“There’s Information Overload”

John G. Swanson
March 1, 2007
COLUMN : Opening Remarks | Sales & Marketing

Another International Builders’ Show has come and gone. It’s by no means some new trend, but what struck me particularly this year was that the lists of new features and options rattled off to me as I talked to window and door manufacturers in Orlando all seemed very long.

Of course, my take on the show is different from the average attendee’s. When I walk into a display, I specifically ask, “what’s new?” So manufacturers oblige. I used to hear about new shapes and sizes and perhaps some new finish options. Now I hear about new shapes and sizes in the highest end line, the next-to-the-highest-end line, the value line, etc. Manufacturers not only talk about multiple lines, but multiple lines in various framing materials. Then, of course, you have what’s new in the impact-rated lines.

We cover new glass options, new styles and finishes in hardware, and new grille and grid capabilities. If it’s a wood (or fiberglass door) line, we talk about historic design options and species. Recently, we’re starting to see choices in screens too, with a number of companies now talking about retractable products.

There’s nothing wrong with this, of course. In fact, it’s wonderful that our industry continues to diversify its offerings and, hopefully, avoids commoditization. I consider myself a cheerleader for more value-added products, but quite frankly, I also see the potential to overwhelm the average customer. As my daughter might say, “TMI.” Too much information.

Think about all these products and options from the builder’s perspective. When they’re at IBS, do builders ask the same question I do when they enter a window or door manufacturer’s booth? Some do, I suspect, but I doubt many want to hear the whole laundry list. Most, I imagine, are likely to walk around and think, “Now that’s something I could wow a buyer with,”  “That would solve the problem I’m having on the house I’m working on by the lake,” or “That would cut down on installation time and we could save a few bucks.” (I know what many of you are saying—“The first thing they think is, ‘How much does that cost?’”)

At a big event like IBS, I imagine most manufacturers train their booth personnel to determine pretty quickly what a builder’s or dealer’s interest is. The next step is to focus their discussions on new products or options that fit the bill.    

These thoughts made me recall the focus group of replacement window contractors Window & Door presented at last year’s GlassBuild America. In that session, one participant noted, “There’s information overload.” In working with homeowners, the role dealers play now is to act “as a window consultant” and to “narrow down their choices” to enable them to make a decision, he suggested.

There’s been a steady movement toward mass customization in our industry. Coupled with that has been the trend to offer “one-stop shopping.” Manufacturers have steadily expanded their capabilities and dealers have expanded the number of product lines they carry to meet more unique needs and satisfy the personal tastes of more homeowners and homebuyers.

Sales and marketing people have, no doubt, been the big instigators for this trend. They hear from different customers that they want this or want that. They may report back to the top executives, “I lost the sale because we didn’t have knotty alder.” So, now they have knotty alder with a choice of hardware in 10 different finishes (see this month’s cover.)

And sorting through this range of options with customers—many who don’t have time or patience to listen to all of them—is the new challenge. Okay, it may not be brand new, but how well companies and their salespeople do it, I believe will increasingly be critical to a company’s success.

Like the personnel in the window and door manufacturer’s booths at IBS, we need to quickly find out where our customer’s or prospect’s interests lie. Otherwise, the customer might wander off to the next window and door display.

Our Colorado dealer is right. We can no longer just sell and upsell our products. We must be consultants, determining the needs of our customers, and perhaps a few of their wants too.