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When Selling Building Products, Opt for Simple

21 Apr

Lessons Learned from the 2016 ISC West Show

ISC West

As building products marketers, are we overcomplicating things? Do we consult with people down the channel—including customers and even our own sales teams—to make sure we are delivering the best information in ways that are easy to consume? Most importantly, who can we look to for simplification inspiration in the building products industry?

I recently attended the 2016 ISC West Show, the largest security industry trade show in the United States, with technical reps from more than 1,000 exhibitors and brands in the security industry. While there, I explored and learned about the rapidly growing segment of the connected home and the integration challenges of hardware and software in the security and door hardware industry.

The attendees of the show are typically security dealers. They sell in consumer homes, similar to a lot of building materials products. And, like a window or siding rep, they have to “win the kitchen table” if they hope to sell their product effectively down the channel.

One of the tours that did a great job of demonstrating how to “win the kitchen table” based on their product offering was the Tektronix® Connected Home booth. There, I learned how their integrated system connects the video doorbell to the alarm, the sprinklers, garage door, network-boosting light bulbs, and so on. Obviously, Tektronix is not the only company doing this, but for manufacturers not thinking about what homeowners want, this is where they need to start looking.

What I found amazing was one of the final items on the Tektronix tour, which displayed their “upsell kit.” It’s what a marketer might call a sales rep kit or in-home kit. Over the years, we’ve probably created dozens of these for clients, ranging from somewhat basic to very complex and expensive to produce. You’ve likely done these as well.

The upsell kit Tektronix showed at their booth is their most requested and used of all time. So what makes it unique? Triple fold-out panels with a wiring schematic that integrates all the cool features? Maybe some electronic component that connects via Bluetooth to the reps phone?

Nope. It’s simply a printed image of all the pieces that might normally go into the kit.Unknown

Yes, you read that right. The sample kit doesn’t have physical samples. It has pictures of them and a call out image on the inside flap of the box. It’s very light, so it’s easy to carry. It’s very cheap to produce so dealers can have several of these for all their reps.

These are home security items—technology items. These are items that protect the homeowner’s family. But even with all that, they don’t require a physical sample. I realize they aren’t picking a color or finish, but compared to what most in the building products industry have always done, many might consider it a “fake” sales kit. But for Tektronix, it works well—and suits both their customers’ and sales teams’ needs just fine.

So, I’ve challenged our team and I’m challenging you to think about this when developing your in-home sales kit and other sales enablement tools. Have you talked to the dealers to see what works or why they don’t use one item or another? Have you ever tried a completely different approach? Have you asked why your company does it that way?

And most importantly, have you asked yourself if there is a simpler way to do this? That’s what drove this change in their upsell kit. We can do this too—find things to simplify in our increasingly complex lives, both as people and as marketers.

 

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IBS 2016: Innovation Starts at the End of the Channel

4 Feb

Why I’m Demanding a Disruption in Building Products Development

Trendsetters

It seems like every meeting I have been in over the last few months has the same common theme. When asking any building materials manufacturer what they want to be famous for, the one word I hear over and over is “innovation,” or being an “innovator,” or being “innovative.”

No matter the iteration of the word, they’re saying the same thing: they want to come to market with products that chart the path for the industry. The question is: what is anybody doing to really accomplish that? Just stating the word does not change the product development process or disrupt the industry with new and truly innovative products.

That’s why while I was at the 2016 International Builders’ Shower (IBS) and Kitchen and Bath Industry Show (KBIS), I was delighted to run across a company doing exactly that. Cosentino® is a building products company that develops stunning quartz and stone options for kitchen and bathroom surfaces. One of their products, Silestone®, is a beautiful high-end surface made of 94% quartz.

But what makes this product so innovative is not just the advanced bacteriostatic technology or its incredible resistance and durability, or even its numerous designs; it’s the way Cosentino develops those designs.

Through the support of their Silestone Trendspotters, a diverse group of top designers from across the country, Cosentino creates new looks every year inspired by some of the most cutting-edge and forthcoming designs in the market. How do they accomplish this? Cosentino goes straight to the other end of the channel to talk to the people using their product (and, presumably, their competitors’ products), and then gets their insights to develop a product that will set the course for tomorrow’s trends.

Let’s be clear: these designers aren’t just choosing colors. Manufacturers everywhere bring in a designer or two to pick out colors; that’s nothing new. The Trendspotters is a team of designers from all different places across the country, from different points in their careers (some veterans, some up-and-comers), from different styles and backgrounds, from different philosophies and clienteles.

Cosentino made a bold move in picking them, flying them to Italy, and turning them loose to work with engineers, product developers, and others on the manufacturing team to create a product they collectively thought reflected where design is headed. The magic of this is in how fearless Cosentino was in being open to the opportunity of what could be made when this diverse team of forward-thinkers got access to their resources, intelligence, and the inspiration of Italy.

Here are two of the new looks from the Etchings collections created this year by the Trendspotters:

  • Ink EtchInk: This jet black design is a classic, clean, and simple showstopper in most decor. By complementing the boldness of the Etchings design with a timeless shade, homeowners can feel confident their choice won’t go out of style any time soon.
  • AquaTint EtchAquatint: Look familiar? Our Art Director, Stephanie Voss, wrote a blog last year about how calming blue hues like Pantone’s Serenity will influence the building products industry in 2016. Proof pudding.

This approach to product development and design is brilliant precisely because it seems so obvious—but it’s not. Not everyone in building products is doing this. In fact, a lot of manufacturers either base their designs on focus group input or simply create designs based on studies published through standard trade outlets. Both options have their place, but are also inherently reactive—not always the best option for companies who seek to be innovative.

But who better to tell building products manufacturers at the top of the channel where design is going than some of the top designers in the country? By using these designers’ “on the ground” knowledge, Cosentino’s Silestone product is poised to set the tone for other designers and consumers in the coming years.

It takes time, energy, patience, investment, and courage to utilize an approach like this—an approach that empowers someone outside of your company to not only influence product design, but to create it. But that is true innovation. It’s listening, it’s using resources, it’s collaborating, and it’s understanding the channel on every level and using those insights to better your product and better the entire industry. Using focus groups and studies is also necessary for understanding today’s trends, but setting tomorrow’s requires further channel insights—exactly what Cosentino is doing with its Trendspotters.

I’m certain that this new line is going to be a hit, but I’m even more certain that the process will open the building products world to even more innovative creations.

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Buyer Personas in the Building Products Industry

19 Oct

Buyer personas give your marketing direction and ensure your message is accurate

Whether or not you know it, you’re likely using buyer personas everyday – it’s just a matter of how accurate they are. Buyer personas are representations of customers that are used to better understand why they purchase what they do. As building product marketers, we all say things like “Contractors will like this product because it’s easier/cheaper/faster”, but what is it that really influences them to buy? Establishing the specifics allows you to craft a message that resonates with these buyers and beats out the competition.

So how do you establish an accurate buyer persona?

  • First off, you can just make it up. As building industry marketers it’s important to go deeper than a list of bullet points that describes our key buyers. We need to really spend time with these people and complete an in-depth analysis of their buying trends. According to Adele Revella, the founder and president of the Buyer Persona Institute, the Five Rings of Insight are the “most overlooked and essential aspect, simplifying decisions for persuasive messaging, content, launches, campaigns and sales enablement.”

Here are the “Five Rings of Insight” that will allow you to define your buyer persona:

  1. Determine the Priority Initiatives: Define the three-to-five problems or initiatives where this buyer persona is dedicating time, budget and political capital
  2. List Out Success Factors: Figure out the tangible or intangible rewards that your buyer persona wants to achieve as a result of buying your solution
  3. Recognize Perceived Barriers: List the reasons your buyer persona believes your solution won’t be the best way to achieve the Success Factors
  4. Chart Out the Buying Process: Include the resources and steps that your buyer persona relies upon to assess available options and make a final decision
  5. Figure Out the Decision Criteria: List the aspects of the product, service, solution or company that this buyer persona evaluates during the purchasing process

Accurately defining your Buyer Persona’s takes time, energy and effort, but once established can pay dividends in assuring your messaging is correct and sets you apart from your competitors.

We’ve used buyer personas for years. We actually have cardboard cut-outs of our “guys” – dealers, contractors, big box sales reps, deck builders, etc. When we have a meeting these guys often join us as a reminder of who we’re talking to. If they’re not in the room with you – it’s time you invite them!

For more information about buyer personas and the Buyer Persona Institute, click here.

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The Baby Boomer Opportunity: What Building Product Marketers Can Do

9 Aug

NAHB’s CAPS program can be valuable for building product marketers

We all know the marketplace is constantly evolving. Our “Gray Hairs are Everywhere” blog post from earlier this year introduced us to the Millenial generation which is a term used to describe those born between 1980 and 2000. Also known as “Generation Y”, Millennials are the children of the Baby Boomer generation. We’ve discussed what these Millennials mean to your business, but what about their parents?

 Baby Boomers make up 42% of the adult population and according to the AARP this segment can make quite an impact on our companies:

  • Boomers buy 45% of all consumer goods
  • Boomers have 75% of the discretionary wealth in America
  • 68% of them even give money to their adult children

And they’re not going anywhere. The Boomer population is growing 7x faster than the 18-49 segment and they will be the dominant demographic for the next 40 years.

We already know that older homeowners overwhelmingly prefer to age in place, 84% of them according to the AARP, which means they want to live in their homes safely, independently and comfortably, regardless of their age or ability level. This goal aligns with the building products industry perfectly. Boomers want to upgrade their homes to ensure they are accessible, safe and comfortable and we have the products to help them.

But what can you do to ensure you are positioning your products to appeal to this market? One way to do this is to check out your local NAHB chapter and see if they offer the Certified Aging-In-Place Specialist (CAPS) program which is designed to address the growing needs of homeowners looking to stay in their homes longer. While most CAPS professionals are remodelers, even building product marketers can benefit from seeking this certification. By achieving your CAPS designation you will learn:

  • The unique needs of the older adult population
  • Aging-in-place home modifications
  • Common remodeling projects
  • Solutions to common barriers

Beyond that, you will network at the CAPS course with the people you try to reach everyday – potential customers that are self-seeking to learn more about this important market.

Baby Boomers: The Facts

  • Today and every day for the next 18 years, another 10,000 people will turn age 65
  • By 2050, the population of Americans aged 65 or older will be 88.5 million—more than double what it is now
  • Americans aged 85 years or older will reach 19 million—triple what it is now
  • 84% of Boomers are already 50+

To read more about CAPS and to find your local NAHB chapter, visit www.nahb.com.

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As the Tech Revolution Continues in the Building Products Industry, Don’t Forget…

26 Apr

Linked from freedesktopwallpaper.org

Every day, we’re all inundated with stories about this device or this website being another “revolution” in our everyday lives, and while most of that is hyperbole, we’ve truly seen some revolutions in the past 20 (and even last 10) years in technology. You might be reading this on an iPad at home, or on your Android device at the airport. Or maybe you went “old school” and you’re reading on a desktop computer! Marketers like us tend to be on the forefront of technology and can sometimes forget that the people we’re selling to don’t fit that same model.

ProSales magazine, one of two main trade publications for the LBM dealer audience, conducted research titled “Building Material Dealer Sources of Information Survey” last fall. The first question in this survey was, “Which of the following types of resources do you use regularly as part of your work-related reading/information-gathering?”

The top response, picked by 82% of respondents, was “Trade magazines specific to building material dealers.” Yes, those magazines we all get at the office, the same ones derided as old/traditional media.

The second response, chosen by 61% of respondents, was “Building product manufacturer sales representatives.” Yes, in 2011, people still count on a one-to-one conversation to get the information they need to run their businesses more effectively.

This survey was conducted by email, so you can likely assume the respondents would tend to be more engaged with technology than the typical building material dealer…so imagine what the numbers would look like if you could survey those typical dealers.

Similarly, we conducted research for a client last fall, also sent by email to building material dealers across the country. We asked what methods they’d prefer to be communicated with by wholesale distributors, and gave them the following options: direct mail, email, fax, text messaging, social media or phone. Respondents ranked those choices, and Email was the clear #1 choice, but do you know what #2 was? Faxing.

We know the building products industry isn’t known for being quick to adapt, but that result still surprised us. Remember, this was an emailed survey, so it’s very likely faxing might be almost as popular a choice among the total dealer audience.

Am I saying abandon your efforts with mobile apps, social media, BIM modeling and other technologies? Absolutely not…but don’t forget that a lot of business still gets done in this industry with the same methods we used before any of us even knew what a “smartphone” was. A lot of “social networking” still occurs the way it has for years – in a lumberyard, face to face.

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