For decades, most dealers have relied on two ways to sell builders. And now there's a better way.

The first traditional approach is not really selling at all, but simply taking orders. Venturing out to see the builder and asking if he needs anything might seem like a sales call, but you're really just an order taker who can easily be replaced by other dealers with more compelling offers.

The second approach is selling on price. This strategy can work in the short term. It also tends to work with short-sighted builders. If you look around, though, you'll find there are not many short-sighted builders who have survived the current downturn.

Mark Mitchell Even if you have a good relationship with the builder, selling "to" him is often still an adversarial game in which you both play poker and see who wins. This method's greatest challenge is convincing the builder to buy from you. Once you've made the sale, your job is basically done. Of course, you have to make sure the product gets delivered and handle any problems, but the reality is you've sold the product to the builder and now he owns it. What he does with it is his problem.

A Better Way to Sell

A better way to sell builders is to STOP trying to sell them, at least until you know what they really want to buy--even if what they want to buy is not your product. Take off your "selling" hat, and put on your "I'm curious" hat. Clear your mind of everything you think you know about a builder, builders in general, and home construction. This step is vital, because part of what you know is wrong; you just don't know which part.

This is often where young, inexperienced salespeople have an advantage--they don't know any better. They don't know what works and what doesn't. They ask great questions, which may even help builders realize they're stuck in an old way of thinking that's hurting their business.

Most everything we knew even five years ago is no longer relevant. People used to buy houses because they were great investments. Not so much today. They used to feel secure about a brand, product, or material. But the Internet has brought about a glut of experts sowing seeds of doubt about everything.

Shop the builder you're trying to sell, as well as his competition. What do you notice? What impressions are you left with? Make notes to share with the builder, good or bad. He wants to hear your impressions.

Visit a construction site and talk to the foreman or contractors. Ask them what their problems are.

Now ask yourself: Do you offer any products that could help the builder be more successful? Can your services make his life easier? Be prepared to show the value of these solutions to help you maintain your prices.

Start the "Right" Conversations

Now you're ready to start talking with the builder. Tell him about your research and what you learned. The builder will usually open up and tell you what his problems are, which is what he really wants to buy. Now he's ready to hear how you can help him solve his problem with your product or service.

Builders should feel like you see them as unique and are sincerely interested in their success. This type of sales call will result in greater insight, stronger relationships with builders, and long-term success.

Mark Mitchell is president and chief creative officer of Interrupt Marketing. His clients include a number of building material manufacturers, including Owens Corning, Dow, CertainTeed, Merillat, and Weyerhaeuser.