Selling Throughthe Tough Times

Complaining isn't productive; developing market knowledge and real strategies is
By Rick Davis, Building Leaders Inc.
October 15, 2008
SPECIAL FEATURES | Sales & Marketing

Heroes are not made when life is easy. That's a philosophy window and door sales professionals facing today's difficult economic conditions should remember.

It's easy to see doom and gloom in every aspect of the housing industry these days. Rising above challenging experiences, however, makes leaders. The current downturn in the economy provides sales people an ideal opportunity to earn credibility and set themselves apart in this industry.

Demonstrating "calm in the face of the storm" can add credibility to a sales person's overall image. The most recent housing starts data indicates the worst trending for this industry in 30 years. Once you accept this fact, the next step is to simply keep selling.

Wringing your hands and complaining will not increase sales. But, prospecting unique areas can uncover diverse selling opportunities. For example, in tough times, keeping a close eye on the competition can bring strong results. Inevitably, some companies will fail during economically stressful times. That's when savvy sales people can surge ahead and capture potential customers.

A single key in this industry is knowing your market and where every potential customer purchases products. If you wait until a competitor closes and then start scrambling to gain its business, you're too late.

Use the Internet. This tool brings information to your fingertips. Search Web sites of associations such as the National Association of Home Builders, the National Association of the Remodeling Industry, or their local chapters. Visit company Web sites, competitive manufacturer Web sites and anything you can Google to gain more information on your target audience, their goals and how you can sell to them.

Knowing your market, you can focus on long-term opportunities. During these times, it is easy to panic and accept any sale that comes your way-which you should! But your proactive focus should target the specific audience that creates long term opportunities for you and your company. Commercial sales, condo associations and one-time sales are valuable short term opportunities. Depending on your particular business, however, it's important to concentrate on builders, remodelers, subcontractors, architects or homeowners, as these audiences will continue to provide ongoing revenue streams for the future.

In tough times, it's also important to remember to keep working sales leads and maximizing exposure of the brands sold by a salesperson. Building brand awareness and demand are essential ways for sales people to increase business for the long term as well. Gone are the days when sales people could 'pick and choose' the leads they want to follow up on. In today's marketplace every lead deserves attention.

What won't help in this climate is driving aimlessly around your territory without appointments, trying to hit more customers or prospects. If you don't have a scheduled meeting in the field, then don't leave your office. Cold calls and casual visits should be fill-in activity that surrounds productive scheduled appointments.

Many prospects are difficult to reach on the phone. Calling more persistently and leaving more messages is unlikely to help too. Instead, try dropping a casual e-mail to these prospects and clients. This affords you the opportunity to be precise with your message and your clients the chance to receive your message and answer at their convenience. In the modern world, you must adapt to a variety of conversation mediums. Strive to figure out which is best for each individual client.

Abe Lincoln said, "Given eight hours to cut a cord of wood, spend two of them sharpening your axe." Brainstorm. Take time out to think freely. Focus on only positive opportunities and methods to learn. Even in these challenging times, perhaps because of this challenging business environment, it is an opportune time to strategize for the future.


Five Basics for Successful Selling

Forget about the old-fashioned idea that some folks are "born salespeople." To successfully sell building products, you need to learn and practice the basics:

Schedule Appointments-Planned meetings equal good sales results. If you try the "drop in and hope" approach to prospecting, you'll be sorely disappointed. Even cold calls should have established appointments. An unscheduled visit, whether with a client or a prospect, is an imposition on the time and assumes that the person has plenty of time to drop everything and meet with you. For a solid start to prospecting, establish an appointment and confirm it via phone or e-mail beforehand.

Database Management-Knowledge is power, and your ability to harness knowledge makes you a powerful sales person. To achieve this, use whatever system works best for you, but write down and save key sales prospect information. Devise a way to include both personal information (i.e., birth dates, sporting preferences, etc.) and business details (i.e.,competitive products used, company history, etc.). Make sure to update your filing system daily to stay on top of prospects and customers.

Script It Out-First calls to prospective customers are always the hardest. Make life easier by having a written script or bullet points of information to convey in front of you while making the call and come to the point immediately. Don't forget that your goal is to gain an appointment, so don't use the phone call to qualify your prospective customer. Use it to get the face-to-face meeting.

Territory Management-With the rising cost in fuel, it is more important than ever to manage your windshield time effectively. In addition to scheduling appointments to ensure productivity in the field, map out your territory to maximize your effectiveness during the day. Criss-crossing your marketplace wastes time and gas-two precious and expensive commodities for any sales person.

Prospect Rating-To make your prospecting efforts more successful, rate your customers and prospects on their potential profitability to you. Asking the right questions will lead you to determine if a customer has the potential for purchasing 10 or 1,000 windows from you in a given year. Once you determine profitability potential, rank your customers and prospects from A to D. Spend the most amount of time with the A accounts and start looking to replace the C and D accounts.


Rick Davis is president of Building Leaders Inc., a Chicago-based sales and sales management education firm in the building materials industry. A contributor to numerous building industry publications, he is also author of the book, Strategic Sales in the Building Industry. For more information, visit or call 773-769-4409.