There's only one prime directive in the world of surfing: Locals rule. Just in paddling out into unfamiliar waters, out-of-town surfers can face verbal ridicule and harassment, vandalism of their gear and vehicles, and at times even physical assault. And you thought prospecting for contractor customers in new markets was tough.
“You can't change localism,” write the editors of Surfing magazine in “How to Surf a Localized Spot and Get Away With It,” an article in the May 2005 issue, “but you can work around it.”
Jeff Hogan, second-generation president of Berkeley, Calif.–based Ashby Lumber and an avid amateur surfer, agrees. In addition to surfing various breaks up and down the Northern California coast, Hogan is also charged with motivating the Ashby sales team to probe Bay Area contractor markets for new business. Together, we looked at Surfing's tips for entering unfriendly waters and developed the following three analogies to approaching, entering, and establishing a pro sales presence in a new market:
Pulling Up.Surfing magazine: Go alone. A party of one causes the least friction. And remember that the kings of the peak don't surf all day, every day. Make sure you get your fill when they're resting. Suit up, lock up, and take the quickest path to the beach. Keep eye contact and extended set checks to a minimum.
Unless you're gambling on an improbable “first-strike” takeover, there's no reason to roll into a new market with a phalanx of honking trucks branded with your logo. The pro dealer CEO need not ride in on initial sales calls with five top salespeople and the VP of operations, either. Without announcing to the world that you've taken a business interest in the market, “a direct but low-profile approach will allow you to explore markets more effectively by allowing multiple jobsite visits for relationship building, prospecting, and even sales,” says Hogan.
In the Lineup.Surfing: As soon as you enter the lineup, you've announced your presence no matter what you do. Chances are you'll get a few cold stares, maybe even one of those out-loud comments directed toward you: “Yeah, they'll let anyone out here these days.” When you do have a clear path, don't blow it. Ability will eventually earn respect if you're persistent and patient enough. If you do get hassled or yelled at, don't paddle in unless you're about to get clobbered. The aggressors will eventually tolerate you if you stick to the place like a limpet.
Pro dealers are infamous for keeping tabs on what the competition is doing in their markets. Once you begin to sell, you can bet that other suppliers are going to notice, and perhaps even work to thwart your efforts. “To establish yourself, you need to stand your ground and offer the best package of products and customer service you can,” Hogan says. Price cuts may get you in the door, but it will be sustained execution and professionalism that will earn the respect of contractors and local suppliers alike.
Post-Surf Response.Surfing: Keep it to yourself. The tendency is to tell all of your bros “I surfed just perfect.” Don't do it. That way, you can start visiting regularly with a clear conscience.
Keep a low profile. A little bit of sales pride is fine, but no one—especially established competition—wants to hear boasting, especially from a market newbie. Even if you manage to upsell from a load of framing lumber to a full subdivision of window and door packages, there's no reason to brag about your successes right away. Modestly securing yourself in the market and permanently allying yourself with the local contractors will ultimately give the competition the best pill to swallow.
Chris Wood is senior editor for PROSALES. 415.552.4154 E-mail: email@example.com