Many building materials companies focus on a single type of customer. They ask me questions like “How can I sell builders on my product?” or “How can we convert more architects?”
Those are common questions, but they’re not the ones they should be asking. When companies think this way, it’s like they’re wearing blinders.
A smarter and more successful approach is to step back and look at the big picture. The easiest way to do this is to correctly define what you’re trying to accomplish.
When you do that, you’ll realize that you’re not trying to sell to builders or architects. What you’re really doing is either selling residential or commercial building materials. And you’re either focused on new construction or remodel/repair.
Once you sort this out, you’ll be able to identify the best way to approach the market.
Look At Residential Sales From This Perspective.
When you look at it from this perspective, you can see how your product gets to the builder. You can also see all of the influencers and additional decision-makers who can help or hurt your sales.
If you are not achieving your sales goals with builders, consider the following:
1. How does your product get to the builder? Through 2-step distributors to lumber dealers or through 1-step distributors to contractors? Or another way?
2. What benefits do the distributor, dealer, contractor, builder and homebuyer get from using your product or dealing with your company?
Distributors and Dealers: Are you easier to deal with? Do you offer better customer service? Can you be more reliable? Do you have shorter lead times and better availability? Is there an opportunity to make better margins and deal with fewer competing distributors? Are there other benefits?
Installing Contractors: Can you save them labor? Is your product easier or faster to install? Can you promise fewer callbacks? Other benefits?
Builders: Can your product differentiate the builder from its competitors? Can it reduce construction time? Will it result in fewer callbacks? Can it help them sell homes faster or at higher margins? What about availability? Are there any other benefits?
Homebuyers: If you’re selling high-end products to the custom home market, you can make the homebuyers aware of your product and its benefits. If you’re selling to production builders, selling the homebuyer on your product is usually a slow and inefficient way to grow your sales.
3. Reconsider who you should be selling. Your best approach may still be to call on builders.
Three Ways to Grow Your Residential Sales Today
1. Start with the installing contractor.
I have helped several companies grow their sales by focusing on the contractor.
Here’s why this works.
If you sell a builder on your product, they have to sell the contractor on switching to your product. In the past, the builder could tell the contractor what product to use. With today’s labor shortages, however, the contractor is likely to resist a change or use it as an excuse to charge more.
There are a lot of products builders would like to use but they simply don’t have the time to sell it to their contractor. Most of these products are better than the ones the builder is currently using. But they are just a little better – not game-changing better. They are way down on the list of changes the builder wants to make.
You can make it easier for the builder to change to your product by selling it to their contractor first. To do that, you have to show the contractor first how it will benefit them and then how it will benefit their builder customer.
In one case I was involved with, the benefits to the contractor were so great that they just told the builder they were changing to my client’s product. After months of calling on builders with little success, switching their focus to contractors helped them quickly exceed their sales goals.
In another case, the contractors took the manufacturer to the builders and helped them sell the builder. They were a lot more successful with this approach because builders trust their local contractor more than they trust manufacturers. They know that the contractor wouldn’t risk the business by recommending a product they didn’t truly believe in. If the builder likes your product, you just made it easier for them to say yes, as the contractor is already on board.
2. Convert the Distributor or Dealer
Approach the distributor or dealer with a business proposition instead of a product sale. Distributors and dealers may not be good at selling products, but you can still grow your “builder” sales through them.
The more your product is viewed as a commodity, the better this approach works.
The best way to convert distributors and dealers is to understand why you are a better supplier than the one they currently use. This may be something you already do or it may be something new that you can offer them based on researching their needs and pain points.
Depending on the value of a distributor or dealer to you, you may even develop a way to support them that is tailored for their needs. If a dealer is worth a high volume in sales to you, what would you be willing to invest in converting them?
Here’s an example.
A company I worked with wanted to grow its builder sales. Their product was primarily sold to builders through lumber dealers.
Rather than going after every lumber dealer, we narrowed it down to five of the largest dealer opportunities. We researched each dealer, including interviewing them and visiting some of their locations.
Based on our findings, we developed a program for each dealer and presented it in the form of a business proposition.
One dealer depended on their showroom, but the product displays were very outdated. We offered to create new displays with my client’s branding on them.
We developed plans to offer other dealers sales training, more frequent deliveries and other options depending on their needs.
My client landed two of their five prospects from this initial effort. They feel that they made a very favorable impression on the other dealers that will result in more sales in the near future.
They also now have a successful roadmap they can follow when pursuing more dealers.
3. A New Approach to Builders
You can also continue to call on builders by using a more effective approach that makes your product more important to them.
There are two challenges in selling to a builder. The first is that your product might be better than the one the builder is using, but not enough to justify the effort and time it would take to switch to it. The second is that the person you’re selling has a number of priorities they have been told to focus on.
For example, the builder may be focusing on reducing costs or construction time, make homes healthier or quieter, or find a solution to a stucco problem. If you’re offering a better version of a product that isn’t a priority, you have a challenge.
Switching to your product is probably low on the priority list. It’s the kind of change the builder would like to make someday, but it’s not urgent enough to consider now.
If you asked the builder to list the top 50 changes they would like to make if they had the time, where do you think you would fall? 18? 32? 48?
The key is to present your product as a way to achieve one or more of their higher priority items. You are probably one of the many changes they will make. But now you have moved up the list from someday to today.
Follow the Same Thinking if You Sell Commercial Building Products
- Who could be involved in deciding whether your product is used? The architect? The general contractor? The subcontractor? The owner/developer? The facilities manager? The occupant?
- How does your product get to the project? Through 1-step distributors to contractors or some other way?
- How does the distributor, general contractor, subcontractor, owner/developer, or occupant benefit from using your product or dealing with your company?
Distributors: Are you easier to deal with? Do you offer better customer service? Are you more reliable? Can you guarantee shorter lead times and better availability? Can you give them an opportunity to make better margins with fewer competing distributors? Are there any other benefits?
General Contractors and Subcontractors: Does your product help them save on labor? Is it easier or faster to install? Are there fewer callbacks? Other benefits?
Architects: Can you reduce the risk of problems? Do you offer better technical support? Can your product reduce construction time or lead times? Will working with you make them look smarter to their clients? Will you help them support the goals of the owner/developer? Are there other benefits?
Owner/Developer: Can your product reduce construction time? Will it reduce operating or maintenance costs? Can it provide an improved occupant experience? Are there other benefits?
How to Grow Your Commercial Building Product Sales Today
The owner and general contractor have more power and knowledge than they used to. The architect is still very important, but they may no longer be the best person for you to focus on.
The owner is more knowledgeable about the products that are used in their buildings. They also have the most decision-making power. If they want your product, no one is likely to argue with them.
The general contractor is frequently at the table with the architect and the owner from the very beginning of a project. If they prefer your product, they may recommend it at the start. If you only focus on the architect, the first time you meet the general contractor may be when they value engineer you off of the project.
Take Your Blinders Off And Run to The Opportunity
Stop selling to architects and builders and start selling residential or commercial building products to the new construction or repair/remodeling market.
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