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How to Sell Design Build Contractors

  |  Posted in Architects, Commercial

How to Sell Design Build Contractors

Design Build is the fastest growing segment of commercial construction. Despite this, most building material manufacturers have not changed their marketing and sales practices to meet the needs of the Design Build community.  They are missing sales opportunities by ignoring Design-Build contractors.

One of the reasons they are ignoring Design Build may have to do with its origins.  The original Design-Builder professionals were metal building dealers in the 1970’s.

Building owners, primarily in light commercial construction, started to notice how quickly a metal building could be built.  They weren’t the prettiest buildings, but they were built quickly, and they worked.

The next change was owners who wanted the Design Build benefits of metal buildings, but wanted them to be more aesthetically pleasing than what was available from the metal building dealer.

The dealer’s solution was to engage an architect who could both add the aesthetic component and make sure the modified structure was code compliant.

If you wanted to build a building before metal buildings existed, you started with an architect who designed a building to meet your needs. 

The architect created the plans and specifications.  General contractors then bid on the project.  The winning contractor then constructed the building.

This was, and still is, an accepted method of designing and constructing a building. 

As Design Build moved beyond metal buildings to include all materials and construction techniques, as many as 40% of buildings now follow the Design-Build process, and it is projected that Design Build will soon represent over half of new buildings.

Building material manufacturers who continue to focus solely on the architectural specification-selling model are missing nearly half of the opportunity. 

Manufacturers who don’t get engaged in the Design-Build process will still get some business when their products are selected by the Design-Build team without their knowledge or influence.

The main benefit of Design Build is time savings. 

The people who own and finance commercial construction are very focused on the time value of money, which is why Design Build is so attractive.

In architectural specification selling, manufacturers can follow Dodge reports to become aware of opportunities and know which architectural firm to focus on to get their product specified. 

Information about many Design Build projects is also publicly available, especially for government buildings that are required by law to publicize this information.

The real challenge and opportunity for the building material manufacturer is to identify the growing number of design-build projects that are under the radar before they become public knowledge and before it is too late to influence product selection.

In a growing number of instances today, an owner will go directly to a trusted general contractor and engage them to design and build a building without competitive bidding. 

Even when there is competitive bidding, the contractor may not make the information publicly available.

The contractor doesn’t want other contractors finding out about the project and trying to take it away from him.  The owner may not want the public to know about his plans at this stage for a number of reasons. 

These may include preventing competitors from knowing his plans, to avoiding community opposition.

The best way to gain knowledge of potential buildings is to call on general contractors in addition to architects.  Many Design Build firms have their own internal architects and designers, or have partnered with some.

These are the people the building product manufacturer needs to call on.

Don’t be surprised if the contractor won’t give you very much information about the project they want to keep confidential.  You have to earn their trust.

What’s different about Design Build?

In addition to presenting the benefits of your product, along with specification and submittal information, Design Build firms are looking for the following:

1. You need to be able to discuss the installed cost of your product on the spot.  Design Build is all about time, and there is no time for, “I’ll get back to you”. 

You either need to know the average installation costs for your product, or you should bring along a subcontractor for the labor component of your system cost.

2. You need to offer to do take offs from their plans to develop a bid.  You may want to hand these off to one or more of your contractor customers.  Once again, it’s all about speed.

3.  You and your company should be viewed as the experts in your product area.  Once again, to save time, the design-build team would like to have a go-to person for information.

4. Be a part of the team.  The Design-Build Team is the term the industry uses.  Your goal should be to earn a place on that team through your expertise and follow through.

If you’re serious about Design Build

1. Join the Design-Build Institute of America, which is the industry association, and participate in their events.

2. Let people know that you are committed to supporting Design Build.

•    There should be a Design Build section on your website
•    Produce case histories of successful Design Build projects that used your products
•    Use the term Design Build on trade show booths, in literature and social media to let the industry know that you are the Design Build leader in your category

If you’re ready to step back and take a fresh look at your approach to commercial building material sales to get more engaged in the Design-Build process, you will be more successful in achieving your sales goals.

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

“Thanks Mark Mitchell, for bringing the Design-Build trend and construction materials marketing together in this post. As Mark points out here: “Design-Build is the fastest growing segment of commercial construction” and these teams “are very focused on the time value of money, which is why Design Build is so attractive.” Our teams work with material manufacturers, and we’re also recommending they pay attention to this trend.”
Travis LeFever
Vice President Sales & Marketing

“Very valuable advice!”
Jolin Wong
Sales Manager
Emin Nano Glass Stone

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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.