Grow Customer Share One Product Line at a Time

Once you get your first product line sold to a new customer, you’re still—at least for the most part—on the outside looking in, because a competitor or competitors continue to sell this new customer the lion’s share of his purchases. So, to grow your share of a new customer’s purchases, I encourage you to begin asking questions of “insiders” to determine which product line(s) should be your next most likely target.

By “insiders,” I’m referring as an example to owners, project managers, buyers or perhaps subcontractors in an attempt to gain insight as to where you might strike next.

One of the key things you are looking for is where your new customer is experiencing service problems with his current suppliers. On-time delivery, backorders, quality issues, inaccurate takeoffs, invoicing snafus and indifference from your competitor’s sales personnel are a few of the areas to research.

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The more hard facts you can accumulate, the higher the odds you can get the decision-maker’s attention. Photographs offer the kind of hard evidence I’m referring to. Use your smart phone camera to record opportunities to improve upon the service levels your new customer is experiencing, but may not be aware of. (Spend the time and money to convert your digital photographs to prints to do an optimal job of driving home your point.)

Solve a Problem
In Behind Your Back by fellow LBM Journal columnist Bradley Hartmann, I read with interest on page 29 a story about a salesperson who was trying to get Bradley’s wallboard business when he was a purchasing manager for Pulte Homes. The salesperson left Bradley the following voicemail message:

“Hi Bradley. I heard you were new to the market and wanted to introduce myself. We haven’t worked with Pulte yet, but we’d love the chance to make your life easier. I visited your Carrington jobsite and counted 22 sheets of 1/2″ and 17 sheets of 5/8″ sitting in the garages of five completed homes—I have pictures I can send you. I spoke with the installers and I have some ideas about where the extras are coming from…”

Bradley had been told by his current wallboard supplier that their takeoffs were “tight” and there wasn’t an extra sheet anywhere on the job. A few weeks later the prospecting salesperson had 100% of Pulte’s wallboard business.

Focus on Service
I flew into Chicago’s O’Hare Airport a couple of weeks ago and rented a car from Enterprise. I was impressed when I arrived at the exit gate and the attendant asked me, “How did we do on customer service today? Is there anything you noticed that we could do to make your experience with us go more smoothly?”

What a great way for this company to discover service problems before they get out of hand. You might use this tactic to uncover problems either your company or your competitors’ companies are experiencing by asking jobsite personnel a question like, “Are there any service issues you’ve observed that you believe are causing money to fall through the cracks?” Begin immediately tracking the share of each of your customer’s purchases you are currently selling and make it your business to determine what’s standing between you and selling the share your current customers are purchasing from a competitor. Analyze the information your research turns up and set specific product line goals for each existing customer. Since you already have a relationship with your existing customers, your odds are certain to be higher of selling more to current customers than they would be spending the majority of your time trying to grow sales by trying to take business away from the competition.

When you are successful at getting a new customer, however, begin immediately looking for the next product line to go after without using price as a weapon.