Bill Rossiter 
Bill Rossiter 

Editor's Note: Bill Rossiter contributed insights to our recent Sales Rep 2.0 feature. This column expands on what we published then.

In the “old” days, sales was about establishing a strong relationship and trust. Not that this isn’t still a personal business, but the process and expectations have evolved--regardless of whether your sales team has.

In the past, it was more about a relationship built on spending time with them: delivering donuts, sponsoring golf events, going on fishing trips and offering backends for volume discounts. Today, if you are selling to builders or the trade, you need a deeper understanding of what these companies care most about. In the end it’s really simple: Your customers are "for-profit" businesses, and ultimately their top priority is business performance, defined most simply, ias sustainable profitability.

Aug/Sept 2018 cover of ProSales
Kouzou Sakai/Folio Art

Today it’s more about being a true business partner than a vendor with good relationships. Your customer or prospect will ultimately judge you not on how well they did fishing last fall, but more on how you helped their business perform. And you can’t be a good business partner without first understanding how your customer makes money, and how THEY define business success. Then it's your job to offer expertise and solutions that can help in this quest.

Customers are Multi-Faceted
Business aren’t run by just one person, so our sales approach shouldn’t be single faceted. Today’s sales reps cannot succeed by interacting with merely one person in the organization--especially when your main contact is the buyer. Rather, you must more deeply understand everyone’s role in your customer's organization, what their accountability is, how they are incentivized, and most importantly, how they individually define success.

Take builders, for example. Historically (and presently with most companies), the sales rep only calls on the builder’s Purchasing Agent (PA). You must consider what every person’s role is in that builder’s organization. The PA is incentivized on year-over-year cost reduction per home sold. So, what do you think that conversation primarily will always be about if you don’t lead it? Price.

Your job as a sales rep is to demonstrate it’s really about profit, and that there are two sides to profit: price and value.

The sales rep needs to understand and interact with all the other builder’s influencers, not just the PA. Let’s look at each of them:

  • The owner ultimately wants to maximize profitability. Profit comes not only in a lower price, but profit can be had in many ways throughout the process. It’s the sales rep’s role to show all the angles of profit enhancement and work with the owner’s team to make it happen.
  • Subcontractors can influence the builder. Make sure they are educated and telling the same story you are, as they are typically closer and more influential to the builder than you probably are.
  • The architect (in-house or outside) is responsible to create spaces people want to live in. Expectations and trends are changing, so make sure you know (and even educate on) what trends they are designing around and help bring solutions to these new and existing home model designs.
  • The general contractor is incentivized on productivity, so the question becomes, "How do you demonstrate how your product solutions and service platform can optimize their construction cycle?"
  • The head of marketing is incentivized on profit per home sold--and how many upgrades each sale can deliver. Marketing wants to differentiate from the four other builders down the street. Help them with the messaging and deliver more sound upgrade options and messaging to sell and market from.
  • The builder's sales rep is incentivized on close rate and sales price. How can you give them all the information to help them differentiate and close the sale more quickly than the other competitive builders in the area?
  • The selection associate takes the reins after the initial sale is signed and walks the homeowners through options to make the home more customized. They are judged on upgrades to the original budget. Help them tell a story that will convince the homeowners to upgrade to a higher end (and more profitable) product.

Selling the Contractor
When we talk about contractors, the story is similar to builders but there are usually fewer players in their organization. Again, start with understanding how the contractor makes money and the key elements they focus on for their business’ success. We all know what contractors want: leads/referrals, no call backs, product and service consistency, fair prices, and ways to better market themselves and their reputation. Ultimately like the builder, they want more profitability per project. Again, profit comes not only from a lower price, but more so from demonstrating relevant value throughout the process. Part of the value you can bring to the channel is taking the opportunity to counsel them and bring some of your company’s insights and resources to bear.

"Your customer or prospect will ultimately judge you not on how well they did fishing last fall, but more on how you help their business perform."

A great example is a recent conversation I had with a roofing company’s sales rep. The rep wasn’t just selling trucks of shingles, she was helping her roofing contractors understand and leverage the trends in the market place. For example, the rep was able to show the contractor that while his mix was 27% high-end shingles, his geographic market would support a 40% mix. She put together a plan to train and provide samples to this contractor to sell and close more high-end jobs. The value of this is that there were no additional sales appointments needed, jobs to install or extra installation crews needed. it was merely finding a way to generate more profit per sale.

In this same story, the sales rep brought in her company’s logistics team and even the HR team to help them better automate their sales, marketing and operations processes, and give them hiring and training tips. This contractor was able to increase his profit per job and annual profits by double digits, as well as have a more optimized overall process. Success was achieved, with no fishing trip required. Now that’s a value-added business relationship!

Yes, the market demands new expectations, but the solution is a pretty simple concept. Help make your customer’s business more successful and profitable, and guess what? Your business will be, too.