Today’s remote work landscape doesn’t leave a lot of room for the face-to-face communication that building materials distributors often rely on to effectively sell their products.
With just about everyone in the channel now working from home and heavily relying on Zoom and Video Conferencing to replace lunch & learns, the architect and design community is growing tired of virtual meetings and declining to participate in them, creating an even more difficult work/sales dynamic.
This additional lack of communication poses a new challenge for distributors as they consider how to build relationships with architects and designers. Now more than ever, you need to have the best building materials marketing, sales tools and techniques to ensure you’re staying in touch with the A&D community in a way that engages them during this transitional time.
Let’s look at 10 unique ways to build (and maintain) relationships with the A&D community.
Having open lines of communication between you and your client helps keep projects on time and on budget. Your ability to provide the A&D community with valuable and timely information can make or break customer relationships. When you build this type of trust, you are showing your commitment to developing a strong partnership that is focused on your client’s success.
The A&D community puts a lot of trust in their distributors (and materials) they choose, and a lot of the final decision-making comes down to how well the distributor can sell the benefits of the right product for a project. This is where communication is key.
- Ask the right questions about the project and avoid making assumptions. Every job has some aspect that’s unique. Don’t assume you know exactly what the architect or designer needs until you’ve dug into the project with them.
- Communicate early and often. Starting a consistent level of communication early in the process helps you learn more about the project, what the customer is looking for and what they expect from a partnership.
- Be honest about your products. There is a chance you may not have the right materials for the job, and that is ok. You still have the opportunity to build a relationship and develop a deeper level of trust and credibility within the A&D community through your honest answers and willingness to help.
- Be honest about supply chain issues. COVID has caused a lot of disruptions in the supply chain, so be upfront about any delays or issues. Make sure you are clearly communicating product availability, and have a plan on alternate products if the chosen product’s manufacturer can’t meet delivery dates.
This year has brought about several supply and demand challenges, causing the A&D community to look for different suppliers due to problems like lack of product availability and customer support. This is when you can do an excellent job of maintaining your customer base. After all, the best way to get new clients is by keeping your current ones happy.
Word-of-mouth goes a long way from a marketing perspective.
- Be a proactive partner. Being proactive goes hand-in-hand with communication. Don’t stop once you know you have a satisfied customer. Keep your eye on the current industry trends for both your products and the A&D community, and offer your services before they are needed. This will show your preparedness and help eliminate negative experiences, especially in times of sudden economic and growth changes.
- Use Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software to keep track of your past and current clients to create long-term relationships. If you haven’t already, consider creating a customer database that will help you keep track of your past and current clients, their needs, experiences and how you can best serve them in the future. CRM software will help you arrange your customer data for quick and easy access.
As a distributor, you want to do everything you can to win (and keep) your clients. One of the best ways to ensure your products remain front and center in the minds of your customers is to anticipate their needs and have solutions prepared before they ask for them.
In other words, a great way to build strong, lasting relationships with architects and designers is to think like them. This includes going beyond your direct relationship with them and seeing the full picture of their professional roles.
Always have a good process in place that ensures you are available to answer questions and keep up the enthusiasm for your products and the solutions they offer. Following are some things to consider when developing your own sales and service processes:
- What are the architect’s outside pressures? Get detailed information about the project so you can understand any restrictions or guidelines the architect needs to follow. This will help you discover the pain points they may be facing with budgeting, design, contractors, etc.
- Understand the job site hierarchy. Knowing the chain of command and the approval process on a job site will help you more effectively pitch your product with the right selling points for each decision-maker.
- What are the internal politics of the project? Do the contractors or building owners have a preferred list of distributors or building materials they like to use? Anticipate the questions the architect will need to answer to change their mind.
Becoming familiar with the overall professional landscape in which your clients perform daily will give you a competitive edge and help create a trusted partnership.
While it’s a great idea to know the roles architects and designers play in a project, it’s also wise to understand a little more about who they need to convince that your product is the right one for the job: Their other work relationships play a role in their decision to choose your product.
Whether you’re their go-to product or this is the first time they will spec products you carry for the job, the A&D community will need to know the best ways to defend their decision to the senior architects at their firm, their contractors and their clients. Here are a few things you need to know to help your architect sell your product:
- Will contractors be able to install your product using standard installation practices? Even if you have an improved installation method, if a contractor has been doing the same thing for 30 years, switching to a “better” method can be a tough sell.
- Will architects be able to prove to building owners that your product is the look they want, quality they need and fits within their budget? Make sure architects have all the information they need to convince their clients that the product you helped them choose is the right choice in every way.
- General Contractors (GC) also hold a lot of power but are often consulted late in the project about the products that the architect has chosen. You can help your architect by asking if they are aware of the GC’s timetable, worker availability and how that will impact product choice. If not, you can help them find the best product to work within the GC’s constraints, ensuring they have a good relationship with the GC from the start.
Making an architect’s job easier — and making them look good in the process — is probably one of the best sales tools you can have at your disposal. When you have in-depth knowledge about your client’s previous work, you have special insight that not only helps you sell your product but also helps the architect or design team sell it to their clients.
Take the time to go through their past project data and research and learn as much as you can about how products have performed for them in the past, then use that data to show what your product can do for a particular project.
Continuing to learn about an architect and/or designer’s work will enable you to create an amazing reference library for future sales pitches. Your ability to discuss their past projects and how your product can fit into their present/future ones is a great way to stand out and show you understand their business.
An easy way to organize this information is to add it to their record in your CRM (see tip number two above).
There are several ways you can continue to network even if in-person and virtual meetings are limited. For example, as the number one content source for professionals, LinkedIn is a premier destination for professionals to educate themselves about your business and connect with you and your products.
- Having a strong presence on LinkedIn is a great way to leverage your digital sales and marketing presence.
- As one of the best traffic drivers to business-to-business (B2B) websites, professionals engage with LinkedIn to find useful and informative content that is relevant to their industry.
- The LinkedIn audience is more likely to act and engage with your company once they are on your LinkedIn page or company website.
Also, being a member of building materials associations and organizations, like NBMDA, can bring you many new contacts. Taking the time to develop those personal relationships gives you the opportunity to share ideas, learn from other’s experiences and gain the potential to share clients through recommendations.
To dig a little deeper into the previous tip, let’s focus on the specific relationship between the A&D community and contractors. Contractors serve an important role within this community.
This relationship is an especially important one that is built on a high level of professional trust. Contractors are responsible for helping architects and designers bring their visions to life. That is why it is worth considering developing strong relationships within contractor networks.
Getting involved in these networks help you gain the trust of respected contractors, which can go a long way. As a distributor, you play an important part in the construction process, and ensuring contractors are aware of your products and how they work gives you an additional avenue into the A&D community.
Following are a few quick ways you can start interacting with contractor networks:
- The Associated General Contractors of America (AGC) gives you access to more than 27,000 contractors, contracting firms, and service providers and suppliers. AGC also operates local chapters, allowing you to develop professional relationships with contractors in your area.
- The National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) is the largest network of craftsmen, innovators and problem solvers. NAHB membership comes with access to industry-specific networks, educational resources, advisory councils and more, even at a local level. The NAHB International Builders Show (which is accepting registration for 2021!) is also a great event that helps connect the residential construction industry.
- Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC) is a national construction industry trade association with more than 21,000 members. The ABC is well-known for its commitment to its members, work safety and ethics, and operates at a regional and local level as well.
- LinkedIn is a good place to start following the organizations listed above as well as finding more local contractor businesses and networks. LinkedIn also has a feature that allows people to ask for suggestions for well-respected vendors, adding a new level of engagement and opportunity to have your business featured to contractors.
When you have the resources available to help the A&D community understand and use your products, you have the potential to become their most trusted distributor who can give them the information they need to ensure a seamless design.
Evaluate your website and make sure you have the right materials to address anything the A&D community would need to know. Being a trusted resource for both products AND knowledge will go a long way.
- Provide information about remodels, new construction, your product category(s) and your products.
- Include sales tools that architects can use to pitch your products to building owners. This can also include testimonials and recommendations from other contractors.
- Show any information that may be required by a contractor such as installation process or materials needed for the install.
- Include installation videos.
The next best thing to meeting with your clients is directing them to your online resources. That’s why it’s so important to keep your online content up to date. While this may seem like an obvious task, it can be easy to forget while trying to figure out how to navigate through today’s ever-changing work landscape.
- Keep your contact information accurate and up to date. Make sure the correct contacts, links, hours of operation and other contact information are up to date on your website and social media channels.
- Keep your blogs, status updates, testimonials and other posts up to date. This shows that you are a reliable source and thought leader who is committed to bringing their clients the latest industry information. You don’t have to post every day, but have a reliable posting schedule to show your consistency.
- Post any information that potential clients will need before contacting you. For example, what are your COVID-19 practices and procedures? Do you need building plans or sketches before you can have a full discussion?
- Does your online presence show your passion? Make sure your online presence is a positive reflection that shows your team’s passion and values. This can be a huge differentiator for your business.
Building material manufacturers and distributors should always be flexible. It doesn’t matter how much planning and preparation is done, when it comes to building projects, changes are inevitable. That’s why you want to be as open and responsive as possible to show the A&D community you are always available to help them keep their work on track.
When you can show you’re prepared to be flexible from the beginning of a project, the architect will know they can depend on your support for all their future projects.
- Evaluate how your quotes are prepared and submitted. Is there room for improvements that would make the architect’s job easier?
- Think about the typical problems that come up during the project’s design phase and be ready with alternatives.
- Learn as much as you can about your architect’s project so you can understand and prepare for any changes related to how your materials will work with other components of the building.