October 7, 2012

"Builder Smart: The Great Separator"

"Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire" ~ William Butler Yeats

Last week's post presented an overview of the difference between a sales representative and a building industry sales professional. So many qualities and skills separate the two types but none more important then the desire to learn and, in fact, act upon that desire and become better educated in the industry in which you are building a career. Today's guest blogger, Monica Sommerfeldt-Lewis from Wisconsin, will bring to you various ways to become that better educated individual and give you a path that takes you further from your competitors on the ever popular "road to success."

"Builder Smart.: The Great Separator"
by Monica Sommerfeldt-Lewis, CGA, CAPS 
President/Owner Archer Lion, INC

Monica Sommerfeldt-Lewis
Builder Smart. If you are going to have an effective career selling products and services in the building industry, you better be “Builder Smart”. Memberships and sponsorships are great for creating your identity, but alone, they don’t generate business.  It is what you learn through membership and involvement that can really bring you success. Today’s article is about some key education I found that can help any Associate.

How do you become Builder Smart?

Number 1 = Listen
Listen in the car when you ride with Builders to an event. Listen at a meeting when Builders are discussing challenges on a job. You learn a lot about how someone does business by listening to how he talks about doing business. You also discover valuable insight into how and what they sell, as well as problems that you may not know your companies response to. In a 4 hour drive with other Members the other day, I learned how one Builder relies on the internet to expand his showroom when meeting with clients. How important is a good website to someone like him? Another Builder was discussing insurance on products delivered to an unsecured jobsite that needed to be returned. Do you know where your insurance responsibilities stop?

Number 2 = Expand your knowledge base of the Building Industry
You have to know more than your product line. If you don’t understand the business or how Builders make decision, you won’t get far. So what can you do? Attend all kinds of education aimed at Builders. I know some Associates don’t see benefit in attending something about concrete trends or wall bracing, for instance, but I believe you benefit in a couple of ways from being there. One, the more you know about any aspect of building, the better your chances are of becoming a resource to a Builder.  It also says you care as much about knowing the industry as you do making a sale. Two, if you are in a face-to-face classroom, Builders see you there and you might get an opportunity to discuss why knowing more about the building is important to you as you sell your current product line. Third, in this economy, there is little job security. So every piece of information you learn makes you more marketable and the people in that room could be future employers. Also, you never know when one piece of information can develop a whole new business for you.

I am also going to encourage every Associate to explore and find NAHB Designation programs that interest you. I am a “Certified Graduate Associate” (CGA), and a Certified Aging In Place Specialist (CAPS). Both have played vital roles in my business as we maneuvered through the past economic downturn. But, education alone does not bring you business. You have to apply what you learn and capitalize on the people you meet. For me, I now do public speaking and provide education on Universal Design; in addition we added a line of installed walk-in showers. Also, I use the Code of Ethics I signed as a major part of my advertising. There are two other very important things about NAHB’s Designation programs. One, they are recognized across the United States. You do not need to get a new one for every state. Second, the classes are prepared by members for members. These are not manufacturer based instructions on their products or ideology. They contain practical information to be applied as needed to your field.

Number 3 = Know the Process and the Business of building a home.
Until you understand the entire process from taking a piece of vacant land and turning it into a buildable lot, you can’t understand a Builder’s ability to visualize or the amount of work that happens prior to the foundation being dug. It is this process that will truly enforce why NAHB, your State, and your Local Association are so involved with legislative and code issues. It is during this phase that undue regulation and fees can really disrupt the ability to provide any housing, much less housing a buyer can afford.

Second, there is a business to building a home. Besides employees, equipment and materials, Builders have contracts with buyers that they must abide by. One of the best things you can do for yourself is understand all laws regarding building and home improvement contracts in your state. Understand rules about delays, about price increases during the process. Understand issues regarding product substitution and builder warranties. Know the lien laws and right to cure laws if they exist in your state. Know about financing and construction draws. If you sell a product or a service to a builder or home improvement contractor the more you know about the obligations he has per law, you need to make sure that you understand any implication a problem on your end can have on his contract.

I found three valuable resources for this information. One, the Basics of Building course provided by NAHB which is also a requirement for the CGA designation. This course provides great insight into “how vacant land becomes a home” and even gives introduction into the fundamentals of building a home. It should almost be a required course for every new hire in the building supply chain.

Second, there is a book called “Selling to Builders” available through NAHB Builder Books. This is required reading for every new hire I make – no matter what position they are hired for. This book walks you through the thinking process and the “team” process builders use. Builders do not change “players” on their team until someone is unable to perform. I wish I had read the book when I opened my business instead of 5 years later, but it is never too late to learn.

The other valuable education series I took was all the education classes required to have a Builder Certification in Wisconsin. Every state is different in regards to Builder licensing, credentials or certifications, but here we have an educational qualifier to get a Dwelling Contractor Certification that allows you to pull permits and build a home. The initial qualifier required attending hours of education and successfully passing a test on sections like – “Customer Service and Ethics”, “Construction Escrow Disbursements”, “Codes, Regulations and Safety”, and more. I encourage all of you to look at any such education available in your State, also. This was the single most important education I ever attended in regards to my business. One, I learned something that allowed me to have NO new outstanding receivables. Two, I realize and recognize the dedication, knowledge, and oversight the truly professional Builder brings to every job.

Like I said – get “Builder Smart” and you will find ways to grow your business and be part of the industry that provides not only homes, but jobs to many. Your membership in a Home Builders Association is the key to so much more than networking. Open the door today and embrace the great separator.

If you have any suggestions for articles in the future, or you would like to be a guest blogger, click on my name below and contact me. Posts must somehow be relevant to our NAHB membership and not a commercial for your product or service.


Michael Kurpiel, CGA, CGP 

NAHB 2nd Vice Chairman Membership Committee
Past NAHB Associate Members Committee Chairman
Past NAHB National Associate Chairman

(click here) NAHB Advocacy - The Passion of an Industry podcast

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