There are four important trends that will effect building materials companies in 2016. You need to be aware of these in order to maximize your growth and reduce the risk of falling behind.
1. The Big Keep Getting Bigger
Every day we see where the largest companies are not only growing organically, but they are also growing through mergers and acquisitions. The biggest builders, dealers, big boxes, distributors and even architectural firms are getting larger.
Bigger means they have more leverage, information, and sophistication. Your salespeople are more likely to be dealing with a whip-smart young MBA than an old school person who came up through the ranks. You need to be hiring and training the level of sales people who can hold their own with this different type of customer who doesn’t care how things have always been done. You also need to be investing in equipping your sales people with the best data available.
2. More Niche Opportunities
As your customers get more specialized, you need to stay aware of these changes and what they mean to your products. While we used to think of Green as a niche, there are now many more segments, and they are growing every day. Your customers are specializing in markets like design/build, panelized, modular, entry level, high end, super green, aging in place, multifamily, rental, tiny houses, remodel, repair, new construction and more.
You need to evaluate your products in terms of their benefits to each of these areas and focus where you provide the most benefit. When you focus this way, you are providing more value, so cost is less important, enabling you to raise your prices. Too many companies simply focus on the areas with the largest volume where they are probably just the same as the competition. The result is the customer has more leverage and can drive prices down.
3. Your Website is Probably Costing You Sales
Most building materials websites are designed based on what you think the customer needs or how you want to present your product. If this is your approach, you are at risk of losing sales to competitors with more customer friendly websites.
Your customers see no difference between the websites they visit for personal needs and business needs. While the design is important, what the customer is really looking for is functionality. Think of the best consumer websites and ask yourself if your site is as easy to use as these consumer sites?
Remember your customers are finding a lot about you online before they contact you. They also want to be able to use your website after hours and expect it to have what they need.
Is your site the best in your category for new and existing customers and influencers? If not, you need to get it fixed this year. Start by having an outside person interview your website audiences in person watch them use your website and others. This simple step will tell you what you need to do to have a much better website.
In addition to your website, you probably need to shift more of your marketing dollars online. Find out about and be better than your competitors at marketing automation, SEO, content marketing, lead nurturing, inbound marketing, blogs, and all things online.
4. Invest More in Customer Service
When I ask customers to name their top three suppliers, the ones they can’t imagine leaving even for a better price, they all can immediately name them. They tell me there are two reasons why. The first is that they feel “No One Cares More About Their Success Than These Companies.” The second reason is the that these companies have better customer service than their other suppliers. Not just better in their category but they are the top three of all the hundreds of companies the customer deals with.
They have never told me they are a best supplier because of their product or their price; it’s always about service. Your product or price may get you in the door, but your service is what keeps you there.
Just like your website, excellent customer service should be defined by your customer and not by you. It should be measured by actual customer interviews and not a simple survey.
Based on my interviews with people like builders, contractors and architects, they see customer service as a combination of internal customer service, the sales rep, and your website. You should be prepared to meet their needs based on their preferences. You also need to allow them to tell you what they need or want from customer service.
One of my clients, who is known for excellent customer service sells to dealers. They know and accommodate how the dealer wants to communicate. They reach them by phone, email or even text, based on the dealers preference. If an order looks incorrect, they contact the dealer. They let the dealer know when the shipment leaves, confirm whether it is complete or not and give them an estimated arrival time. They then check with the dealer that the shipment arrived and that it is correct.
They don’t lose customers, and they are not the lowest cost provider.
Most companies have an incorrect view of what good customer service means and they think they are better than they really are. When dealing with you, your customers should feel like they are staying at the Four Seasons Hotel.
One final customer service recommendation, make the boss earn his pay. Every month the CEO or President should call at least ten random customers and ask, “How are we doing.” These should not just be the biggest or their fishing buddy or the ones you are about to lose; they should be totally random. Two things happen, the customer feels valued and, more importantly, the CEO hears directly from the marketplace. Too often the CEO is only exposed to information that has been filtered to make his people look good.
Stop looking at customer service as an expense and look at it as an investment. Read more about customer service here.
If you’d like to learn more about any of these subjects, just use the search function at the top right of my home page, and you’ll probably find what you need.
Contact me if you’d like to put these trends to work for you in growing your sales or don’t find the information you need.