Are you a merchandiser or a marketer? Here’s the difference: Merchandisers push products, while marketers promise an experience.

Think about the pizza campaign that promises “delivery in 30 minutes or it’s free” without once bringing up the quality of the product. Consider the marketing campaign where a gecko with a charming accent promises that just “15 minutes will save you 15% or more” on insurance—but says nary a word about policies, payouts, or coverage. Or look at how MasterCard chooses marketing over merchandising in its “priceless” campaign, where it suggests the cost of the products bought ultimately add up to less than the joy of the experience.

The lesson to take away is that you can differentiate yourself from the competition by delivering a promise that focuses on the experience you provide. Builders can buy products anywhere, so why should they choose you?

I have long advocated that you should stop thinking that builders build things for a living. They sell them, just like you. You will be most successful as a marketer when you stop pushing (i.e. merchandising) products and start helping pull profits to your clients.

To begin to differentiate yourself as a marketing machine, start with these three steps:

1. Use marketing tools to generate client profits. The merchandising salesman literally drops literature in the laps of builders and hopes they read it. The marketing salesman uses brochures and showrooms to equip builders with tools to sell their homes.

Take time to teach builders how to exploit the key aspects of your showroom and literature when talking with their clients. For example, instead of using a consumer product selection guide to push product to builders, use it to sell consumers for and with builders.

2. Sell profit, not price. This is a concept I first wrote about in my book, “Strategic Sales in the Building Industry.” It calls for you to get away from price discussions and instead sell the total profit to be reaped from your services.

You help your clients make money in two ways: cost savings and markups. A merchandising salesman “bids and prays,” hoping the price will be enough to win business from the competition. A marketing salesman illustrates in a proposal how the builder will grow profits as a result of timely deliveries, accurate takeoffs, markup on brand name products, and after-sale service. Don’t expect builders to figure out the profit model you provide and then thank you for it. Instead, proactively calculate and promote the profits you help builders generate.

3. Make business easy. This is the biggest opportunity you have in your market. For all the time-savings devices we have in the world today, it seems time is scarcer than ever. Merchandising salesmen wait for builders to request quotes and schedule deliveries; then they spend the remainder of the transaction reacting and putting out fires when things go wrong. Marketing salesmen anticipate the end result of the transaction and make sure every potential problem is addressed before it occurs. Figure out how you can make business easy for your builders and they will readily make you their preferred supplier.

Stop promoting products. Instead, promote the bigger promise you bring to the table, a promise to help builders sell more effectively while managing their costs. Worry less about the price and more about the outcome you provide.

Remember: One lumber package … $20,000. A houseful of custom wood windows … $12,000. A nail gun delivered to the jobsite … $240. A no hassle experience for a builder who recommends you to everyone in the market … priceless.

Rick Davis is the president of Building Leaders, a training organization devoted exclusively to the sale of building materials. His next book, “The Sales Secret,” will soon be available. To order it, go to, 773.769.4409, or contact Rick at