Selling Builders Successfully

For decades, most dealers have relied on two ways to sell builders. And now there's a better way. Both traditional methods are based on selling “to” the builder, focusing on how your product is better than your competitor’s.

In the first method, better can refer to performance, aesthetics, ease of installation, availability, consumer preference, reliability and more. This method focuses on product features and benefits, which any company can claim. If anyone can claim them, there is no distinction between you and your competitors.

The second strategy is based on better price. This can work in the short term and tends to work with short-sighted builders.

Even if you have a good relationship with the builder, selling “to” him is often still an adversarial game in which you both play poker and see who wins. This method’s greatest challenge is convincing the builder to buy from you. Once you’ve made the sale, your job is basically done. Of course, you have to make sure the product gets delivered and handle any problems, but the reality is you’ve sold the product to the builder and now he owns it. What he does with it is his problem.

Builder 101: Back to Basics

A better way to sell builders is to STOP trying to sell them, at least until you know what they really want, even if it’s not your product. Take off your selling hat and put on your “I’m curious” hat. Clear your mind of everything you think you know about a builder, builders in general and home construction. This step is important because part of what you know is wrong; you just don’t know which part.

This is often where young, inexperienced salespeople have an advantage. They don’t know any better. They don’t know what works and what doesn’t. They ask great questions, which may even help builders realize they're stuck in an old way of thinking that's hurting their business.

Most everything we knew even five years ago is no longer relevant. People used to buy houses because they were great investments. Not so much today. They used to feel secure about a brand, product or material. But the Internet has brought about a glut of experts sowing seeds of doubt about everything.

Know Your Audience

It is an incredibly challenging time to be a builder. They used to sell everything they built, but that’s not the case anymore. In order to sell builders effectively today, you must get to know them. Your goal should be to help them, and you can’t help them if you don’t know them individually.

Of course, you should have knowledge of the new construction market in general, as well as within a given builder’s market or target income area. The next step is to go shopping for a home. Shop the builder you’re trying to sell, as well as his competition. What do you notice? What impressions are you left with? Make notes to share with the builder, good or bad. He wants to hear your impressions.

In the course of comparing homes, did anyone mention your product? Did they say, “We have energy efficient, maintenance-free windows?” Or did they say, “We have Marvin Windows, and they are energy efficient and maintenance free”? If they didn’t at least call attention to windows, in this case, this is an opportunity for you to help them differentiate themselves and leave the impression of a quality home.

Visit a construction site and talk to the foreman or the person who installs your type of product. Find out how they like the product they use. Even if they’re happy, ask what could be better. If they are using your product, ask if there are any problems.

Start the “Right” Conversation

With this research, you’re ready to start talking with the builder. Sales people usually start with the purchasing department, but this probably isn’t the best idea. People in the purchasing department want you to think they have more power than they do. They are given a list of items and told to source them at the best price. They are not asked for ideas to help sell more homes, improve quality or enhance construction practices. They don’t consider products that have a lower installed cost but a higher unit cost, because that’s not how their success is measured. They can’t purchase new ideas if they don’t show up on their shopping list.

The best place to start is the sales or marketing department, or the construction department, depending on the benefit your product delivers to the builder. When you call on sales and marketing, discuss your shopping observations of them and their competitors. Don’t forget to share best practices you have observed from builders in other markets. Builders don’t have money for more advertising, so they need affordable ideas they can implement.

For example, something as simple as having a sales staff with the best attitude is an easy fix and goes a long way toward increasing sales. Get them a copy of the book, “Delivering Happiness” from Zappos, which will show them how easy and powerful this rapidly-growing trend is today.

Question. Understand. Sell.

Now, it’s finally time to focus on your sale. Even with all you’ve learned, you need to learn more. Most of the work so far has simply been to show the builder you see him as unique and are sincerely interested in his success. He is now much more likely to tell you what the real issues are.

You should find out as much as possible about the following:

  • What are his goals?
  • How are well is he achieving them?
  • What are his biggest challenges?
  • What are his plans to overcome them?
  • Does he want more traffic?
  • Is his close ratio high enough?
  • Why is he losing sales?
  • Does he need to differentiate from other builders?
  • Is he using social media, such as Facebook, blogs, Twitter, etc?
  • Is he happy with the results?

It’s Time to Capitalize

Now you have a better picture of this builder and what’s inhibiting his growth.

Next, think of your product and your company’s resources in terms of how to help this builder. There are some things you can affect and some you can’t. But if any homes are being sold, you should be able to help this builder get more of those sales.

Does your product represent an opportunity to differentiate him from other builders?

Is there an opportunity to draw traffic or create word of mouth to see your product? For example, a Toledo, Ohio, jewelry company installed a $6,000 toilet in its restroom, and traffic to its stores dramatically increased just based on word of mouth. People would ask, “Have you seen the toilet at the jewelers?” And their friends would stop by, often making a purchase.

Consider lending or giving a builder a high-end, “over the top” product of yours for their model or show home to create word of mouth, drive more traffic and reinforce their reputation as an innovative builder.

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