospects a salesperson converts and figure out what each of those conversions are worth.

It’s no longer the hunters who go out and land the occasional big client who are impressive – it’s the salespeople who can use the tools they have to consistently grow the company’s sales.

Succeeding in sales requires new skills. These are the skills that help you reach more of the right customers through the use of technology. Skills that make better use of your time for even more success.

Talented salespeople are still needed, these new skills help salespeople make the best use of their ability to sell and connect with customers.

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

“You never disappoint with great articles. Another fine example of your work!
Jeff Perlman
Measurements On Demand

“Spot on Mark! Thanks as always for sharing!”
Dan Bryan
Sales Director – Northeast Region
Sierra Pacific Windows

“Mark Mitchell says it’s not the “hunter” than wins sales…nor is it the “farmer.” I agree that it’s the sales…”
Jeff Wedge
VP of Sales
Henry Company

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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.