The hardest building materials sales call is the one you make to convert a customer to your product.
You have a better product, so you think customers will be interested. But what you might not realize is that the last thing a contractor, architect or builder is looking for is a better idea.
Why These Calls Are So Hard
Trying to get a customer to switch to your product is like calling them up and asking them to create a problem where none exists.
Put yourself in your customer’s place. They’ve got a complicated business that needs to keep moving forward, which means they have 100 things to worry and think about. Every day, they face more problems than they can handle, so they prioritize them.
If you were to rank all of their concerns from one to 100, where do you think changing to your product ranks on that list? In my experience, most companies will rank it down in the 90s. In other words, they have at least 90 other things to deal with before they even start considering whether or not they should change to your product.
Moving Up the Priority List
There are a few smart companies who patiently devote marketing programs to move themselves up from number 95 into the top 50.
But there are two times when you will jump into the top 10.
Problems with Current Suppliers
Switching to a new product will feel a lot more urgent when the customer is having a problem with their current supplier. Maybe that supplier raised their prices, maybe their customer service became impossible to deal with or maybe the quality of their product took a noticeable dive.
When something like this happens, finding a better product can go straight from the bottom of the priority list all the way up to the top 10. This is an ideal time for you to be standing in the wings with a solution to the problems your customer is facing.
Occasionally, a building materials company will have a problem with a single customer. But more often, they’ve changed something that is now affecting a large number of their customers. All those customers looking for a new product is a huge opportunity for your company.
The best way to take advantage of a situation like this is to keep your ear to the ground and listen out for companies having these kinds of problems. If a rival company is losing customers, or a potential customer seems fed up with their supplier, find out why and see whether you can step in and be the better option.
It’s also a good idea for your sales team to frequently communicate with each other about what they are hearing in their local markets.
Another way to convert these dissatisfied customers is to already have a relationship with them. Ideally, they won’t even look at other options before deciding to buy from you. You want them to already be thinking “If I ever have a problem with my current supplier, your company will be my first choice to replace them.”
Updated Building Codes and Practices
The second time when you will jump into the top 10 is when there has been a change in building codes or practices. For example, when continuous insulation became part of the building code, many customers had to suddenly rethink how they designed and built walls.
When there is a change like this, you better be making a big effort to reach as many customers with this problem as possible. There is a real opportunity here to be more successful than your competitors.
Most companies will take advantage of this small crisis by rushing in to make presentations or implement marketing programs that point out “You have a problem. We are the best solution.”
The problem is that the customer hears similar presentations from many manufacturers. Instead of finding the best solution, that just gives the customer a lot of biased information that they have to work harder to sort through.
The smartest companies don’t leave the customer to make that decision on their own. They see themselves as a guide that is there first to educate the customer on the problem, the alternative solutions and the pros and cons of each solution. They don’t just present their product as the hero of this story. Instead, they see their job as making the customer the hero by helping them make the right decision.
Not every company is up to this. It takes some guts because doing this right means being open to and supportive of the idea that your product is not the best solution for every customer and every project. That means you might have to put all the work in to educate and assist a customer, only to end up guiding them to another company’s product.
That probably sounds counterintuitive. But it works because it means you’re looking beyond the immediate sale. Instead of trying to sell a few units here and now, you’re setting yourself up as a trusted advisor. When it’s clear that you’re genuinely trying to help them, customers will share more information with you than they will with salespeople who are just focused on selling their product.
Why Your Sales Calls Aren’t Converting
Here are the most common mistakes building material companies make when trying to convert a customer. Unless you want to waste your’s and your customer’s time, do your best to avoid these.
- Relying on the fact that your product is better than what the customer is currently using. Most of the time, a better product is only marginally better. That difference might seem big to you, but it probably isn’t to the customer. If you’re only 10 or 20% better, good luck getting their attention.
- Promoting a feature of their product that benefits the customer’s customer, not their customer. Don’t lean on selling points like these:
- “If you use our product, you will build a better building”
- “Using our product will save the owner more energy”
- “Our product will last longer” or “Our product has a longer warranty”
- “You shouldn’t use products that are just good enough to pass the building code; you should use products that exceed the building code”
In each of these cases, your customer won’t be asking, “When can you start delivering?” Instead, they’ll be asking themselves “What’s in it for me?”
- Offering the customer a lower price. You may convert a few customers with a lower price, but they’re usually not the type of customer you want long-term. Here are a few reasons for that:
- If they bought from you just because of your price, they’ll just as easily leave you for the next person with a price that can beat yours.
- Offering a lower price also makes the customer assume that your product is probably not as good as the more expensive ones offered by your competitors.
- And finally, lowering your price takes away valuable profit margins that you could reinvest in sales, marketing or innovation. By compromising to land these customers, you’re making it harder for your company to continue growing in the future.
Patience and Preparation
The two things you need to master the hardest sales task in building materials.
Converting a customer is a big deal. It’s like the deciding battle in a war or a professional sports team facing their toughest opponent.
Most building material companies don’t put enough emphasis on this most difficult task. Instead, they approach their sales and marketing with more of a focus on effort than strategy and results. They figure, “If we just make more sales calls or get more leads, we will win.”
But this isn’t kindergarten. No one gets an A for effort in business.
Converting a customer takes more patience than most building material companies have. They’re not willing to put in the time and effort to nurture a relationship with specific customers. Most companies don’t even have specific customer goals, like “our goal is to convert this customer to us.” Instead, they go for something less intimidating, like “our goal is to grow our sales” without a lot of regard to where that growth comes from.
This would be like a sports team setting a goal to score a certain number of points by the end of the season instead of deciding who they will beat and how.
It doesn’t matter how charming your salespeople are, when it comes to genuinely helping your customers, there’s one thing that matters most: what you know.
And I don’t mean “how much you know about your company’s product.” That’s a given. If that’s all you came to the sales call with, then you can expect the customer to start tuning you out instead of engaging.
Here are eight simple things that will help you convert more customers:
- Knowledge of construction practices
- Knowledge of customer types
- Knowledge of individual customers
- Knowledge of competitors
- Knowledge of why customers use your competitor
- Knowledge of how difficult it is to convert to your product or company
- Knowledge of the ways the customer will benefit from converting to your product or company
- Knowledge of the risks the customer faces by not converting to your product or company
Stand Above the Competition
I have so much more to share about how to succeed at this most difficult task that I’m already writing another article about this important subject.
In the meantime, I hope these insights have been helpful to you and I can’t overstate the importance of my eight simple steps to convert a customer. You need to be knowledgeable to succeed. If customers see you as someone who truly understands them, their business and the challenges they face, you’ll stand head and shoulders above the vast majority of your competitors.
What Others Are Saying
Mark, great article and I AGREE 100% HERE……keep em coming. Kirk Villar, VP Sales & Marketing Atlas Roofing
Spot on and happy to say I am doing most if not all of what you recommend. Taking the long view is essential to success in selling building materials and services and a ‘service minded’ approach (eventually) wins the day. Mary Cioffi, Architectural Sales Representative, Tremco Roofing.
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Thanks for the following comments. I’d like to hear your feedback and suggestions on how to sell architects.
“Good stuff, Mark Mitchell. This is a level of strategic thinking and customer care that elevates sales professionals to the top.”
Business Development Manager
Global Manufacturinf Services
“Great message Mark. You provide a lot of valuable insight and resources to the building material sector. Thank you for all your contributions. “
Sales Operations | Marketing & Strategic Planning
Michael J. Hayden
Casa Bella Windows