If you’re a systems integrator, chances are your customers already include homebuilders, architects, and/or interior designers – or you’ve given some thought to how to break into these markets. If you’re still at the thinking-about-it stage, maybe what’s holding you back is the thought of the effort that would be involved in selling to these trades.
After all, not everybody knows someone involved in the design and construction of new homes, and you may feel some ambivalence about even wanting to have these trades as customers. Truth be told, the average homebuilder is going to be a much more demanding customer than the average homeowner.
Although the homeowner may have certain preferences for the pace and sequence in which work proceeds, for homebuilders, each step of the process needs to happen in a definite order and you don’t want to be the one holding the process up—or else!
Another problem you may face is sheer indifference. Not every architect, builder, or interior designer is going to appreciate that the earlier you get involved, the better. They may not even consider that entertainment systems, control systems, and in-home networks are something they need to be concerned about.
On the other hand, if you can convince them differently, relationships with these trades can be extremely fruitful and durable.
While your previous customers will always be an excellent word-of-mouth source of new business, trades customers are uniquely positioned to “sell” your capabilities to homeowners (and future homeowners) who themselves hadn’t got around to thinking about the “smart” and “connected” aspects of their new homes—and at a most advantageous moment, when there’s literally a clean slate to work with.
Feeling up to the challenge? If so, here are 7 tips for how to market and work with builders, architects, and interior designers that can smooth your way to developing great relationships that will provide a ready source of repeat business. In addition to my own experience, special thanks to Robert Eng, president of Tech Life Media Systems of Long Island, who has been very successful building relationships—and his business—with builder, architect, and interior design customers.
1. Be Persistent
When you’re selling to consumers, it’s relatively easy to find out who’s the decision maker in the family. With the trades, the task can be much more difficult. If you’re cold calling builders and architectural firms, be prepared to have office managers promise to pass your message on to the boss—and then never hear back. If you reach one out of 10 people, you’re doing well.
One inventive dealer I know went door to door in search of business and sent the more promising prospects an Amazon Echo Dot as a follow-up. Sure enough, he heard back from several homeowners who needed for him to explain what they were supposed to do with their new gadget — and business came out of that.
You could do the same thing with a builder, architect or interior designer prospect — give them something that will pique their curiosity. Entice them. A decorator may have done a thousand window treatments, but did they know how they can be completely automated through a control system that anyone can use?
2. Network, Network, Network
Perhaps you don’t personally know any people in the home construction trade. But then think about it—everyone knows someone who’s worked with a builder or hired an interior designer. One thing leads to another. Networking is key to growing any business, and yours is no exception.
When I was starting out I made a lot of contacts as a volunteer fire fighter. Maybe you’ll find contacts in your local neighborhood association, house of worship, or chamber of commerce. Reach out to real estate agents, house flippers, and home stagers. Help a seller transform a drab family room into a nicely equipped man cave—or install the latest in automated window treatments—and you can increase the home’s value to everyone’s benefit.
The professional societies of builders, architects, and interior designers represent another opportunity to make connections. Find the local chapter of NARI (National Association of the Remodeling Industry) or AIA (American Institute of Architects) or ASID (American Society of Interior Designers) and look into getting involved as a content provider, perhaps making a presentation on a topic like home automation at one of their future meetings.
Attendees at events like these, for which professional association members may even receive continuing education credits, are almost by definition highly engaged in their fields and open to new ideas. That makes them an ideal audience for your message about what’s next in the connected, automated home.
3. Never Stop Learning
You need to give builders, architects, and interior designers a good reason to engage with you. A good part of this is staying on top of technological trends and being comfortable talking about them. Attending CEDIA every year is a must. Take classes, walk the show floor, and sit in on as many new product demonstrations as possible.
Your goal should be to become the authority on all the latest and greatest gear and gadgets, so pay attention to how they’re being presented and work to make yourself more and more comfortable talking about them yourself. Manufacturers such as RTI offer free in-house events throughout the year that are another opportunity to get hands-on experience working with the latest gear. Take advantage of them!
4. Leverage Relationships with Manufacturers
Whether or not you really feel like an authority on all the product lines you work with, the manufacturers know their products inside and out. If you’ve got an important pitch to make to a client in the trades, consider taking along someone from one of the manufacturers. Recently I was invited to attend just such a meeting between an RTI dealer and an important architect client.
This was one of those cases where I could add marginally to what the dealer had already explained about the benefits of installing a whole-house control system, but just my being there added to his credibility. Even more important, the dealer was demonstrating to his customer that he had the support of the manufacturer and he would be able to turn around and get RTI’s attention if needed.
5. Host an Event, Stay in Touch
As you make contacts, be sure to keep their information well organized in a database or CRM. Then every so often, invite your contacts to a cocktail hour at your showroom to let them see the latest in technology for the connected/automated home and home theater. This is something Rob Eng has done with great success since relocating his business to a larger space a couple of years ago.
“Our goal was for the new space to provide an environment not only for our homeowner clients but also for interior designers, builders, and architects,” Eng says.
He serves up wine and cheese at his events and provides a lot of education on the technology. For example, you could devote an evening like this to explain what’s happening with 4K video and how it’s impacting home theaters. The goal is to become the client’s teacher and partner.
An event like this doesn’t have to last long — an hour or two can be enough. Perhaps you can time it to coincide with a visit from one of the manufacturers. If you don’t have a showroom that works for an event, then consider using a private space in a nearby bar or restaurant — and remember to invite the establishment’s owner to your event as well if they’re not already a customer.
6. Simplify Buying Process by Offering Packages
Each of the trades we’ve been talking about—builders, architects, and interior designers—has its own priorities. For designers the top concern is aesthetics; for builders the overriding goal is often to keep costs in line. Architects will be concerned with both of those but also with the fitness of the overall design—understanding where things are going and the details of how they’ll be installed. For builders in particular it’s useful if you can offer different levels of packages that are repeatable and easy to install.
“For example, your ‘Silver’ package could consist of wiring for the TVs, indoor/outdoor speakers, and a remote control system,” Eng explains. “Gold—that could be three TVs, eight rooms of music, including the outside, a network package, and two remote controls.” The packages work as a starting point for comparisons, and you can customize from there to fit the builder’s exact needs.
7. Remember Word of Mouth
As I mentioned at the beginning of this article, homebuilders are likely to be rather more demanding than your average homeowner customer. Once you have a homebuilder as a client, doing whatever it takes to keep them happy is the best way in the world to market yourself. A positive recommendation from anyone in the trades is going to have a multiplier effect that can bring you a steady stream of new customers for years to come.
Angel Madrid serves as RTI’s Regional Business Manager – Northeast and can be reached at AngelM@rticorp.com.