Closing the Loop with the Right Sales Tools
May 1, 2009
FEATURE ARTICLE | Strategies & Practices, Sales & Marketing
|Rolling travel bags and sleek cases can give salespeople a professional, pulled-together look when they walk into a home.|
Sales and Marketing are two words that are often connected in company structures, position titles or department names, but too often it seems like the marketing department and sales staff are from different worlds. What happens between a great marketing plan and the actual sales function? Many times, manufacturers tackle the obvious things like literature and Web site, but there are more opportunities that are frequently overlooked for one reason or another. This can create a huge void between the marketing department and sales staff, undermining sales and, more importantly, profit opportunities.
Regardless of whether a manufacturer sells direct to the consumer or through distribution, and regardless of whether the focus is on showroom or in-home sales, the message must be consistent. Consistency of colors, look, and feel are the building blocks for your brand. One of the most common mistakes in the window industry is to forget about the brand look and feel after the literature and Web site is designed. In all aspects of your marketing—even through the sample and display selling tools—consistency is the key.
We are all trying to overcome the tough economic times with cuts and efficiency-improvement efforts. But let’s not lose sight of how our product will be sold. Make sure you keep that link between the marketing plan and the ones who are actually out there on the streets making that face-to-face contact.
PICK A MESSAGE
First, you need to decide who you are. What is your company image? Green? Quality? Options? Price? Delivery? Service? Lead time? Are you a Wal-Mart, Neiman Marcus, or somewhere in between? Both ends of the spectrum fill a need, which can produce profits. You just need to decide who you are and then make sure you have the correct sales tools to convey that image.
What kind of sales tools does your company need to target that end customer and be successful? Window sellers are looking everywhere today for new ways and places to find customers. Shopping malls, consumer buying clubs such as Sam’s or Costco, home shows, fairs, are all common targets these days. Even restaurants aren’t immune to pitching windows. To cut through all the noise out there, your display approach has to be well thought out.
How a manufacturer goes to market dictates the marketing tools needed. In the showroom, direct-to-consumer manufacturers and dealers are upgrading and making their environments more upscale for buyers. They’re also investing in upgraded in-home presentation tools.
|Marketing is just as important as the product itself in terms of conveying quality and points of differentiation.|
Manufacturers who sell through two-step distribution or dealers need more portable displays for their partners, who could be selling anywhere from in-home to smaller showrooms to mall shows and county fairs. In addition to being portable, these displays must include a lot of information. In-home sales presentation tools are getting more expansive—trying to include more and more components, corner cuts, I.G. panels and the like into a carrying case, which can end up being heavy and difficult to manage. Sometimes the salesman will end up with a small window in a case, component case, and I.G. demonstration case in addition to his pitch book and brief case. The homeowner does not want the salesman at the front door to appear as if he is moving in but the salesman needs props to tell the complete story. One solution to this tightrope walk is more sophisticated carrying cases much like the rolling cases like you would see in the airport. This allows the salesman to make the sales call with all of the necessary tools, but without the bulky pile of cases.
MAKING THE CONNECTION
Despite all the high-end glass packages, various balance systems, locking systems and so on that we’re all so very proud of in our own window systems, on the surface most people (even industry insiders) can’t tell the difference between one window and the next from ten feet away. This is particularly true with today’s federal stimulus package tax credit standards of .30. If a customer can’t tell the difference between your good/better/best categories, you have to rely on positioning a product through marketing to help communicate the difference.
Manufacturers spend millions of dollars each year from capital expense budgets to improve existing products and develop new products. However when preparing marketing budgets, the “investment” becomes an “expense” and the dollars are frequently tight. In today’s window market, however, that is exactly where the investment is most needed. It’s not as much about product differentiation today as it is about partnership differentiation, and the marketing tools and services that support the sale throughout the supply chain. What distinguishes one company from another? Who makes it easy for their customer to buy a product? Who truly offers sales tools and marketing materials that have a measurable payback? What sales aids actually help a dealer close a job in the home? The window manufacturer who makes this process easier and more successful for the dealer will earn the business.
Most window manufacturers have a good marketing plan, which is dictated by the image the ownership wants for the company. The marketing department may spend a lot of time and money on developing that marketing strategy and producing the big-picture image makers such as advertising, Web site, wearables, and literature, which are, in fact, all important. That same company will also employ a great sales staff and partner with customers they think will represent their products well. But without the correct sales tools for them to use during the sales process, the message or image doesn’t make its way to the ultimate customer where it must be the most impactful.
Why pay for the marketing strategic plan on the front side of the process and the salesmen on the back-side without providing the tools they need to communicate the company’s image and demonstrate the more detailed features of the product? And the development really goes much further than the manufacturer’s salesman. In many cases, the window manufacturer is dependent on a couple more links in the selling chain—the distributor, dealer or retailer—to convey the product’s message to the end user. Training can help, but most manufacturers’ direct customers have to sell many other products along with windows, so the proper tools can help them maintain consistency in the presentation.
Without the tools to help them, most sales representatives fall back on old habits, end up finding out where they “need to be” against the competition’s price and then basically bid their product for the business. This is happening more and more, particularly in today’s competitive economic climate where everyone’s market is getting squeezed. While big-ticket marketing strategy components like Web sites and literature are important to a product’s success, closing the loop entirely with the display and presentation tools can ensure end users will receive the message your company intended to convey. Taking control of how the final buyer views your products and marketing message may be one differentiator that supports increased sales and sees you through to better economic times.