With so many companies manufacturing and selling building materials, how do customers actually choose what products to buy? How do they even narrow down the dozens of options available to them?
If you ask a lot of people who work in building materials, they’ll give you a simple, one-word answer: price. Specifically, low prices. The lowest price the customer can find.
That’s an answer that feels right on an intuitive level. No one wants to pay more than they have to for anything, including building materials. Every company is looking for ways to lower costs.
Price is a big deal, but it’s far from the only thing a customer cares about. In fact, it’s almost never at the top of the list.
Builders and contractors tell me, ‘”Mark, please tell the building materials companies you work with that we are not looking for the lowest price. We are looking for a competitive price. When we focus on the lowest price there frequently are problems that we don’t need.”
Most customers aren’t actually looking for the product with the lowest price. What they’re looking for is the product with the greatest value.
Value and price might sound like the same thing, but they’re not. And knowing the difference is critical to understanding what even your price-conscious customers want from you.
Price is just the number on the tag. A good value is more than that. It’s getting a great product and superior service at a competitive price, even if there are cheaper options.
So if price isn’t the customer’s top priority, what is? Well, it depends on the individual buyer. But to give you a better idea of what it might be, let’s go over six of the most important things that factor in a builder’s purchasing decisions.
Everyone hates delays on construction projects because delays equal costs. Going late is one of the easiest ways for a project to go over budget.
That’s why builders and contractors will do anything in their power to make sure projects are completed on time. They’ll make meticulous plans long before any worker sets their boots on the jobsite. They’ll make smart hiring decisions and provide their workers with extensive training. They’ll thoroughly vet contractors before bringing them on board.
And they’ll buy from a building material company they can trust.
Using quality materials is one way to minimize unexpected problems and delays. When a product is well-designed, properly manufactured and quality controlled, customers can rest assured that every installation will go smoothly and predictably.
Builders and contractors are highly aware that cutting costs by choosing a lower-quality product is a foolish bargain. Cheap products are cheap for a reason, and the problems they cause won’t be worth the money they saved upfront.
It’s more than just the product, however. It’s also the company. Your customers are willing to pay a little more for their products if that extra cost comes with good customer service, knowledgeable reps and a guarantee that someone will be able to help them troubleshoot any issue that comes up.
Builders and contractors are far more likely to buy from you if they know your product and company are reliable, even if that comes at a premium.
2. Availability and Lead Times
Speaking of delays, can you get your materials delivered to the customer on time?
This is not about shorter lead times, this is about being dependable. Can your customer rely on you to do what you say?
Being able to do that has always been a competitive advantage. Now that we’re dealing with a lot of supply chain uncertainty, it’s become even more important. If your sourcing is solid and you’re rarely late with shipments, that alone is enough to make more builders want to buy from you.
Some of this will be outside of your control. You can’t be batting 1,000 when there are so many factors that can put a kink in the supply chain. But if you can make sure that late deliveries and depleted stocks are rare and handled well, you’re far more likely to become the supplier of choice.
3. Superior Product Design
If you’re selling very simple products, it can be difficult to stand out. There won’t be a big difference between your product and your competitors. When that’s the case, product design barely factors into the customer’s final decision.
If you’re selling more complicated materials, however, design features can push the customer to choose you and even pay more. Builders know, for example, that using floorboards that are grooved for quick installation will save them both time and money. Same with materials that are less fragile or flimsy, which reduces the likelihood that they have to be taken down and reinstalled.
Good products save on labor and construction time. That’s the kind of real value most customers are looking for.
4. Hassle-Free Products
There are small product details that will cost you sales in the long run. That’s because they cause all sorts of hassles that customers simply don’t want to deal with.
Even the way your product is packaged can be one of them. If your packaging is hard to tear into or difficult to open without damaging the product, that’s an inconvenience. It might not seem like a big deal in any single situation, but let’s say a construction project will go through ten dozen units of the product. If it takes even one extra minute to unpack each of them, that’s two hours wasted because of poorly designed packaging.
Too many defects in every order. Missing pieces in some of the boxes. A flawed finish that makes the final product look off. Frequent callbacks or installation problems. All those frustrations will eventually add up to you losing a customer.
Customers are willing to pay a bit more to avoid those hassles. So instead of doing whatever you can to lower prices, make sure you’re investing in smart design and quality control to minimize issues with your product.
These issues can be hard to spot. The best way to find them so you can fix them is to constantly ask your customers. Ask them, “How do you like our products? Is there anything we could do better?”
5. Quick, Responsive Support
Problems can’t be completely avoided. No construction project gets completed without at least one or two hitches. And one of those might be your product.
The customer gets the wrong product. An item is missing from the shipment. Something was damaged on the way to the job site. There’s a slight defect that makes it difficult to install.
If those issues aren’t too frequent, you can recover from them. Customers expect to run into product problems once in a while, so it’s not a big deal.
But the way you handle it is. Your customers will expect a quick response from you and plenty of support. If you fix those hiccups quickly and effectively, that’s going to earn you some customer loyalty. If you take forever to get back to them and give them half-assed help, you’re going to drag down their productivity – and they’re going to start looking for a new manufacturer.
The most important thing you can do here is to empower your reps to fix the customer’s problem. Too many companies require an approval process that takes too long and frustrates the customer.
6. A Load Off Their Shoulders
This one’s a little more abstract, but it’s also really important. Builders and contractors want to buy from a company that makes their lives easier.
In practice, that can mean any number of things. It could be reps who help them find the right product for their project – even if it’s not yours. It could be the peace of mind of knowing that you’re keeping tabs on shipments so they don’t have to keep checking the tracking. It could be training their installers on how to work with your products.
Ideally, it would be all of those and more. The more problems you can solve for your customers, the more valuable you become. It almost doesn’t matter what your products cost, making their lives easier is practically priceless.
And don’t assume you know what their problems are. Ask them, “Is there anything we could do to make your life easier?”
Beef up the Quality Instead of Lowering Prices
Don’t compete on price, compete on quality. Make a better product and provide a better service. It will cost your customers a bit more upfront, but the value they get is always going to make them glad they bought from you.
There will be times when you have to compete on price. Being the company that does a better job will help you land that order. More importantly, it puts you in a great position for future orders.