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How Sell to Architects And AIA Show Success

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How Sell to Architects And AIA Show Success

Whether you are looking for some advice on how to sell architects generally or how to be more successful at the AIA show, here are some ways to improve your performance.

Most Architectural Sales People Depend on the Same Three Tools.

Lunch & Learns – These are an important part of selling to architects—and yes, you should do them. The problem is that too many sales reps assume they’re the only way to get a meeting.

Dodge Reports – These are also an important—if expensive—architectural sales tool. Relying too much on Dodge Reports will result in you and your competition chasing the same jobs. Contractors love this because they get to pit you against each other and the winner is lucky to come out still making a profit.

AIA Show – I’m not a big fan of trade shows in general; they are expensive and not a very effective use of your marketing dollars. This is especially true of the AIA Show which is a much better show for architects than it is for the exhibitors.

These three tools are overused because they are the status quo.  They’re the easy choice, and you don’t have to think or work too hard—you just write a check.  There’s little risk, but there’s also little return.

I Recommend Companies Who Sell to Architects do Three Things:

1. Spend more money than you think you should online, which includes your website, content marketing, CRM, social media, SEO, and marketing automation.

2. Stop chasing projects and start turning more architects into raving fans of your products

3. Make every sales call more effective by building a better-equipped sales team. Many sales reps who call on architects aren’t that good at their job, so it’s easy to be a winner in this department—and everyone wants to buy from a winner.

A Smarter Way to Sell Architects

Let’s start with a better understanding of the architect. One of the steps I take with my clients is to help them develop a persona for their customers. Before you talk to an architect, take a moment to put yourself in their shoes. Architects see the world very differently than most salespeople do.

Architect Persona

Today’s architects are a young crowd, with most of them in their twenties, thirties, and forties. Unlike their older counterparts, they aren’t confined to their offices and blueprints but are more concerned with community issues and social responsibility. As a result, although the field is still largely white and more male, the new generation of architects is showing increasing diversity.

As young professionals, architects are very technologically savvy and feel at home with digital interfaces. They prefer the ease of accessing information online than the more traditional methods of working with or waiting for sales reps or poring over print literature. Don’t be surprised if they know a lot about your products before you call on them, based on what they have learned online.

As design experts, architects blend the creative and the technical. They will be mindful of the balance between aesthetics and performance and will always be looking for ways to improve one without sacrificing the other.

More architects are specializing and becoming experts in a type of building like hospitals, hotels or schools.

The architect wants to make each building better than their last one. This interest in constant and never ending improvements is the key to why your product deserves some serious consideration. Specialization also means, however, that not every architect is a good prospect for your products.

Architects are also skilled at thinking big picture while looking at the small details. They understand how seemingly small issues can have huge impacts and lead to long-term problems.

Sustainable and healthy buildings are of major interest to architects. Architects are well informed about environmental issues and look more favorably on products and companies that minimize the environmental impact.


  • Interested in design and construction since childhood; loves Legos
  • Strong problem-solving ability that brings a creative approach to systems.
  • A confident introvert who values order, detail, and sustainability
  • Career path includes an eventual partnership. Client recruitment and retention are increasingly becoming their responsibility
  • Always looking for the perfect pencil
  • Notices details like your shoes, eyeglasses and how a company presents itself. They form instant opinions based on the design of and consistent use of your logo, colors, typefaces, website and even the quality of paper you use in a brochure.


  • 70:30 male to female, though rapidly changing
  • 35 – 65+
  • Educated with a concentration in architecture


  • Visionary
  • Curious
  • Confident
  • Introverted


  • To create and shape our world
  • To become an industry name and make partner
  • Grow firm revenue by designing press-worthy properties that elevate reputation
  • Avoid mistakes that will damage the firm’s reputation or lead to a lawsuit


  • Clients who think they are architects
  • Value engineering (budgets)
  • Fear of failure
  • Keeping up with change

A persona, like this, should help you get on the same page with the architect for more effective sales calls.

A Little Psychology   

A lot of salespeople are extroverts, whereas architects tend to be introverts. Extroverts can find it easier to sell customers who are also extroverted. Given their different personality types, extroverted salespeople need to carefully consider their approach to architects.

Extroverts tend to be very sociable. They like to talk and are comfortable introducing themselves first. They can express opinions before they should and share something only to find out that the architect has a different opinion. To be effective, they need to shut up and listen, ask more questions and be more curious about the architect, their projects, and their problems.

Introverts tend to be quieter. You may need to start the conversation with a good question. Then listen—don’t be in a hurry to start selling your product. An introverted architect may speak softly and make less eye contact. They will pause while they think, checking the hard drive in their brain to compare what they are learning from you with what they already know and believe to be true.

If you are an extrovert, use your “inside” voice and slow down. Give an introvert some space and time to think and process.  Do not feel a need to fill the silent spaces in your conversations. The sales call will probably progress more slowly and take longer than you think it should, but it will also probably be more successful.

Start With a Nod

One of the things I like to do when working with a client is to try out my recommendations on a customer before they start spending money on marketing.  I do this by making a sales call myself.

My assumption is that the architect starts the call with a barrier between us. They see me as a salesman and want to be able to decide whether they’re interested or not without having to reveal too much. They know that the more they share, the more drawn out the sales call will be. They want to stay in control.

My goal when I am making a sales call is to start the call by getting the architect to nod their head up and down in agreement.  I do this by keeping myself informed about the latest issues facing architects so I can hit them with questions like:

“How are you dealing with the latest building code changes?”

“I have noticed a growing interest in the health of a building.  Is this affecting you?”

“What is the bigger challenge for your firm: construction costs or getting the building built faster?”

“I’ve been reading a lot about how hotels are redesigning their properties to appeal to millennials.  Do you see that trend in the buildings you are designing?”

Ideally, the question will have something to do with the benefit of your product.  I am asking these questions with genuine curiosity. They can smell when they are being set up.

I want them to start telling me stories about projects where they faced this issue.

Before the sales call, I make sure to do a little research by checking out their website and LinkedIn profile.  This gives me something more to talk about other than the product I am selling.

I then present the product from an “I’m just curious” approach: “If owners of this type of building are concerned about this issue and this product is a good solution, wouldn’t it make sense to consider it?”

Whenever I take this approach, several things happen:

1. The barriers go down, and they share more

2. They are more open to telling me about projects for which they are now considering my product and why.

3. The meetings almost always take longer because they want to keep talking.

Whenever I develop new sales presentations for a building product sales team, they always report similar results. I frequently get calls directly from reps just as they are walking out the door after their first sales call using the new script I developed. They will tell me they have never had a call like that before.

Hopefully, you can see the advantages of taking this approach when you are calling on architects. Unfortunately, at a trade show like AIA, you can’t use them all.

The biggest problem I have with the AIA show is a lack of traffic in the exhibitors’ booths. That means you need to make every architect visit to your booth count.  When an architect comes to your booth, they are there for a reason—they’re not just window shopping.

Figure out what problem they’re looking to solve and let them know how you can solve it.

How to Succeed at the AIA

Of my suggestions, the three things you can and should do are:

1.  Get to know their persona.

2.  Learn how to sell an introvert.

3.  Find out what are the latest issues facing architects overall and within your product category, specifically.

Being more successful selling to architects is more about attitude and a willingness to try new approaches than it is about spending more money on marketing.

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Thanks for the following comments.  I’d like to hear your feedback and suggestions on how to sell architects.

“This was a really well-written article. Thanks so much. Really made me think of how I actually interact with different personality types in my client base.” 
Nick Young

“Excellent article.   You nailed the current situation.  Organized this extremely well and useful.”
Richard Quandt
Quantum Business Group

“Fantastic advice for anyone selling to or working with architects and other specifiers. Thank you, Mark!”
Todd Lindsey
Eastern Engineered Wood Products

“Great insight and ideas. Architects are a special breed, but they are still looking for sales reps that develop strong personal relationships who they can trust to provide timely and technically correct information.”
Scott Lau
Scott Lau Consulting

“I debated “liking” this post and helping to promote it as your article was full of such value I didn’t want my competition to read it.”
Amanda Wilson
Manufacturer Representative
A.G. Wilson Building Solutions

“Very good article. Mark has an incisive mind and does a great job of cutting through the fog to get to the important stuff.”
Bruce Wingate
Vice President of Marketing & Sustainability
Dryvit Systems, Inc.

“An excellent article. Thanks for sharing.”
Stuart Roberts
Business Development Manager
KE Fibertec UK

“Thanks for sharing Mark great info”
National Sales Director
Engineered Laundry Products
Michael Burk

“Nice job. Great read….and so true!”
Jason Clarkson, CSI
Director of Business Development
Liberty North America

“Excellent article. The fact that we (Architectural Sales Consultants) are extroverts, targeting an introvert audience, has to be recognized and we must adapt our selling style accordingly.”
Babette Murphy, MBA
Director of Architectural Sales, Super Enterprises

“Great article!”
Ryan Roberts
Territory Sales Manager
United Window and Door

“Great outline for strategic sales training. I can see this as a successful conference presentation or round table. Maybe at the AIA show…”
Jon Hathaway
Business Development Manager
Karcher Design

“Interesting read”
Ken King
Technical Services & Business Development Manager
Stramit Qld/ NT.

“Interesting article! Tuomas Toivonen”
Minja Katajala
Planning Manager
Lumon Oy

“Thanks, Minja Katajala! It was a great article!”
Tuomas Toivonen
Customer Service Manager
Lumon Oy

“Very insightful and well written. Nice work Mr. Mitchell.”
Raymond Tomo
Architectural Sales Manager
Continental Building Products

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About The Author

I am the leading sales growth consultant in the building materials industry, I identify the blind spots that enable building materials companies to grow their sales and retain more customers.  As I am not an ad agency, my recommendations are focused on your sales growth and not my future income.

My mission is to help building materials companies be the preferred supplier of their customers and to turn those customers into their best salespeople. Contact me to discuss your situation.