Virtual Selling Tactics to Reach New Customers

By Zach Williams

The COVID-19 crisis has shone a spotlight on the need for building material manufacturers and dealers to change how they reach potential customers. Although this shift has been happening for years, the sudden scaling back of so many businesses and jobsites has forced us all to take a close look at how we build connections and relationships when we can’t meet face-to-face.

This trend isn’t new. Since the first iPhone was launched in 2007, the explosion of social media, email, and other digital marketing has accelerated exponentially. People see more than 5,000 advertisements a day and have an endless choice of buying, education, and entertainment options at their fingertips.

For building material manufacturers, trying to cut through all the digital noise can be a daunting task. But now that even the most technology-resistant customers have been forced online due to COVID-19, buyers and sellers have very few alternatives to connect.

What Do You Have to Give?

One of my favorite books about marketing is “Give and Take“ by Adam Grant. As the name suggests, Grant says that the way people sell has shifted. In the old days, the Gordon Geckos of the world would offer a product and take your money. The transaction was finished. But now, more and more, a sale starts with the seller giving something and building goodwill.

We all know how to do it wrong. We see it all the time in our email and in our LinkedIn inbox. The messages that look like, “Hi, John. My name is Jim. I represent ABC Company. I think you’d love our products. Let me know when you have time to chat.”

I like to tell people this is like asking my wife to get married on the first date. Yes, we all know a friend of a friend of our neighbor’s for whom this approach worked, but most of the time, you get deleted before your name has even registered.

As Roy H. Williams says, “People will give you their time when you offer them entertainment. People will give you their money when you offer them hope.” Especially now, when we’re all mired in so much uncertainty, hope is the commodity you should be trading in.

Offer Hope Instead of a Sale

But what does that look like when it comes to digital sales? If your sales team has built their trade on phone calls and handshakes, and now they have to shift their focus to online tools like social media, how do you help them make that change?

The good news is, people are looking for you. Search demand for building materials has gone through the roof since the coronavirus crisis began, up by hundreds and even thousands of percent in categories across both residential construction, DIY, and the A&D spaces.

But even though we all think we should be using this time at home to learn a new language, homeschool our kids, and perfect our sourdough recipes, the fact is that many of us are existing much farther down Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, seeking basic necessities along with comfort and a sense of stability.

If your team can be a voice offering that comfort and stability, customers will remember the sense of hope that brings. But how do you get them to hear you?

Channels like LinkedIn or Instagram are ideal ways to build connections. They still rely heavily on organic reach (as opposed to paid promotions), and direct messaging within these platforms continues to be an untapped opportunity.

Putting the “Social” in Social Media

One of the key benefits of using social media as a means of reaching out to people is that the vast majority of accounts are still managed by individuals. While emails and phone lines may have gatekeepers to screen out solicitation, most people still manage their own Instagram and LinkedIn accounts.

In both cases, you need to start by doing your homework and finding accounts and individuals to target. It’s not enough to hop straight into their messages and ask for a phone call so you can give them a sales pitch. Remember that these accounts are run by individuals, so they’ll expect an individual approach.

The key to success in social media sales is to focus on the “social” aspect. If you can start a conversation based on something you’ve seen shared on their account, you’re far more likely to get a foot in the door. Openings like “I really enjoyed your case study or your pictures of your latest project” are far more likely to be met positively than “Can I tell you about my product?”

Remember that no one cares about you as much as you do. Particularly in these days where we’ve all been bumped down a few levels on Maslow’s hierarchy, each of us is far more concerned about ourselves than others. If you can show some interest or concern in the people on the other side of the inbox, they will remember that.

The key is to focus on bringing hope and value. Talk about their future projects. Share articles or resources they might find relevant. The goal should always be to give more value than you ask for. Offer to send free samples of your product, so your contact can explore it in-depth and visualize it on future projects when business gets back to normal.

Be Patient and Act Fast

If you’re just starting out in social media, I always tell people to be patient and act fast. Success in digital sales doesn’t happen overnight, and you can’t expect it to happen on the first touchpoint. Like all sales, it takes time to refine your approach and your messaging.

The other side of the coin, though, is that now is the time to act fast. Remember that people are searching for your products right now, and they have fewer distractions than ever. There are no trips to jobsites, no flights to trade shows. If you can move quickly to reach out to new prospects, they have very few reasons to put you off.

Adopting digital marketing and sales will not only help bring you through COVID-19, but it will also set you up for success in the future. As demographics in building and construction change, and as consumer habits shift, customers will expect you to be online and to have the information they want at their fingertips. Making changes now will hold you in good stead through the weeks and years to come.

If you’re looking for in-depth content on this subject, we highly encourage you to check out our building materials marketing podcast and additional resources at venveo.com.  

About the Author:
Zach Williams is the founder and CEO of LBM marketing platform Venveo. To read more articles like this, go to venveo.com/blog.