A changing time for construction sales 

W.Howard Group’s National Account Manager, Andy Minas, considers how times have changed for sales people under the COVID-19 lockdown.

The coronavirus outbreak has been a challenging time, with everyone in the country having to get used to radically different times of living and working while in lockdown.

For the construction products industry, and that fleet of sales people used to travelling the length and breadth of the motorway network to visit customers, the ban on face-to-face meetings has meant embracing a completely different way of doing their job.

As W.Howard Group’s National Account Manager, Andy Minas is one of those people for whom a day spent on the road used to be all too familiar.

Andy explains: “Before the lockdown I’d spend on average three or four days out on the road, and probably a few nights working away from home as well.”

Andy’s role means that as well as looking after customers in his area, he’s also responsible for looking after many of the national merchant accounts at head office level, including Travis Perkins. From his home base in Cambridgeshire, he could often be found traveling up to Manchester, into London, the south West or wherever else he might be needed.

The nationwide lockdown on 23 March changed all that, and while W.Howard Group initially suspended operations along with much of the industry, it wasn’t long before the company was back in operation and finding new, socially distanced ways of working.

“There was continuing demand right from the beginning, even when we were on shutdown,” Andy says. “The business had people calling asking us if we had certain products in stock, especially from some of the larger, London-based sites who were still under pressure to meet deadlines and avoid late charges. We were allowing collections and we put a lot of safety measures in place to make sure everyone was protected.

“So, it’s been pretty full on throughout for W.Howard Group, and it’s manic at the moment, which is fantastic for the business, because it’s still a tricky time for a lot of people.”

At the beginning of the lockdown, Andy’s time was spent contacting all his customers to find out who was open, who was still trading and who could accept deliveries. But in recent weeks, as the industry gets back to work and more merchants and suppliers reopen, the usual work of selling product and growing customer relationships has returned as the main focus of Andy’s working day.

“Obviously, it’s all done by phone calls and emails now,” Andy says. “Some people are up for a video call, while others prefer to stick with a phone call. It’s definitely different, but at the end of the day the relationships we’ve built up with our customers are still there, which makes it so much easier. And, of course, everyone is in the same boat!”

The company is extremely busy with orders coming in, and with that comes more phone calls and enquiries than were being experienced at the start of the lockdown. As such, Andy and his colleagues, Rob Povah, Jake Cintra and James Leader, have also been helping to answer the phones, and deal with some of the enquiries and quote requests that they perhaps would not have previously – something that Andy has particularly enjoyed.

“Our estimating team is busy producing up to 50 quotes each per day, so we’ve been helping to pick up the overflow. And that has been good, because it gives us even more direct contact with our customers that we might not have had before. Before, the enquiries would have been sent into the office to price and we may not have seen them, but now we’re pricing and, as we have longstanding relationships with our customers, we can go back and answer any questions straight away. So that give us a more hands-on role, which is something that I prefer.

” While the lockdown measures are now slowly easing, social distancing seems to be here to stay for the time being, and is likely to have a longstanding impact on the amount of time salespeople spend out on the road. So, how does Andy think things are going to change now that people have become used to working via phone call and email, instead of face to face?

“I definitely think it’s going to change now that people have seen what today’s technology can do. I can see us maybe working from home two or three times a week doing phone calls and video calling, and maybe being out on the road just once or twice a week – perhaps half the traveling there used to be.

“I think that will definitely be the situation for the rest of this year, at least. Next year, once vaccines have been approved and the danger from coronavirus has been reduced, I think people may have more freedom – and more of a desire – to move around. But not for this year.”