This article is based on a podcast I recorded with Kevin Dean from the building materials agency Manobyte.
If you feel like the magic is gone from building materials sales, you’re not alone.
That has a lot to do with what the manufacturers are focusing on. Instead of paying attention to all the different points in the distribution channel, they’re mostly concerned with their first customers, distributors and big boxes.
The whole sales process is optimized for the first customer. It’s streamlined, efficient and designed to be as easy as it can be.
It’s also very short-sighted.
Optimizing for your first customer sounds like a great idea – until you realize you’re not actually solving your first customers’ real problem: how to best serve their customers.
If you’re not the solution to the first customers’ customers problem, then you’re not the product they want to sell.
That’s why you need to take a big picture view of the situation. If you want to grow your sales and build sustainable success, you can’t just sell to your customers. You also have to sell to your customer’s customers.
How to Sell to Your Customers’ Customers
Sales isn’t really about moving products – it’s about providing solutions. The first question you need to ask yourself, then, is “What problems do my distributor’s customers want to solve?”
Even if you’re not selling directly to them, convincing them that you’re the right solution for their problem does something incredibly powerful. It creates demand.
Create enough demand for your product and your distributors will order more of it to keep their shelves stocked.
Convincing distributors to carry your product is great. But you’ll sell even more if you can show contractors and builders that your product will make their lives easier.
Winning over your customers’ customers can also help grow your sales through referrals. Distributors might not talk about your product much, but contractors will. Customers often trust other customers more than the companies who are selling to them, so those word-of-mouth recommendations can be extremely valuable.
Using Content to Sell Your Products
It’s not enough to offer a good solution to your customers’ customer’s problems. They also have to know about it.
That’s where your digital content strategy comes in.
Every single person in your supply chain is going to turn to the internet when they want to find a solution to their problems. And they’ll always find it. The internet is full of how-to videos, detailed guides and forums full of knowledgeable users.
The trick is to make sure they find you first.
That means creating content that addresses their needs – blog posts, videos and even social media posts that provide them with the answers they’re looking for.
When was the last time you read an instruction manual? If you’re like most people, you just google your question instead of thumbing through the index pages.
It’s the same with your customers. Contractors will go to YouTube to find out how to install a product instead of reading a spec guide.
That’s why creating educational content is such a powerful and effective strategy. You should have content that covers your entire product range and addresses different customers. You should have blog posts and videos on how to better sell products for your distributors. You can create comparison pages to help architects decide which products to specify. How-to guides can be extremely helpful for contractors and homeowners.
Once you have the content, you can distribute it down your sales channels. This will help salespeople improve their conversions. You should also make sure your SEO is solid so that customers and users find your content through online searches.
Customers want this kind of content. You can stand out by creating extremely helpful content that truly meets their needs and has the right keywords so they can actually find it.
One big mistake companies make is to create content only about their own products. Your content strategy will be much more successful if you think beyond your own company. Create content that’s relevant for your industry or for your product type to give customers more ways to find you.
Remember, the point isn’t to push your product. The point is to solve the customer’s problems. If you can do that, you’ll become an expert they can trust. And that means you’ll be the first name that comes to mind when they’re ready to buy.
Selling Online Is Storytelling
Customers want content that has the answers they need, but they also want that content to be engaging. Otherwise, they would just download a PDF of the manual.
Content that sells is all about storytelling.
Your content should make customers feel that you genuinely understand their problems and give them steps to solving them. It should do it in a way that keeps them interested from start to finish. It should be easy to read and it should never make looking for answers feel like a chore.
Video content is the same. It should be shot well so that it’s pleasant to watch and edited properly so it doesn’t feel like it drags along.
You shouldn’t treat your content like an extra. It’s one of the most effective ways to sell products these days. You should invest in it so the customers who find it won’t even be tempted to click away.
Selling Across the Entire Distribution Channel
Let’s bring this back to your customer’s customers.
When they run into a problem, the first thing they’ll do is look online. If your content is well-crafted and they find it first, they’re likely to decide to go with your product.
They’ll take that demand to the distributor. They’ll ask about your product or put in an order for it. Either way, your distributor takes notice and will need to purchase more.
Just like that, you’ve increased your distributor sales without directly selling to distributors. Instead, you sold further down the distribution chain, knowing that it would all have to go through them.
That’s how a big-picture sales strategy works.
Of course, I’m not saying you should stop selling to your distributors. Not at all. You should keep working to be one of their favored suppliers.
But if you’re so focused on selling to the distributor that you don’t spend much time selling to their customers, it’s actually going to harm your distributor sales.
That sounds almost counterintuitive – that focusing on distributors will slow down your growth with distributors. When you keep the entire distribution channel in mind, though, it makes perfect sense.
Selling to your customer’s customers is a great way to put some of the magic back into sales. Being a storyteller is a lot more exciting than being an order taker.
But more importantly, selling to everyone down the distribution chain will help you secure a bigger market share.
So, start building a content strategy that targets everyone who will be interacting with your product. Because being your customer’s preferred supplier is great, but being their customer’s preferred product is even better.
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