If you sell commercial building products, you’re familiar with all the tricks and techniques that will help you earn architectural specifications.
You could try calling on architects directly, but you know that’s a tough sell. Instead, you get their attention by offering AIA-approved lunch and learn presentations. That gives you time in front of them, but minimal opportunity to actually discuss the benefits of your product.
Those lunch and learns work, but it’s a numbers game. Most of the time, the architect sits through the talk, gets their AIA credit and doesn’t really consider what you’re selling. Eventually, though, some of them will specify your product and all those presentations will have finally paid off. If there are no hiccups, that specification will result in a sale.
But that’s just the problem. There are almost always hiccups.
Often, your product will be value-engineered out of the project by the general contractor. By the time the construction team puts boots to the ground, your product is no longer in the plans.
That’s the traditional approach to selling commercial building products. It may have been effective once, but now it’s an uphill battle.
Thankfully, there’s a smarter way to make sure your product gets included in a project and results in actual sales.
Go Directly to the Ones with Power
The architect has some influence over a project. So does the general contractor. But they both work for the owner and answer to them.
That’s because the architect has the expertise to draft the plans. The general contractor has the project management skills to take the design from blueprint to a fully functional building. But it’s the owner who has all the power and money.
The owner is the top dog. If you can convince them to use your product, it’s as good as sold. Yet most salespeople aren’t selling to them. They say that owners won’t meet with them so they can’t make any headway.
I believe them. I’m sure most salespeople can’t get a meeting with building owners, no matter how hard they try. But that’s only because they’re taking the wrong approach. If you want to reach building owners and get them to back your product, this is how you should do it.
How to Reach and Sell Building Owners
1. Start with the Right Question
First, you have to answer an important question: “What types of buildings is your product best suited for?”
See, most building owners specialize in a type of building. Instead of hopping from one type of commercial project to another, they will stick to multifamily, hospitality, warehouses, or whatever type they’ve had success with in the past.
There are over 300 types of commercial buildings. Your product might be a perfect fit for 12 of them. By a perfect fit, I mean its like your product was designed for these types of buildings. Your product offers a real benefit and is probably worth more.
For example, If you sell doors you can try to sell them to almost every type of building. For most of them you will be just another door where you have many competitors who are ready to lower their prices.
If your door offers some unique benefits to certain types of buildings, you just eliminated a lot of the competition. Your door is also worth more. It will be much easier to get in front of the right people. You are also likely to see repeat sales from these customers.
Getting a clear idea of what types of buildings your product is best suited for will help you narrow down which owners you should pursue – the ones you have a real chance of selling.
2. Join the Association
Now that you’ve narrowed down the type of owner, you can get one step closer to them by joining their association.
Most types of building have an association that owners belong to. In some cases, there will be a single organization covering the entire category, like the National Association of Theater Owners. Other categories, like multifamily, will have owners spread across a few different associations. Larger associations will also be broken down into local chapters.
Join the ones that have your potential customers as members. Joining is usually very affordable, and it’s a small expense considering it can improve your ability to sell.
3. Exhibit at Their Annual Meeting
Most owners’ associations hold annual meetings with a trade show. These trade shows are attended by the leading owners of the type of building they represent, along with the leading architects and general contractors who focus on that building type.
These shows are smaller than the AIA show, but they’re attended by the people you need to meet. There will also be less direct competition, since the other exhibitors won’t just be building materials companies. There will be exhibitors offering finance, insurance, sales, marketing, and other products and services. That’s good for you because it means you won’t get washed out by a dozen other exhibitors offering a product in the same category as yours.
The owners walk the show floor looking for solutions to their problems and new ways for their businesses to be more successful. When they notice your product, they will want to know more about it and how it can benefit them. Make a strong enough case for it and the next time the owner meets with their architects and contractors, they will ask why they haven’t been using your product.
An owner visiting your booth can also lead to visits from their architects and contractors, since they are likely attending the show as well.
Move Beyond Specifications
Relying on specifications is a gamble. Even if your product gets specified, there’s a good chance it will get erased from the plans before anyone puts in an order.
There’s also the AIA show. It’s impressive and the attendance is decent. There will be plenty of potential customers there, but that also means your product can easily be overlooked. For most building material companies, the value simply isn’t there and putting together an exhibit for the AIA ends up being a waste of resources.
That’s why you need a more focused approach.
Instead of hustling for specifications, go directly to the real decision makers. Convincing owners to use your product is a surefire way of getting sales, not just specifications.
One of the best ways to reach these owners is by going to their specialized trade shows. These are smaller events, which means fewer people will see your exhibit. But the ones who do have the power to make sure your product gets purchased, used and become the new standard for future projects.