Don’t Be Caught in the Middle; Take Control

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If you have been following my blog, you’ll know this is the fourth “C” word in a series of 10 that encapsulate my observations of the traditional building industry.

Control.

How many middlemen stand between you and your client? All those predictions in the 1990s about their destruction are turning out to be true. Poor bandwidth only temporarily delayed this inevitability.

Business is too competitive for us to put our destiny in someone else’s hands. If you are selling through distribution or communicating with clients via an “allied professional,” too much gets lost in the translation. And alliances, however strong when business is good, are fraying now, under the pressure of a challenging economy.

Customers want just-in-time delivery, but distributors don’t want to stock inventory. And the Internet allows customers to know more about you and your business, sometimes more, it seems, than you do. In fact, the Internet allows customers to buy direct, bypassing middlemen altogether.

My company, Restore Media, LLC, did a survey recently aimed at architects, interior designers, contractors, building owners and facility managers. Seventy-five percent said they purchase building materials online. The product category they bought most often online was hardware, followed by lighting and plumbing products, in that order. Sixty percent of those surveyed who do not currently buy building materials online plan to do so in the next 12 months. Fifty-seven percent of the respondents said they buy directly from the manufacturer.

In this age of transparency, middlemen are exposed and often suspect. Clients want to know which subcontractors you hire. If you are the sub, they want to know you. Whether you are the preservation architect working for the general architect-of-record on a multi-phase project or a stone mason reporting to a historic buildings consultant, clients question everything and everybody.

You may not be able to sell directly to them, but you can communicate directly with your clients. Do it often. In fact, over-communicate. Control the flow of information, and you will control the client.

In a separate survey of traditional building facility managers, we asked, “What do you want most from your suppliers and service providers?” They answered, “Technical advice and solutions.” Your buyer wants expert information and a solutions provider. What your clients don’t like are suppliers treating them like a “sales lead,” obsessed with capturing their contact information, which they often pass on to a middleman whose technical expertise is often lacking.

Control your own destiny by controlling the flow of information, services and materials to the customer. Clean up your client database, and communicate with it. Improve your Web site. Make more visits to the jobsite. Get involved with groups and associations that connect you with your clients. Attach yourself to the things they care about. Don’t leave this up to your intermediaries.

Embrace the Internet as your direct communications and selling channel to clients who demand the best service and the best price. Business is too competitive to give up the ability to control it.