7 Essential Traits of Top Building Materials Sales Producers

Posted by on March 18, 2016 in Uncategorized | Comments Off on 7 Essential Traits of Top Building Materials Sales Producers

Any manufacturer of building materials must have a professional, high producing sales team. Nothing can be manufactured until a salesperson sells something. From all the applicants who think they can sell, how does a sales manager spot the relatively few that can become top building materials sales producers? What personal traits and skills do the leading sales people possess? The traits discussed here may be applicable to many sales teams, but the unique conditions of the building materials industry present its own challenges. There are many studies by psychologists, marketing consultants, and others in academia on the characteristics of a successful salesperson. Opinions vary widely. In a study by Herbert Greenberg, out of nearly 20 million sales professionals, a mere 20% account for 80% of all sales. From conversations with customers, other industry professionals, and experience with manufacturers, only about 5% of all sales people are true professionals and top sales producers. The 20% are still an important part of a sales team, because they contribute to total sales, but the top 5% are the sales professionals that can generate consistently high sales volumes. (For further reading, “Secrets of Top Sales Achievers” is an interesting reference article discussing this top 5% group.) After almost 40 years of operating a successful independent manufacturers’ representative business and having observed the selling characteristics of hundreds of independent reps as well as direct hire sales people, here are my seven most important traits and skills of top building materials sales producers. Passion Sales passion is tunnel vision focused on customers. Top producers have a passion to gain a total and clear understanding of the needs and problems their customers want resolved. They then initiate an action plan to provide a high value product and/or service to meet their customers’ needs within a specified time frame. A high degree of empathy as well as a highly-practiced skill of intensive listening are required. When a top producer fails to close a sale, he feels he did not fully serve his customer. He did not explain the benefits clearly enough to build a sufficient value for his customer to make a positive buying decision. He evaluates the reasons why he failed, so he can improve his sales techniques and presentation skills. Positive Attitude and Self Image of Success There is no place for negativity for a top building material sales producer. There is no challenge or need too difficult to meet. It is this trait that gives customers supreme confidence that the solution to their needs will be delivered as promised and any problems will be resolved promptly and fairly. Top building materials sales producers must have a certain level of ego as part of their personality. This ego is required to assure the customer that no one else can satisfy his needs as well or as efficiently. Self-Starter The top sales producers do not need a nudge to get started each day. They are normally up early and work with a high level of energy throughout the day. Accomplishments are what count, not just activities. They are goal-oriented and highly organized with specific targets set for each day, month, and year. All targets and actions are aimed squarely at providing total customer satisfaction. They work tirelessly to improve their presentation and sales techniques. They seek out coaching and...

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10 Steps for Managing Customers to Maximize Architectural Sales Success

Posted by on October 14, 2015 in Uncategorized | Comments Off on 10 Steps for Managing Customers to Maximize Architectural Sales Success

The professional architectural sales representative of construction products is continually seeking better ways to manage his customers to maximize sales.  How do you know which customers to call on when, and how often? How do you stay organized amid your phone calls, sales visits, paperwork, and planning? Managing your customers is not complicated. It takes organizing and time management skills to develop a plan suitable to meet your sales goals. Finally it requires a focus and personal commitment to follow the plan. 10 Proven Ideas to Manage Customers and Maximize Sales Organizing a sales calling plan must begin with a full understanding of a manufacturer’s market plan and sales goals for its sales representatives. The type and number of customers that a sales representative must call on must be appropriate to meet the sales goals specified in the plan. Use a modified 80/20 rule, referred to as the Pareto Principle, as a guide to establishing customers who should receive the major focus of time and effort. A general rule of thumb is that in any customer data base, approximately 20% of customers will generate 80% of total sales. The specific customers that comprise the 20% are not static. Revaluate classifications annually (or more often if necessary). Do not forget the remaining 80%. Although the top 20% must get the most attention, every customer can and should be significant. Use the letters A, B, and C to classify customers. The A customers are the top 20% that generate approximately 80% of sales. The B group generates approximately 10%-15% of total sales; and the C group generates the balance. The 80/20 rule also applies to the time spent with each category of customer. About 80% of a sales representative’s time should be spent servicing the A customers. The B group requires about 10% -15% of time, and the C group the balance of time. Do not to spend a disproportionate amount of time with B and C customers, because they happen to be more likeable or they create fewer problems than A customers. Establish strong personal relationships particularly with  A customers. Strong personal relationships can overcome many objections such as price or an occasional missed delivery. Customers normally buy from the architectural sales representative they like and respect. Building these relationships take time and effort. Keep an accurate record of what is discussed on each personal visit and telephone call, particularly regarding commitments and subjects that foster a personal relationship.  Recording takes time, but it is critical for sales success and maximizing sales. Use the correct CRM.  Historically Customer Relationship Management (CRM) systems have not been widely used in the construction industry, but that is changing.  See an article from the AGC of America, “Does CRM Matter for Construction?” If a manufacturer uses a particular CRM system, the architectural sales representative must use that prescribed system. If a sales representative has a choice, select the simplest system that provides the information needed to track both sales and service history as well as important interactions with each customer. Sales Force and Outlook are examples of two sophisticated CRM systems that are used by manufacturers.  If your need is simply to keep track of contacts, addresses, and appointments, Google’s gmail suite, a free suite of tools, may be all you need. Organize a personal...

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A Successful Sales Representative Must Manage Time

Posted by on September 1, 2015 in Uncategorized | Comments Off on A Successful Sales Representative Must Manage Time

A successful architectural sales representative, must be an efficient manager of time, whether he is a direct hire or an independent manufacturers’ representative. Time is a sales representative’s major asset, so he must optimize his time to be a sales leader. Efficient time management requires planning. An efficient time management system begins with an Annual Marketing Plan that includes broad objectives that are in-tune and coordinated with a corporate plan. Using this broad plan, the time management system then incorporates prioritized daily, weekly, and monthly planning lists. Each list has a similar format with the daily list having the most detail and the weekly and monthly lists having broader action items. One excellent time planning system is based on a variation of what is referred to as the “Eisenhower Box,” developed by Dwight Eisenhower to help evaluate urgency and importance. The items on any of the planning lists with the highest priority are categorized as “Important and Urgent” and are given precedence over all other actions. They are sometimes referred to as “A” items in a planning “to-do” list. To place even more emphasis on the “A” actions, refer to them as the “Focus Actions.” At the end of the list are the “Not Important, Not Urgent” activities, sometimes referred to as “C” items. Many times these “C”s eventually get deleted from a list because they are simply not worth doing. “B” items are normally “Important but Not Urgent.” Here’s a sample of typical activities that might be included in each box: Urgent Not Urgent Important Close a large sale Visit a key customer Not Important Answer a minor service request Complete an unsolicited questionnaire   An example of a partial daily planning list is below: Sales Representative Planning List – Monday July 20, 2015 A – Focus Actions Close large order with “X” (a major customer ) Resolve urgent service problem Quote “Y” (another major customer) B Complete and file weekly expense report Handle minor service problem Complete call summaries for trip just completed C Talk to customer service about being slow to respond to customer complaints Follow-up on the shipping status of a relatively small order With computerized calendars, planning lists are easy to modify and update within a few minutes. Google and Outlook calendars are just two examples. Often, Focus Actions require much more time and thought to complete than the “B” and “C” items. There is a human tendency to complete at least some of the “B” and “C” items before a “Focus “Action,” because they are easy to “cross off the list.” This gives a sales rep satisfaction that considerable actions are being completed. In reality, time is being wasted and not focused on growing sales and providing outstanding customer service. Although “Focus Actions” cannot always be fully accomplished in one planning period, remain committed to complete them. If a sales rep does not clearly understand how his time is being spent, there is no way to devise a program to optimize time. A good place to start developing an efficient time management system is to determine how time is currently spent each day. For a week or two, list all actions on an hourly (or even a 15 minute) calendar. Determine what percent of time is spent in selling, administration, answering manufacturer and...

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The Sales Power of Independent Manufacturers’ Representatives in the Building Materials Industry

Posted by on February 6, 2015 in Uncategorized | Comments Off on The Sales Power of Independent Manufacturers’ Representatives in the Building Materials Industry

This blog, originally published in 2015, is being revised with a new title and with greater focus on the building materials industry. The goal of building material manufacturers is to maximize sales at the lowest possible cost and at the same time maintain an outstanding service reputation with their customers. Should the sales team be comprised sales employees, independent manufacturers’ representatives, or a combination of both? A sales employee is totally directed and paid by the manufacturer.  An independent manufacturers’ representative, or “rep,” is a firm who sells products of many manufacturers. The manufacturers’ rep may also help his manufacturers market their products or even be a distributor of products. Reps can be small, one or two-person operations, or they can be larger firms with multiple branches covering large geographic territories. For many reasons large building material manufacturers seem to prefer using employee sales teams in recent years.  Many are overlooking the benefits of a rep.  For small manufacturers or startups, independent manufactures’ representatives are an ideal choice for the sales team.  This type of sales team helps keep sales costs down and can gain quick entry into key markets.   Advantages of Using Independent Manufacturers’ Representatives Cost of sales efforts – Sales costs are directly tied to sales volume. Since a rep is only paid commission on products sold, there are no fixed costs of salary, fringe benefits, travel, or other sales expenses. If sales volume decreases, commissions also go down.   Although the cost of a sales call varies widely from industry to industry, information from the Manufacturers’ Representative Educational Research Foundation indicates that the estimated cost of an individual sales call for a sales employee might range from $250 – $500 per call. This cost includes salary/commission, fringe benefits, other sales costs and overhead. For a rep sales team, these costs are paid by the rep organization. Long Term Personal Relationships – These are a key to the success of any business. Individual reps normally work in a smaller geographical territory than a sales employee. Since a manufacturers’ rep owns his business and lives in his territory, his personal relationships are built over decades. Sales employees turn over much more often due to promotions, resignations or terminations and for many other reasons. Proximity – Since a rep lives in the compact territory he covers, a contact for service to customers is close by. When an architect or engineer or a buying customer requests an office or job site visit by a representative of the manufacturer, a rep can often make the visit within a few hours. Since a sales employee normally covers large geographic territories, his office may be a number of states away from the customer, so a personal visit to handle a service problem or discuss an important order normally takes longer. Preparation and industry-specific expertise –A rep is a trained sales professional. Even if a rep is relatively new, he likely has some past sales experience.  He may already have been trained as an employee of a manufacture.  A manufacturer has modest or no expenses for sales training, beyond specific product training. Overlapping sales opportunities – The multiple lines handled by a manufacturers’ rep allow a rep to operate his business with the lowest possible selling costs per line represented. A visit to a...

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Ten Keys for Success Selling Commercial Construction Products to Architects

Posted by on August 20, 2014 in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Ten Keys for Success Selling Commercial Construction Products to Architects

What defines success for a manufacturer’s product representative who is selling to architects? Success is when a product representative is accepted as a trusted consultant and his manufacturer’s products are included in an architect’s specification as the standard of design. Architects and their consulting engineers are important members of the team that is hired by a building owner to complete a project to meet a specific set of needs. Although architects do not write purchase orders, manufacturers of construction products must call on them to be sure their products are included in the building specifications. A Product Representative’s 10 Key Concepts for Selling to Architects (These concepts also apply to selling to engineers.) Do your Research. For a first call on a particular architect’s office, learn as much as possible about the firm. Sources for information include the architect’s website, general contractors, subcontractors, and other architects. How is the office organized to handle design projects? Are they organized by design studio or by project? Does the architect have a particular clientele or type of work they pursue, or do they design for a wide variety of clients? Is a specific person designated to meet with product representatives, or is this the responsibility of each project manager? Be the Expert. Be technically knowledgeable about your product, industry, and competition. Use project photos and a list of local projects completed by your manufacturer as appropriate. Be prepared to answer an architect’s questions concerning product benefits, specifications, detail questions and pricing relative to competition. If it becomes necessary to check your manufacturer for an answer, provide it in a timely manner. Show Respect. Many manufacturers have a negative opinion of architects. They are described as “different,” fixed in their opinions, and in many other ways just frustrating. Product representatives need to recognize architects as hard working people with a job to do for their clients. Architecture is often a difficult and challenging profession. The architect is responsible for selecting all the varied products that are required to construct a building. They must design and detail the building and work with the rest of the building team to complete the project in a manner that provides the architect’s client with the value promised. For the architect to do his job, he needs professional, knowledgeable product representatives from a broad spectrum of manufacturers. Respect can go a long way in establishing strong personal relationships with architects. 4. Assist with Specifications. Understand how the specifications are generated. Is there a specification writer? Are the specifications generated from an office specification by the project manager and production team? Assist by asking to review the office specification or a specification for a specific project. This provides an opportunity to verify that your manufacturer is included as equal or – better yet – as the design standard. Suggestions can be made to the architect as to how the specification can be strengthened to assure competitive, fair bidding. Assist the architect in writing the type of specification he wants. Do not include features that limit competition unless specifically requested by the architect. 5.  Be Thoughtful of an Architect’s Time. Make appointments for most in-person sales calls. It demonstrates respect for an architect’s time. Balance the use of personal sales calls, telephone calls, and emails to properly serve the architect’s...

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Strong Personal Relationships Are Key to Closing More Architectural Sales – part 2

Posted by on June 25, 2014 in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Strong Personal Relationships Are Key to Closing More Architectural Sales – part 2

Last month the blog discussed the importance of developing strong personal relationships with both architects/engineers (A/E) and buying customers.  This month the blog suggests specific actions that architectural sales representatives (ASR) can take to develop and strengthen these critical relationships. With the client architect/engineer: Become a valued product consultant.  The A/E is seeking honest, technically-correct information to determine if a particular product meets the design parameters of a specific project.  No one product can meet the needs of all projects. If a product does not meet the needs of a particular project and the ASR can suggest an alternative, equal product with which he is familiar, this assists the architect and strengthens the ASR’s reputation as a valuable consultant. The ASR must be technically knowledgeable about his product your products.  On each project, the ASR must gain a clear understanding of the specific design requirements.  Clearly explain the features and benefits of the product.  Be prepared to provide an honest comparison with competitive products, if asked.  Offer to help with construction details and to assist in writing the specifications. If a design question is asked that cannot be answered directly, consult the manufacturer and provide the answer in a timely manner. If the A/E asks for help in writing a specification, determine what type of specification is required. Does the A/E want a proprietary, performance driven, or non-proprietary specification?  If a performance or non-proprietary specification is required, the architect’s client probably expects a reasonable degree of competition, so the ASR should only include product requirements that can reasonably be met by at least two other manufacturers. Offer names of two other manufactures that will provide fair competition. If a proprietary specification is needed, one tightly written around the ASR’s manufacturer is appropriate. When product problems arise on an A/E’s project site, assist in solving them as quickly as possible.  Offer honest opinions and recommendations even if they may not be what the A/E wants to hear.  Commercial buildings are complicated structures; they can present difficult challenges during construction. Follow up with the manufacturer and/or installing contractor until the problem is completely resolved. An hour outside the office environment to talk about family and life creates a stronger bond and growing level of personal trust.  This level of trust is very important if an A/E intends to use an ASR’s product as a standard of design or in a proprietary specification.  A/E’s are very busy and normally under tight schedules to meet design deadlines, but take every opportunity to take them for lunch or for any other type of suitable entertainment. Become an active member of CSI (Construction Specifications Institute).  Obtain a CDT (Construction Documents Technologist) certificate and the CCPR (Certified Construction Product Representative) designation. These documents demonstrate an ASR has a thorough knowledge of how all the players in the construction industry work together. They also show an ASR understands the roles of the different members of the architectural team and that he understands how all the components of construction documents fit together. With the buying customer: Take time to understand your customer’s personality, needs, and wants. Every customer is unique. Learn what sports he follows and/or plays, who are the members of his family, etc. Pay particular attention to interests you have in common.  Incorporate this knowledge in...

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Strong Personal Relationships Are Key to Closing More Architectural Sales

Posted by on May 20, 2014 in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Strong Personal Relationships Are Key to Closing More Architectural Sales

A strong personal relationship is one in which the customer fully trusts and likes the architectural sales representative (ASR), whether they are a direct hire employee or an independent manufacturers’ representative.  The customer is interested in a partnership that is equally valuable to him and to the manufacturer the ASR represents. For any product or group of products, the customer is willing to give most or all his business to that manufacturer. There is a perception today among many in the commercial architectural products market place that personal relationships in selling are less important today than in years past. Information is available to architects and other specifying influences on the web as well as through LinkedIn, Twitter, and other social media.  Buying customers can place orders directly with manufactures. There is a wide spread feeling that most customers just buy on lowest price. However, personal relationships are as important in architectural sales today as they have ever been. In many ways, they are more important because of increased competition.  The old adage that people deal with and buy from people they trust and like is still a selling truth. What has changed is an architectural sales representative today must be more thorough and persistent to determine which architects write tight specifications for equal products and which end customers truly value personal relationships and will purchase the highest value products and services. Although price has a strong influence on any buying decision, a manufacturer’s product quality, warranties, customer service, after-sale service, and sales relationships are also critical elements in determining perceived value.   Perceived value is the balance between price and the benefits of a product.  Perceived value is truly the basis for most customer buying decisions. It is the architectural sales representative with his detailed technical product knowledge and strong personal relationships with both architects/engineers (A/E) and buying customers, who can clearly communicate product value that can optimize a manufacturer’s sales. How does an ASR determine if an A/E or buying customer considers a strong personal relationship important in making design or buying decisions?  They are interested in the total package of sales and services provided. This total package includes thorough company and product knowledge, support during and after the sale, the willingness and effort to exceed expectations, and, of course, the price. They understand the price may not be the lowest in the marketplace but trust it is competitive. They value honesty and integrity. They work toward a “win/win,” solution when a problem occurs. They express interest in becoming a strategic, valued partner. They are interested in the life of the ASR – including family information, business background, hobbies, etc. – and also want to share the same information about themselves. To build upon this relationship, they enjoy lunches, a factory visit, and other entertainment as time permits. They look for opportunities to see how an ASR acts outside the daily business environment.   This helps them develop a high level of trust in the ASR. They depend on the ASR to be a trusted consultant when they have specific product or general industry questions. The blog next month will explain how the architectural sales representative can develop and strengthen personal relationships with both architects/engineers and the buying customers who write the purchase orders. Image courtesy of watiporn #100223285 /...

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