Today’s digital tools make it easier for manufacturers to sell to builders, and virtual reality is only the next step
By Stephen Crouch
Vice President of Operations
Remember the days when the only options available to manufacturers to get the word out about their products were trade publications, trade shows, and exclusive distribution relationships? It was relatively easy for large manufacturers to consume the majority of the marketing bandwidth. As a result, the barriers to entry for smaller manufacturers with innovative products were very high.
If manufacturers didn’t have access to distribution, they had no direct communication channel to inform builders about the benefits of their products. On the flip side, it was very expensive for manufacturers to advertise with enough frequency to be noticed. By today’s standards, it was an extraordinarily wasteful and inefficient way to try to do business.
Fortunately, technology has changed all of that. Manufacturers can now take their message directly to the builder through multiple low-cost forms of media. Manufacturers have access to organizations such as Builder Partnerships, helping them immediately connect with thousands of builders, tailoring their message to meet the needs of individual builders, and tracking engagement every step of the way.
With the cost of email and social media so low, and with feedback about the builder’s engagement with the content so quick and so detailed, manufacturers can test different headlines to see which ones grab the attention of various builder segments. This is a far cry from reviewing the ‘check if you would like more information’ cards from trade publications.
CRM systems have also come a long way over the last 10 to 15 years. It may have taken a while, but sales teams have finally begun to implement the disciplines of making regular updates to their systems. Remember when part of a job transition was passing along a Rolodex filled with (outdated) names and phone numbers? Now everything you need to know about the history of your customer’s engagement with your product content can be found in your CRM database.
Marketing has always been as much a science as an art. Today, however, the ability to identify potential builder customers and tailor a message to show how a product can address the builder’s needs has reached previously unattainable levels of precision. This change in technology has had significant impacts on the way manufacturers approach the builder segment of the market. Builders are no longer seen as their customer’s customer. Even though most manufacturers do not sell product directly to builders, the builder is now seen as their customer.
With this transition, it became obvious that manufacturers needed more sales people to call on builders. After all, who is more qualified to sell the product’s benefits — the manufacturer or the distributor?
For many product categories, the distributor’s influence on the buying decision has been reduced. Distributors are carrying more SKUs from more manufacturers than in previous years. With so much more diversification at the distributor, it is even more important for manufacturers to take control of their message.
Having the ability to approach builders directly and provide them with the support they need is critical in today’s crowded marketplace. It’s not enough to just supply a product to a builder, manufacturers need to bring value to the relationship. Purchasing managers want to know how a manufacturer’s product will help the builder save money. On the planning side, the operations team wants to know how a product will help the builder make money.
Stepping into the future
Currently, most manufacturers help builders generate value from their products by displaying their features in design center displays and product signage in a model home. The cost associated with these tools can be prohibitive, creating one more barrier to entry for some manufacturers.
Just as precision marketing and CRM tools have changed the way manufacturers sell to builders, virtual reality is on the verge of changing the way manufacturers help sell the value of their products to home buyers. Builders are already working on ways to have buyers ‘walk through’ all their communities by putting on a set of virtual reality goggles in the design center. Some builders are even giving buyers the opportunity to walk through model homes from the comfort of their own home.
Home buyers can now spend as much time as they like reviewing their options and swapping out various products to get the configuration and features they want in their home. Builders also can easily add new product options to a database and almost immediately add new product configurations to their homes. If you are a manufacturer with a drop-in alternative for a standard product in the home, you are in the game once you provide the 3-D object in the right format.
New software tools, smart phones, high-speed internet connections, and direct marketing tools are just a few of the technologies that have continued to improve over the last decade, effectively pulling builders and manufacturers closer together. Keep your seatbelts on, though. Virtual reality has the potential to really shake things up for the industry.
If you are interested in learning more about how your team can integrate more technology into your approach to marketing and selling to builders, Builder Partnerships can help. Email me for more information.