Blog for Building Materials Companies

What’s Wrong With Architectural Specification Selling – And How to Get It Right

  |  Posted in Uncategorized

What’s Wrong With Architectural Specification Selling – And How to Get It Right

If gaining architectural specifications is key to the growth of your business, then this article is for you.

There are a number of ways to sell architects – some better, some worse. But by and large, every approach has some merit, so long as you avoid the common mistakes building materials companies make when selling their products.

Before telling you a better way to gain specifications, let’s go over the big four sales mistakes you might be making.

1. Seeing Every Architect as the Same

It’s easy to get in the mindset that sales is a numbers game. In the abstract, that makes sense. The more leads you can stuff into the top of your sales funnel, the more conversions you should see dripping out of the bottom.

If you take that approach with architects, selling to them becomes all about making contact. It practically doesn’t matter what kind of contact, as long as you get in front of them. Lunch and learns, exhibiting at the AIA, landing a Zoom meeting – it’s all the same. The more architects see you, the more specs you’ll be able to gain.

There’s a fundamental problem with this approach, however. It’s a sales strategy that relies on measuring activities, not results. Instead of giving you more sales, it typically results in more busywork, pointless meetings and time spent on architects who have no real interest in becoming your customers.

The ROI also doesn’t add up. When you take a good look at how much time and cost go into this scattershot method, it becomes obvious that too little of it pays off.

2. Taking an Idealized View of Architects

Many building materials companies assume architects have a very simple and noble goal: to build better buildings.

And yes, obviously that’s something every architect is passionate about. It’s an important reason they pursued that career in the first place.

But architecture isn’t just a passion; it’s also a business. Not only that, but each project is backed by large investments. That means the architect’s interest in building better has to be balanced by their need to run a profitable and successful business – and to help their clients do the same.

Making a building the best building it could be is very costly. Salespeople who don’t understand this often end up selling architects on the promise that they could design a better building instead of helping them achieve their business goals.

3. Not Understanding What’s Involved in Changing a Spec

At a superficial level, changing a spec seems simple and straightforward. The architect simply has to cross out the product they were planning to use and write yours in its place.

In reality, it’s a far more complex decision. It’s also one that comes with risks and challenges.

To sell to an architect, you have to show them that your product is worth the potential problems that come with changing the spec. Not only that your product is a good choice, but that the benefits will outweigh the trouble they’ll go through.

Instead, many building materials companies talk to architects as if changing the specification is as simple as hitting the backspace button a few times and typing in your product’s name instead. Needless to say, very few architects are impressed by this.

4. Using Out of Date Approaches

Many building materials companies stick to the sales and marketing approach that has helped them reach architects in the past. As the way architects do their work and run their businesses evolves, those approaches are becoming less and less effective.

Lunch and learns, trade shows, ads, project information and product directories used to work well. That’s no longer the case but many building materials salespeople haven’t caught up yet.

5. Not Respecting Your Time and Value

The best commercial sales reps I know value their time and their expertise. They do not use lunch and learns as a door opener. If a firm would like a lunch and learn they want to know what projects the firm is working on and if the product decision makers will be at the lunch and learn.

The Sad State of the Architectural Business

Thank God for architects. I don’t want to imagine what kind of world we’d have if it wasn’t for their skill and expertise. And I would never give the go-ahead on a major construction project unless the design has been thoroughly vetted by an architectural pro.

Unfortunately, doing important work doesn’t mean that business will always be good. Like other professions, architecture goes through ups and downs. Currently, they’re going through some challenging times.

Most architects work for firms that specialize in a specific type of project. In the vast majority of cases, these are not the large, innovative, game-changing projects that grab everyone’s attention and get featured in magazine spreads. They’re run of the mill structures like apartment complexes, hotels and retail outlets.

Instead of following their creative whims, these architects have to follow the needs of the owner/developers who hire them. Those clients are very focused on costs. Their goal isn’t to put up the best building they can, but to build one that’s functional. They want a design that’s good enough to do what it’s meant to do without getting too fancy about it.

In many ways, the owner/developer sees the architect as a commodity more than a creative professional. They want someone qualified to sign and stamp a set of prints that are up to code and that’s basically it.

And sure, any given project might have a creative challenge or two for the architect to solve. But for the most part, it’s a cookie cutter process.

On top of that, architects have the same problem many building materials companies do. Their expertise is in designing buildings, not sales and marketing. That makes it harder for them to get more clients or secure the kinds of projects they really want to work on. So, they can’t be picky. They have to keep the lights on and often that means drafting plans for another hotel that’s almost exactly the same as the last one they designed.

Why The Old Way of Chasing Specs Doesn’t Work

That’s the reality of an architect’s job. It’s not glamorous. It’s not as interesting as it could be. It’s important, but for the most part every project is just another day at the office.

That’s something many building materials companies don’t fully understand. They come riding into town, take a quick look at what the architectural firms are doing and think they’ve hit paydirt.

These firms are designing all these fine buildings, but those buildings could be better. And the building materials salespeople just so happen to have a product that would be a big improvement on the finished result.

So, they start chasing after the architects. They do everything they can to get in front of them and get their attention. They put on their best suits and give their best pitches.

And after putting in all that work, they have surprisingly little to show for it. A few sales now and then, but nothing that you’d call a success.

That’s because they’re making a fundamental mistake. They’re trying to sell new building products to people who don’t want new building products. In fact, they want to actively avoid using new products, because every change could mean extra costs and every extra cost risks them not getting hired for the next project.

So, what can you do? How do you sell architects who don’t want to be sold to? How do you convince someone to try your product when they’re doing their damnedest not to mess with the specs they already have?

Simple: you stop chasing them.

How to Actually Get Specified: Plant the Seeds and Wait

Architectural firms run a tight ship. To stay profitable and keep their clients happy, they have to make good use of their time. They won’t waste any of it fussing around with plans or comparing products to see if they can find a better one. Whatever worked for the last project stays in the new one, including the building materials they specified.

Because of that, you won’t be able to strong-arm your way into their upcoming projects. Instead of trying to convince them they should switch to your product, you’ll have to let them come to you when they need a new one.

That doesn’t mean kicking back and hoping for the best. There are steps you can take to improve the odds that they call on you the next time they need to switch to a new product.

To know how to do that, you have to first understand how architects look for new building products. The architects I’ve spoken with have told me that they’ll do the following:

  1. Ask a senior person at the firm for a recommendation (the easiest way)
  2. Look online for a suitable product (the most efficient way)
  3. Avoid contacting a rep unless it’s absolutely necessary (the least efficient way)

When they look online, they’re not going to the places you might assume. Manufacturers have their own websites and pay to be listed in directories or on manufacturer sites, but very few architects will ever consult those.

Instead, they’ll look for informative content that will educate them, provide suggestions and help them make a decision on their own.

This is where many building materials companies drop the ball.

Manufacturers sell to multiple types of customers – not only architects, but dealers, contractors and so on. As a result, their websites are designed for many different audiences. That means they’re not geared specifically to architects, which makes those sites difficult for architects to navigate and find the information they need.

If you’d like to learn more about this and some new more effective ways to reach architects sign up for my free webinar this Thursday. I’ll send you a recording even if you can’t attend the webinar.

What is the biggest challenge to your sales growth?

Contact me to discuss how I can help you grow your sales.

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.