Whether it’s a contractor, builder or dealer, odds are you don’t really understand their business. You probably lump them all together, as in a builder is a builder, and a dealer is a dealer. This narrow view limits how successful you can be.
Here’s what builders, contractors and dealers tell me.
“I’m tired of educating sales people.”
“They are just focused on getting the order and don’t have a clue about how it relates to my business.”
“Most of their marketing programs show me how little they know about my business.”
As my book shows, it’s easy to set yourself apart from your competition. Just learn more about your customer’s business. Odds are your competitors don’t know much, which can help you stand out. This is a huge opportunity for both marketing and sales people.
If you’re going to do this, you should aim high, with a goal of being recognized as the expert in your field. For example, if you sell fireplaces, you should become recognized as the expert in fireplaces and new home construction.
Rather than simply asking a fireplace dealer how many units he wants to order, you should be the leading source of information on what type and how many fireplaces a builder should use to be more successful. You should give him ideas to grow his business. The orders will come.
Here’s how to become an expert in your building product customer’s business.
There are three levels of knowledge that you need.
1. The big picture
If you call on builders, you need to understand how the building business works. You need to know how a home is built from start to finish. How does the sales process work? What are the key areas that determine whether or not a builder makes a profit?
Tell your customer you want to learn more about the building industry. Ask them to share their expertise and help you learn. Even though they say they are tired of teaching sales people, what they really mean is that they are tired of teaching disinterested sales people. They love to share their knowledge with anyone who is really interested in learning. Ask him to recommend other sources of information, such as trade magazines.
Take it to the next level and spend some time on job sites to see what happens with your product. Ask the people working on the job site what they think about your company, your product and the supplier they get it from. Ask if they are having any problems or wish something could be better.
2. The smaller picture
Next, you should understand your customer’s individual situation. If he’s a roofing contractor, how much of his business is new construction and how much is reroofing? Who is his competition? Why do people do business with him? What are his business plans? What problems is he facing?
If you really want to do this in depth, you should talk to his customers and study his competitors. Ask to ride along on sales calls.
When talking to his customers, find out why they do business with him. See if there’s anything they feel he could better. Shop his competition to see what he’s up against. Identify the strengths and weaknesses of his competitors.
Have another meeting with your customer, review your findings and see if he agrees. Make suggestions about how he can improve his business. Whether or not you are right, he will appreciate your interest. He will also appreciate that you probably helped him to step back and look at his own business from a different perspective.
Most of your customers are lost in day-to-day issues and don’t look at the bigger picture often enough.
3. The global picture
You should also be aware of the current state of your customer’s industry. For builders, you need to know more than just if housing starts are up or down. Information like issues with financing, labor, land, materials and code changes are also important.
You can find a lot of this information online. Spend time on job sites or trade magazine websites. Spend time on the sales floor of dealerships. Talk to installers and counter people. For builders, spend time with their sales people.
You should be spending at least as much time educating yourself about your customer’s business as you do about your own products.
These three levels may seem like they are really the same, but they are not. If you approach it as one group of information, you will miss some important details.
How to use this information?
If all you have is a good understanding of your customer’s business, you will have an advantage over most of your competitors. If you want to take this to the next level, build a file on each customer about their business. Notice how they are each unique in their approach to success. If you use CRM software, there’s probably a rarely-used space for this information.
Take the time to know your customer’s business. You will be rewarded with increased sales and loyalty. This also makes it easier to sell an upgrade and to defend your prices.
If you have the balls, start a personal blog and become a thought leader about your type of products. Whether you are in marketing or sales, you can become the expert that a company feels lucky to have, as opposed to someone who is easily replaceable.
In your blog, do not promote or mention your company, so you don’t run afoul of their marketing efforts or legal concerns. This should simply be your point of view about your type of products. Don’t worry about being right or being perfect, this is just what you think.
Whether or not you go crazy and start a blog, if you learn more about your customers business, you will be more successful. You will find it easier to make a sale. You will find that your customer is more loyal to you. If you really do it right, your customer won’t be able to imagine doing business without you.
While this is important for sales people, it’s even more important for marketing people. Sales people are close to the customer while marketing people have to make an effort to get closer to the customer. Understanding your customer’s business will result in more effective marketing and greater sales.
Thanks for the following comments. I’d like to hear your feedback and suggestions.
“I have a copy. It is full of great insight. Well done Mark.”
Corporate Account Executive
The Dow Chemical Company