Pick up your sales to contractors

This is an encore of an article Michael Chusid published 14 years ago. There have been dramatic changes during the intervening years. Now, many contractors are as connected in the field as they are in the office, thanks to mobile computing and wi-fi.

Technology, timing, and training are the keys to reaching busy contractors

Many of our customers are small contractors. They spend their days out on job sites or running around town in their pickup trucks. Because they are rarely in their offices, it's very difficult to make sales calls. Can you suggest ways to reach contractors like these? - G.C., marketing vice president

As you have discovered, the key members of contractors' staffs are usually out in the field, picking up materials, visiting plan rooms, and running jobs. Few small contractors keep regular office hours.

Technology can offer solutions. The growing use of cellular phones has made it possible to locate contractors in the field or in their truck cabs. Portable computers with fax modems are another means to reach contractors on the go.

Technology can also help building product makers deliver product information when customers need it, even if salespeople aren't available. Most small contractors are so busy during the day they have to plan projects in the evening and on weekends. Online services can give contractors information, including product literature and order status, during these off hours.

There are other ways to reach contractors in their pick ups. A major roofing company recently distributed a series of audio tapes on managing a roofing business. They suggested that contractors put their driving time to productive use by listening to the educational programs in their vehicles. The tapes gave general advice on marketing, safety, and other management topics, but also told their captive audiences about the manufacturer's promotions and customer service programs.

While your customer may not keep bankers' hours, most contractors do have a predictable rhythm to their work schedules. To reach them, your salespeople may have to make calls early in the morning, before contractors leave for job sites, or keep a pair of boots in the trunk to call on prospects in the field. Part of salespeople's jobs is to get to know contractors' work habits and identify the best opportunities to make calls.

Hilti, a manufacturer of construction grade fasteners, has made a specialty of calling on contractors in the field. Bypassing independent distributors, Hilti's salespeople deliver inventory on the spot and demonstrate the latest in tools and fasteners. Their bright red vans are familiar on job sites.

Leveraging distributors
Lacking sales fleets like Hilti's, other manufacturers have discovered a valuable alternative for reaching small contractors. Many contractors start their day by stopping at a distributor's warehouse. With such frequent customer contact, distributors can play an important role in promoting your product.

However, most distributors are geared toward taking and filling orders, not selling. If you want sales leverage from your distributors, it is up to you to motivate them. And you must train them so their staff can speak authoritatively about your product.

One strategy is to bring key personnel from each distributor to your plant for training. If you can't justify this expense, bring training to them with seminars, videotapes, and hands-on demonstrations.

Besides technical presentations, include sales training, so distributor staff know how to ask for an order. Davis Colors, a leading manufacturer of concrete pigments, trains counter salespeople at ready mix dealers to ask, "What color do you want?" to encourage customers to get pigments added to their concrete.

After you have trained the distributors' staff, offer to train the distributors' customers. Most leading distributors will let you use their warehouses or yards to train local contractors. Such after-work sessions are great opportunities to build goodwill for you and your distributor. If you include a hands-on segment, make sure your demonstrator is a top notch crafts person who will earn the respect of your audience.

Support your training by providing merchandising materials for your dealers. Co-op money can put your logo in local advertising, on the dealer's stationery, and on exterior signage.

Develop attractive point-of-purchase materials, such as freestanding displays and posters for distributors' showrooms, and combination show cards and literature racks for sales counters. Just in case contractors still don't get the message, encourage the sales clerks to wear shirts with your company logo.

Finally, use your sales time strategically. Time spent getting your product specified for a job means many contractors will be familiar with your product when they prepare their bids. And in every community, certain contractors set the pace for the rest. Concentrate your sales efforts on reaching these leaders, and leave the rest to word of mouth.

Have a question you'd like us to answer?
Send an email to michaelchusid@chusid.com 

By Michael Chusid
Originally published in Construction Marketing Today, Copyright ©1997