For many building materials companies, contractors are the biggest hurdle to sales growth. Contractors can also be the hardest customers to reach and are the most resistant to change.
Contractors Are in Control of Your Business
Homeowners and Contractors
You can spend a lot of money inspiring homeowners to think about a project, like a new deck built with your brand. But it won’t be very effective unless the contractor is also convinced.
Homeowners who are thinking about a home improvement or repair project will usually trust the advice of the contractor they’re working with. Even with all the online research typical homeowners do, the contractor still ends up being the ultimate authority.
While a homeowner may buy a roof, deck or new furnace only once on their life, the contractor has spent years working with these products every day. A homeowner’s online research simply enables them to ask better questions, and the contractor knows how to answer them to steer the sale in the direction they want.
A contractor’s first job is to establish trust with their customer. Once they have that trust, they are in control of the sales conversation—and whether or not you will make a sale.
Facilities Managers and Contractors
Facilities managers are not likely to switch to your product without the approval of their contractor. While a facilities manager may have more experience than a homeowner, they have to make decisions covering everything from snow removal and plumbing to windows and more. They can’t be an expert in everything.
Facilities managers rely on their contractors for one main reason: the leverage they have over the contractor. Facilities managers know they will always be more important to the contractor than they will be to a manufacturer of building materials.
For that reason, they know their contractor will only recommend solutions that the contractor knows will work. They also know that if any issues come up, they will get an immediate response from the contractor. Your average facilities manager probably has the contractor’s cell phone number but probably doesn’t even know who to call at the manufacturer.
The contractor is empowered to take action and can begin to make things right within hours. The manufacturer’s rep, on the other hand, is not empowered to resolve anything.
While working with manufacturers, I have made many sales calls on facilities managers.
A common response is, “Thanks for coming by. I appreciate how much you taught me about your product. I’m really impressed. Here’s my contractor’s business card. If he has no objection, I’d like to try your product.”
Architects and Contractors
Like facilities managers, architects have to be knowledgeable about many products. They rely on online research, sales reps and what has worked in the past to decide which products to specify.
If you can get the architect to specify your product, they may ask whether there are contractors who are qualified to install it. They’re not likely to check with a contractor to get their opinion.
After you have successfully gotten your product specified, the plans are sent out to the contractors. If they have experience with your product, you have a good chance of keeping the spec and making the sale.
If they don’t have experience with it, you can expect them to try to switch the spec to something they are more comfortable with. They may also prefer using your competitor and work with them to switch the spec.
To an architect, there are three types of products:
- Products that they really care about and that they will fight to keep in the spec. More often than not, these are aesthetic products, those that can be seen and make an impression. An architect will rarely fight for a product that is invisible, no matter how well it performs.
- Products that are required to complete the project but are more of a commodity to an architect. You may be able to see these products, but they are frequently the unseen ones. Architects are very open to changing these specs based on the opinion of the contractor.
- Targets for value engineering. The architects will frequently design a building that costs more than the owner wants to spend. In order to save the products they really care about, the architect will ask the contractor where they can save money. Once again, you are at the mercy of the contractor, since that’s who the architect takes advice from.
Builders and Contractors
Homebuilders are more likely than facilities managers or architects to have a deeper knowledge about your products. Unlike facilities managers, they aren’t concerned about maintaining the structure after it has been sold. They don’t have to know about snow removal or lawn care.
And unlike an architect, they are the general contractor. They have experienced what it’s like to order, receive and install your product, as well as to deal with costly call backs.
Even though they are very knowledgeable, they are also very dependent on the contractor. With the labor shortage, the contractor has more power than they otherwise would in the relationship.
If the builder asks the contractor to do something new or different, the contractor may simply say no and switch to a different builder. The contractor only has so many qualified installers.
The builder negotiates a very good price with the contractor for their labor. In return, the builder promises regular work and reliable payments.
For the contractor to make a profit, they have to be very efficient and watch every penny. Those pennies are measured by how much time it take for the crew to complete a project. If you have ever been on a job site, you know it can be amazing to watch how efficient the installers are. The more efficient they are, the more profit there is for the contractor.
Unlike a remodeling contractor, they can’t lowball a bid in the hopes of making a big profit on change orders.
When you present your amazing new product to the builder, you may succeed in getting them very interested. Yet they often won’t commit until they have involved their contractors.
The contractor sees anything new as a reduction in profit, simply because it’s different. Even if your product saves labor, the contractor is likely to tell the builder it will cost more.
I have watched building materials companies at the builder’s show sell a builder on a product. Several months later, I will call the builder to find out whether they are now using that manufacturer’s product. Half the time they will tell me that they didn’t make the switch because of contractor issues.
The builder will tell me that if they wanted to invest the time, they could get the contractor issue resolved but they simply don’t have the time.
How to Get Contractors to Want to Use Your Products.
Most building materials companies do not have more than a surface understanding of the contractors who sell and/or install their products. Their understanding is usually based on past experience and assumptions rather than real “spend some time with a contractor” research.
The companies who invest in understanding the contractor, are much more likely to learn how to convert the contractor. This understanding then makes all that time and investment in selling homeowners, facilities managers, architects, and builders pay off.
If contractors are slowing down your sales, I can provide you with the insights needed to make them supporters of your products. Contact me today – firstname.lastname@example.org
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Thanks for the following comments. I’d like to hear your feedback and suggestions on how to sell architects.
“Excellent points made here about the value of contractor relations for manufacturers. One way for manufacturers to connect with groups of contractors is through nonprofit membership organizations. Partnering with these groups allows manufacturers to reach larger numbers of contractors in specifically targeted sub-categories such as home performance, HVAC, etc.”