When Marketing Kills Building Material Sales
The secret life of a sales representative
I never miss an opportunity to interview sales reps. As your boots on the ground, they know much more about your customers, your competitors, and what is and isn’t working than you do – they’re an invaluable source of information that few architectural product and building material companies take advantage of. Through these interviews, I’ve found that many sales reps forego the marketing materials provided to them, and, what’s more, actively find ways to sell around them altogether. They block and detour specifiers away from websites, showrooms and sell sheets because they create more confusion and frustration than actual sales.
Here’s a common pain point for many sales reps: when the building material and architectural product companies they represent miss the nuances of selling to trade specifiers versus residential end users. At first glance, it would seem logical to maximize marketing budgets by sharing as many resources across targets as possible. The thinking is that websites, showrooms, brochures and sell sheets can work double duty to help grow sales—and, tangentially, that consumers will self-select and follow the path that is right for them. Unfortunately, this course of action rarely works and quite often undermines the time and effort of the sales rep.
Your sales team gets it
They understand that they are repping product lines with multiple targets—and that the benefit to the end user matters, even if they are not selling to them directly. The most skilled sales reps are able to arm their trade clients with insights to defend a specification and increase the likelihood of making it into the final installation. For instance, if they are selling a type of siding to a specifier who is making selections for a housing development, they may want to provide persuasive sell sheets that can be used to help homeowners choose their product. In this case, having two sets of materials – one for the professional and one for the consumer – is key to closing the sale.
Marketing that breeds confusion
Historically, the building materials industry has been lagging in taking a strategic approach to marketing. Marketing is often just a support team for sales, rather than a core driver in lead generation. We are now seeing a shift in that landscape, and specifically more businesses are putting an emphasis on their online presence. This is great, but we have seen many companies miss the mark by developing a consumer-oriented website. A website built to focus on retail with trade as a second thought is a sales rep’s worst nightmare – it causes specifier confusion. When looking at a site like that, specifiers ask themselves:
Is this site for me?
Are the products of high enough grade to be used for commercial use?
Where are the specs?
How can I get a sample?
Is this the correct pricing?
Are the products too mainstream—not unique enough? Will my project look dated?
Effective sales representatives push customers away from you
Sales reps don’t want their clients using Google where they might find a compelling competitor. So a smart rep provides specifiers with all the materials they need up front - either in printed format or links that go directly to the source. They discourage specifiers from inputting their email to download specifications by offering their own concierge services as a rep. They customize everything they give to a specifier around a certain project even going as far as including other products (sometimes yours, sometimes not) that may work well together. They over sample—meaning that they deliver and stock more samples than needed to avoid sending specifiers to your website. Savvy, established multi-line reps create their own websites, portfolios, product categories, etc. in an effort to circumvent the brand altogether. In essence, they are creating personal (rather than branded) relationships with specifiers because that’s what it takes to sell your products.
In short, your marketing is getting in the way of your success with specifiers.
You can bring specifiers back to you
Clearly define your target. The sales landscape for building material and FF&E products is complex. Consider the mix of architects, contractors, designers, distributors, owners, facilities managers and end users in the various industries you compete in and prioritize. Understand where these folks are most likely to find you. Is it online, in a library, in a showroom or through a distributor? You can’t be everything to everyone, everywhere. And when you do, specifiers and consumers alike get confused, frustrated, and lose interest.
Refocus your web experience. If you can’t do two different websites, it is best to have a homepage that allows for self-selection—consumer or specifier. The “For the trade” section should emphasize the ease in ordering samples and accessing technical specifications, lead times and pricing. Focus this area solely on the needs of the professional. Keep it clean and sleek, void of sales and promotions. Provide a high-functioning gallery of images with an easy way to sort.
Market under two different brands. It’s a bold move but it absolutely works. The benefits of marketing under two different brands includes clarity for your targets, the ability to connect more meaningfully and brand loyalty. Most importantly, it means that your sales reps won’t need to redirect specifiers away from your marketing.
Create a professional-grade line. If you can’t separate out the targets by creating two different brands, try repositioning certain products as professional-grade. This instills confidence in the mind of the specifier that their selections won’t show up in a Home Depot or Lowe’s. They won’t have to argue pricing or availability with a client who could easily look up a consumer product online.
Your marketing may be doing more to grow your rep’s business than your own. It’s time to take a good look at your marketing, especially your digital presence, and identify points of confusion for your targets and eliminate them.
Want to know what's hot with specifiers? Check out our 2018 Hospitality Trend Report.