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How Building Materials Companies Can Navigate Change During the Coronavirus Crisis

Whether you usually listen to us at work, in the car, or on the jobsite, your working conditions are probably very different this week. We felt it was important to acknowledge how suddenly times have changed, and what building materials companies can do to navigate the uncertain road ahead.

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

More About This Show

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 insight on how to create a results-driven digital marketing strategy for companies of any size.

This week, Zach speaks directly to the listeners about how we can get through the current economic and personal challenges together. It’s not business as usual, so we felt it was important to take a pause from our usual programming.

How Mastering Mindset Will Lead to Success

076 How Mastering Mindset Will Lead to Success

So this is going to be a different kind of podcast episode because it’s a different kind of week.

You’re probably at home listening to this right now when, usually, you’d be listening to us at work, or in your car on your commute or on the way to a job site or a client call.

We’ve heard from a lot of customers and a lot of colleagues, and they all have questions. There’s a lot of fear out there, a lot of uncertainty. The economy is suffering and is requiring a lot of companies to adapt. Many businesses will never be the same after this.

There are two things I want to talk about today. In preparing for this episode, we referred to them as the two Ms. The M&Ms, if you will. Obviously, one of those Ms is marketing, since that’s what we do around here. But before we get to that, I want to talk about the other one. The first M is Mindset.

There's so much we have no control over right now. We can’t control what the economy does, and we can’t control when a treatment is found, we can’t control what other people do. But what you can control is your mindset. In fact, it’s the area you have the most control of right now.

What you believe impacts what you become. If I think I'm a failure, I'm going to become a failure. If I'm fearful of something happening, the likelihood that it happening is higher. Now is a time, maybe more so than a lot of people have seen in their lives, where we really have to pay attention to what we are thinking. What's dictating our thoughts? What voice do we believe in? Do we believe in the voice of fear, which says that doom and gloom is happening? Or are we challenging fear and believing in hope?

The thing with mindset is not caving to the panic. There's so much hysteria out there. That’s not to say that things aren’t serious — they are — but we're in a time where there's more uncertainty than ever before. And when there's uncertainty, what we need more than ever is visionary leadership. And that's easy to say. Saying visionary leadership is one thing and living it is completely different.

Where Leadership and Perseverance Intersect

076 Where Leadership and Perseverance Intersect

I was talking to another CEO in the building materials space. And we were both reflecting on the last recession and how it compares to what we're going through right now. One of us brought up the concept of perseverance. Perseverance is something fun to talk about. Perseverance is especially fun to talk about after the fact, but it's horrible to live through it. But we have to persevere in our leadership and what people need more than ever before. We have to persevere in our mindset.

A lot of us who listen to this podcast fall in this category: The leaders and the people who persevere. We’re looking for the ability to influence other people and influence other people's mindsets with truly visionary leadership to say, "Hey, there's a lot of things we can't control. But we can control our conviction. We can control our confidence to move forward."

I truly believe our best days are ahead.

Mindset says to look at the current circumstances as an opportunity. I'm not saying we take advantage of people during this time, but I do think in every situation, there's always opportunity. You can view an obstacle as a blockade that you can’t move beyond or you can view it something you can hurdle over to get to the opportunity.

There are opportunities, and we're going to share with you some tactics in a minute, but the important thing is to always be looking for how to move forward, no matter your situation, instead of deciding to squeeze and pull back and retreat. That's when you become most vulnerable, when you can get surpassed by your competition who is being brave and aggressive.

And seizing opportunities doesn't mean you're not fiscally responsible. That doesn't mean you're not thinking about the big picture. But if your gut reaction is to go, "Oh, no" and retreat, you're never going to win. Every recession, every economic crisis has produced people that come out on top and it's because they've been aggressive in their mindset and in their approach and in their actions.

At the beginning of the year, the economy was doing so well. It's been so great. And the early indicators, especially for the building construction space, was that things were going to be positive moving forward.

Then this crisis hits. It makes me think about Mike Tyson. Mike Tyson has that quote where he says everybody's got a plan until they get punched in the mouth. And frankly, we've all gotten punched in the mouth.

Because leading with conviction is easy when things are easy, leading with truly visionary leadership is difficult in the midst of adversity, and that's what we're in.

That's the encouragement I would give to anybody. Whether you've got a small team or you've got a massive company, the challenge in front of you, more than anything, is being able to lead with confidence, because there isn’t a lot of that to go around right now.

Chose Progress and Innovation Over Panic and Isolation

076 Chose Progress and Innovation Over Panic and Isolation

What's causing the panic is uncertainty and the fear of the unknown. The fear of “what if.” Typically, with this kind of uncertainty, people band together. If you look at 2001, and the terrorist attacks on the U.S., people banded together. What's really unique about this is we're actually being asked to be separated. We're asked to be in isolation. And frankly, I don't think that's ever happened before in history on this global scale.

But we have to flip that on its head, we really do. In a time of uncertainty, what we really need is for people to stand up and to step up, and to choose to think differently.

Warren Buffet says, “Be fearful when others are greedy and greedy when others are fearful.” That doesn't mean you prey on people that are struggling. But you do have a responsibility to say: how do we need to innovate? How can we think differently, respond differently, engage with our audience differently?

The companies that are willing to step out and to stand up for their customers are the ones that are going to win, not just right now, but moving forward. I talked to a manufacturer this week.

They said, "Hey, we see that there's a lot of people who are very scared and we want to stand up and fight for them and find new ways to connect with them." I was so impressed. They are proving themselves to be true leaders.

And so if you think about your audience, your customers, your potential customers, know a lot of them are struggling financially and a lot of them feel very alone. I’ve had people from Australia reaching out to me just to see how I'm doing and to say that we're in this together.

I think that's special and that's unique and I think it's needed, but I think it also shows that we really need each other to move forward. And so the opportunity in front of us is to display that leadership but also provide opportunities for connection.

The reality is that everybody's scared. You’re not just scared, but you’re scared from multiple angles. You're scared about your health, you're scared about your family, you're scared about your business, you're scared about the economy, you're scared about your coworkers. It's easy to be scared; it's hard to elevate your perception, to be brave and not allow fear to dictate your mindset.

Give Your Customers What They Want: Connection

076 Give Your Customers What They Want Connection

Be aware that your customers are scared and their level of fear is different. And if we can find ways to not only connect with them and comfort them, but support them, there's a lot of opportunities there for relationship building.

We’re gonna dive into marketing here in a minute. But the mindset shift we have to make is to really look at this from the humanity side of things. Yes, you want to grow your customers and you want to come out of this on top. Yes, you want your team and customers to follow you. But connecting with them on a humanitarian level, on a personal level, is what's really needed.

So once you've got your mindset in place, think about how you can create connection and lift other people up. How you can take a stand and challenge others.

From a marketing standpoint, every obstacle and every challenge provides an opportunity. Here's the reality of what's happening today: People are being asked to work from home. From those usually in the field, especially the trade, what we're seeing is an increase in research happening online. There's an increase in people looking for projects for their homes, and there's an increase in looking at products. And it’s not small. Searches for windows, doors, and exterior products have gone up 4000%.

The challenging part is you may not actualize on that until after there's a resolution to this virus situation. So if you can, have the wherewithal and the conviction to say even though other people are pulling back, you're moving forward. When other people are hesitant, you're all in. You're going to set yourself up for success. It's going to allow you opportunities to get in front of customers more easily because, frankly, people don't have anything else to do. They're at their homes. They can't be doing their typical jobs. They might as well do research for when they can get back in the field.

So that provides you two opportunities. The first is customer insights around what are their pain points, their needs, both now and in the field. And the second is an opportunity to educate on what's happening in your company with regards to products and new releases.

Reach Customers Where They Are

076 Reach Customers Where They Are

Let’s talk about how you do that. In marketing, we talk a lot about vehicles for communication. And right now, under these conditions, digital is the way to go. Am I biased? Yes, absolutely. 100%. But the truth is people are in front of computers. The data says that says search intent is up. Sliding door covering searches are up 3800%. Specific types of flooring are up 250% in searches.

You've got to double down on content. You've got to double down on marketing if you want to stay front and center in people's research process even though you might not see the true buy-in today. You're going to see it tomorrow but only if you go all-in right now.

Imagine this: If I told you you're playing a football game, and in one of the quarters, your competition is going to be hesitant, fearful, pull back, worrisome, what would you do? You would put your foot on the gas pedal, you would go all in to win.

Now, there's this thing called the economy. That's what's causing this trepidation. We can’t forget about that. But that's also why marketing needs visionary leadership. That's why people need to say, "Hey, we know that this will pass. We know this will end and we're going to take advantage of it in the moment. We're going to provide leadership to our company and our customers and our audience."

How you reach that audience has changed, almost overnight. Your salespeople can't go out and meet with somebody. So equip them with teleconferencing. Give them the ability to create videos, find ways to engage with people online, because again, people want that connection. They want to be heard. They want support.

Train and encourage your sales team and your marketing team to be focused on that. Supply the materials to educate digitally. Talk to your audience about where they're at.

Double Down in a Blue Ocean

076 Double Down in a Blue Ocean

The other tactical thing we’re seeing is that, because people are fearful of what the economic outlook will be, they're pulling back on ad spend. But what they’re ignoring is there's more search intent ever than before. And now that others are pulling back, there's less competition. You need to be doubling down on advertising, even when it feels painful, because the ability for you to get in front of more people is higher.

Granted, you might not be able to acquire that customer today. But you're playing in a field suddenly no one else is in. You've got a blue ocean in front of you and no one's competing. You have the opportunity to win it all — if you've got the confidence to go after it.

We’re also looking for opportunities to be creative with things like virtual events, creating content, finding ways to integrate video, finding ways to support and educate. We've got to not just let our customers know and feel that they are heard, but we've got to innovate. We've got to look for that opportunity.

And I’m not just telling you that’s something you, our listeners, need to do. It’s something we’re going to do at Venveo, too. We're going to be doubling down on our content to help educate you in this time as well. We're going to be doing more video, produce more content. We're going to host webinars. And if there's anything you need from us, if you're looking for insight while we're at this crisis, I invite you to reach out to me as well. We care about the building and supporting the community, but we need you, our community, to do that.

I think the final thing to talk about is the fact that, in every economic crisis, there's always companies that come out of it on top. And the ones that come out of it on top are the ones that find ways to stay aggressive when other people are passive. That doesn't mean they're throwing caution to the wind, but that does mean that they are looking for ways to listen to their audience, listen to their customers, to innovate and stay proactive.

And I think that's what we need from leadership and that's what we need from marketing. That's what we need from sales. Strategic and confident mindsets. And we're going to weather the storm. I have no doubt we will. But right now we need each other more than ever before.

These conditions are unprecedented. It's created a lot of turmoil, angst and questions. And in these circumstances, I would say at the very least, when you don't want to do, do what you know. Meaning, if you're in leadership, and you lead with conviction, keep leading with conviction. If you're in marketing, and you believe in what you're doing, keep marketing.

Growth doesn't happen when you're comfortable. We're all in a bit of discomfort. And the tendency when you're uncomfortable is to retreat. To shy away, to back down. But anyone that's achieved anything in life, regardless of whether they were in marketing or sales or literally any profession or position, they've had to embrace discomfort in some capacity.

If I want to look good at the beach with a six pack that you can grate cheese on, I've got to get uncomfortable in the gym. If you want to come out on top after this crisis, you got to be willing to be uncomfortable right now. That's the reality of the world we live in. That never changes. It's just heightened right now.

You're not going to move forward by stopping, we're only going to move forward by continuing to see action. And there's a lot of things outside of our control. But from a purely business and economic standpoint, we have to find ways to continue to stay aggressive and adapt. And the companies that do that are the ones that are going to win.

Reach Out

So again, just to wrap up, we’re all in an odd moment here. If you need anything, please reach out to us at [email protected]. We’re going to get through this together. Next week we’ve got a great interview waiting for you, but this week, I wanted to talk to you directly, to let you know you aren’t alone in your discomfort and this time of uncertainty, but that I believe we get through this together and our industry will come out stronger on the other side.