A savvy building products manufacturer will have mastered channel-wide listening and cross-departmental collaboration. When you listen and respond accurately to the challenges facing every customer in your channel, your materials will be on track to start selling themselves when coupled with strategic digital marketing content and promotional activities to generate interest and increase brand trust.
To achieve this feat requires scientific efforts as well as creative experimentation, and is best tackled by a collective of leaders in each department.
Listening to Your Customers
You have a myriad of customers you need to be listening to. Here are a few standout items to tune your ears to:
What to Hear from Distributors
Local Distributors are fighting to compete against giant marketplaces like Amazon and Zoro and do not have a fraction of the resources available to propel a digital transformation of their services. Listen for what they want to be doing but don't have the resources or bandwidth for and look for ways to assist them, like sponsoring a channel management program.
Help these partners identify their unique value-added in the channel, such as their deep knowledge base about regional and highly local scenarios that giant marketplaces are not providing answers about.
For example, Kevin was on the hunt for some new windows. He researched online until he found the exact brand and style he wanted on the manufacturer's website. Unfortunately for the manufacturer, Kevin could find no way to purchase the windows, no way to find a distributor who had the windows in stock, and therefore moved along.
That lack of lead routing to distributors and dealers alike is a common culprit for low indirect channel sales. The player are standing out in the field, but they aren't getting any "at-bats" because the pitcher (you the manufacturer) is MIA. You have to get channel marketing and channel distributors to work together.
What to Hear from Dealers
Dealers continue to struggle hiring and retaining knowledgeable employees and technicians and a lack of transparency from manufacturers does not aid this struggle. Listen for ways you can improve their ability to understand your product offerings, see pricing, compare manufacturer promotions, and accurately forecast inventory lead times, for example by establishing and maintaining a PRM or Partner Portal.
Consider this case situation: I needed to buy new tires, which are similarly sold through a channel, and selected from the floor which tire brand and product number I wanted. Not until 3 of the tires were already on the car did the technician realize they didn't have 4 tires in stock and they had no way to know when they would have more in stock. They suggested I order the product directly from the manufacturer, which actually is not possible.
Without a way for the dealer's employees to track when additional tires would be in stock from the manufacturer (even though they'd placed an order a while back) and no way for me to solve the problem directly with the manufacturer, they had a frustrated customer on their hands. Granted, they should have ensured they had 4 tires available before starting, but partners also need a way to solve for inevitable customer service problems that they encounter as relates to communication from their suppliers.
Implementing these 7 channel enablement tactics is one place to start to improve your communication with and enablement of channel partners.
What to Hear from Big Box Stores
Big Box stores, and their Category Managers especially, are constantly evaluating and re-evaluating product offerings, store layout, category arrangement, customer behavior, and point of purchase sales data in order to make the changes necessary to provide more value to the customer than modern and convenient eCommerce options do.
Because building products manufacturers have taken the back seat for so long, big box store leaders have found their own ways to collect, organize, and interpret customer data. Manufacturers have an opportunity to provide collaborative assistance and prove value to their big-box store partners to increase favorability in forthcoming product line reviews.
Consider the increasing customer frustration in getting answers when shopping in store due to a lack of informed employees at major big-box stores like Lowe's, Home Depot, and Menards? In what ways could your customer service team be mobilized to provide customer support and therefore provide increased value to your retailer partners?
What would be the impact of using QR codes on product labels or in store displays that direct to educational content, FAQs, or even directly to customer service contact. How would this kind of approach increase the pace your products move off retailer shelves while simultaneously decreasing retailer staffing costs?
What to Hear from Pros (Builders & Contractors)
Builders, Contractors, and Tradespeople often feel like the step-children in the building materials distribution channel. They often take up the same amount of sales rep time as larger partners and tend to be less lucrative (unless they are one of the top 100 builders), so they are treated as less important.
The smaller Pros often have more insight to lend towards marketing messaging and product development, however, because there are less layers in between your point of contact and the installer using your product. Pros are craftsmen at heart and they care about quality for sake of quality, whereas the purchasing department at on of the top 100 companies care about quality for the sake of reducing warranty requests.
This means Pros will tell you exactly why they like your product, company, and distribution network and why they don't like all of the above so that your product development team can iterate improvements to existing products and launch innovative new products and your channel team can improve how those products are purchased by Pros.
From there, your marketing and sales enablement resources can be strategized around educating on the lingering problems that were solved and recapture attention in the market.
Who Should be Involved?
As you collect, organize, and interpret feedback from your customers, a spokesperson at your organization that manages their department's implementation team should have a seat at the table from each of the following departments:
- B2B Marketing Department
- B2C Marketing Department
- Customer Service
- Operations Department
- Product Development
- Finance Department
- Sales Department
Active listening and crafting responsive measures to what your customers are saying requires the commitment of each department, not just the marketing department.
Customer service teams hear about product and distribution problems the most, so they often have a high caliber of understanding of what customer's lingering pain points are after purchase, what problems your product did solve for, what it didn't solve for, and even new challenges it may have created.
The Operations, Purchasing, and Product Development departments can provide valuable insights into why manufacturing processes changed, why suppliers changes, or what opportunities for change make most business sense.
The Sales department often thinks they know the customer best, so they will have insight to share there, but will be of most value in sharing what changes to product specification will make end user installation better or what changes to distribution partnerships and processes will give your sellers an upper hand during purchase decisions.