There’s only one conference focused on marketing and sales for building materials and architectural product companies: Mark Mitchell’s Whizard Summit. If you haven’t been, I highly recommend it. The Summit covers everything – from the basics of selling to builders, architects, distributors, and big box retailers, to the latest best practices in SEO, marketing automation, and website design. It’s the brain-child of Mark Mitchell, an industry expert who’s grown sales for manufacturers around the country. Mark can fill a room with his smile, so if the only reason you go is to have a one-on-one conversation with him, it would be well worth it.

We’ve had the privilege presenting for several years. This year the title of our presentation was the title of this post, “What’s Holding You Back From Growing Commercial Sales?” The unofficial title was “Why Your Marketing Sucks” – because, really, for most companies in this industry, it does. The truth is, every business is capable of being great, they just have something (or someone) holding them back from doing so.

Your sales team gets it.


Is Your Marketing a Failure?


Here are the telltale signs:

  • Flat sales

  • Unmotivated sales team

  • Stale brand

  • Flat website traffic

  • Storage room filled with dated brochures

  • Marketing plan that is essentially a tradeshow calendar

  • No one in charge of marketing

Despite suffering from all the signs of marketing failure, it’s not uncommon for a CEO to say, “We are focused on growth. We invest in our people and our products—not marketing.”

This is such flawed logic! By not investing in marketing, they are doing both their people and their products a grave disservice. It sends a message to the market that the company doesn’t believe in itself and worse, it indicates to its employees that what they are doing—where they spend a good portion of their day—may not have a future.  

Do you need an example? Consider Sears.

For years, Sears said it was interested in being a competitive player in the retail arena. However, their actions were the opposite of how a company with that goal should behave. If you wanted to bleed a company dry of all of its assets with the precision of a surgeon, the CEO of Sears couldn’t have done a better job. Despite protests to the contrary, they never invested in their brand, product line, services or their people.

It should come as no surprise that they just announced that they’ll be closing 40 more stores this year.


Do You Know Who You're Selling To?

Ok. So, you’re ready to do something about marketing. Let’s start with your customer. While most companies understand who they are selling to, they often fail to learn how to speak their customers’ language. This is particularly true for companies with a strong root in engineering or those whose products are specified by one person but purchased by another. In our industry, the landscape of customers is vast and complex.


Enter Architect Ethan.

How well do you understand the mindset of the architects who specify your products? Are your sales materials—including your website—missing the mark because they speak the language of a product engineer? If they are focused on features and technical specs, Architect Ethan probably won’t remember you. Your business will be lost in the sea of many manufacturers that he considers interchangeable. Giving Ethan materials that he won’t use is a waste of your time and money. This is not just about words, it’s about the type of information, the way it is presented visually, and how closely it’s tailored to the sales funnel.

Enter Interior Designer Lucy.

For many building material manufacturers, understanding the needs of designers is critical, too. On most projects, architects and designers collaborate on specifications to create a cohesive space. So, even if you believe your products are only specified by one or the other, it would behoove you to consider both.

Bottom line: If your marketing does not speak the language of specifiers, they won’t choose your product.

It really is that simple.


Knowing who your personas are and where they are in the buying journey are the keys to developing effective marketing materials.


Are You Afraid of Change?

Very often companies with terrible marketing have a culture of rigidity (ineffective marketing is often a symptom of other issues). But who can’t relate to the unease that comes with change? Change comes with risk and feelings of discomfort. It means that things have to be let go of or learned.

No one changes for the sake of change. We change when the fear of staying the same (flat sales, lower margins, etc.) is greater than the fear of change. Growth only occurs in a place of discomfort.

A fear of change often becomes apparent when a new marketing agency is hired. Your company will probably have a love–hate relationship with your agency, and that’s exactly how it should be.


That’s because the way you see yourself in the mirror is often quite different from how others see you. And it’s the job of the agency to ensure that your company’s brand and messaging aligns with your business goals and your customers’ needs. Often, a company wants to talk about the benefit of every bolt, but in reality, it’s counterintuitive to do because the most important benefits are drowned out by noise. You may ask, “Why wouldn’t we want to tell everyone what we do and let them decide what’s important to them?” The answer is simple: it’s not their job to focus your messaging, it’s yours. When you overwhelm a customer, you lose them.


Does Leadership Get It?

For a lot of manufacturers, the word “branding” translates into “pretty fluff”. Sadly, those same companies are leaving money on the table. Why? Because design pays. The outperformance of design-led companies proves that good design continues to be good business.


We understand why this happens. It’s human nature. Leaders often just aren’t willing to see value in a practice they don’t have expertise in. If they don’t understand how marketing works, they don’t see the value in it.

Anyone reading this article clearly gets it – you’re reading this because you are looking for ways to grow your business. If leadership doesn’t fully appreciate marketing, hopefully you’ve been empowered to make decisions and move forward. If not, find a way forward through incremental change. Small wins in marketing grow confidence, earn trust, and inspire bigger shifts in thinking down the road.


Is There a Power Struggle?

Quite often there’s tension between equal partners or the CEO and the head of sales. Both individuals are trying to shape marketing because there’s a lack of trust or a fundamental difference of opinion about the company’s vision. Marketing gets caught in the middle, becoming everyone’s responsibility and, simultaneously, no one’s responsibility. In this scenario, the only thing marketing is able to deliver is chaos and frustration.

If there isn’t a power struggle, marketing can often get thrown off course because of the belief that no one else but the engineer who invented the product could possibly write about it accurately. The agency presents ideas and the company either dismisses them or worse, ties them up in endless approval chains.

And finally, sometimes marketing is given to someone who oversees other company responsibilities. Often, this is an office manager or someone in HR. I’m not sure what that says about how companies value HR, but apparently, these people are perceived as having extra time on their hands. What they may have in bandwidth, they quite often lack in expertise. The lack of marketing know-how soon turns to feelings of insecurity—being given a task they cannot possibly achieve. The feeling of being set up to fail is pervasive; therefore, these well-meaning folks often keep marketing close to their chest. They refuse to delegate or trust that an agency could help them achieve their goals.

Take a look around your company, is there someone who won’t let marketing go?


Did You Self-Prescribe Before Being Diagnosed?

This is the most expensive reason as to why you cannot grow commercial sales. Investing in a website with marketing automation sounds like an excellent plan. So does creating new sales materials, selecting trade shows to exhibit at and developing a big impressive booth.

That is, until it all misses the mark. If the messaging isn’t right, your sales team isn’t on board, and a realistic execution plan isn’t in place, it’s all a waste. This isn’t a case of ugly or unprofessional looking marketing, it’s a case of marketing so misguided that it could not possibly help grow sales.

With that being said, any marketing plan takes time to work—so even if you have invested before making a strategic plan, give it some time to see what, if anything, is working. Someone has to win the lottery.

If not, it’s time to take the time to do the work first.

The challenge of marketing is to see where you are versus where you want to be. Then, you must align all of your sales and communication efforts to get you to where you want to be.

Your challenge is to decide whether or not you want to do that. Either way, it will be the difference as to why your marketing sucks—or works.


Susan Milne

Want to grow your sales by increasing specifications by architects and designers? Click here to download our guide: THE ULTIMATE GUIDE TO GETTING SPECIFIED: HOW ARCHITECTS AND INTERIOR DESIGNERS SPECIFY ARCHITECTURAL PRODUCTS AND BUILDING MATERIALS. If you have a question that hasn’t been answered or would like find out more about how Epiphany can help you get specified, give me a call: 804.377.0106.