There are two separate and distinct types of value-adds that customers and prospects consider when deciding where to buy: the first is the one that is talked about the most, the value customers perceive they will receive from their supplier. The second is the one the salespeople are personally responsible for providing, and that is the value they are able to add over and above that of their respective company.
As a young salesperson just starting out, I knew for a fact that decision-makers were not giving me the attention and respect they were giving many of the veteran salespeople I competed against. The reason was twofold: First, I hadn’t been on the job long enough to build a personal relationship with the buyers I was calling on. Secondly, I had no industry knowledge that would benefit buyers, owners and managers.
I made my sales calls. I asked for the order. I took my customers to lunch. I settled product complaints when they occurred, but quite frankly there was nothing beyond these basics that I knew how to do. Every salesperson I knew relied almost exclusively on personal relationships. As the new kid on the block, I figured it would take me years to beat my competitors at that game. I needed something beyond relationships, something more tangible and more valuable.
There are many moving parts to your customers’ businesses and few contractors are experts at all of them. To name a few: purchasing wisely; avoiding hiring mistakes; expense control; gross margin control; sound contracts; inventory control; controlling jobsite waste; employee training; designing employee compensation programs, etc. When I joined my old company’s computer division, Tom Woodson, the man who taught me how computer hardware and software systems worked, once said to me, “Bill, you can’t take a pill and learn all of this.”
The same is true in operating a business. If you know enough about business to show decision-makers how to put more money on the bottom line, how to be more successful and how to solve their most pressing business problems, they will do business with you just to have access to your knowledge.
Contractors don’t need your lumber. While they do need lumber to build houses, they don’t need your lumber. If you, however, possess knowledge and expertise your contractors need and don’t have, they will buy from you if you will share your knowledge with them.
Several years ago I had a client in the mountain states whose top salesperson generated $20 million in sales. At the time, that was the highest sales volume I had ever witnessed. Intrigued by this salesperson’s level of success, I began to quiz him, ride with him, and observe him interact with his builder customers. While he carried the title of salesperson, in reality he was more of a business consultant than he was a salesperson.
He analyzed his customers’ financial statements, conducted sales training programs for their sales personnel, showed them why jobsite waste was out of line, value-engineered their models, etc. He converted builders who were barely breaking even into builders who were earning top dollar.
Some consultative salespeople I have observed put together best practices checklists for their customers and rated their efficiency levels, all the while keeping their eyes open for where money was falling through the cracks.
One such salesperson shared with me that the first place he learned to look for lost profits was in changing order policies and procedures. “If I can persuade my customers to meticulously follow my documented change order procedures, I can almost always boost their bottom line by 25% to 30%.”
Try this: Do something tangible for your customers without asking anything in return, and watch how rapidly their respect for you (and their purchases from you) grow.