Are You a Partner or Just a Supplier?

A strong alignment of Sales and Marketing teams can be your most powerful market differentiator. But in this industry, this dynamic alliance potential seldom gets leveraged. With more than 30 years of experience in the building materials industry, we have interacted with hundreds of Fortune 1000 companies.

One thing they have in common is the gap between how marketing communicates the brand message to the market and how the sales reps represent the company’s brand in their individual territories. Similar to the marketing disconnect is the gap between what the General Manager wants to accomplish for the business, and what the Sales team feels is the best way to accomplish that goal. Neither of these gaps are intentional, they’re merely the disconnect that exists in most companies given the challenges of matrices and organizational alignment.

During my 21 years in corporate America, I have been a sales rep, sales leader, marketing leader, channel leader, plant leader, and a GM. I have had the pleasure to interact with sales teams my entire career, and it is what I am at my core. I know that sales reps (like most humans) gravitate to where they are most comfortable. And because of this, sales reps tell the company story the way they think their customers want to hear it. They also try to achieve the stated business goals through the channels and customers they are most accustomed to, or have the deepest relationship with. Sales reps have the unique ability to find the most direct way to achieve their individual goals by doing it "their way" - who can blame them, as long as they achieve their numbers.

However, for organizations to outperform their competition and the overall market, they need to approach the market differently than their competitors. Otherwise, it merely boils down to a market share and price game, where no one really wins, except the customer, who finds a way to leverage lower prices. While B2B relationships are still important in this industry, we must remember the customer’s primary responsibility is to achieve certain business goals. In today’s economy especially, your customer is being held accountable even more intensely to hit their business results. So sales teams are looking for ways to go beyond selling just a product, and trying to find a way to bring more value to their customers than they receive from their competitors.

Redefining “Relationship”

So how do you secure stronger relationships that generate premium value – for you AND your customer? First, it’s about redefining what “relationship” means. It’s no longer defined as the lunch, golf or fishing buddy. Today, it’s more about the value you bring to the relationship… to be specific, the business value. I agree with most of “The Challenger” sales model as defined by the Corporate Executive Board. However, I would slightly restate it as… the sales organizations that will win are those that can LEAD their clients to stronger business performance.

It is through this leadership that the sales rep can help challenge the status quo of the customer and their market. This means they need to lead from a place of knowledge (deeply understanding the industry and their individual customers), understand market triggers and trends and identify gaps – turning each of these into business opportunities for their customer. And these opportunities are definitely about more than just products. You need to become more of a consultant than a product sales rep.

Consultative Selling

Consultative selling is an overused phrase, but I would challenge that very few building material companies actually are consulting with their customers. Companies talk about consultative selling, but their actions usually revolve around helping their customers understand their products, technical data, and installation very deeply. So what? That's just more product selling.

A consultant is defined as “an advisor that leads from a place of knowledge on a certain topic to help the other party get to a more successful place.” Therefore, I believe true consultative selling to a customer should be defined as helping your customer create a sustainable and profitable business. Put simply, you win when your customer has a healthier business and makes more profit dollars. If you lead and sell from this place - versus a focus on selling more units to your client - you will become more profitable. It demonstrates you understand how your customer's business works and makes money, and that you actually care about your customer’s business success. It's the difference of being more of a "business partner" and less of being merely a supplier to your customer. Anyone can be a supplier, very few lead from the place of a partner.

So how do you transition your organization to more consultative selling?

  • Adopt a new philosophy that you win only when your customers are successful. To know they are successful you actually have to ask them how they judge their own success.
  • Measure and incentivize your sales AND marketing teams around each customer’s success (not yours). You will be absolutely amazed at the difference in discussions your sales reps will have with their customers and with the marketing team versus what they have today.
  • Train your team so both sales and marketing teams better understand their customer’s business; questions to ask, how they make money, how they sell and market and what their pain points are.
  • Arm your team with knowledge, data and innovative tools that enable your sales and marketing teams to provide guidance to their customers that they cannot get from any other competitor.
  • Ensure message consistency at every touch point with your customer, starting with the sales team, marketing, customer service and every single company member.

One thing I am confident of from my thirty plus years of experience; if you help build a customer’s business, you have a customer for life (for a few years at least). Merely give them a discount, or take them on a trip because they earned points, they may be yours for a year... just to earn that incentive. My first sales manager (Allen Roes) told me a very simple but critical core belief during my first days in sales, “focus on making your customers successful and your success will always follow”.

To help strengthen a customer’s business, you first have to dig into their business and understand their:

  • Definition of success
  • Top three strategic initiatives
  • Pain points
  • Profit equation
  • Barriers to close more sales more quickly
  • Definition of the optimal customer or project

If you cannot answer these items, you are not in a place to start to consult and help your customer’s business. You are just selling your product.

Structure is the Key

The underlining key to all of these steps is leading from a place of knowledge and data - not just of your products - that’s the easy part and everyone does that. Lead with your knowledge around the market, trends and comparisons of where the customer is versus their market. It’s data that flows both ways; out to the market to share with customers, and data from the selling process that flows back in. Wouldn’t it be powerful for a roofing manufacturer to be able to tell each of their roofing contractors where their sales process is deficient, how to gain better ROI on their marketing spend, where they are leaving money on the table, or how to close sales more quickly - and with a more profitable product? Do you think this would create a more loyal contractor? Absolutely.

So how do you get all your sales reps telling the brand story you want told, utilizing this data and securing new data, and ultimately becoming a consultant to their customers? Your company must dedicate itself to creating a structured sales process that is enabled by a robust technology platform. This platform will ensure data can be shared and pulled, and ensures consistency of your message by every sales rep.

Sales Process Benchmark

A successful sales process example is the pharmaceuticals and medical device industries. By mandate from the U.S. Federal Trade Commission, these industries were forced to have very stringent rules on sharing market data, pulling in doctor office data, and communicating consistency of very exact brand and product messaging. The way this industry solved this dilemma was through a standard iOS technology platform. This platform ensured customer interactions, product conversations and the use of the brand were 100% in line with what the company wanted to say and share, and what the FTC would allow. This allowed the pharma and medical device sales reps to be consultants to their customers, physicians and administrators of healthcare companies.

This proven selling platform has recently been customized specifically for the building materials and home improvement industries, leveraging our agency's 30 years of experience in these industries. It is an integrated selling solution platform named the Red Engine™ App. It is designed to enable a deeper level of consultative selling, close sales more quickly and drive more profit through upgrades.

Anyone can be a supplier selling a product. Find your path to true consultative selling and become your customer’s business partner, and see how this will enable your own business results.

More Good Reads

the online experience: key focus areas for big box retailers

As online shopping continues to gain traction, the overall retail experience is becoming more critical to the success of big box retailers. Online product research now plays a huge role regardless of where the purchase ultimately occurs. Whether buying online or in-store, the consumer shopping journey often begins long before the final sale, challenging all retailers (especially big box) to more carefully craft the sales path from beginning to end.