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3 Sales Strategies To Connect With Customers To Win in New Markets

How can manufacturers sell more successfully to their customers and gain new ones? There are all kinds of ways to find customers, but today’s guest talks with us about the best ways to connect with customers, online and in person, in new markets.

Photo of Zach Williams
Photo of Beth PopNikolov
by Zach Williams and Beth PopNikolov

More About This Episode

The Smarter Building Materials Marketing podcast helps industry professionals find better ways to grow leads, sales and outperform the competition. It’s designed to give insights on how to create a results-driven digital marketing strategy for companies of any size.

Alex Cook is the Director of Operations of Lifetime Windows and Siding. He’s been in building materials marketing and sales for more than nine years now, and we were thrilled to hear about his experience with launching and selling a successful brand.

Selling Brands in the Building Industry

Alex Cook has been in the industry and has worn a few different hats over the course of almost a decade. “I originally got started working for a small regional distributor in Colorado Springs as an outside sales rep,” says Alex. “I kind of morphed into a selling manager position. So [I] got a little more of a peek behind the curtains to the purchasing and warehousing and stocking.”

Some of Alex’s experience is also in marketing, and he had the opportunity to work with a brand called Kensington, during a time of significant transition — and a rebrand. “We tried to take what we had started at that company five, six years earlier and develop and move forward and be a little bit more homeowner-centric,” he says. While working at Kensington, Alex started hearing about a Denver-based brand, Lifetime Windows and Siding.

“Peter Svedin, the owner there, reached out to me and said, ‘Hey, I'd love to open up a place in Texas,’” explains Alex. Since then, Alex has worked with Lifetime and helped to establish the brand in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.

“We focus on replacement windows and siding,” says Alex. “We do have a roof and solar division, and we also have a bath and shower division that we're just launching, actually, this month and getting off the ground.”

Launching new products (and a new branch) comes with plenty of challenges. While we had him on the show, we wanted to pick Alex’s brain about selling building materials, understanding your customer and the best strategies to connect with them. The first step is knowing who your customer really is.

Defining Your Online Audience

Alex’s background gives him a unique perspective on customers in the building materials industry — but there are multiple types of customers in building materials. “It's definitely interesting seeing the different angles that we all have of trying to make somebody's house look better,” says Alex.

Venveo’s Beth Pop-Nikolov asked the question on everyone’s mind. “I know one of the things you wanted to go after today is the big question of who should manufacturers be targeting as their top audience. If you know that contractors and homeowners are both part of your buyer journey, who's the best?”

For Alex, the answer is whoever spends money on the product — in residential building materials, that’s the homeowners. “If the homeowner doesn't make the purchase, then nothing happens, right? There's no contractor that's hired, there's no installation going on, there's no product being made if the homeowner's not excited about it,” says Alex.

But one homeowner isn’t usually going to be a repeat customer in the building materials market. Why waste time (and money) on marketing to someone that’s only going to purchase your products once?

“What we do know from our industry is that our products have specific niches. So whether it's a window product or a siding product or a roofing product, is that it's going to appeal to a certain demographic in a certain clientele … it's going to appeal to that same type of demographic that we're trying to get repeated over and over again,” says Alex.

By understanding what that demographic looks like and what they need out of your product, you can develop a marketing strategy and digital presence that will resonate more deeply with them. “If you know who you're going after and you know the value that your product brings, you're able to still create that very repeatable but really impactful collateral messaging, branding, marketing, all of those things, to get that. Either repeat from the same customer or at least repeat results from multiple customers,” explains Beth.

But the window and door industry is highly competitive, and finding customers in a new market can come with obstacles. We got Alex to nail down a few strategies to help us understand how to better reach (and win over) your audience in such a high-stakes scenario.

Strategies in Sales

“We're in the Dallas-Fort Worth area … it scares a lot of people from even thinking about opening up or moving into a location,” says Alex.

But the key to any good marketing strategy, no matter where you’re located, is understanding exactly who you’re selling to within your specific niche. “Rather than trying to spread this broad net over an entire city that's massive, between Dallas and Fort Worth put together, and try to appeal to everybody as if we're running a statewide campaign, is that we've shifted our marketing and tried to think about it more like we're trying to win a school board election,” says Alex.

That means finding ways to be top of mind for your customer and being more visible. “What we know is, in order to become a household name, is that they have to be able to recognize you,” he explains. Alex suggested a few ways that brands can start to create that kind of relationship.

  1. Go door-to-door.

“We try to take over a neighborhood as best as we can. Be visible with yard signs, knock the neighborhood when we sell it, knock the neighborhood when we're installing it,” says Alex.

  1. Get digital.

Lifetime’s door-to-door approach is supplemented with digital marketing, and the marketing team uses the power of geo-targeting. “They're able to geo-fence around certain zip codes and locations,” explains Alex. Showing up in location-specific searches helps to further establish the brand as a local solution. “It’s just been very grassroots, just neighborhood by neighborhood — and once you start seeing that repeat business, it starts to build a little bit of traction,” Alex says.

  1. Give them an experience they’ll remember.

Many manufacturers are moving away from showrooms. “They're moving into smaller offices, less overhead and just either a third-party warehouse site or something like that,” explains Alex. But Lifetime went a different direction.

“Here we built a little bit of a Taj Mahal of sorts of a showroom. It's a big challenging layout to build something like this and find the space and make that capital investment in doing so,” Alex says. “You don't get that from a lot of other companies that, if you Google them online, their address is a UPS box.”

196 Strategies in Sales

We wanted to know a little more about how Lifetime’s brand continues to resonate with homeowners as it does. “Especially in windows and doors, it can start to feel really similar from one competitor to the other,” says Beth.

“What we've seen is that, from the homeowners that we interact with, overall, and especially in the last five years, they're so much more educated than we're accustomed to,” says Alex. “So the utilization of different visualizers, whether it's through the manufacturer or independently, through a third-party service, that's what we've seen has been really the shift of the conversation when we're in the house.”

Product visualizers are an important tool for sales, as we’ve discussed before on the podcast. “When you pull out the iPad and you take a picture of the outside of their house … and you just ever so gently encourage them to start playing with it — well, at that point they've designed it, right?”

Putting the design in the customer’s hands makes the product more real for the homeowner. “They can do it and they can build and they can see it and that just makes it so much easier for them. Then it's really easy to justify the price at that point,” says Alex.

Making your product more attainable (and customizable) can engage that lead further and win them over in the end. “It’s our responsibility to find a way to make it affordable for them,” explains Alex. “So can they do the whole project? Do they need to finance it? Do we need to break it down into phases?”

Once you discover what makes your product more accessible to your customer, you can create solutions that will also result in sales.

Want Even More Insight?

Brands that make their products more accessible and more engaging are ultimately the most successful. “You don't have to give your email address or do anything super crazy. You just grab your phone, you go up to your house on the outside, you snap the photo, you upload it, and then you start playing,” he says. “That's just been fantastic.”

To learn more about selling your brand successfully, listen to the entire episode here. You can reach out to Alex by emailing him here or connecting with him over on LinkedIn.

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