8 Tips on How to Connect with Contractors

May 24, 2016

By John Sonnhalter, Rainmaker Journeyman, Sonnhalter

Building relationships with contractors is no different from building them with your friends. You build relationships with friends over time, but once they know, like and trust you, then they will do anything for you.

Building relationships with contractors is no different. It can’t be a one-way street when everything you talk about is trying to sell them something. You’d get a lot farther if you were looking out for their best interest and helping them solve problems or do things better so they can make more money.

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A friend of mine once told me “contractors buy stories before they buy stuff.” Anyone who has spent time with contractors knows how true this is. Know what’s bothering them and keeping them up at night. So how are you going to find those things out? By talking with them and starting to build a relationship.

So if you’re a manufacturer looking to spend more meaningful time with contractors, I’ve written 8 tips on how to connect with contractors that you can get HERE.

8 Tips

The paper gives you tips on how to use relationship marketing and storytelling when dealing with contractors. You’ll also learn how to use training modules and mobile to stay connected and help them train their staffs.


Are you Considered a “Trusted Authority” in Contractors’ Minds?

May 10, 2016

By John Sonnhalter, Rainmaker Journeyman, Sonnhalter

We all want to be recognized as leaders in our respective fields and in today’s world the current mantra is to be that “Trusted Authority.” To be a recognized leader in your field is not an overnight sensation. It takes time and you need to deliver more than bells and whistles.

I recently read an article by Mark Buckshon from Construction Marketing Ideas where he discusses this very topic. He gave the example of Frank Lloyd Wright’s role in leading architecture to a new level in his day. He truly was considered a trusted authority, and if you wanted a second opinion, you’d just have to ask him. Not everyone agreed with him, but they respected him.

 Frank Lloyd Wright's Darwin D. Martin House, in Buffalo, NY. Courtesy of Dave Pape.


Frank Lloyd Wright’s Darwin D. Martin House, in Buffalo, NY. Courtesy of Dave Pape.

Time is one thing we have little of, yet it’s what it will take to position yourself and your company as the industry expert. Wisdom comes from experience and experience is gained over time. Lots of your credentialing will come from the school of hard knocks. But that’s OK. We should learn from our failures and missteps.

Learn to share your expertise and solve problems instead of trying to sell contractors stuff. With the advent of social media, we no longer control the message or where or when it will be delivered. You need to learn to share your experiences via story telling as opposed to a sales pitch. Show your expertise by telling contractors how you helped others solve a problem or gave them a better way of doing a job that resulted in them making more money.

To become a true authority you need to deliver results beyond the ordinary. If you do this, you’ll be able to grow your business through referrals and repeat business. Contractors are very loyal and they do talk among themselves, so let’s make sure what they are saying about your company is good.

It’s a never-ending battle. You need to keep being ahead of the curve and continue to wow contractors. Remember, everything you do at the contractor level should answer this one simple question, “What’s in it for me?”


E-Commerce: Why is the Independent Distributor Missing a Great Opportunity?

May 3, 2016

By John Sonnhalter, Rainmaker Journeyman, Sonnhalter

We’ve had conversations here before about independent industrial distributors missing sales opportunities by not keeping up with the latest technology available.

I see that Industrial Distribution magazine is doing a webinar on this very subject on May 18th; you may want to sign up for it or suggest some of your independent distributors who are still lagging behind get in the game. Jon Eames from NH Bragg and Jack Templin from Affiliated Distributors will be contributors. Here’s what they will be covering:

Industrial customers are asking suppliers of all sizes to offer a highly functional e-commerce-enabled website. So how do smaller, independent distributorships take the first steps:
  • Review ways independents can get in the game of e-commerce without breaking the bank.
  • Hold true to their business objectives while developing an e-commerce strategy.

According to Forrester Consulting, a 2014 study shows that 52% of business buyers expect at least 50% of their purchases to be made online in 3 years’ time. This should be an eye opener for distribution, but some are ignoring the facts. The big boys like Grainger (40% of their sales are from the internet) and MSC Industrial (over 50% of their sales come from online) are certainly taking advantage. Shouldn’t that set the tone for the independents? Forrester forecasts that B-to-B e-commerce will exceed $1.1 trillion and comprise 12% of all B-to-B sales by 2020.

I’ve said in the past that for smaller industrial distributors to survive, they need to use the internet. They can’t count on the business model of contractors coming in at 7 in the morning or around lunch time to pick up what they need. Time is money, especially for them.

Industrial Distribution magazine recently released some research on The state of B2B e-commerce in Industrial Distribution. Here are some highlights:

  • Independent distributors are slow-moving in implementing e-commerce programs.
  • Technical challenges are making sites user-friendly, making it aesthetically appealing and staying ahead of the competition.
  • Primary reasons of not engaging online was lack of demand, technical obstacles and lack of marketing/promotional resources.

Customer satisfaction and the customer experience are the key factors in developing an online presence. Ironically, that’s how the independent distributor built their business in the first place. Now they just need to transfer that to a different platform not only to keep existing business, but to grow additional revenue.

Figure 4

Source: Industrial Distribution

My worse fear is that the Amazons and the Alibabas of the world are going to make the independent extinct in a few years. I understand that the AD buying group has just instituted a new program to help members deal with some of these issues. It’s too early to tell if it’s making an impact, but at least they recognize the issue and are trying to help.

If you like this post, you may want to read:

What’s the future of small independent industrial distributors?

Are independent industrial distributors helping Amazon to succeed?

Distributor Strategy: What’s yours?


Contractors: Do You Know How to Connect With Them and Stay Connected?

April 28, 2016

By John Sonnhalter, Rainmaker Journeyman, Sonnhalter

Manufacturers who focus on contractors and professional tradesmen need to understand who they are and what makes them tick. They need to spend less time selling and more time solving the contractors problems.

I recently presented to a group of building material manufacturers at a marketing summit put on by Mark Mitchell from the Whizard Strategy. You can find the entire presentation here.

I’ve been talking with contractors for lots of years and here are some takeaways to consider when wanting to connect and support them.

Contractor Profile:

  • Most are family owned businesses
  • Most have under 20 employees
  • Most started working in the trades and moved into starting a company
  • They have long days, usually starting around 6 in the morning and ending around 5 in the evening
  • The have to multi-task — project management, purchasing and sales
  • Most of their day is spent in the field
  • Biggest challenge is finding qualified workers
  • Second biggest challenge is training them

What are Contractors Looking for?

  • Solutions their problems
  • How to do job better, in less time
  • Have access to knowledgeable factory people for technical assistance
  • Manufacturers who under promise and over deliver

How to Connect with Contractors

  • Have your sales force spend a majority of their time in the field talking with contractors
  • Have a special contractor portal, hotline and emails to get their questions answered in a timely fashion
  • Mobile apps (if applicable) to help them do their job better, i.e., an estimating tool
  • Online product/application training for their workers
  • Send them leads

Contractors buy stories before they buy stuff. If you’re trying to establish a long-term relationship, the contractor needs to know, like and trust you first. It’s like any friendship; it develops over time and the relationship is mutually beneficial to both sides. If contractors are your life blood, take good care of nurturing them as a good friend would do.


What Are You Doing to Keep Contractors Coming Back?

April 27, 2016

By John Sonnhalter, Rainmaker Journeyman, Sonnhalter

The biggest challenge manufacturers face today is the ability to keep contractors interested and engaged in their brands. It’s much easier to keep an existing contractor than going out and trying to convert a new one.

In a recent eMarketer article they talked about how B2B International surveyed 266 U.S.- and Western Europe-based B2B marketers from a variety of industries in October and November 2015. The market research firm found that 62% of respondents said building market share remained the top challenge among others.

Leading Business Challenges Faced by B2B Marketers in Western Europe and the US*, 2014 & 2015 (% of respondents)

But how do you build market share without building relationships with those you sell to? Contractors are looking at solutions, not new products! If your product can help them do their job better or quicker, then you have a winner.

What can you do? One way is helping them identify pain points in their daily routine. A common one is getting new business leadsOwens Corning has a great website where on the one page it focuses on getting the user to the right contractor.

Another pain point for contractors is training employees, both old and new. Most good contractors are limited on growing their company because they can’t find qualified people to do the work. Dust off those YouTube videos and training tips and tricks and offer them to contractors. They can be offered online and you can incentivize the recipients for taking and passing the course. What better way to build brand loyalty from both the contractor and the worker.

There are plenty of ways to build market share and one of them is loyalty. You need to get and keep them engaged and always answer the question,  “What’s in it for me?” Word gets around (contractors talk to each other).


Why Content Marketing Can Work for You

April 19, 2016

Guest post by Amanda Subler, Public Relations & Media Manager for Content Marketing Institute (CMI)

CMI_DocumentaryPoster_2048x1152 (1)Last year I traveled the U.S and Europe producing a documentary about content marketing for my company Content Marketing Institute. We visited Moline, Illinois the home of John Deere. We traveled to Washington D.C., to visit Marriott’s Global Headquarters. We went to Salt Lake City to visit Blendtec, the home of one of the largest blender manufacturers in the world. (Ever heard of Will it Blend? YouTube videos?) We even flew all the way to Denmark, to see how one of the country’s largest banks is transforming financial television.

But one of my favorite trips was to Warsaw, Virginia, where a little fiberglass pool seller used content marketing to not only save their business, but gain international fame and even go from selling to manufacturing their own pools.

Marcus Sheridan and his partners at River Pools and Spas were in big trouble when the recession hit in 2008. Suddenly, (no big surprise) no one wanted to buy pools anymore. For three straight months, they were overdrawn on their bank account. As Marcus says, he didn’t know what they were going to do. “Every consultant I talked to told me to close our business.” That’s when Marcus discovered “content marketing.”

The first thing he did was write down every single question he and his partners had ever gotten from a prospect or customer. Then they committed to answering every single question in blog format consistently on their website. He even answered the one question every single pool sales person is afraid to answer until they are sitting face-to-face in your living room: How much does a fiberglass pool actually cost? That single blog post has received well over 2 million views. By consistently answering every single sales question, River Pools went from being fourth in their market to the number one seller of fiberglass pools in the country. They get calls from people all over the world wanting to buy pools from them. It helped them build such a powerful brand, they have just moved from selling fiberglass pools to now actually manufacturing their own pools.

How did they do it? Marcus and his partners recognized early that with the advent of the internet, the traditional sales model was no longer viable. You can no longer afford to withhold information from your prospective customers until you can actually pitch them face-to-face. People looking to make any sort of purchase, especially such a large investment as a pool, are doing research online before they ever consider contacting a company about the purchase. When people start their search for a new pool, River Pools is the number one resource that pops up. Marcus and his team provide ten times more information than any other pool seller. Prospects are sold before they even make that initial phone call to River Pools. Content has become such a powerful sales tool, that last year, River Pools sold about 90 pools and 90 percent of those were sold before they even went on the sales call. Why? Marcus’ team is not afraid to give clients all the information they are looking for, including an actual sales proposal (which is unheard of in the pool industry), before ever stepping foot in a prospect’s house.

Was it hard for a couple of pool guys to learn a completely new skill set, essentially learning to be writers? Heck yeah. As River Pools co-owner Jason Hughes says, it was really hard at first, but he found the more he did it, the better he got at it. His advice for others is to just start small, just post something-get it out there. There’s no way it can hurt you. He says “if it applies to a pool company, it can apply to anybody. If I can do it, anybody can do it.”

So what are you waiting for? Do you have a list of questions from your prospective clients or current customers that you can answer? If you’re too afraid to answer those questions, you need to ask yourself why? Are prospects getting these answers from someone else? Are they getting it from your competitors? You could be missing the opportunity of a lifetime for your business.

I’ll leave you with this final thought from Marcus on the power of content marketing, “The moment we stopped saying we’re pool sellers and said we’re the best teachers in the world about fiberglass pools, and we happen to install them ourselves, was the most prosperous day of our lives.”

You can see more of Marcus’ story in the documentary, The Story of Content, at timecode 23:27.

 You can learn more about the documentary and download a screening guide at TheStoryOfContent.com

About Amanda

Amanda Subler is the Public Relations & Media Manager for Content Marketing Institute (CMI), overseeing all PR and media relations for the company. She also produced CMI’s new documentary on the rise of content marketing, The Story of Content. She’s a former award-winning journalist, spending 11 years in local TV newsrooms as a producer and executive producer.


Banner Ads: Less is More

April 13, 2016

By Scott Bessell, Idea Builder, Sonnhalter

It must have been a “data jockey” who allocated the minimal, odd-ball spaces on websites for what are known as banner ads. Message purveyors have the challenge then to effectively communicate messaging within the confines of 320×50 pixels or the endearing long and thin 120 x 600. It’s as if they (the space allocators) didn’t want ads on the site to begin with! Clearly a necessary evil. Well, hail capitalism! Banner ads are what make the web (afford) to go around!

So, the challenge is what do you say and show in such cramped spaces?

Looking keenly at what is being done lately, I’ve taken some cues from the retail side of the creative craft. I’ve noticed that, for the most part, when consumer product is being presented they usually offer up only ONE saleable feature. This soap gets you cleaner, this car is faster, this food makes you healthier, this candidate will solve this problem. You get the picture.

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Serve me up your best. If I’m interested I’ll follow through and get the details. Those examples offer ONE thing they want you to digest and act upon. I am asked too many times to try and get as much information into these tiny limited spaces as possible—even when it’s not possible. If I may, how many times are you drawn to the blabber mouth at a party? Tune them out right? Same thing!

As with all other mediums, banner ads must be created with their limits in mind. Whether the ad is static or animated, it’s crucial to minimize content since you’re dealing with minimal space. You may have heard the saying about fitting so many pounds of something into a much smaller capacity container.

Gallery images via moat.com


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