Insights on the Construction Buyer
Key research findings on successfully selling to
What you’ll find inside:
EXECUTIVE SUMMARY ................................................................................................. 2
W HO ARE CONSTRUCTION BUYERS AND WHAT ARE THEIR KEY CHALLENGES?................. 2
THE BUYING PROCESS ................................................................................................ 3
COMMUNICATION METHODS ........................................................................................ 4
CHOOSING A VENDOR ................................................................................................. 6
W HAT DOES THIS MEAN FOR YOU?............................................................................... 10
APPENDIX: ABOUT THE RESPONDENTS......................................................................... 11
ABOUT BUYERZONE ................................................................................................... 13
Knowing how potential customers make purchasing decisions is a key to sales success – particularly in
the rapidly changing world of construction equipment and services. We recently surveyed construction
businesses that used BuyerZone’s Quote Connect service to learn how they make purchases and what’s
important to them in the sales process.
Our key findings include:
1. Determining what method of communication your prospect prefers is critical: the two most
popular opinions on cell phones for sales calls are ―least preferred‖ and ―most preferred‖ – not a
lot of gray area, there.
2. 79% of respondents rated responsiveness as ―very important‖ in a sales representative – more
than any other characteristic. Other characteristics are important as well, but responsiveness is
critical – and completely within your control.
3. Word of mouth is the biggest source of new vendors for these construction businesses, (75% of
buyers) but general Internet searches are just behind at 71%. If you’re not a well-known name,
you’d better be easy to find online.
4. Not only should your web site be easy to find, it should be easy to navigate and loaded with
information – including prices. While it can be a challenge to provide pricing, it’s the number one
piece of information construction buyers are looking for on your site.
5. You don’t need to jump on the social media train yet to talk to these buyers. They’re not
technophobes – but they’re not using Twitter or Facebook when looking to buy, either.
Who are construction buyers and what are their key
Our sample included responses from 495 businesses that recently made a construction equipment
purchase. About a third work for very small companies, with annual revenues under $500,000, about
10% work for larger firms with over $25M in revenue, the rest are in between. Note: detailed
demographics are available in the Appendix.
We asked an open-ended question regarding the biggest challenges these businesses face today.
Predictably, the number-one concern is the economy, an overarching issue that seems to influence
almost every other concern.
Here’s a sampling of the most common answers:
Staff. Finding and retaining good staff in unstable times is difficult.
Fuel. Prices of fuel and other raw materials aren’t letting up.
Wasted time. Whether it’s chasing leads that prove invalid, or bidding on a project only to be
undercut by price-gouging competitors, wasting time on buyers that don’t lead anywhere is a
Lack of construction jobs and value. Large constructions jobs are few and far between and
what jobs do exist are very small and pay less. There is a clear loss of perceived value in the
Maintaining cash flow. With fewer jobs out there, paying recurring expenses becomes a
Regulations. Banking regulations, government building regulations and safety regulations remain
top of mind.
Residential housing market. When the housing market slowed down, so did building.
The buying process
How long does it take?
Just over half of the construction businesses surveyed make purchasing decisions within one month—
great news for vendors. Of these, the largest sector (34.5 percent) take between one week and one
month to decide; the rest, 17.6 percent, report making decisions within a week.
Who makes buying decisions?
A little more than a third of the companies – 36.4 percent – leave purchasing decisions to management.
Only 16.8 percent of businesses have their own centralized purchasing manager. Predictably, larger
companies are more likely than smaller companies to have a formal purchasing process. Businesses
working in commercial construction are also more apt to have a centralized purchasing structure than
residential construction firms.
The second-most popular method of purchasing is also the most disorganized: on an ad-hoc, as-needed
basis—most common with the smallest companies.
Only a very small number (6.5 percent) work under broad purchasing guidelines, where decisions are
made on the department level or by subcontractors.
Communication is the grease that moves the sales engine through to closing. Construction businesses
not only have strong opinions about the best way to communicate, but these opinions change as buyers
move through the sales cycle. Vendors should determine exactly how construction buyers want to be
contacted, and when it’s appropriate—or even necessary—switch to a different method.
Email is preferred overwhelmingly as the best method to use as the sale gets underway: 82% of buyers
prefer or strongly prefer to be contacted via email early in the sales cycle. Office phone came in a distant
second, with 44% saying they prefer or strongly prefer it; even fewer want an in-person visit or postal
mail. Cell phones and instant messaging were the only two methods with the plurality of responses as not
at all preferred,‖ the lowest rating.
Communication methods preferred or strongly preferred by
33% 36% 40%
40% 25% Early stages
30% 25% 23%
16% Final decision
Email Cell phone Office Mail In-person Instant Fax
Phone visit Message
But wait: with cell phones, it’s not that simple. Cell phone communication is the reality TV of the sales
cycle—people either love it or hate it. 37% of survey respondents prefer or strongly prefer cell phones,
while 39% said it was not preferred at all. The lesson here? No matter what your customers’ opinion on
this matter, you can guarantee it’s a strong one.
We’ve already established that early on, the most preferred method of communication is email (except for
the folks who adore their cell phones). But as the sales cycle moves along, something interesting
happens: the likelihood that your buyers prefer being contacted by phone – both cell and office – actually
increases. Aside from in-person visits, every other method decreases, even email. Email does, however,
remain the most preferred method of communication with 75% citing it as preferred or strongly preferred
at the end of the sales cycle. No matter what demographic or other data point you use to slice the data,
this is true across the board.
What this means for vendors
Throughout the sales cycle, you should be in sync with your prospect’s preferred method of
communication and prepared to communicate differently at various points in the process.
Email. As we’ve established, email is the most preferred method of communication: it allows these
construction equipment buyers to store proposals from multiple vendors, respond when they’re ready,
and easily share information with other people involved in the purchasing process. Even with the
decreased interest in email as you move towards closing, most still prefer it at the end of the process.
And, with more and more people leveraging smart phones, we don’t see this trend changing dramatically
Cell phones. The polarization of opinions on cell phones means salespeople should make it a point to
feel out each prospect’s preference as early as possible and stick to it. Especially at the end of the sales
cycle, knowing whether potential customers rely on or avoid cell phones can really help you build a good
Office phone. Interest in office phone calls also increases slightly as the sales process advances,
indicating that direct contact is more palatable the further into the process you go.
In-person visits. Construction buyers are more open to in-person visits as they near a decision. That
said, there is a slight indication with mid-range sized companies that they’d rather not have an in-person
visit even towards closing. Again, this indicates how crucial it is to find out how buyers want to be
contacted at each stage of the sales cycle.
To sum up: Find out which way your potential customers want to be reached, and when. Make note of it,
and adjust accordingly.
More about cell phones
Let’s look more closely at cell phones. Are there types of businesses or purchasing agents that fall on one
end or the other of the cell-phone spectrum? It seems to be so. Buyers in larger construction businesses,
and to a lesser degree, buyers who have been in the industry the longest, seem to have a higher
preference for office phone over a cell phone or other forms of communication. And here’s a data point to
keep in mind: Fully half of the respondents to this survey—that is, half your potential customers—have
been in the industry more than 20 years.
Extrapolating from the data, the dislike for cell phones may be due to larger companies being more likely
to employ a specialized purchasing manager, handling procurement from a dedicated office within a
traditional 9-to-5 framework. With smaller companies, the individual responsible for purchasing decisions
probably wears many hats beyond procurement. Contacting such people only on a dedicated office line
might make less sense.
Choosing a vendor
How potential customers find you
When it’s time to find a vendor, word of mouth is still king – but just barely. Reputation is powerful, at least
to three-quarters of these buyers of construction equipment. However, coming in just behind word of
mouth (71.4 percent) is Internet searches, particularly with smaller companies and people newer to the
industry. There’s a significant drop to the next batch of answers: listings in trade publications have a slight
edge over quote request services (47.9 and 42.9 percent, respectively). Next in line are trade shows,
advertisements, online directories, and the Yellow Pages, in that order.
What construction buyers look for in a vendor
We asked buyers to rank the overall attributes they consider when choosing a vendor. Once we take
everyone’s favorite criteria, price, out of contention, what stands out across the board is a reasonably
equal mix of factors. What this tells us: instead of one sweeping consideration influencing their decision,
buyers weigh a few important factors with almost equal importance.
These important factors include:
responsiveness of the company
trust in the brand name
Responsiveness is vital. If you’re not prompt about fielding questions, you’re missing out on sales – and
that’s the only one of these three factors that is completely within your control at all times.
Interestingly, during the purchasing process, a buyer is far more likely to trust a brand name or a
company’s reputation than a single recommendation from a peer or a colleague. This is particularly true
for people new in construction. The fact that a company has been around for awhile isn’t necessarily as
relevant as it might have once been to someone with less industry experience.
On the other hand, individuals that have been in construction the longest look for reputation first; they
want a business they know well and can trust.
Still in the mix, but less critical to this level of decision-making, is the technology surrounding the
purchase. An informative, easily navigated web site and innovative, technologically advanced products
and services shouldn’t be dismissed.
Evaluating your products and services
When evaluating what you’re offering, trade shows and professional publications are slightly more
important to long-timers. People with less than five years’ experience are more likely to turn to the
Internet, particularly when it comes to using online reviews.
If you’re wondering whether you should jump on the social media train, establish a blog or hop onto
Twitter, these buyers probably won’t care. Only 11 percent said any sort of social media was useful - and
those who did were newest to the industry. So while it’s important to pay attention to trends, social media
need not be a priority at the moment.
Improving the odds of repeat business
We also asked how the vendors buyers have previously worked with could better meet their needs.
Putting price aside—everyone would like to pay less—improving customer service after the sale got the
most positive response: almost 40 percent included that in their top three. Construction buyers also like
vendors to—here it is again—be more responsive. Better maintenance and warranty options are also high
on the list, as are improved financing options.
What matters most on your web site
A theme that pervades the survey responses is transparency. Buyers want to trust their sales rep to be
open and honest enough to give them the complete story.
This theme also carries over to your web site. We asked survey respondents to indicate the top three
most important aspects they looked for in a vendor’s web site. What matters—particularly as they’re
making their final choice—is being able to easily find the information they need: spec sheets, a full range
of your products and equipment with descriptions of each, pricing, and even contact information, which
21.7 percent of buyers thought was important. Not surprisingly, pricing was in the clear lead (55 percent
included it in their top three).
The actual design of your site is unimportant, as long as it’s easy to navigate. Even product demos and
videos were helpful to only 9 percent of respondents.
What construction buyers look for in a sales rep
When it comes to evaluating sales reps, responsiveness, again, is at the top. If you’re not responding to
emails and phone calls from prospective customers quickly, you’re missing out on sales. Almost as
important is establishing a trustworthy relationship. Openness and honesty is key. If buyers don’t feel they
can trust your rep, you’re not doing the best job you can.
It’s also vital that sales reps be easy to reach and available to field questions, especially as the sale
moves toward closing. Actually, sales reps have their work cut out for them: none of the characteristics
we listed were rated anything less than ―very important‖ overall. A good sales rep is one of the
cornerstones of a successful sale.
Evaluating choices for a final decision
Construction buyers are like all buyers – they consult various sources as they make final decisions. No
one source rose to the top. What this means: it helps to have your company’s information—the products
and services you offer—accessible in multiple places. While no one source won the rating of ―most
useful‖ (5 out of 5), coming in at a rating just below that were four almost equal sources: professional
publications, manufacturers’ web sites, Internet searches, and word of mouth. In the second tier of
usefulness were spec sheets, online reviews, and in-person dealer visits.
At this final stage, online reviews fared highly compared to personal recommendations. People seem to
trust the unbiased reviews of anonymous strangers on the Internet – who have nothing to prove by their
choice and may have a personal stake in being honest – more than they do recommendations from
What does this mean for you?
Vendors and service providers who sell to construction businesses can take away several important
findings from this report:
1. Social media is not a priority when selling to construction equipment buyers. Despite what you
might be hearing, construction businesses aren’t turning to social media channels when making a
purchase, so you shouldn’t either.
2. Cell phones remain a polarizing form of communication. Some construction buyers love
them, some hate them. And some change their opinion as they approach a purchase. Make sure
you find out how your prospect wants to communicate (cell phone or not) – and stick to it.
3. Responsiveness is critical in establishing a relationship with a prospect. Once you
determine how to communicate, always be available to answer questions and provide information
to help move the sale along.
4. Your company reputation can be a key factor – but don’t fret if you’re not a big name.
Internet search is a close second, so while you may not be able to compete with the big boys on
name alone, you can focus on ranking highly for relevant search results to attract the business
5. Your website isn’t only about looks – it’s really about being easy to navigate and providing
product and/or service information to help facilitate a purchase. As they say, it’s about the
substance, not the style.
Selling to construction buyers – like anyone – is an evolving process. While implementing these findings
won’t likely change your business overnight – they’re a good, holistic approach to increasing your sales.
Appendix: About the respondents
The 495 businesses we surveyed have experience with both the residential and commercial construction
markets. Just under a quarter of them (24.4 percent) are involved in the residential market only, while just
over a third (34.7 percent) deal solely in commercial. The remaining 40.8 percent have a foot in both.
Size-wise, a third of these companies are on the small side, with annual revenues under $500,000. On
the other end of the spectrum, 10 percent have revenues topping $25M. The rest fall in between more or
less equally, with no middle segment dwarfing the others.
How long have the survey respondents been in the construction industry?
51.6 percent have been in the industry since the 1980s
13.5 percent have between six and 10 years in the industry
10.8 percent between 11-15 years
9.8 percent between one and five years
Hardly any (1.3 percent) have less than 12 months’ experience
What they’re buying
Here’s how their spending broke down in 2009:
Businesses serving residential projects spent less overall than businesses serving commercial projects,
except when it came to advertising—the only area both groups seemed to spend equal money on.
Purchasing equipment (32.1 percent) is more common than renting (17 percent), especially in the
residential market. But it’s not cut and dried. About half (47.9 percent) say the method of acquisition
depends on what the equipment is, while very few exclusively lease.
About their budgets
Here is a breakdown of respondents’ 2009 budgets:
After the drop-off we’ve seen in spending the past couple years, budgets seem to have stabilized. At the
moment it seems that companies are expecting to stick to their (still conservative) 2009 budgets. The one
exception to this is big-ticket items, which 36.7 percent of businesses expect to cut back this year
compared to 2009. (For comparison, 31.5 percent expect to spend the same, and only 17.4 percent
expect to spend more.) Most respondents expect to spend more on fuel and raw materials in 2010.
The smaller the company, the more restricted the spending. And overall, the residential market (with
smaller firms), seems to be softer than commercial; residential construction companies were, overall,
more pessimistic about projected spending.