Build tools are tools to manage and organize your builds, and are very important in environments where there are many projects, especially if they are inter-connected. They serve to make sure that where various people are working on various projects, they don’t break anything. And to make sure that when you make your changes, they don’t break anything either.
The reason you have not heard of them before is that you have not been working in a commercial environment before. There is a whole lot of stuff that you have probably not encountered that you will within a commercial environments, especially if you work in software houses.
As others have said, you have been using them, however, you have not had to consider them, because you have probably been working in a different way to the usual commercial way of working.