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


How to Get the Most Accurate Estimate

April 12, 2016

By Robin Heike, Production Foreman, Sonnhalter

83_3231574Estimates are crucial in planning your budget, they are a statement of the approximate charge for work to be done, submitted by a business firm ready to undertake the work.

In order to get a more accurate approximate estimate, you’ll need to provide the following:

  • A detailed list of what the end “product” is expected to be or what you want to accomplish. This lets us know what you want and helps us stay on the same page.
  • Any and all support info at the time of the estimate. It can be difficult to build changes into an estimate, so providing everything you can when the estimate is requested helps you get the most accurate estimate.
  • A timeline that provides for adequate time to complete the work.

Estimates are calculations of what time/monies will be needed to fill a blank page. Just like filling this blank page it is not always that easy!


Go Hands-On for Quality Trade Show Interactions

April 6, 2016

By Matt Sonnhalter, Vision Architect, Sonnhalter

One of the most underutilized components implemented by exhibitors at trade shows is the “hands on” demonstration of their product/solution. Professional tradespeople make their living working with their hands, so it should not be a surprise “hands on” product demonstrations are a favorite for this audience.

Typically trade shows like to talk about the quantitative stats…number of attendees, number of exhibitors and number of speakers. But instead of focusing on the number of people walking up and down the aisles and attending these shows, maybe we should be focusing more on the quality of the interactions between trade show attendees and the exhibitors. One of the more effective quality interactions would be the “hands on” product demonstrations and skills competitions at trade shows. In general, booths that have some sort of demonstration/activity for their product tend to have more traffic and activity.

The first quarter of the year tends to be a busy time for trade shows targeting the professional tradesperson. I recently attended the World of Concrete Show and was amazed at the number of hands on areas. The parking lots of the Las Vegas Convention Center were packed with manufacturer tents highlighting “hands on” demos with everything from cutting and drilling, to polishing and breaking up concrete.


In another parking lot across from the convention there were as many as 4,000 spectators in attendance to watch a number of masonry skills contests, including the SPEC MIX BRICKLAYER 500, SPEC MIX TOUGHEST TENDER, MCAA Masonry Skills Challenge and the MCAA Fastest Trowel on the Block.

It was amazing to see the passion, enthusiasm and support shown by the attendees watching these tradespeople showcase their skills! All of these areas outside the convention center consistently had more active traffic compared to the normal booths inside the exhibition hall.

Now there are a number of factors that go into making a successfully trade show, but hopefully when you are planning your next show a hands on demo will be part of it.

 


Manufacturers – What is your Biggest Concern?

March 29, 2016

By John Sonnhalter, Rainmaker Journeyman, Sonnhalter

I guess it would be getting new customers and keeping existing ones.

An effective customer experience starts with understanding your customer and then delivering good, meaningful content to them. The more positive the experience, the better the sales or so it would seem. This could be a challenge in today’s market where sales have turned from relationship-based to transactional-type sales.

So let’s look at two areas – marketing and customer service.

It’s not surprising then that a recent survey of CMO’s by eMarketer showed that their biggest concern was the customer relationship followed by ROI on marketing activities.

But what about once you have them as customers? Usually it’s easier and less costly to keep an existing customer than try to find a new one.

I ran across a study recently in emarketer.com “How to Win at Customer Service,” that claimed most people just want their questions answered.

Attitudes Toward Customer Service Among Internet Users Worldwide, Aug 2015 (% of respondents)

Here are some highlights:

  • 81% of those surveyed just wanted their questions answered
  • 89% feel more positive about brands that give good customer service
  • 46% tell their friends and family about a quick response time

So what does all this mean to the manufacturing sector? Well the bar isn’t raised too high and we certainly don’t have to reinvent the wheel.

Here are some tips on how to serve the professional tradesman:

  • Keep your customer service department open on business days from 7 AM to 5 PM EST. If the contractors are having issues, you need to be available when they are working.
  • Staff your customer service department with experienced people who can answer questions, troubleshoot a problem or forward them on to someone who can.

A post you may want to read, Customer Service: How are you Handling Unhappy People, may be a good read. A good customer service department can help increase future sales by giving them a positive experience.


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