Jessica: Hi, this is Jessica with Build Green Live Green, CaraGreen’s podcast on all things sustainable in the building material space and today we have a special guest, our very own Rob Hacker who handles sales for CaraGreen and that’s what we’re going to be talking about today. Rob, welcome.
Rob: Thank you, It’s good to be back again. Think it’s been almost a year now since my last episode. Yeah.
Jessica: Yeah, and a lot has changed and that’s what we want to talk about today. You know, the role of the salesperson has changed dramatically and I think we’ve talked a lot about it internally but I wanted to have you on today to talk about it. It’s been a difficult conversation between the president of the company and the sales team to kind of articulate all the things that have changed in sales and how they affect you so I thought it’d be good if you and I just kind of had a sort of heart to heart conversation here about that changing role.
Rob: Sounds good and I think, you know, if we’re going to start this off, we should look back to pre-Covid when most of my time I didn’t talk to designers nearly as much as I do now. Once my time was spent on the road giving lunch-and-learns, doing in-person product presentations and lots of leads were coming in that way. But I think some of the changes with new technology that’s been implemented have really allowed me to kind of expand my territory without the addition of more in-person reps in my territory.
Jessica: So I think you’re kind of alluding to an exercise that we did at CaraGreen which was having the sales team put their activities into a pie chart and figure out how their time was used up. How much of it was in-person meetings versus administrative, behind the computer stuff. And it was a pretty telling pie chart when everybody kind of turned theirs in. Don’t you think?
Rob: Yeah I mean it went from I know for me and most of the other reps we were in the car a lot, just getting to these presentations. But there was a lot of planning food orders and confirming the appointment, getting there that took up, I would say, about, at least 50% of our time and then you know the other 50% was following up on some projects giving the actual presentations and now during Covid we switch to almost all administrative tasks following up on projects behind the computer and now we’re moving into this other transition of trying to utilize the different platforms out there that are giving us project base leads while also getting into some firms in person when that is allowed.
Jessica: So you’re you’re jumping ahead a little bit but the the gist of it is there was all this stuff in person Covid shut everything down and now you have this chunk of time where you have to kind of find things to do with it that are productive and we labored through that for about a year. But while right before Covid we had started putting in place, we kind of embraced this idea of the online sample library. And we started setting our brands up on those online sample libraries and then Covid hit and who knows how rapidly those online libraries were going to take off but because of covid they just hockey sticked. And you know designers really used and really learned how to use those online platforms to source not only physical samples, but all the electronic documentation as well and then that kind of shifted the field for sales and that’s what we want to talk about here. So go ahead.
Rob: Yeah, and you know it almost seems like it’s taking over a portion of my role as a salesperson. But I think there’s a way that we were able to look at it at CaraGreen as not taking away the sales rep job, but giving them another tool to grow their territory to grow sales to grow adoption of the product.
Jessica: So what we ultimately ended up doing was looking at the new allocation of time, looking at all these online platforms and how much volume in terms of leads they were generating for us. And then, as management, we challenged the sales team and said, “What do you do now? Because if you’re not doing the in-person stuff, how are you supplementing that? Because these platforms are doing all your legwork that you used to have to do to identify a project right now. What I get sent to me in an excel spreadsheet every single morning would take you months and months of fostering a relationship, identifying projects, planning lunches, and now I get it in a spreadsheet in my inbox in the morning. So that was kind of a threatening position to have management put on your shoulders. And so how did you react to that? Not everyone reacts the same way. But what was your initial feeling about it and then kind of how did you adapt or how do you think is a successful way to adapt under those circumstances?
Rob: Yeah, so I mean initially I thought it was wonderful because I had all these projects just falling in my lap. But then you know time goes by and you’re like wait, that’s doing my job. I need to figure something else out to make myself valuable for the company. So the way we did it was to look at our territory and see you know what do I have time for now that I didn’t have time for before and I think for me it was building, I have time to build these really personal relationships with different members throughout my territory. Also have the ability to turn a single product sale into a multi-product sale for CaraGreen you know, just moving from just one product to our whole suite of materials. But it’s also given me the ability to have a bigger overall understanding of what’s happening in my geography. Where government money is going for different school projects, maybe new real estate investments that are happening throughout the territory. So that’s another area where you know I’ve been able to refocus my time and prove my value.
Jessica: And so it’s almost like a quality/quantity thing rather than just this sheer volume of meetings. You’re kind of having more sort of intimate interactions when you are and then you’re able to dig deeper into some of the levers that you can tweak and pull to really understand the territory. And I think that’s kind of a next level way of adapting to this new role of salespeople. You’ve got to be more informed. It’s not all this glad handing and sponsoring events and buying beer because those events are so few and far between. You need to come up with some more creative ways to do that sale. You did mention that you’re able to take a single point lead and turn it into a much broader portfolio and for CaraGreen that works because we have you know 15 or so brands that we can expand to. But if I’m, say, Valiant Quartz and I get a lead from Material Bank, maybe it’s you know, white with gray marbling even though I don’t have other product lines, I can expand that lead, I can certainly expand it to other colorways within my offering. So that lead expansion capability is something that a lot of sales people haven’t had time for in the past and I think a lot of these platforms enable them to do that to expand a single project lead across lines.
I want to talk about the broader trend of the online platforms because what happened during Covid was designers, and myself included you know from an online purchasing standpoint. Everyone was stuck at home. Everyone found new things to order online and for the architecture and design community that was samples and in some cases products. So the supply chain sort of almost like integrated itself to this online platform and to me that just smacks of like automation that you see in a factory. When factory workers are worried about that, they’re going to lose their jobs because there’s a new robot coming in. That’s essentially what happened to building material salespeople in my opinion.
Rob: The business development part of our job is totally automated now and you know, you can look at it in two ways. You can either try and fight it, which I mean we’ve seen this play out time and time again as new technology, the internet, everything comes out people fight it and.
Jessica: Um, they lose. Yeah, boom.
Rob: Oftentimes they’re left behind and they lose. So you know for me to see this new technology I was like alright, how can I make this work the best for me in my role? How can I use it to help me grow my territory, make more connections and be that go-to rep for my architects and designers? There’s still a lot that I can do as a rep to assist along the design process beyond just dropping off a sample and telling them a little bit about the material.So instead of being on that side where I’m placing samples in libraries trying to get people interested in my materials, I find myself more on the side of a design a design consultant almost or a materials consultant where I can really take a deep dive into these materials and say, “This is why it’ll work very well for your particular project. Durat Solid surface would be so great for this school project because of all of the colors and the recycled content. I know you’re going for a LEED certification.” We can have those more in-depth conversations now because we’ve already gotten past that initial sample placement.
Jessica: And I also think one of the things about the automated sample placement. So you think about all the platforms that are out there and you get this kind of qualified project lead handed to you. “Hey, Rob please follow up on this lead” and the sentiment is oh my god I’m obsolete, these leads are coming from these platforms instead of from my activities out in the field or a lot of them are coming from here instead of my own efforts. That can be intimidating and you can feel like you’re not doing your job but at the same time it can also be viewed from my perspective. We’re investing in you. We’re investing in these platforms to bring stuff in to you. So it makes sense for the company to invest there. But ultimately the beneficiary is going to be you in terms of the sales that you’re closing but our investment in that platform is a it’s comparative, like if you take the process you were describing before, where you went in and did a lunch and learn, and you confirmed the lunches, and you printed AIA certificates, and you added it all to your CRM, and you dropped off 2 sets of samples, and they called you three months later to come back in to talk about PaperStone. Now you have a project lead but it took you six months to get it. And you’re about $1200 deep in order to get that lead where with these platforms you’re either getting them for free. They were costing you around $50 a lead but as an investment from the company that $50 instead of that $1200 makes a heck of a lot more sense. And it’s not always that apples to apples. But I think it’s important that, I think a place that I feel like you got to was you understood that these are coming your way. You mentioned it earlier that the company is also investing in you when they’re spending money on these platforms.
Rob: Yeah, I mean I like to use them both. Its like a hybrid of the platforms and those in-person meetings. But let’s be honest, the efficiency on the digital approach is just so much higher. The return is higher and allows me again to have those more in-depth conversations and build those stronger relationships. And that’s really where I see you know a product moving from these lots of samples and smaller projects where they’re doing maybe nine sheets, nine slabs or, you know, it’s just a smaller project and once you can have a successful one of that size, build the personal relationship. It allows you to get moving into those larger institutional projects where there’s hundreds of sheets going in there. So, you know, definitely using these platforms as a tool for me, but there’s also still some of that in-person sales rep that is important or that personality that architects and designers still want to connect with. So by combining that you really have a good path towards growth for any material. I really think…
Jessica: Yeah, I think in any interactions that we have when we’re purchasing something we want to know that there’s a person behind it. So I think that that is a really important point to make here. I think you know sales organizations in our space and building material space, we’re always laggards. We are always the slowest to respond so building materials companies aren’t going to recognize right away that their salespeople are obsolete in their current task breakdown. Um, they’re going to need to adapt and that may mean kind of repurposing salespeople. Realigning them. But you know, things don’t get unautomated, right? You don’t bring a robot into a factory and then pull it out because you’re going to hire 20 more people. It just doesn’t go that direction and I don’t see this going that direction either. So I just see this happening more and more where the entire design cycle is being automated and you can have Naomi in Georgia, Veronica in Saskatchewan and, you know Toby in Bismarck, North Dakota. And they can all be working on the same project and all be getting samples from the same places so, you know, we’re getting pretty flat here. So I think it’s good to see you embracing that new sales role. And you know, I think when you think about the interactions that you’re having now as a salesperson when you go into those meetings, how are you being received, right? Do you feel that your interactions with designers, when you go into a firm now, are different than they were before when it used to almost be like a conveyor belt, one rep after the other, 15 minutes get in, get out? What are those meetings like now?
Rob: So they’re a lot more valuable just because the frequency of these meetings at each firm is lower. They’re having less reps in on a weekly, monthly basis. So you know they’re a little bit starved for the attention that they used to be inundated with. So it’s just a more meaningful, more memorable person-to-person interaction. And the other thing that’s really been great for me is a lot of them have already been aware of our products because they are on all of these platforms. So it’s not a cold introduction. I get to bring my brands to the table and they’re, “Oh, oh I’ve seen that, oh I’ve heard of that, oh I’ve sampled that through whoever” and that’s a great thing for me. It makes the conversation a little warmer. They’ve already held the product, touched it, and we can just get going with whatever questions they might have about the material rather than having that course or very technical presentation to introduce a new type of window framing or whatever. You know we can keep it a little more informal and a little more discussion-based rather than just a presentation. So you know, by replacing some of those in-person meetings we’ve been able, with the platforms, we’ve been able to create more meaningful interactions and meetings even though they’re less frequent.
Jessica: So, we’re talking about platforms generically because we didn’t want to get too proprietary but just so for our listeners, the platforms that we’re referring to are information databases, databases, sample libraries. Some of the names are Material Bank, Swatchbox, Mortarr, Source, BIMsmith. You know, there’s other ones out there as well. Those are the ones that we’re more intimately involved with but basically we’ve put as much information out there, online, to these platforms that architects and designers use as we can so that our footprint is as large as it can be in the online space. And it’s working for us. But the summary is that that kind of feels like a threat to some sales people so the supply or the sales function part of it has been automated. And you know you, if you embrace change, you can move forward and be successful. And Rob, you’ve done that and we appreciate that and we thank you for coming on today.
Rob: Yeah, thanks for having me! Always happy to share and, you know, I would leave it with: Don’t be afraid of these new technologies, just embrace them and use them to your own advantage. That’s the best way to succeed especially in a sales role where this is going to continue to push forward really forever.
Jessica: That’s what I like to hear. This is Build Green, Live Green.