Relationship building with dealers and distributors is critical in the building materials space, but digital marketing — and especially social media — has changed how manufacturers sell their products. Here’s how one manufacturer has used social media to create pull-through demand and generate huge growth.
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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.
In this episode, Zach and Beth talk to Nathan McCarley, Director of Pro Dealer Sales at Empire Molding and Millwork, about how to actually grow your brand and create demand without doing things the way that they've always been done.
Keeping Finishing Products at the Front of the Pack
Nathan has been with Empire for seventeen years. He’s moved up from a casual installer to the Director of Pro Dealer Sales for the southeast. It’s safe to say he’s seen the insides and outsides of the company and knows how the pieces fit together.
Speaking of things that fit, Zach’s quick to ask how Empire’s sales team works to make sure their products fit into their distributors’ buying decisions.
Zach says, “One thing we know from other manufacturers of molding and millwork and interior finishing products, in general, is they're kind of there to disappear, but when they're not there, you can tell. So how do you help them balance that conversation with their builder and contractor customers?”
For Nathan, the secret is communication and education. “We spent a lot of time with the outside salespeople, the dealers especially, to make sure we're consistently training them and bringing them new ideas as often as possible.”
He says the most successful salespeople are the ones who not only keep in contact with their distributors, but aren’t afraid to push for them and their customers to consider new looks. “They’ll say ‘I know you usually use this three-and-quarter-inch base, but what about this other design,’ or whatever the case is to get some more diversity out there.”
Making Your Team Part of Their Team
Nathan admits it’s a pretty continual fight to keep up their visibility and value proposition when so often trim is a category that gets watered down. And while part of their philosophy is to make sure their team is “always selling somebody something,” overall their bigger focus is on finding the right distributors to work with.
“It really starts with finding those dealers that value what we value and that aren't going to bail out on us for a half-cent on a foot of baseboards or casing. So we start with those guys and make sure we have consistent business locked in as much as we can with those strong partners.”
Instead of spending all their time chasing dealers looking for the best possible deal, they focus on those that believe in their service and quality — and then strive to give them the best of the best.
“It builds trust over time, and after a while, they don't even think about moving away from you. And so then when you have that in place, then you move on to, ‘Okay, well what can we do to help you sell more trim?’ We go into partnering with them, attacking new business on the outside. Whatever we can do there to assist them in doing that is what we'll do,” Nathan says.
Zach is impressed: “So you're actually helping those dealers sell more, like you're actually partnering with them to say, ‘Oh, let's go after this builder. Let's go after this kind of renovation project.’ You're literally partnering with them in that sales process?”
That outcome is the goal. Nathan and his team want to provide all the resources their dealers need to make the sale.
“We have Tibbetts Lumber. Really, really strong partner of ours,” Nathan says. “We've done plenty of tear sheets and profile guides with their branding because people don't necessarily recognize that Empire is the distributor that it is bought from, but they do know they bought it from Tibbetts. If we can position them better to capture market share, that's what we do with that.”
Creating Pull-Through to Boost Demand
Along with more traditional sales collateral like catalogs and tear sheets, Empire’s marketing team also has a somewhat unconventional approach to digital marketing through social media. They use Instagram, LinkedIn and Facebook, but where other dealer-focused businesses would share more technical content, Empire has taken a different tack.
“It's really a lot about showing beauty shots of housing or houses that we put together. Maybe we've gone in and remodeled somebody's house or somebody gave us a great picture of something using our moldings or stair parts or whatever the case is. They try to focus on the homeowner and the remodel.”
Beth wants to clarify the disparity of who they’re selling to and who their social media is targeting: “Are you saying your social media presence is really geared towards homeowners even though your target audience is dealers?”
Nathan thinks it has to be that way, but that those same dealers play a key part in the process. “We make sure that our dealers know what's going on as far as social media presence and they can see that it funnels through that way. We just have to get the idea out there to generate more interest in what we're doing.”
Zach wants to know if the approach is working: “Are you hearing from dealers or builders that a homeowner or a contractor goes, ‘Oh, I saw this on Empire social media. I found it really interesting. I want that product. I want that particular look.’ Are you hearing that from your dealer partners?”
Nathan says the approach is, in fact, so successful that they get inquiries for products in parts of the country that Empire doesn’t currently sell to. “What we're doing now is just trying to see how we can make that accessible to anybody. You know, more of an online e-commerce platform we'll launch later on.”
Using Social Media as a Value-Added Sales Tactic
Beth says, “We actually have talked to more and more manufacturers who are depending on pull-through to grow their brand. It's okay that homeowners can't buy directly from you: You've got to be known throughout the channel. You can't just rely on your one dealer arm of the channel to really build a presence and build your sales.”
Nathan sees social media as an added value part of their sales approach. “We hope dealers look at it as a layer on top of what they're doing. You know, some icing that a dealer is not using. Because most of these guys that we sell to are mom and pops that have been around for 50 years and they don't necessarily have that capability, so they take advantage of it.”
For a product that doesn’t always have clear differentiators, focusing instead on how they differentiate their sales process is a smart move.
Zach says, “You're saying, ‘Yeah, we're not going to differentiate our brand. We just need to support our dealer partners really well.’ It takes a lot of self-awareness because we push building the brand, but your whole sales structure is focused on just supporting those dealers to create more pull-through.”
Going All In
Using social media to create pull-through may be unconventional, but it’s working. Since many of Empire’s strategies seem to be working, in fact, Zach wants to know what Nathan’s parting words of advice are.
Essentially, Nathan sees that manufacturers have to go all-in on trim. “You can't bring 70% of what's needed out there and expect people are going to trust you to support their daily needs.”
Particularly in a highly competitive market like Florida, providing 70% of the expected service level isn’t a recipe for repeat business. Nathan admits it also makes his work tougher: “It's expensive to fight those guys off and it's expensive to be relevant.”
Ultimately, Nathan sticks to his philosophy of adding value in everything he and his team do. “Whether it is on a social media platform or if it is face-to-face with the dealer sales reps or whoever it is, you know what we try to make sure is that every point we're providing some type of value, whatever that might be.”
Got a Question?
If you have questions about how to create pull-through demand for your product, let us know! Shoot us an email at [email protected] with all of your questions.