#89: Creating Sticky Customers With Building Materials Technology

by Smarter Building Materials Marketing

One of the ways that you can get closer to your customer, is by using technology that helps them do their job more effectively. A lot of manufacturers find that to be a daunting process and don't know where to get started.

More About This Episode

In this episode, Zach talks to Jay Shilstone, product owner for COMMANDqc at Command Alkon, about how they’re not only educating and helping their audience, but how their technology helps drive demand for their customer’s products.

Transcript

Zach Williams:

One of the ways that you can get closer to your customer, is by using technology that helps them do their job more effectively. A lot of manufacturers find that to be a daunting process and don't know where to get started. On today's episode, we bring on a manufacturer who is doing that very thing to not only educate and help their audience, but drive their product and drive sales in the process. It's an incredible story about how you can become super sticky with your audience, drive value, and get customer insights in the process. All right, let's get 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. Now, here are your hosts, Zach Williams and Beth PopNikolov.

Zach Williams:

All right, everybody. Welcome to Smarter Building Materials Marketing, where we believe your online presence should be your best salesperson. I am Zach Williams and we have a great show planned for you today. You know, one thing we talk a lot about on this show is the importance of your value offering as a manufacturer. On today's show we're actually bringing on a company, that's doing some really unique things from a technology standpoint to add on to the value offering around their product. We've got Jay Shilstone, who's the product owner of COMMANDqc on the show with us today, to talk about this, welcome to the show, Jay.

Jay Shilstone:

Thank you for having me.

Zach Williams:

So Jay, you and I were talking in prep for the show. You've got a pretty interesting history in the building products arena. Why don't you just give our listeners a little bit of background and then we'll dive into what your company is doing?

Jay Shilstone:

Okay. Well, I may be a little bit different from your typical presenter. I'm third generation in concrete quality control. My grandfather started a testing lab in 1908 in New Orleans, and then I went to work for my father in 1977. So I've been in the industry for 43 years. I've been involved with computerized software for concrete quality control since about 1981. When I bought my first Apple II plus computer.

Zach Williams:

There you go.

Jay Shilstone:

It's a big five and a quarter inch floppy disc. Yep. Way back when, and then that's all progressed. We developed our own line of computer software for concrete quality control. So I'm a business owner. I look at my position even in a large company like Command Alkon in a more entrepreneurial role. I'm looking at everything, concrete product, concrete marketing, delivery, everything. Customer service. I'm looking at this entire thing. I don't do all that myself, but I have an interest in all those areas. One of the things that I think brought us to where we are today is that I started becoming involved with online communities back in 1991 with a concrete bulletin board system.

Zach Williams:

Wow.

Jay Shilstone:

For those of you that remember the dial up modem with a beemo-beemo when you logged in, I actually had a dedicated phone line that people could log into my computer and download free programs and information about concrete. Then I got involved on the internet and about 1995. For those of you remember, the WELL, the whole earth 'lectronic link. I was working on developing a concrete website in '96. I actually was responsible for bringing the American Concrete Institute onto the internet in 1998. I led their effort for getting on the internet, email mailing lists, and that sort of thing.

Jay Shilstone:

Then about 2000, I started working with the ACI, the American Concrete Institute and the National Ready Mix Concrete Association on being able to exchange data. We started looking at social media as well. All of this brings me to where I am today, where I've got a technical background, but a strong interest in computers and software and online communities and how we can bring all these together to improve the concrete industry.

Zach Williams:

If we can take a quick step back, Jay, tell me and forgive my ignorance here, what in the world does Command Alkon sell? Cause you guys have a lot of different products. You even shared that with me. What is it that you sell and talk to him about your value offering to the industry?

Jay Shilstone:

Okay. We have anything from hardware to software to now a new software or data interchange platform called Connects. For hardware, we have systems for batching concrete for monitoring trucks in aggregate plants, so that we know how much material they're hauling out. On the software side, we have software for batching concrete, for dispatching it and making sure the right load of concrete gets out to the right person, so that we don't send a 3,000 PSI concrete mix out to somebody who needs an 8,000 PSI mix. We need to make sure the right mix those to the right person. We've got a wide variety of things we've been expanding into mobile applications. Now we have this Connects platform, which is designed to bring all kinds of information together into one spot and be able to share it with concrete producers, aggregate producers, haulers, contractors, Departments of Transportation. This information is much more valuable when you don't have to have it on paper, re-key it into a computer system, but you can just exchange the data back and forth with whoever needs it.

089 Concrete Pillars

Zach Williams:

So if I understand this correctly, you are a building materials manufacturer, as well as a technology supplier within the industry. Is that correct?

Jay Shilstone:

We are a building materials equipment manufacturer.

Zach Williams:

Okay.

Jay Shilstone:

As well as having the concrete technology. We don't make concrete. Ready mix concrete. We don't make aggregates, but we make the equipment that makes it possible for our customers to make these things.

Zach Williams:

I see.

Jay Shilstone:

And produce them, haul them and deliver them to their customers.

Zach Williams:

Gotcha.

Zach Williams:

So I think what's really interesting here and what really piqued, I think our conversation as we were planning for this, was a lot of manufacturers whether they're supplying something to the trade, whether it's a building product to New York Case Equipment. They view the product as the end game. They view that as "okay, well here's our product, we've got the best product you should buy from us." You're kind of saying, that's where we start. If I'm reading into this correctly, that's the starting point. Then you're leveraging and building in this massive infrastructure around technology to get closer to your customer. To help them do their job more effectively and get you more integrated into their daily life on the job. Is that correct?

Jay Shilstone:

That's correct. In fact, Command Alkon's slogan is 'together, we build amazing', because we don't benefit unless our customer benefits and our customer doesn't benefit unless their customer benefits too. We all have to work together to come up with a better infrastructure that is going to benefit not only the immediate customers, but society as a whole.

Zach Williams:

Who are you selling to? Who is your target audience? I'm sure it's pretty wide, but I'm really wanting to like, who are the different types of people that are using your platform and working with you?

Jay Shilstone:

Well, my dad used to like to compare or contrast the fact that we are selling to customers, but our customers have influencers. Our customers are typically going to be aggregate producers, concrete producers, contractors, haulers, trucking companies. Then they are selling their product to architects and engineers, owners, State Departments of Transportation. We are selling to people way beyond the scope of who actually writes our checks. We are selling to the entire industry.

Zach Williams:

How in the world are you getting user adoption? That's why I want to know like a lot of people try to launch an app, but people don't use it. Let's say I'm a manufacturer and I launch an app and I want a contractor to use it. This is so ingrained to your business from an ordering standpoint, quality control standpoint, education standpoint, it's everything around your product to support the trade and support the industry. How are you getting this message and marketing out there to the industry to get people to adopt and use your platform and then ultimately use your products in the process. Talk to me about that a little bit.

Jay Shilstone:

Well, we've been in the industry for 40 years. I mean, not just me personally, but Command Alkon. We are what some people might call the 800 pound gorilla in our industry. That has brought us benefits. Such as we already know most of the concrete producers out there and we work worldwide. It's not just in North America. For example, we already have contacts with the customers, but now as we expanded the contractor market, we do more with the DOT's and so forth. We have to rely a lot of word of mouth. We're doing social media. We are posting things that are available to benefit different customers and bring them in to us. It's a lot easier to bring people into us than it is for us to go out and find people. So we're doing a wide variety of things. We're doing customer conference annually, we're doing regional training seminars. We do a wide variety of things to bring customers in. But the first thing that we have to do is we have to provide value even before we've started talking about money.

Zach Williams:

I like that. You know, you and I are talking that the best promise always wins over the best product

Jay Shilstone:

Right. At first, but it has to be delivered.

Zach Williams:

Yes. True. But I think that what you're hitting on here is that the value of your product is just part of it. There's an intrinsic value of working with you from an education standpoint within the application. I know we're going to talk a little about the content you're producing here in a minute, but all of the other things that you're doing to try to help the industry, is that correct?

Jay Shilstone:

Correct. We have information available on the web. We participate in industry trade meetings. For example, we just got back from Con-Expo in Las Vegas, where we had a big booth and we also had several presentations that were conducted there. So we try to provide value even outside of our immediate sphere of influence.

Zach Williams:

What are some of the hurdles you run into in getting somebody to adopt the technology like this application platform that you've built? What are some of the challenges that you have with people using it, or even just trying it? It's one thing to use it on a daily basis. How do you get somebody over the hurdle to try it for the first time.

Jay Shilstone:

That's a really good question because I don't know if you're aware, but there've been studies done recently on innovation and the construction industry. The construction industry, out of all the industries, ranked second to last in innovation only ahead of agriculture.

Zach Williams:

Wow.

Jay Shilstone:

There's a lot of...that's not the way we've done it for the last 50 years. Really a lot of the benefit is recognizing that we've got the millennials coming in right now and they recognize the need for this kind of technology. Also, when you start pointing to the bottom line, how the technology can actually reduce the cost of business. We have some functionality in our software that if you were to try and do this task manually, it might take you two hours, but in the software, it can take you 10 minutes. Looking at the actual bottom line benefits and bringing those to the attention of our customer, or our potential customer, those are big ways of attracting their interest and saying, maybe it's time we start looking at this.

089 Concrete Staircase

Zach Williams:

You know, you say, okay. You use our app. It's going to reduce this process down from two hours to 10 minutes. If I'm in the field, I'm a contractor I'm out there pouring concrete or something like that. I hear that. But like, frankly, I may not believe you because I know you've got an agenda. Right. Are you finding that you've got to just repeatedly hit this message over and over and over again for somebody to really take it or are you seeing this groundswell of activity because you've laid the groundwork and been relentless in trying to get adoption around your technology as well?

Jay Shilstone:

Oh, well, that's several different things. My father used to drive me nuts because he developed this technology for concrete mix designs. It didn't matter if you asked him what he wanted to eat. He would start talking about the technology for concrete mix designs. I heard it literally thousands of times and it drove me nuts, but that's what actually got his mix design methodologies adopted throughout the industry worldwide. So you have to keep coming back with the same basic message over and over. But at the same time, you can vary how you present that message.

Jay Shilstone:

For example, if you put it in terms that the contractor can understand, one example is we have an app for contractors that will allow contractors to determine, or to actually see on a map, where the concrete truck is that's coming to bring them concrete. It used to be that if a contractor was wondering where his concrete was, he'd call up to the batch plant and say, "Where's my concrete?" The batch plant would say, "Oh, it left the yard 10 minutes ago," but nobody ever really knew if that was really the case or not. Now we can pull up a cell phone and we can actually show the contractor on the map where his concrete truck is. He goes, "Oh great, I need to get my guys ready to place this concrete because the concrete is only five minutes out," as opposed to waiting an hour for the next load of concrete to come.

Zach Williams:

That's going to be such an aha moment for people. It's like an Uber-Crete, I mean, cause it helps them from an efficiency standpoint, telling them that story is different then showing them that story or seeing it on the field. I love that your technology is really thought about from the perspective of what actually helps the contractor, not just what helps you all. I think that's where a lot of people miss it is it's got to be thought about user first. What does that person on the field actually need to help them do their job more effectively? Not just what helps you sell more product. Right?

Jay Shilstone:

Right. We have to give the contractor a, smack my head, type of moment so that he realizes gosh, I really need this.

Zach Williams:

What about content? You're talking to me about bringing value before you try to sell. I always like to say, we've got to help before we sell. Helping us the new selling.

Jay Shilstone:

Correct.

Zach Williams:

You know, how are you trying to position and educate your audience and then work them to that point of sale? You're not just trying to go for the win or the kill out of the gate. You're trying to actually educate, help build authority with the content you create, then you stair-step them into a paid product, whether that's technology or your actual product that you sell as well. Talk to me about what does that look like for you on your end?

Jay Shilstone:

Okay. First off, like I mentioned, we participate in a lot of trade associations. I do speeches for Ready Mix Concrete Associations, ACI Chapters, and so on. One of the things that I've done is I did some webinars on concrete technology and talking about how you can actually save money by implementing quality control. There was a quality guru named Philip Crosby who says that in his book 'Quality is Free', that every dollar invested in quality results in a three dollar return on investment.

Zach Williams:

Mm-hmm(Affirmative)

Jay Shilstone:

Looking at the processes that take us through quality control. I did one webinar on specific ways that concrete producers can reduce their costs by using quality control and making sure they're producing the right product. The second webinar that I did was on the four steps of quality control, which looked at the four levels of quality control. All the way from a mom and pop shop, that was one plant and the things that they could do to get a return on investment without investing money, without even buying our software.

Jay Shilstone:

Then I had three more levels on gradually greater levels of quality control. We recognize that not everybody wants to buy our software. We're going to have maybe the top 20, 30, 40% of producers using our software. But at some time the mom and pop organization might grow enough to the point where they need our software. So I want to bring them to the point where they realized, 'Hey, I can do this now by hand. But if I switch it over to an automated system, life's going to be so much easier and so much more profitable for me'. So I want to bring these people along the path to the point where they're ready to reach out their hand and say, I'm ready for your help.

Zach Williams:

I love that. I think that's so smart. I mean, that's the long game, you've got the viewpoint. If I can get them to that point where their business grows, not only are they going to see me as that trusted guide, but they're going to be so entrenched in my technology and my value offering that they're going to be customers for life. Right?

Jay Shilstone:

Exactly. Exactly.

Zach Williams:

That's smart.

Jay Shilstone:

I'm going to plug in here. If you want to see that, go to mastery.commandalkon.com and go to the product's COMMANDqc, and you will be able to go in and look at my old blog articles and these webinars.

Zach Williams:

We'll make sure we link to that in the show notes as well, Jay. I think that's really good content for anybody to check out because you're right. If you go and read that content, it's not, 'Hey, here's 10 reasons why you should buy our product'. It's here's how you do your job more effectively. Here's how you do quality control. Here's things you need to understand about your job and being more efficient at which I think that's the message that resonates cause that's a very different conversation, right?

Jay Shilstone:

Correct.

Zach Williams:

So Jay, I'd love to know from your perspective, you mentioned a minute ago that a lot of manufacturers or the construction space as a whole is really behind the times from a technology standpoint and you all are very far ahead. You're really pushing the envelope, trying to get people into your platform. What advice would you give anybody in the building construction, building materials space, who wants to layer on their value offering with some sort of technology? What advice would you give them?

Jay Shilstone:

The first thing is you have to understand your product and you have to understand the value that it presents to your customer and how that product fits in with improving their operations or their efficiency or their cost effectiveness. That's the important thing. Another thing I think is finding a niche. Now we've got multiple niches, but when I'm talking about things, even though Command Alkon is a giant company dealing with large numbers of contractors, concrete producers, and so forth. My niche is quality control for concrete, and I sell that niche. I'm part of a piece that goes in and sells that little niche. We have some competitors who do some things very well in their particular niche, but when you get into our niche, we do them better. It just depends finding your niche, finding the benefit to your customer and maybe even to your customer's customer that I think is what's going to get you into the market and keep you in the market.

Zach Williams:

Brilliant. I love it. Jay, this has been awesome. Thank you so much for coming on the show. If somebody wants to get in contact with you or connect, what's the best way for them to do that.

Jay Shilstone:

Okay. Of course, you can always go to commandalkon.com. If you want to reach me personally, it's Jay Shilstone. [email protected] If you just want information from commandalkon.com. I think you can send an email to [email protected] or call our main office. It doesn't matter if you're in the U.S. or Canada or Europe or South America. We have offices all over the world. Just reach out on one of our phone numbers. We'll be happy to get back with you. If you go to mastery.commandalkon.com, it's also a PR portal, it's not only technical content, it's also public relations. You'll get this little pop-up that keeps popping up. Annoyingly so, if you ask me. It's a pop-up and you can put your request for information right there, and we'll get you to the right person, because again, we want to help our customer and our customer's customer.

Zach Williams:

Excellent, Jay, thank you again so much for coming on the show and if you want more great content like this, go to venveo.com/podcast. Until next time I'm Zach Williams. Thanks everybody.

Voiceover:

You've been listening to Smarter Building Materials Marketing, with Zach Williams and Beth PopNikolov. To get the resources mentioned in this podcast, visit Venveo.com/podcast. Thank you for listening.

Related Blogs