We live in a complex world and it seems more competitive than ever. As an association executive director, I get to meet many new hires as sales associates. Most are excited about their product line and are eager to share what they have learned. The enthusiasm is likely the reason they are selected for the job but the knowledge base is too often lacking. I always encourage them to learn more about how their product works and how it interacts with materials or systems that will be touching the product or system they are selling. While this is good advice, it comes with a caveat and can be considered a double-edged sword.

Manufacturers often require any new sales associate to attend one or more training sessions. These sessions familiarize the sales associate with the product line and generally highlight the benefits and selling features of the product or system. Some manufacturers are better than others at the training and education of employees. Oftentimes, the knowledge can be intentionally limited. This is often just enough to sell to designers or even contractors. This is the first edge of that double-edged sword. The just-enough-information method highlights all benefits while ignoring some salient facts or known concerns. This can be a benefit, as the new sales associate is more likely to hold on to that enthusiasm, which in turn helps sales. The other side is that they likely won’t be able to offer answers to tough questions. Making up or fabricating an answer is certain disaster.

Know Your Customers

For a young sales associate, knowledge of potential concerns can be problematic, especially if you decide to speak your mind with an executive at the company. It gets worse if the concept of the product was theirs. They tend not to want to hear any negative feedback on their pet project. Speaking your mind can become a death warrant to your career at that company. This means—in some cases—that a lack of knowledge about all the nuances of a product or system can be beneficial to survival.

However, if you are in an industry with many variables and regional preferences, it’s likely better to know your market and what your customers like and do not like. Most clients and customers hate a sales associate who avoids providing answers. 

A well-known and successful sales representative for a litany of products did webinars on selling construction products and systems to architects. He noted the importance of knowing the product. He also commented that he discovered that successful salespeople are more closely related to education. The more help he was to the architect, the more sales he made. He noted that having the answers readily available was the key to his success. 

This could not be truer if you are selling to contractors. They are the ones putting up these products and systems. They will know quickly if they were lied to: so do not do that.

How Many Coats of Stucco?

I think about the push for one-coat stucco vs. three-coat stucco and the knowledge base. Most plasterers prefer to use three coats and it is not for the reason most sales associates think it is. Resistance to change is indeed a factor—but a small one. The real issue is how it feels and makes the plasterer feel. Three-coat stucco has a first coat of cement that is allowed to set and lose water. The second coat is applied and then shaved to a flat plane, with interior angles cut in. This is possible because the scratch coat absorbs moisture from the second coat, making it ideal to shave, cut and float. 

It may be hard to believe but most plasterers out there are proud to be a plasterer. This work with the straight edge or rod of shaving and cutting plaster makes you feel like a plasterer, even an artisan. One-coat stucco is over foam or a non-absorbent water barrier. There is no moisture loss and the plaster just does not work the same. In short, that cool feeling of being a real plasterer can be somewhat lost with one coat. In addition, the thinner coating allows a reduced ability to fix out-of-plane tolerances. These are major drawbacks and often not talked about by the salesforce. However, there are also benefits to one-coat stucco that can outweigh these drawbacks.

Three coats are per the code and ASTM and—as such—it can be difficult to get a third party to alter opinions on installations. One coat is per manufacturers’ evaluation reports and can allow for more user-friendly interpretations. This can be helpful to contractors who routinely run into overzealous inspectors. Knowing your product, the rules and your customers can be very helpful in trying to get the plasterer to switch to your one coat.