The Next Generation Beyond Consultative Sellers

Two great minds in the building materials industry are Mark Mitchell, the principal of Whizard Strategy, and Devon Tilly, creator of The Art of Construction podcast.  They drive the same theme when it comes to the selling expertise and behavior needed today. Both write or podcast on the value of the “Trusted Advisor” as opposed to a “sales rep.” You can check out their ideas about this at Whizard Strategy Blog or Art of Construction Show 73. In fact, Devon’s other company, Mountain View Window & Door in Denver has a full team of Trusted Advisors.

Early in my selling career, I thought I was the walking model of a consultative seller. I had been trained while at Andersen Windows on how to avoid “feature dumping” and start with asking questions to establish needs. I asked questions like “What types of projects is your company most known for?” “What do you find difficult obtaining from other suppliers?” And “If you could define your perfect window supplier, what would it be and do?” And I taught others how do sell this way too.

It all worked at that time because many sales people just walked into a prospect’s office and threw up all over the desk with everything they wanted “tell,” but failed to learn what the customer wanted to “know.” I was different because I asked questions.

And so I totally applaud the “Trusted Advisor” approach and more importantly, genuine goal of learning enough about your product, your trade, your competitors, and construction practices to in fact “advise” your customer on what they should do.

I sat across the desk once with Jeff Banker, the owner of Banker Insulation with over a dozen locations throughout the West and spoke with him on this topic. He told me “if I had a nickel for every time a sales rep has sat in that same chair and asked, ‘What’s the major problem that I could help you address,’ I couldn’t count them all.” He said to me “If I knew, I’d already have fixed it.”

Of course, that’s the true essence of The Challenger Sale. Challenger Sales companies develop solutions and train their sales people to KNOW what the best companies in that space do, what the best practices are, the best products, methods etc., and they identify where customers could plug in that new information to make their own business better.

Trusted Advisers and Challenger Sales reps share this trait. They don’t ask customers what keeps them up at night. They tell customers what SHOULD be keeping them up at night and how to fix or avoid it.

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What is Your Company’s “Falcon Heavy”

Did you see it?  Did you watch Elon Musk’s team launch the Falcon Heavy rocket into space?  The most powerful rocket ever conceived, designed and engineered, built, and successfully launched?  The implications and possibilities of this step, of this achievement are as Jack Welch said, “boundaryless.”

What “Kick Ass Projects” Mean to Employees

What what struck me with equal awe (although the launch was hard to beat) were the hand prints of the employees of Space X that were on every part of this success.  All of the rockets and tests leading up to this, Falcon Heavy’s promotional video released prior to the launch, and the room at Mission Control full of raving employees screaming and shouting at each step of the test.  If you don’t believe me, watch the first 30 seconds of the video to hear the employees in the room go crazy.

What are your business’ “next steps” that have your employees acting like this?  I know we’re not talking about launching rockets into space, but what are the advances, the innovations, the next ways to win for your company that your employees are working on?

What projects are on your plan?  What teams will you form and which of your brightest and most enthusiastic employees will lead? What will give them purpose for coming to work, to giving you their brains as well as their hands?

The projects can be as modest as squeezing out another 5% in efficiency in a process or as bold as introducing a totally new service or product that takes share from your competitor.  They can be back office projects or front line initiatives.  They can be internal or external.

Change and continuous improvement is mandatory to remain relevant, positioned right, and profitable.

And positioned correctly, this change and continuous improvement can be just what you need to harness the best from people, to attract the best talent, and to retain that talent with rewarding and satisfying work.  The drudgery of doing the same work year in and year out is fatiguing not to mention risky unless you are at the top 5% of those doing it.

Consider the series of developments, wins, and breakthroughs from the following companies:

  • DuPont’s product introductions of cellophane, nylon, Tyvek and many more innovations.  The teams there must be continuously working on “what’s next?”
  • Amazon’s Prime Delivery service, Echo Alexa, Amazon Web Services, and Whole Foods now offering premiere grocery home delivery.
  • Builder’s First Source’s manufacturing of windows to self-supply and compete and BMC’s READY-FRAME precision-cut framing for home builders.
  • Starbucks’ coffee, then tea and frozen drinks, Starbuck’s Rewards card, and beer & wine (even though the latter ended up not working–they tried something bold and new).

So you don’t need to launch a red Tesla Roadster to Mars.  But keep the new projects and improvements coming.  Naturally for your board, but just as importantly to keep your employees engaged, satisfied, and always striving for more.



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Building Material Distributors & Dealers: What’s Your 5-Year Plan for Relevance?

If you and I have talked about the building materials industry before, then you’ve likely heard me describe the “path” between where products are manufactured and the buildings in which they’re installed.  This “path” represents a value chain and whoever owns the greatest part of it also owns the greatest potential for profit.

So how do you “own it?”  Do you want to own it?  Do you want to own only certain parts of it?

My answer is that a company should be paid for the precise number of steps along this “path” they own and execute against better than any other viable option.  That’s it.

But if you aspire to expand your footprint in the channel you’d also better be willing to exert pressure on those companies up or down the channel from you.

If you’re a two-step distributor, you either need to move up towards manufacturing or introduce services and functions to take you closer to the contractor or builder.  And do this with the full knowledge that many dealers will perceive you as a threat to them.  But there is also a lot to be said on how distributors can act in harmony with their dealer customers and reallocate what work each performs.  Distributors can offer and solve a great deal of burden, costs, and risks dealers have in terms of machining products for them, providing installation assistance as a service to their customers, and a dozen other areas of service and support.

If you’re a dealer and you want to expand and grow, you need to take more control of your supply chain, including buying direct from manufacturers.  And that of course will place your distributor relationship in jeopardy.

So you ask, “Why can’t this continue to work like it has for decades where the manufacturer, distributor, and dealer all participate in their piece of the supply chain to the builder?

To those who ask that question…I give you: Katerra.

Founded in 2015, today Katerra ranks as one of the top 25 multifamily general contractors in the United States. They’re neither distributor nor dealer, but through buying direct, performing functions typically done at the distributor and dealer location…they’re both.

This is the “Uber” of the building materials and construction industry… impacting both how building materials are sourced and brought together, and ultimately how buildings are built.

Not convinced?  Watch this video and count the products and/or services of which you currently own the path.

Five-Year Relevancy Plan

This doesn’t impact everyone in the building materials industry.  Rural and smaller regional distributors and dealers serve a strong role.  The companies catering to the R&R segment should be confident in their current models.  And there are other models that are strong and viable.

But if you play in the single and multi-family production segment…what is your plan to remain relevant?  How will you remain the “supplier” of choice when the Katerra’s of the country (and there will be more) come to your market?

Over the next five years, how are you reinventing not only the product lines you sell…but the way they are sourced, inventoried, assembled or produced, shipped, serviced, and ultimately passed through to the end user?

When asked “what industry is Uber disrupting?” most people answer “taxis.”

No, that’s not it.  Uber is disrupting automobile ownership itself.

What is Katerra attempting to disrupt?


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