#103: Strengthening Relationships With Channel Partners

by Smarter Building Materials Marketing

This week, Zach and Beth talk with Bradley Hartmann from Behind Your Back Sales to discuss strategies on communicating with channel partners during the pandemic and how to build those relationships.

More About This Episode

In this episode, Zach and Beth get tips from Bradley on how communication should change to fit the market, how to be proactive in your company and how to maintain business when times are tough.

Transcript

Zach:

Supply shortages are one of the hottest topics right now in building products, if not the single biggest issue for a lot of manufacturers and dealers in those, in the channel. It's incredible to see if you just look at the climate, the market right now, how much demand there is for billing materials and how much lead times have exponentially expanded along with costs for a lot of materials out there.

And this is creating a lot of strain for the channel and for those specifically selling to the GCs and builders of the world, which is why I'm excited about today's episode. We bring on a sales and marketing specialist that focuses on the dealer distributor arena. They share some really simple strategies for how communicating with your channel partners should change now with the current market and how you can be proactive and keep business even when times are strained.

Regardless of whether or not you have supply shortages or not, this is an incredible episode for anybody that wants to strengthen relationships with their channel partners. All right, let's go to the episode.

Voiceover:

Welcome to the Smarter Building Materials Marketing Podcast, helping you find better ways to grow leads, sales, and outperform your competition.

Zach:

All right, everybody. Welcome to Smarter Building Materials Marketing, where we believe your online presence should be your best salesperson. I am Zach Williams alongside my cohost, Beth PopNikolov. We've got an awesome show lined up for you today.

Beth:

Yeah. We have a great guest. We have at Bradley Hartmann from Behind Your Back Sales Company. Bradley, we're so excited to have you on. Why don't you tell our listeners a little bit about who you are and what Behind Your Back Sales Company is all about.

Bradley:

You bet. Thank you. Big fans of the show. So excited to be here. So I grew up in the lumber and building materials business. So when I was 14, started working at a lumberyard and then mold windows together and worked at a door shop and delivered cabinetry, and worked at a trust plant through my father. He was in the business for 40 years.

So fell in love with the business there and then worked for over a decade at a national home builder. Built over a thousand homes in the field, and then transitioned into an area purchasing role during some very interesting times from 2007 to 2011. And that's where I really got to see this other side of selling and how we chose to buy and then launched the Behind Your Back Sales Company. We work primarily with dealers, but also distributors and manufacturers, helping them make it easy for people to buy.

Zach:

I love that. I mean, you've got a pretty good following too, Bradley, don't you? I mean, you've got your own podcast, is that right?

Bradley:

True. So we have the Behind Your Back Podcast. We kind of focus on sales and leadership. And that's why your show has been such a great compliment. Really picked up a lot of the social media and general marketing things for our channel. So I think it's a really good one-two punch. So excited to be here.

Zach:

Well, I'm seamlessly plugging it because I think you've got a great show and you've got great insight. And especially if you're a manufacturer, you're trying to learn about what's happening with builders, contractors, dealers, distributors, whatever it might be, Bradley's got some great insights. So that's a shameless plug. We'll make sure we link to that as well.

Bradley:

Thank you.

103 Behind Your Back Podcast

Zach:

What I really want to talk to you about today, Bradley is a lot of the conversations we're having today are about how can companies pivot and improve within the midst of COVID and post-COVID. And I think your perspective is really needed on our show and for our listeners, because you're on the front lines about what's happening from a sales standpoint. So I love to just dive into this episode and talk with you a little about, well, what are you seeing from a dealer perspective about how they are adapting their business? What are you seeing that's working? And then what information do you think is important for manufacturers to hear from them about?

Bradley:

Yeah, absolutely. And maybe it will just set the stage because I think manufacturers, distributors and dealers are all facing the same thing as COVID came in March. Everyone started hoarding cash, started thinking about furloughing employees and started preparing for the great recession 2.0. March wasn't great. April was maybe 10 points off. May, a few points if not even. In June, for a lot of folks has been fantastic. And I think collectively our industry is kind of, we're patting ourselves down now and being like, "Oh, we're alive. We're here. We made it."

And here's a problem. And for some, it's a good problem, but it's a real problem that dealers are having is now that we're here, we've all prepared for the worst and it's not here. And now we're all struggling to satisfy our customers. I think manufacturers in general, they are poised to go on offense if, and it's a big if, if they can do the very minimum, the basics, which is communicate lead times, deliver product on time, and when things change, just communicate.

Right now dealers are really struggling just to understand what those are and schedule things out for their customers. So they're doing a lot of reactive scrambling and meanwhile, they've also done the same thing. They've laid people off or they've got people working from home. So all of this is just a huge disruption and they're really struggling to find a way out and just find a predictable path from week to week.

Beth:

So I think one question that we would have that actually, exactly what you're saying, Bradley, plays really well into a conversation we were just having with a lumber dealer previously about the need for manufacturers to communicate the need for them to give insight into availability, which let's just be honest, if this is the very first time that you've just realized, that's something that you need to be doing for your customers, that's like a whole different conversation. It feels like you should have been doing that all along.

But what are you hearing from your lumber dealers that you're interacting with about this communication? And maybe you can tell us who you think is doing it well for them and what gaps they're still having to endure, so to speak.

Bradley:

Yeah, I think it's fundamentally about doing the way we've always done it, which is when times are good, we're really investing in that relationship. And what I've heard a lot from dealers is that we always talk about it being a relationship business. However, now the rubber is meeting the road and if a pressure-treated lumber, if sheet goods, if these are on allocation, well, that means that manufacturer and distributor, we are making choices on who gets what. And all of a sudden it's kind of like, "What's going on? I thought we were friends. Where's my stuff?"

103 Do Not Go Dark

All of a sudden they're saying, "Some guys went dark." I was talking to a supplier of gypsum and drywall and he was saying they have furloughed their salespeople. So that salesperson we have is only working every other week, and because the news is generally bad, he doesn't communicate. So either he's not working and I can't communicate with him or he's working in hiding. So he's saying, "Hey, even if it's bad news, just be here, be present with me."

And meanwhile, dealers are kind of struggling because a lot of them have not invested in communication channels themselves on having a chat feature on a website and really simple online ordering. So all of these things, communication all through the channel are really just kind of gumming up the works. And everyone's just trying to kind of fix it on the fly when, as you guys know, these things generally take years to implement and folks are now just trying to have those discussions now, put those processes in which are next to impossible. So it's just they're constantly waking up day after day, really in reactive mode.

Beth:

Exhausting.

Zach:

I love what you're saying and actually, I don't love it, but I think it's interesting that people are just not responding because they have no good news. They're just like, "I can't take giving you bad news because I'm afraid of how you're going to respond. So I'm just going to go ghost you," is what's going to happen, which is going to come back to bite them when they actually do a product and when they can sell.

Bradley:

Yeah. Well, absolutely. And I think what this industry does well is generally we are problem solvers, and I think if I come to you and I say, "Beth, Zack, here's the deal. We have a seven-week lead time and I know that your best customer needs us in three. I've shut off my phone and I got with my team and we spent the last three hours thinking of alternatives to help you through this. I don't know if any of these are good, but we've got a range of alternatives. Let's meet to discuss them." Show me you're putting in that effort to think through some alternate ways to make this happen.

Zach:

Bradley, I'd love to hear an example of a dealer or even a manufacturer that you see that's doing a good job and navigating this right now that's being proactive in their marketing and in their communication. Do you have anybody, if I could put you on the spot?

Bradley:

Yeah, just recently we have a dealer client who called me, they work exclusively with the national builders. So certainly had some perspective there and they said, "Here's..." The rumor is that the national builder is going to come and ask for just like a flat seven and a half percent deduct off the bottom line. We heard that's coming. But meanwhile, from the commodity standpoint, we have an increase coming in our costs. And our concern is we're going to come and lose this business when they're asking for a deduct and we're asking for an increase.

They're like, "What should we do?" And I said, "Well, here's what I would do. Overall, what they're trying to do is lower house costs while keeping all the value. That's hard to do. You don't want to be part of that. However, what you can do is..." And they also handle lumber building materials, but they also install it. So I said, "You have a wide range of ideas on ways that you can just lower house costs. Now some of those don't put bass in all the closets. Well, that's one way. That's an option you can."


And what we did is we allocated three hours and we got on the phone, we did a Zoom call and we ended up with 74 different unique ways that they could lower house costs. Now, some of these don't install a mirror in the powder room. We assume that they would say, "We don't want to do that." But we also had some of their competitors that were doing something similar. So they were all within the realm of possibility and we said, "Let's go out to them proactively and say, 'Hey, at some point, if this continues and we found ourselves in 10 years later in the great recession, 2.0, you're probably going to ask how we can lower house costs, so you can ultimately sell more homes at a lower price point.'"

"We've come up with all these ideas. We put our heads together. We're thinking about your business. We looked at your competitors. We'd like to have a meeting. We probably need 90 minutes to go through them. Are you open to that?" And they said, "I love this. Why are we waiting to a near crisis to have this conversation? We want these ideas more proactively." So I think it's that sort of thing where instead of waiting that there might be bad news, waiting for Zack and Beth to call me and have this discussion about prices, let's go in with ideas. Again, I should live out what we want to be, which is like a consultant seller.

Beth:

What a shift in the conversation. So now you're not in negotiations. No one is negotiating over price. Instead, you're being an incredible partner to this vendor versus having to... Well, we know that you're just trying to cut our costs so that we don't cut your costs. You literally just flipped it on its head. It's incredible.

Bradley:

Well, absolutely. So the name Behind Your Back came from a book that I wrote after I left being in that purchasing role. And that's Behind Your Back: What purchasing managers say, once you leave the room and how to get them to say yes. And the thesis there was, we all want the same things. I want to work with an expert who has ideas and insights who can help me make, find, and save money, and I enjoy working with.

Beth, if you and I are a fit there, that's great. And if not, I want to exit this conversation as fast as possible. But I'm like the both sides want the same thing, and yet the way that we sell and the way that builders buy often create all this friction, all these long lead times and a bunch of pain and angst on both sides that are largely unnecessary.

Zach:

Well, by the way, Bradley, I love the name of your business, Behind Your Back Sales because to me you're like, "Well, wait. What are you saying behind my back and who is talking behind me?"

Beth:

Yeah.

Zach:

I would love to know right now, what do you think the conversation that's being had by builders specifically behind the back of a manufacturer? What is the conversation that they're having that manufacturers don't know that they're having, that they need to be aware of?

Bradley:

Large question, broadly speaking, but also I think germane to this moment in time is that in general, over the course of history and industry, as the technology improves, you see quality go up and the price go down. For builders, when it comes to the large components and trusses and wall panels and floor panels, and those sorts of things, the opposite is happening. We are seeing technology advance and yet this price continues to inch upwards. And builders in general are saying, "Why is that?"

And then we're seeing also these productivity of labor in general has been talked a lot about in construction is either stagnant over the past 20, 30 years. We said this when I got into the business in 2000. The way we build homes today, outside of a few different things, isn't that different from the way we built homes a hundred years ago, which is insane.

I think we are probably deliberately ignoring some of the advances in technology there, but in general, you visit a job site, a custom home, or even some national builders, guys, you're doing the same things in the same way we have for a long time. So I think for national builders are saying, "If we have this volume, why are we not seeing new ideas and new innovation come through the channel that are seeing our costs go down, not go up and not stay flat." So I think that's the much larger question that's happening.

103 Advancing Technology

Zach:

What's your response to them? "Sorry, it costs more to do what we do, even though it's more efficient"? How do you respond to that? Because if I'm a builder the conversation I'm having is I can't have an entry-level home. I can't build an entry-level home profitably anymore. Or I can, but I've really got to cut corners or it's got to be a home that maybe somebody doesn't want or an area somebody doesn't want. What's the conversation that you see working, Bradley?

Bradley:

I think in general and why I love your podcast is you look at two big, probably the most important functions within a business, which is innovation and marketing. As you descend through the supply chain from a manufacturer to a distributor, to a dealer, that skill and understanding and expertise comes down quickly. And at the dealer level, they're kind of struggle with innovation and finding new ways. And there's some bright spots like Acchione Brothers. I think they do an unbelievable job connecting marketing and sales.

But in general, when we talk about marketing, we talk about innovation, those are so much stronger at the manufacturer level. And I think manufacturers can bring a lot of that expertise to help them think through, "Hey, let's look at your marketing strategy." And unfortunately at the dealer level, a lot of times marketing consists of, "We've got someone. We post on Facebook every now and then. We post in Instagram and we schedule the biannual barbecue. That's what we do."

A lot of times you can see this. This is probably for a separate podcast, but we have a lot of VPs of sales and marketing. You would never have a VP of sales and finance. That's crazy. Why? Well, those are two really important functions that are very different, but a lot of times we think of sales and marketing is the same. So I could go on a rant here and blow out this entire episode here. But I think in short, distributors and manufacturers need to kind of bring in some of that innovation and tell a better story.

We always talked about the TCO, total cost of ownership as a builder. Tell me a story where I can pay 30% more for your product here, but in the long run, five years through my warranty, I can save 20% with data in a way that I believe you. And that story is told few and far between, I can tell you firsthand.

Beth:

First of all, with that rant, you would have a standing ovation from Zach and I at least. I think you're saying such an important message, and I just want to take a minute to make sure that it's being clear because you're literally saying the opposite of what we hear from manufacturers. Manufacturers will say, "We would love to bring a new product to the market. We would love to be innovative. If we're innovative, no one will buy our product, no one will give us a chance, no one will put us in their homes or in their apartment buildings."

Zach:

It's too expensive.

Beth:

It's too expensive. The rate of adoption is too slow. It's too low. Don't even get me started on dealers stocking our new products. And you're saying, "Actually, the market is asking for it, but it's the way that the new products and the innovation is being delivered that's causing it to go flat."

Bradley:

I believe that. And I would often sit in there and I would say, "Hey, just tell me your story. How are you better? How are you different?" And so many salespeople struggled with that and they would tell me a story and they would give me a five-page pamphlet in size five font. And I'm like I'm not going to read this. And then they would come and say, "It's real easy. You just got to go to your framer. You got to go to your electrician and you tell him, if you buy this, then you can decrease his contract by 20%."

Now I'd say, "Well, if I'm in purchasing, you just gave me an idea. And even if I liked that idea, I have to do all the work." I would say, "You go to the electrician. You go to the frame. You talk. You tell him where that the productivity savings will allow him to do 10 more houses." And then they'd be like, "Well, you know how electricians are?" I said, "Yeah, I do. I have to buy from them today."

So I said, "You do the hard work." And I realize it's not easy. And it takes thinking, and you've got to think differently, which I think is the reason a lot of people don't do it. But there are certainly instances and examples where you see... And you guys are helping them be successful, but you got to tell a really simple story that travels well and I think most don't do that.

Zach:

Yeah. I mean, we as an agency, we obviously focus a lot on the messaging of how to deliver those sales points that you're talking about. How do we deliver that digitally. But what you're talking about as a friction point in the communication relationship which I think is really important because what you're talking about, which is something we often bring up on the show is friction. What level of friction is present in your sales process? You might have a great product that's going to save much of money, but if there's an additional 5% that you need to go to do some additional leg work for them, that gets you in the door. Why aren't we training people to look for those opportunities to just break down every barrier and every reason why they couldn't try a product that ever might be.

We think that, "Oh, I'm presenting the value of this product. Why don't you just try it?" Because it's more work for them. Nobody wants more work. Everybody has enough work. Nobody goes to work and goes, "You know what, I have nothing to do today." Everybody can do more. I have so much time. You know?

Bradley:

Yeah. And we often talk to our dealers about this shift that's been going. For you guys and your listeners, I'm going to be preaching to the choir, but it's this shift from high touch experiences to low touch content. And as a purchasing manager, the primary way things were sold to me was, "Hey, let's go to a five-hour round at Medina. Let's go have an hour and a half meeting with me and my six smartest colleagues. Let's go to a Cubs game." Those take a lot of time and I would say, "Hey, I'd love to do that with you. I just need pricing on this or I just need a solution to this problem."

Like, "Hey, great. Let's set up a meeting." High touch experience. It takes a lot of touch. It takes a lot of my time and I didn't have it. And this shift to low touch content, which again, preaching the choir here is putting out content that when I type into Google, whatever that is, your content comes up. And I can review that, I can learn from it, I can share it, I can do it at 11:30 at night, I can do it at 5:00 in the morning.

And it's not that I don't like Jim, my sales guy, but I just don't want to call him and talk to him, because when I do, it's 40 minutes later, I get off the phone and it's a huge interruption. So this shift, again, from high touch experiences and sales to low touch content, manufacturers and agencies like you guys are helping, but getting that shift down to the dealer level, which is kind of coming in face to face contact with builders that's really, really slow.

Beth:

You know what's so interesting is I was just having a conversation with a manufacturer a couple of weeks ago, who was actually talking about how this shift to everything online has really impacted their sales guys. He was like, "Man, you get my sales guys in front of a dealer, they're great with the, how was your fishing trip last week? How's your wife? They know your kids' birthdays. They can talk to you about the local high school football team that you super care about." He's like, "You get them on Zoom and they go blank. They can't treat it the same. And it's actually hurt their business because they weren't able to make that shift to online, to that low touch content, to having those low touch conversations. It just was such a disconnect for their sales team. They had to get super innovative with their marketing tactics to make up for it."

Bradley:

It's interesting. You bring up a great point, Beth is that we were doing a Zoom call. We've done a bunch of trainings since this hit, as a lot of folks are working from home, can't do what they normally do. So they say, "Hey, let's do some training." So since March, we've probably throughout the channel, probably 750 sales reps. And I would always ask is as we've been in COVID for a month or two months or three months, I would say, "How many Zoom calls have you done with either A, customers or B, prospects?" And we would say maybe 10 to 20% did a Zoom call to see face-to-face with a customer. Almost zero with a prospect.

They're just like, "Well, they don't want to. I can't wait to get back to do what I did before. I need that face to face." I would say, "Okay. Correct me if I'm wrong. I see your face. You see my face on the screen. We both benefit from seeing each other's nonverbal communication. This is face to face." They'd roll their eyes and they're like, "Oh, you tricked me here." I was like, "This is still face to face."

Beth:

Not funny.

Bradley:

Is it the same? No. But we've seen so many folks, including my clients, including builders who were saying that the Zoom stuff has been over the top. However, I have saved so much time. And when this guy comes by with a box of donuts, block out an hour, because that's what we're doing. He's nice. I like them. I don't want to kick them out, but now I have to allocate an hour for whatever he's going to do because he brought over 12 donuts.

So again, it's this, how can we shift this little thinking in our mind? And again, I think this intelligence and these changes can come from anywhere. This can come from a manufacturer saying, "Hey, we have a checklist of top 10 things we do to not have a crappy Zoom call." I know you're probably struggling with this too is why don't I just give you a mini-training just one-on-one?" That can immediately help drive sales.

Beth:

So if I can shift gears just for a little bit, you have such perspective and insight into this that I really think, especially our manufacturer listeners I know that they're going to benefit from. What smart strategies are you seeing from manufacturers to service the channel?

Bradley:

Yeah. I think there's a couple of bright spots here and I'm somewhat biased. I know these folks, I'm friends with them, but the Boise Cascade folks who handle the engineered wood products, they are... Well, yes, they're in manufacturing and they're in distribution as well is they're coming in. They're getting a lot of analytics and a lot of data from the optimization saws and things like that. And they're able to take that information, think it through and be able to come back to directly address opportunities to improve productivity.

They're coming in saying, "Hey, we're working together and this is what we can help you with." So I think that's a huge one. Windsor One who does a really high-quality craftsmanship trim, I think they're doing a lot of really unique things that I just follow just to learn from, but they're linking sales and marketing and really driving word of mouth marketing to really have that marketing effort be the, to use a war analogy, the carpet bombing ahead of the troops that are running in, and that they have a lot of fun with it.

So they've been kind of really collaborating at the dealer level to... They did a thing where it was going to be an in-person event. They kept the same date. Obviously, it was not in-person. But they coordinate it, so everyone who was coming to the event online got delivered food at about the same time, so you were still like eating together.

Beth:

Oh, that's really cool. Smart.

Bradley:

You just think, it's a little thing, but the coordination, you're like, "Dude, how did you do that?" Well, yeah, they were thoughtful and I think thoughtfulness is always differentiation. And if we get together and I show that, "Hey, I've spent time, and effort, and energy here, and I can come up with an insight or idea or at least have a different conversation with you guys, that thoughtfulness can be a differentiator and we need more of that instead of less of what my normal milk run, just kind of going on my normal path and I'll be by every third week of the month, and we'll have the same conversation.

Zach:

People are calling out sick because they know you're coming in. I'm just kidding. That's great. Bradley, this has been awesome, man. I really appreciate you coming on the show and just sharing with us. And again, we're huge fans of your podcast and your content. If someone wants to connect with you, what's the best way for them to do that?

Bradley:

Yeah. By far is our website behindyourbacksales.com. And I always tell folks coming up on our 150th episode of the podcast there said, "Hey, if you listen to the podcast and you find it entertaining and insightful, you're going to like, I think, talking further." If not, I wouldn't call because what you see is what you get for better or worse, but those are the two primary channels. Again, it's The Behind Your Back Podcast.

Zach:

That's great. We'll make sure we link to that too in the show notes, but this has been awesome. And for our listeners, if you found this helpful, go to venveo.com/podcast to subscribe and get all the resources we mentioned in this episode. Until next time, I'm Zach Williams alongside Beth PopNikolov. Thanks, everyone.

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