T R E N D T R A C K E R
Serving a Smarter Customer
B Y M I C H A E L C O L L I N S
Most of you know that I
receive requests regularly
for information from manufacturers and
distributors for various pieces of market data.
Recently, though, I received a request from a group that
should be of particular interest to all of you—one of your
potential customers. I don’t get a lot of these requests,
but the exchange with this potential window buyer confirmed
that customers are becoming much more savvy
and that winning their business in the future will require
a redoubled effort to sell in a way that complements the
way these new, wiser customers will be buying them.
Meet the Highly Knowledgeable Consumer
The request for information came from a condo association,
some of the members of which were trying to
make a group decision regarding replacing their windows.
The windows in these units were at the textbook
replacement age of 25 years and the residents were considering
vinyl and fiberglass windows as replacements
for their single-glazed bronze aluminum windows. The
starting point in their inquiry was a potential color
change, from dark to white, but that was only the beginning
of the investigation. In addition to energy efficiency,
the members of this condo association understood that
making the wrong decision about their patio doors or
windows may affect the desire for others to buy or
upgrade a condo in that association.
In order to make this decision, the group had already
made themselves aware of the manufacturers in their
area, as well as the proximity of the closest manufacturing
facilities of these companies. In subsequent e-mail
exchanges, this group asked me a variety of questions.
They wanted to know about the future relative price movements of vinyl,
fiberglass and aluminum. Further ,they wanted information regarding the comparative
energy efficiency of these materials.
In looking at products in these various categories,
they were watching not only price but ENERGY STAR®
and other energy efficiency standards. This group
had peeled the onion further and was trying to
consider which type of windows were manufactured
in the most energy-efficient way, since those
would be the windows whose future price increase
would be the least driven by continuing energy
What’s Wrong with this Picture?
This group, a potential customer for droves of
DWMreaders, didn’t start their search for information
about windows with an investment banker.
They started it on the Internet, scouring the websites
of companies that they thought might be
appropriate providers for the current, and future,
business of the homeowners in their association.
The truth of the matter is they should never have
had to ask me these questions. The fact that a
group of consumers had to research this issue so
broadly that they found me is, to be frank, an indication
of a problem with the way that door and
window manufacturers make information available
to a technologically enabled buying public.
The industry faces a continuing problem with
the ways in which it makes information available to today’s customers.
These condo association members
told me that they have contacted several companies
directly and that the sales professionals with
whom they spoke were not able to give a coherent
explanation of how the energy efficiency of their
products compared with those of competitors. Some
of them were unable to discuss price differences in a
helpful way and the condo members gave up before
asking the questions that were several layers deep.
These buyers reported that none of the companies
they contacted had an easily located spot on their
websites that would give a buyer a clear picture of
how that company stacks up against competitors in
terms of price and energy efficiency.
I’m not suggesting that every manufacturer lead
with price so we can have a race to the bottom and
end up with terrible margins. What I’m suggesting is
more of a relative view that plots price versus energy
efficiency and performance and gives customers an
idea of where a company’s products fall. Not only do
customers not expect a free lunch, they’re suspicious
when offered one. If you sell value and let customers
know that your product is more expensive than another
one but outperforms the alternative in energy efficiency,
structural strength and other key areas, the
right customers will continue to purchase your products.
Alternatively, if you think a competitor’s product
is overpriced relative to the modest energy efficiency
gain over your own, pitch your product in that way.
How to Fix It
The key lesson in this highly professional process
of information gathering undertaken by the customers
who contacted me is that they won’t be kept
from assessing the right characteristics of products,
even if the decision not to make that comparison
easier is not accidental. Manufacturers would be
well-advised to take advantage of what are, hopefully,
the waning days of the doldrums in this industry
to revamp their websites and promotional materials.
Companies that provide easy access to a more
technical and rigorous level of information about
their products than has been typical in the past will
be the ones best positioned to win business from
the shrewd buyers in today’s market.
© Copyright 2008 Key Communications Inc. All rights reserved.
No reproduction of any type without expressed written permission.