Gaining and keeping architectural specifications is critical to the growth of building materials companies in the commercial and custom residential markets. However, the challenges architects face and the way they design projects are changing, while the methods building materials companies use to reach them have remained the same.
Architects need information about building products, but the current methods building materials companies use to share that information (construction activity reports, lunch and learns, trade shows) are inefficient. They reach the architect at the wrong time and lead to cut-and-paste or value engineered solutions.
I recently met Vardhan Mehta, co-founder and CEO of Acelab. He has very interesting ideas about how to better reach architects – at the right time and in the right way. Not only that, but he has turned those ideas into a new product that helps building materials companies gain and keep more specifications. I was so impressed with Vardhan’s thinking that I asked him to write a guest post.
I think you’ll learn a lot from his analysis of why building materials companies have a difficult time reaching architects – I certainly have. I also like the way Acelab lets building materials companies “try before they buy.”
A Better Way to Reach Architects
In the first minute of my first class in architecture school at Harvard University, the professor said, “Architecture can make the world a better place.” That might sound lofty to some folks, but as a second-generation architect, I genuinely believe in the power of good design.
While I was designing institutional projects for clients such as the State Department, MIT and Yale, I learned some fundamental truths about the profession:
- Great buildings are shaped by specifying great products
- It is virtually impossible for any architect to be an expert on all the products, solutions and assemblies out there
- Architects rely heavily on support and assistance from building product manufacturers and others to make the project a success for all stakeholders
The Endless Nightmare: Product Research & Specifications
The average architect is saddled with antiquated methods for finding viable product solutions:
- Manufacturer websites are often difficult to navigate, unorganized or outdated.
- Spec software that is not reliable because it lacks a user-friendly interface.
- Dozens of spreadsheets and sticky notes on their whiteboard to compare choices.
- Dialing the manufacturer’s generic 1-800 number almost never gets you to the right product rep.
- Younger architects dislike phone calls and prefer texts or chat boxes. If you force them to use the phone, they are likely to see if your competitor is easier to deal with.
As a result, we often end up copy-pasting specs from past projects to save ourselves the headache of wrapping our heads around a new product, or dealing with product manufacturers altogether. These Frankenstein specs often lead to errors, miscalculations or substitutions down the road.
The Journey to Specification is Rapidly Changing
Recent research has found that up to 73% of the products selected by architects end up being bought for the project. In this time of fractured supply chains and rising inflation, understanding price tradeoffs and delivery lead times become critical to starting construction on most projects. Architects are now searching for new solutions to replace many of the cut-and-paste specs they have used in the past for the following reasons:
- Lead times or pricing for firm favorites might still be out of whack
- New types of projects require new solutions
- Changes in building codes and sustainability requirements
- Clients increasingly want more environmentally friendly or carbon neutral projects
- Clients want projects to be more resilient and completed faster
Insufficient Access to Architects – When It Matters the Most
Given my background as an architect, I assumed that this “disconnect” is only felt by our side of the market. But after interviewing sales and marketing executives from 60+ building materials manufacturers, I learned about their common frustrations with their current investments in place to reach architects:
- Due to declining attendance and readership, traditional initiatives like tradeshows or magazine ads fail to result in direct sales or provide substantial ROI
- Lead databases, such as Dodge or CMD, provide poor quality leads too late in the project
- Spec softwares, such as Masterspec or Speclink, are expensive and infamously demonstrate self-satisfying data about specification rate trends
- Key players or decision makers are not typically present in the room during Lunch & Learns
- Other lead-gen services commoditize manufacturers to compete solely based on price
Every hour that a manufacturer’s team is spending on researching a laundry list of project leads or chasing down the wrong architect = an hour not being spent on supporting or serving an architect in need.
The Massive Opportunity: Early stage Project Collaboration
In 2004, Patrick MacLeamy drew a set of curves based on a pretty self-evident observation: an architectural project becomes more difficult to change the more developed it becomes. This earth-shattering revelation could be key to removing the friction in the Manufacturer/Architect dynamic.
- Imagine if you could start collaborating with architects just as they’re starting product research, while the project is still in SD/DD
- It would allow you ample time to win the strengthen the relationship with the actively interested architect by providing support and adding value from the beginning
- You would have an opportunity to influence the direction of design, and hold the spec from start to finish
- Architects prefer early support because they typically have more bandwidth to wrap their head around a new solution, and are not rushing against tight deadlines
- Early stage collaboration helps all stakeholders work together transparently in making the project successful
A Single-Source Destination for Product Collaboration
This led me to believe that it is time for a better way for manufacturers to help architects design better buildings with better products. To make it easier for the architect to avoid the potential problems with cut-and-paste solutions without wasting time. The key is early stage collaboration.
Enter Acelab, a new platform built by architects for architects that appeals directly to their design sensibility. Acelab provides a simple, elegant way to find the right product specifications and collaborate with the manufacturer on their terms. The innovative ProductAdvisor fills the knowledge gap for the architect, providing constructability intelligence as they perform their research from Day One. Acelab guides the architect on their product selection journey, educating them along the way and transparently connecting them to the manufacturers who are our paying customers.
Most manufacturers know they frequently waste tens of thousands of dollars on poorly targeted tradeshow events and advertising programs that yield leads that are often too late in the process, commoditizing their offering and forcing them to compete on price. Acelab provides the manufacturer with a platform to generate brand awareness and product differentiation. They leverage the platform’s collaboration tools to receive highly qualified leads early in the process, giving them the confidence that they are locked in at this critical decision phase maximizing their value. Our freemium model removes the barrier for the architect to use this valuable service, creating massive demand and building a highly qualified funnel for the manufacturer. Currently, 3,600 Architecture & Design firms are researching, selecting and specifying products using Acelab’s data-driven platform.
The Path Forward for Building Product Manufacturers
The manufacturer/architect relationship relies heavily on trust – and in the digital era, it has become increasingly important to communicate your value as a trusted advisor to the architect. Therefore, manufacturers should prioritize initiatives that present them in front of the right architects at the right time in the project. Breaking old habits – such as traditional initiatives or legacy software investments – can damage your brand and dilute the value of your team’s expertise.
Key findings to factor in while allocating your 2023 budget:
- Early stage collaboration with architects is the most powerful way of embedding your products in the project
- Quality > Quantity: Prioritize initiatives that give you access to a focused group of the right architects, not just a volume of irrelevant leads
- Being a trusted advisor means meeting the architects where and when they need you the most
- Subscribe to emerging technologies that architects are switching to research and specify products
- Focus on services that allow you highlight product differentiation, not forcing you to compete solely based on cost