Many building material companies let their need to be right get in the way of making a sale. This wastes a significant amount of the time and effort spent on selling a product.
I first experienced this early in my career. I was working with a large insulation manufacturer, and one of their initiatives was to get homeowners to add some insulation to their attics.
They were sure that homeowners would be motivated to buy 20 rolls of insulation and spend a very uncomfortable day in their attics installing it, all so they could lower their utility bills. And they had the research to prove it, too.
All of their advertising, displays and sales messages were focused on how homeowners could save on their fuel bill by adding more insulation.
But what I discovered when I interviewed homeowners is that they were primarily interested in making their homes more comfortable. That’s why they insulated their houses. They appreciated savings on their utility bills but saw it as an added bonus. It was not their primary motivator.
The client still managed to sell a lot of insulation by doing it their way, but they could have sold even more by making comfort the focus of their message.
They made the homeowner look past fuel savings to get to the real season they were interested in insulation.
Address the Problems Your Customers Care About
A building materials company needs to make rational, fact-based decisions.
The problem is that the things which are important to the customer are often different than what the building material company thinks is or should be important. And this doesn’t just apply to homeowners; it’s the same with contractors, builders, architects and others.
I also see the same kind of mistake from companies that sell very technical products. They assume that any customer who does not use their technically superior product must be uneducated.
Instead of taking the time to learn why the customer uses the products they use, these companies launch into science or engineering lessons. They are committed to the belief that if they could just educate the customer enough, they would make a sale.
When they don’t make a sale, they don’t question their approach. They look at who delivered the lesson and how they delivered it.
I know a couple of companies that builders and architects try to avoid meeting with because they know all they’ll get is a technical lesson. They also don’t enjoy being told that they really aren’t very smart or good at their job because they don’t have this knowledge
Some companies tell me “Mark, if we could just get builders to understand that our products perform better, we will sell more.”
If you think your job is to make the world a better place through higher perm ratings, you are in the wrong business.
Don’t ignore the fact that:
- The builder’s homes are being built to code
- This is a successful builder who is not stupid
- The builder is not experiencing any problems with their current solution
- The builder will not sell any more homes or make any more money if they switch
- Their product probably costs more, with the main benefit that the builder will feel better about himself for building a better home
- Even if their product costs the same, the builder would still have to put up with a lot of costs, risks and hassle to make the change
(You can replace the word “builder” with “architect” or “contractor”)
Position Your Product as the Solution Your Customers Are Looking For
These higher cost, higher performing products are much easier to sell when they’re presented as a solution to a problem the customer would like to solve.
Your customers are not looking for more problems – they already have too many.
They’re not looking to build better buildings. They already believe they are very good builders, architects or contractors who deliver an excellent quality product within the parameters they are given.
I have yet to see a product that could not be a solution to a problem the customer is trying to solve. You just have to let go of your preconceived ideas about why the customer should buy your product so you can learn why they actually want to.
It’s as if you’re running a vegan restaurant and catering to people who want better tasting food but all you’re doing is trying to sell them on the health benefits of eating vegan. You might still get a few customers, but you will have to work really hard to convince them to make a reservation.
If, instead, you explained to the customer why vegan food taste better, you’ll pack the dining room faster and with less effort.
I’m not talking about individualizing the sales message to every single customer. I’m talking about having a better understanding of your customers’ problems and needs. And then to segment those customers to find the ones who are most interested in how your product can solve their problem.
Sound Control: A Case Study in Sticking to the Wrong Message
Sound control is a good example of this problem. Companies that sell sound control products keep making it too hard for customers to buy their products. It should be a huge business, but it’s kept very small because manufacturers make it too technical.
The sound control industry is made up of a lot of small companies that are all competing for a tiny slice of the pie. They focus on the small group of customers who understand and value sound control. They’re most comfortable selling to a small group of expert customers who can discuss acoustics at the PhD level.
It’s like a clique where each person is trying to out-engineer the other. That’s fine if you work for NASA or handling the acoustics for Carnegie Hall. But it’s not very effective if you’re trying to sell to the hundreds of thousands of prospective customer who don’t know much about sound control and have no reason to learn.
There is a huge market of customers who are like the homeowners buying insulation: they just want it to sound better. They’re not looking for the optimal level of “better” – anything over what they have today is probably good enough.
Most new buildings and existing spaces have poor sound control. Before the 1990’s, most buildings had poor insulation.
If you’re used to something, you just accept it as normal.
The designs of most new buildings and renovations don’t consider sound control. Building codes don’t require it. And even if someone asks about it, the budget can’t handle it. It’s a nice-to-have instead of a have-to-have.
The main determining factor is the occupant and how much say and how much power or importance they have. A hotel has to consider sound control if it wants to stay in business. Multi-family buildings are just beginning to see sound control as a way to be more desirable to renters.
There is potential for expanding the sound control market. But only if the companies that sell sound control solutions learn how to pitch them to the ordinary, non-technical customer.
Here’s an example of a missed sale in sound control.
My son owns a food and beverage branding agency in Boulder. It’s a creative firm, so they need to look cool to attract the right creative people and the right types of clients.
He needed a larger space and found one that met his needs. He gutted it and hired an experienced office designer to make it great.
On the day he finally got to move into the new space, I got an urgent phone call from him. He told me that the acoustics were so bad it was uncomfortable to work and almost impossible to have a conference call with their important out-of-town clients.
He asked me what to do and I referred him to a couple of sound control product manufacturers I thought could help him. When I asked him how the calls went, he told me that one company referred him to a sound engineer and the other was sending him a list of all the information and drawings they would require.
He paid the engineer and tried to get the other company the information they requested. But after about two weeks, he gave up and ordered a couple thousand dollars’ worth of gray foam squares from Amazon and started sticking them up.
That worked for a while, but they soon fell on the floor, so he had to research how to fasten them to the wall. He also realized that while those functional foam squares may work, they took away from the appearance of the office.
So, he went back online. This time, he found some more attractive and more expensive panels that hung from the ceilings and walls.
He used a very simple strategy to solve his sound control problem: soft things absorb sound, so stick up some soft things. Keep adding more of them until it sounds better. And it worked. He doesn’t know what an NRC or STC rating is and he doesn’t want to know. And he shouldn’t have to know just to get a sound control products company to take him seriously or work with him.
Sales like these are being missed every day. Both of the companies I referred my son to could have made a sale, but instead they decided their way of doing things was right and they got nothing out of it.
There is a big, untapped market for sound control products that are sold as a simple solution to a customer’s problem.
And that market will grow. As more people buy basic sound control products and like the result they get from them, many of them will be ready to buy better products the next time.
All it takes to dig into that market is learning what the customers really wants out of a sound control product and selling to them on those terms. If they don’t need to understand NRC or STC ratings then don’t waste their time, just sell them a solution.
People are buying more expensive and technically advanced matteresses everyday. The mattress companies don’t try to educate consumers on the science of sleep or the engineering of their mattresses, they simply offer, “A Better Nights Sleep.”
What if a builder left a meeting with you with a single, simple, important thought like, “I’ll sell more homes?”
How Are You Making It Hard to Buy Your Building Product?
If you’re having a hard time convincing customers your product is for them, you might be making one of these three mistakes:
- You assume you know the problem your product solves better than the customer does
- You try to tell or teach the customer more than they want to know
- You make things more complicated than they need to be
Your product or company can solve a customer’s problem. You just have to let the customer define the problem you’ll solve.
If a customer meets with you or comes to your website, they have a problem they are trying to solve.
I reguarly ride along on sales calls. I watch as the customer patiently waits for the sales person to start talking about someting they care about. Eventually the cuswtomer takes over the conversation and asks a question like, “I’m having a probloem with xxx, could your product solve that?”
The sales person says yes and now a real sales conversation begins. Even if you are OK with wasting your own time, you should respect your customer’s time by getting to their issue sooner.
Some Added Advice – Less is More
This advice has been focused on your product and how you frame it for your customers. You can also make it easier to buy your products if you don’t waste their time with the following:
Your Company History. Once I’m seriously interested in your product, I might want to know more about your company and how it became what it is today. But for most customers, and especially prospective customers, your company history doesn’t matter all that much. The only time you really need to show the history of your company is when it’s for sale.
Innovation. The customer will decide whether or not you’re innovative based on what they see and how they define innovation. When you brag about your product being innovative, you just sound like you’re throwing around buzzwords. Stick to the concrete facts instead.
Great Customer Service. Everyone will say they have great customer service, and customers know better than to just take these claims at face value. Like innovation, the customer will decide whether your customer service is great once they’ve experienced it and can judge for themselves.
Green. Every company claims to be green, sustainable or environmentally friendly. They’ll also claim using their product will get you LEED points or some other green thing. Being green has become a basic expectation, not a selling point. And even if you truly are the greenest of the green, you probably shouldn’t make it the focus of your pitch. Most customers have given up trying to understand what is green and there is only a small (but very committed and growing) group of customers who will understand how your product benefits the environment.
Associations. Or anything with a symbol or logo. Customers either don’t care or assume you belong to them already.
Awards. Awards often mean more for people in the industry than they do for the customers. Customers have very precise needs and they want to know that your product will be able to deliver the right kinds of benefits, not that it won some award they’ve never heard of. Plus, there are also so many award programs today that they have less meaning to the customer.
Tests and Accreditations. These make a difference and they are important, but most customers want to know about the benefits of your product, not a list of certifications it has earned. If they’re interested in getting a product that meets a certain standard, they’ll ask about it.
The only time to feature a test or accredation is when customers don’t expect that your type of product has a Class A Fire Rating or Miami Dade Approval or passes an ASTM test.
1. Focus on solving the problem that customer wants to solve. Do not trust your judgement. Do not trust market research. Ask the customers yourself.
2. The more information you share, the more messages that are competing with your primary message. If you could leave the customer with one thought, what would that be? “Get a Better Nights Sleep?” “Sell More Homes?”
3. All of this same thinking applies to marketing as well. Your website, trade show booth and other marketing program should match your sales message.