Blog for Building Materials Companies

Problems with Building Materials Marketing Departments

  |  Posted in Marketing

Problems with Building Materials Marketing Departments

I recently met a client’s marketing director. He was relatively new in his position and had a clear idea of what his job was. That turned out to be an issue, though, because his company’s president had a completely different vision for what a marketing director should do.

This got me thinking about a problem I keep encountering when I’m assessing my clients’ marketing strategies.

Is Your Marketing Department Stuffed with Mechanics?

There are a number of great building material marketing departments. These departments are staffed and run by people who have creative ideas, the confidence to sell their ideas and know how to add value to a project.

Unfortunately, I’ve also seen marketing departments that don’t impress me much. These tend to fall into one of two categories. Those I encounter most frequently are the ones that seem more like glorified art studios than a group skilled at communicating and persuading. The rest are more like mechanics – they just do what they’re told (usually by a VP of sales or the president of the company).

These marketing mechanics just do whatever they’re told and they’re measured on some basic performance metrics like whether they delivered a project on time or how closely they stuck to the budget. Sometimes the metric they’re measured on is just whether the person they report to thinks the website or the trade show booth looks good.

What they’re not measured on, however, is the stuff that really matters. No one evaluates these marketing mechanics on whether their campaigns converted more customers or made existing customers more loyal.

Marketing mechanics can usually get away with doing the same thing the company’s done forever. Year after year, their work is more or less the same: “We’re going to the trade show again. We need sample boards. We need a new brochure. We need to update the website.”

Because they’re not measured on how well they attract or retain customers, they never have to worry about adapting to the new way business is done. They’re not going to try new ideas like implementing a strong content strategy, adopting marketing automation, or improving the website’s SEO because no one is asking them to do those things.

How Building Material Companies Create Marketing Mechanics

A lot of the marketers who end up functioning like mechanics aren’t doing it because that’s all they know how to do or because they’re scared of trying new things. They’re doing it because they want to do well at their job and they’re getting a message that doing what they’re told is the best way to do their job.

One of the big problems in building material companies (and other types of companies, too) is that everyone thinks they know more about marketing than they do. The head of sales thinks they know what makes for a good marketing campaign. The president is convinced they know what the best marketing strategy is. So, instead of putting their trust in the marketing director’s expertise, they hand them marching orders.

In those situations, the marketing director usually just gives in. After dealing with too many people who just don’t get what good marketing looks like, they lose their drive and their energy. They figure, “Hey, I’ve got a job. This is a nice place to work with good pay and good benefits. Why stress out or work harder than I have to? I’ll just do what I’m told and take the money.”

Some marketing directors will insist on innovating and pushing the company forward. They’ll listen to everyone else’s opinions about what the marketing department should do and instead of following them, they’ll do what they know is right. But they don’t usually last long. Unless the people they report to are genuinely supportive of these initiatives, they’ll usually leave to find work at a company that understands and appreciates the new ideas they’re pushing for.

In a lot of cases, these confident marketers don’t just leave their company; they leave the building materials industry altogether. They know they’ll have a much better chance at an interesting career if they do. And that’s a loss for all of us.

How to Improve Your Marketing Department

If you’ve got a marketing department that acts more like an art studio or a mechanic than a group of marketing experts, there are a few things you can do to improve their performance and, with any luck, turn things around.

First, develop your people. It’s easier to assume that your marketers already have all the skills and knowledge they need, but if you want to see better results from your marketing, you’ll have to either train them or give them enough room to learn new skills and experiment.

The other thing you should do is change your approach to the work you give them. Instead of giving them assignments to complete, give them a problem to solve. You can still give them your suggested solution, but you should always invite them to at least think about the problem. This way, you can find out which of your people are best at creating value and have what it takes to become marketing leaders.

For example, let’s suppose you want to improve your sales to contractors and you think the best way to do is to have a promotion aimed at contractors. If you want your marketers to act like mechanics, then all you need to do is walk over to the marketing department (or message them on Slack) and tell them you need a promotion that will offer a rebate and let them come up with the best way to get that offer to more contractors.

If, on the other hand, you want them to use their expertise to add real value to the company, you’ll take a different approach. Instead of telling them what marketing tactic you want them to use, you’ll tell them what problem needs to be solved. In this case, you’ll tell them that contractor sales aren’t growing fast enough so you need a better way to convert more of them. You can tell them you’re thinking of a promotion but be sure to ask them what they think the best approach is. They might go along with your promotion idea, or they might make a case that something like a targeted content marketing campaign or a social media strategy would be more effective.

You also need to take a good, hard look at the people in your marketing department. Are they able to adapt? When you give them room to develop their own solutions, do they deliver? Are the training opportunities they’re getting yielding better results or are they still using the same old tired tactics? If you don’t see significant improvement, you’ll likely have to bring in some new people.

Set Clear Expectations and Measurable Outcomes

Good marketing is an art, but there’s also a process behind it. If you want a marketing department that grows your sales, it will need two things.

First, they’ll need a clear set of expectations. Make sure everyone knows who they answer to, what their goals are and how much room you’re giving them to try new things.

That sounds obvious, but I’ve seen often seen problems in this area. I’ve worked with companies that have brought on a new marketing director and didn’t really know what to expect. So, they did one of two things. Either they told the marketing director to just do things the way the company has always done it, or they just let the marketing director do whatever they wanted. Neither of those are good strategies. You need to keep an open line of communication with your marketing team so they always know exactly what you want them to accomplish.

You also need to make sure your marketing department knows that its job is to help you grow sales. That sounds obvious, too, but it’s not always the case. Marketing departments often get the subtle message that their real job is to please the company president or to make the VP of sales feel smart. You need to say loud and clear that you expect them to grow sales – even if the sales leaders don’t really understand what the marketers are doing with their social media strategy.

Second, they’ll need well-defined and measurable outcomes. While you should be tracking marketing activities, what you really want to focus on are the results of those activities. Instead of looking at how many blog posts the marketing department put out or what kind of booth they designed for the trade show, measure the outcomes. How many leads were gathered and converted as a result of the blog posts? What kind of traffic did you get to the booth? How many of the people who stopped by the booth ended up becoming paying customers?

These outcomes are the things that really matter, so you should never leave them up to chance. Track and measure them. If you’re not getting the results you should, it doesn’t matter that your marketing department has been working hard or that you have a brand-new website redesign, they’ll need to go back to the drawing board and try something new.

Building Materials Marketing Is Falling Behind (But You Don’t Have To)

For years, the building materials industry has been able to coast on old school marketing. In large part, that’s because building material customers were pretty old fashioned themselves. Builders didn’t care that you weren’t on LinkedIn or Instagram because they weren’t either and contractors have always been a little resistant to new ways of doing things. (Architects are the exception – they’ve always been a little more forward-thinking, but they learned to accept that building material companies would always lag behind.)

Meanwhile, just about every other industry has been moving forward and building material companies have missed the opportunity to learn from them. Whether it’s food, automotive or clothing, the marketing has become very sophisticated and highly measurable.

But things are changing. Builders have realized that a lot of what they do is visually engaging, and they’ve embraced social media as a way of promoting it. Contractors are spending more time online. Architects now expect building material companies to make it easy for them to find the information they need online, and they’ll often work with the supplier that helps them become more knowledgeable.

More importantly, your competitors are getting savvier with their marketing. Old school marketing only works when no one else is using newer methods. Some building material companies have thoroughly overhauled or modernized their approach to marketing. So, if you don’t start making an effort with yours, you will fall behind.

Even if all the competitors in your small corner of the building materials world are still using old school methods, that’s no excuse for you to stick to them. Marketing automation, SEO, and social media marketing aren’t just newer – they’re also better. They’re more efficient and they’ll give you better results with less effort and fewer resources. At this point, sticking to the old way of doing things is just wasteful.

Old school marketing methods also attract the wrong kinds of marketers. If you’re still using Stone Age techniques to sell your drywall products, who do you think will want to join your team? Chances are it won’t be those with rock-star caliber talent. Your marketing department will most likely be staffed by people who were either too stubborn to adapt or simply don’t have the skills to keep up with the changes.

A Bit of Advice to Building Material Marketers

If you’re a marketer at a building material company, you may be feeling frustrated that your company hasn’t caught up with the times. You know that using newer technology and smarter approaches could get your company better results, but every time you bring it up, it gets brushed off.

If you’ve heard “We’ve always done it this way and it always worked, so why change it?” a few too many times, you might be tempted to just check out. Do whatever the boss expects, cash your paycheck and try not to think too hard about all the sales your company is losing.

It should never come to that. As a marketer, your number one skill is communication. If anyone should be able to show management why a new approach to marketing is best, it should be you. So, put your talents to the test and make a strong case for modernizing your department.

You might get shot down at first, but that’s no different than all the other marketing projects you’re involved in. When your blog posts aren’t converting customers, you don’t just keep writing the same stuff – you try new things until you get more click-throughs. If your company newsletter has an abysmal open rate, you don’t just keep copy/pasting the same message month after month – you tweak the subject line until you entice enough customers to open your email.

Pushing your marketing program works the same way. If you can’t get the company president or the head of sales to see the value of your proposal, then there’s something wrong with your message or approach. Don’t give up. Try again (and again). Change your approach, focus on a different pain point or modify your delivery until you find a way to show them why the company’s old school approach to marketing is an inefficient use of its resources and is causing them to leave a lot of money on the table.

Start Now

You might not be able to overhaul your marketing department overnight. Besides, throwing together a digital marketing strategy in a rush is not a good idea – should do it deliberately and carefully. Do it well or don’t do it at all.

You can, however, take some preliminary steps right away. Start communicating with your marketing director. Be open to new solutions from them. Give them enough room to develop their team. Let them try new things, not just the tactics that worked five years ago.

If you can do that, you’ll reduce inefficiency, improve the results of your marketing efforts and get the most out of your skilled and talented marketers.

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

“Excellent Mark. Well Done!”
Kevin Harris
Director of Sales and Markting
AGS Stainless

“Great article Mark.”
Tatsuya Nakagawa
VP Client Success & Partnerships
Castagra Products, Inc.

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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.