More and more building material companies are realizing that facilities managers play an important in selecting the products that are used in the buildings they manage.
While manufacturers have recognized that facilities managers are important decision-makers in the repair and replacement market, they are only now beginning to recognize the important role they play in new construction.
Building product manufacturers tend to focus most of their sales and marketing on distributors, architects and contractors.
Today’s building owners, however, no longer just look at the construction cost of a new building. They’re also very concerned about the operating and maintenance costs of their buildings.
They rely on their facilities manager’s experience and expertise to help them make the right product decisions.
While architects and contractors may be more focused on up-front costs of a building material product, facilities managers want to know about durability, cleaning, maintenance and lifetime costs. In other words, facilities managers are open to paying more for a product that will be a better investment over the long run.
I surveyed a group of facilities managers and asked them what their biggest challenges are.
Here’s What They Told Me.
1. Many owners do not understand facilities management and expect their facilities managers to spend less each year while the costs of labor and materials are going up and the building is getting older
2. Providing management with better data to educate them in order to get the funding they need
3. There is a shortage of people with facilities management knowledge, so it’s hard to find and retain good employees
4. They need to stay educated and look to manufacturers to provide training
5. They are so caught up in day-to-day issues that they don’t have enough time to look at the big picture
My Recommendations For Growing Your Sales Through Facilities Managers.
Your first and most important assignment is to learn as much as you can about facilities managers.
Start with a broad overview.
Facilities managers are responsible for making sure the buildings they manage meet the needs of the owners. These needs will vary based on the type of building and the goals of the owner.
Examples of owner needs:
· Green and sustainable building
· Reduced operating costs
· Lower maintenance and repair costs
· A very long-lasting building
· Regular updates to the building interior (either to meet tenant needs or to appeal to customers like hotel guests)
· Improved safety
· Planning to sell the building soon and wants everything at the lowest cost
If you don’t take the time to learn what the owner’s needs are from the facilities manager before you start talking about your product, you are very likely to be wasting your time and the facilities manager’s time.
The biggest mistake I see when I ride along with building material salespeople on a call to facilities managers or review a marketing program aimed at facilities managers is not understanding that the facilities manager’s job is to meet the needs of the owner.
They assume that because their product has a longer warranty or is greener or has some other impressive feature that every facilities manager will be interested in it.
Facilities managers are just like builders and architects: they need to meet with sales reps, but they know that 50% of the time it will be a waste of their time. That’s because half the sales reps they meet with are unprepared and understand nothing about their needs or the owner’s needs.
The sales reps and marketing departments that take the time to understand the needs of the facilities manager will be much more successful.
Your second assignment is to understand the needs of different types of buildings.
Every owner has different needs, but so does every building type.
Think of how each of the following types of buildings have different needs:
· Office buildings
· Multifamily apartment rentals
· Multifamily – condos
· Movie theaters
· Convention centers
· Freestanding retail
· Big boxes
When you call on most facilities managers, you’ll be able to tell what type of building they are managing because their office will probably be within that facility.
If you are calling on a facilities management firm, however, they may manage different types of buildings, so you will have to do a bit of research or ask a few questions to find out what kind of building you’re dealing with.
To be successful with facilities managers, you need to learn as much as you can about why your product is a better choice for the specific type of building they manage.
You should also stay informed about this type of building by reading trade magazines and other sources of information.
For example, if you read that hotel occupancy rates are down or that Millennials are changing the way hotels are designed, those are good talking points for discussions with hotel facilities managers. The facilities manager is probably already thinking about these issues and bringing them up shows that you are more knowledgeable than most other sales reps.
Staying current on this information will also help you to develop much better products, since they will be based on the needs of the marketplace.
Your third assignment is to face up to the fact that you probably misunderstand how the facilities managers job is rapidly changing and becoming more important.
It used to be that facilities managers were simply responsible for things like cleaning, security, parking, lawn care, snow and graffiti removal, replacing broken windows and setting the thermostat. A lot of people, including building material companies and their sales reps, still think that’s all they do.
But the modern-day facilities manager is no longer just a janitor or handyman with a fancy title. These days, they’re important and highly valued executives.
Yes, facilities managers are still responsible for all those day-to-day jobs like cleaning and snow removal. And while those are still important, today’s facilities manager has a much larger role in helping the owner to meet the performance needs of the building and to manage what can sometimes be a very large budget.
In fact, being a facility manager is one of the most difficult jobs in building materials.
That’s because facilities managers are blamed for everything and thanked for nothing. When they’re doing a great job and everything is working as it should, no one notices. No one stops to think that the automatic door or elevator are only working because someone is monitoring all of the parts of the building to make sure they are serviced or replaced before they fail or cause a problem.
The building occupants only think of facilities managers when something goes wrong. And their complaints frequently go to the owner on their way to the facilities manager.
It can be a pretty thankless job. And I don’t know about you, but I need a little positive reinforcement every day!
The second challenge for facilities managers is that no matter how well they do their job and manage their budgets, there will always be unplanned and often expensive (and unbudgeted) problems.
There may be a natural disaster such as a flood or tornado. And while the damage may be covered by insurance, it is still a major inconvenience for the owner and occupants who keep wondering why the facilities manager can’t get things back to normal faster.
It can also be something like the premature failure of a roof membrane. If it had only been budgeted for replacement in three years, they’re now dealing with an unbudgeted $100,000 expense.
The third challenge for facilities manager is that they need to be knowledgeable about hundreds of different products and systems. And on top of that, they also need to stay up to date on the endless product changes and innovations that are being rolled out on a daily basis.
They also need to keep learning about the many new digital tools that can help them better monitor the performance and status of products.
Whenever I look at a set of plans for a new building, I am amazed at the amount of detail the architect needs to consider when designing a building. I am also amazed as I watch the on-site project manager for a general contractor turn those plans into a completed building.
I think of facilities managers in the same way. How can they stay on top of all of these details? This is where you can help.
Every time I have ridden along with a building material salesperson to call on facilities managers, I have found them to be a very welcoming audience – if you educate them before you try to sell them.
If the information the sales reps are going to share looks like it will be very helpful, I have seen facilities managers stop them so they get other people in their department to sit in on the presentation.
If you have lunch and learn presentations, it can be a very good idea to share them with facilities managers.
Selling to Facilities Managers in New Construction
The owner or developer of a new building or major remodeling project is very likely to have a facilities manager on staff or to use a facilities management firm.
They are also very likely to include the facilities manager in the design and product selection process.
If the architect recommends a new product, the facilities manager is likely to have a number of questions about it. It’s not that they are against the new product; they will just want to understand more about it. They will want to know thing like what is the product’s service life, how is it maintained, what can go wrong and who will make any repairs?
Some facilities managers who have had a bad experience with a company or a type of product and will insist that it not be used on any new projects.
They can also insist that certain products be used. There is a facilities manager of a major university, for instance, who insists that any new or replacement roof has to be an inverted membrane roof.
If a facilities manager is using your product for the first time, it’s a good idea to stop by and give them an overview of how to maintain your product and answer any questions they might have about it. This will go a long way to getting them to want to use your product on the next project.
Selling to Facilities Managers in Retrofit, Repair and Replacement
Facilities managers want to know about your product and how it may better meet their needs.
In retrofit, repair and replacement, the ultimate decision-maker may very well be the local dealer or contractor, but I have taken part in building product presentations to facilities managers.
More often than not, the facilities manager would tell us they were impressed with our product. Then they would say, “if my contractor thinks this is a good idea, then I will have no objection to using your product.”
I’ve even been in presentations where the facilities manager picked up the phone and called his contractor to tell them to expect a call from us or been handed the contractor’s business card.
The reason facilities managers rely on the judgment of their local dealer or contractor is that they have leverage with them. For example, if it’s a roofing contractor, the facilities manager’s business is very important to the contractor. The facilities manager probably has the contractor’s cell phone number and if there is a roof leak at three in the morning, he knows the contractor will have somebody out of bed and up on the roof very quickly.
The contractor cannot afford to disappoint the facilities manager.
While facilities managers appreciate when building product manufacturers share information and present their products, they also know they’re not very important to the manufacturer. A facilities manager may like your roof membrane, but he knows there’s no one they can call at your business at three in the morning when there is a problem with it.
They also know that local contractors can make on-the-spot decisions about how to resolve an issue. When they deal with product manufacturers, however, no one is empowered to resolve an issue – there’s always a time-consuming process with multiple layers of approvals.
Getting to Know Facilities Managers
Before you just start calling on facilities managers and selling your product, do a little more homework.
1. Reach out to some facilities managers and asked them about their jobs. Ask them who their best suppliers are and why. Ask them about their experience with your type of product. What kinds of problems have they experienced in the past with your type of product?
2. Set up some Google alerts with terms like “facilities manager,” “hospital facilities manager” or “hospital facilities management” or for the types of buildings that are a good fit for your product. Read over any alerts that look like they might be of interest to you.
3. Consider joining facilities management associations, like the IFMA. You’ll also be able to join associations for specific types of facilities management, such as universities and healthcare.
4. These associations will have meetings you can attend. Use them to network, sit in on classes or even exhibit at some of them.
5. Start reading or subscribing to online facilities management publications and newsletters.
6. Join facilities management groups on LinkedIn and see what the conversations are about. You can also contribute content, but don’t promote your product in these group conversations. Instead, share helpful information or ask questions.
Most building material sales and marketing people do not take the time to learn about the needs of facilities managers and specific types of buildings. That makes it easy for you to stand out from your competitors.
A Partner or a Competitor in Selling to Facilities Managers?
HD Supply and Grainger are two companies that are very focused on facilities managers. They are already in the door, selling mainly consumable items that facilities managers need on a daily basis.
In order to expand their business, they are now moving into product categories that have been the domain of the one-step distributor. I recommend that you see if they are offering any of your types of products.
You may want to consider adding them as a distributor of your products to reach facilities managers in the repair/replacement market.
Now You’re Ready to Sell
If you understand the role that facilities managers play these days and how important their input is when it comes to product decisions, you’re already steps ahead of your competitors.
Even when your competitors recognize the new importance of facilities managers, they are probably approaching them the wrong way. They’re trying to sell without educating them or pitching products before they even know what the owner wants out of their building.
If you want to sell your product to facilities managers, all it takes is a little understanding and research so that you know what their needs are and how you can meet them.