What is better than cold-calling? Making the phone ring. A salesperson who pushes a client to change suppliers is at a disadvantage and vulnerable to combative negotiations. But when a prospect calls you, the game changes instantly. It is a sign he is ready to buy.

One of the best ways to make the phone ring is with an e-newsletter that promotes your products and your capabilities to people who either don't buy from you or buy only a few items. But as you write, make sure you stress that you're the first alternative of choice for whatever product you're writing about in that issue.

Why? Because a contractor typically decides to phone a new supplier when something goes wrong with his existing one. When that contractor chooses whom to dial, it's likely he won't start with the LBM dealer that advertises itself as a one-stop shop. Instead, the call will go to the company or salesperson that has "top of mind" presence as the provider with expertise on a product.

You may hope that a contractor will think of you when something goes wrong with his or her supplier of windows ... or roofs ... or millwork ... or siding ...or any of a dozen other products. But it's likely you don't sell everything a contractor puts into a home or home project. Thus, any claims you might make of being a one-stop shop will ring hollow. Instead, potential clients need to hear which products you are skilled at providing and, more important, believe you.

A contractor doesn't think about calling an LBM dealer to find out if they carry siding products. Instead, he juggles a bevy of suppliers in his brain for various products. Take siding. "Joe is my window guy," the contractor might think. "Frank is my lumber expert. Charlie from XYZ Company has been pushing to get an opportunity to be my siding guy, so ... ." Bingo! Charlie gets the call.

Your job is to position yourself as the first alternative of choice on a product-by-product basis. Contractors will call the person or company they know is a credible supplier of that product. Your challenge is to get to top-of-mind status for a particular product. An e-newsletter can help do that.

My hands-on studies have shown measurable ways to increase readership of your e-newsletters while crafting a message that sticks in the reader's mind. Here are three key points:

1. Write for your audience. I wrote earlier this year that you must give all of your literature and marketing messages the "we-we" test. Prospects don't care about the history of your fourth-generation lumberyard. Instead, they want to know what they will "get" by doing business with you. Craft your e-newsletter message to stress the benefits to your clientele.

2. Offer sound advice. Readership goes up with clever headlines and content that provides advice to the recipient. Don't just say you're a partner to the market; be a partner.

3. Be product specific. Each newsletter should feature an idea about a specific product that you can provide. This will position you as an expert at one thing rather than as a generalist. The result is a rise in your credibility.

If you have heart problems, you don't go to the internist, you go see a specialist. It is no different for your clients. To be a specialist in a unique product category, you must first start by promoting your expertise in that category. An e-newsletter is a great place to begin. For examples of e-newsletters I have crafted, contact me at rickdavis@buildingleaders.com.

Rick Davis is president of Building Leaders Inc., an LBM advisory firm specializing in sales management training. He is an international speaker and author of Strategic Sales in the Building Industry, a BuilderBook publication. 773.769.4409. E-mail: rickdavis@buildingleaders.com