I was visiting customers last week in the Evansville, Ind., area last week and I will tell you that I experienced a wakeup call – literally! At 5 a.m. on Wednesday morning, one of the customers that I was to visit later that day gave me a wakeup call in my hotel room. “Ed, what on earth are you calling me for at 5 a.m.?” I said in a very groggy voice. “Jim, did I wake you?” he said. “I know you’re not from this area Jim, but did you know that you’re staying in tornado alley? I just called to tell you that there is a tornado on the ground and it is heading right toward your hotel, so you might want to duck into the bathroom or in a center hallway. I would sure hate it if you missed our appointment this afternoon, Jim!”

Well, at first I thought Ed might have been playing a practical joke on me, but about 10 minutes after his call, the tornado sirens went off and the hotel clerk called my room with the same warning. Well, obviously I came out of it unscathed but I was shocked to learn later that day that a tornado actually passed through town on a path only 1.1 miles away from my hotel! I am sure grateful to Ed for giving me the forewarning.” He must have been up all night staring at Doppler radar!” I thought.

Now, as we all know, hindsight is always 20-20, but what about forward vision? What if we could tell what’s going to happen in the market ahead of time the way Ed predicted that storm? Where is our Doppler radar when it comes to foretelling what will happen in the window market? I asked myself.

Well, my answer to this question was waiting for me on my first sales call that morning. I had a great discussion with a customer about future trends in the marketplace, and what products he felt would be needed to help him gain market share in the coming years. I often talk to customers who just throw their arms up and say, “We don’t know what direction to go – anything could happen in this economy!” This is true – anything can happen in this economy. There are many factors such as interest rates, existing home inventory, oil prices, gasoline prices, consumer confidence, domestic politics, international affairs, energy tax credits, EPA regulations, Energy Star requirements, the media, and even the weather playing a role. It is no wonder that many customers just give up when it comes to taking a risk on what direction to steer their company. They just freeze, like a deer in the headlights. However, this was not the case with this customer. Compared to most, he had a very clear vision!

The reason why he had a very clear vision is because this company is really in tune with what their dealers want. They spend a great deal of time listening to their market. Their salespeople take the time to talk to their dealers to see what types of products they want but don’t currently have that could help them offer a unique value proposition to the consumer. What is a Unique Value Proposition? This is defined as a product and/or service that offers special features and benefits that enhance its worth to the consumer yet it is still available at a competitive price. How is it unique? It is unique because it is new and nobody else yet offers it. If you can give your dealer something special that is new, and the dealer’s regional competitors don’t currently offer it, he will sell your product over theirs all day long. But just being new isn’t going to do it. You have to know that the consumer will want it and that he or she will be willing to pay the dealers’ price to get it. How do you know this? Don’t just talk but listen to your dealers! They spend their time on the front lines selling to consumers so their feedback is vital. It seems elementary, but you would be surprised how many fabricators are too busy selling what they currently have to offer and don’t take the time to listen to their dealers to fully understand what dealers would like to have in the future!

Yes, having a real understanding of what your dealers need to help them succeed in the future is like Ed watching the Doppler radar screen. It can be your “Marketing Radar.” It will help to keep you alive in this tough economy and enable you to weather the storm!

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