May 10, 2017
5 Ways to Boost Engagement with Architects
One of the biggest challenges for building products companies is engaging the architect community around the value of their product and their brand. Many manufacturers tell us that their sales people are having a hard time making an impact. When we dig a little deeper, we learn that these sales reps are trying to “sell” to architects like they do with distributors or retailers. You may be thinking, “Well, that’s obvious. They are sales reps selling a product—so of course they sell to their customer.” With architects, it’s not that simple.
These ASD professionals don’t respond to traditional sales pitches. They want a brand to keep them engaged through education and valuable solutions. An architect will not specify a product for their design if they aren’t fully confident that it will perform to their standards of the unique structure they are creating. A simple sales pitch isn’t going to instill that confidence.
While attending AIA, our team gathered insights from the architect community to gain a clear understanding of their driving motivators. As suspected, they were very clear that they don’t want to be sold to. They’re not buying products on a Sunday shopping trip for a home improvement project. As one top-10 architectural firm stated at the show, “We’re creating a vision for a structure and then assembling all the right solutions and systems to make that vision a reality.”
A consistent message we heard at AIA is that architects position themselves as a part of a “thinking and visionary community.” They’re influenced by many things in their direct (inside the industry) and indirect surroundings. This thinking community is the space in which they want to be engaged. Therefore, your brand’s goal should be to impact the architect process and become part of this visionary ecosystem. In some cases, if your product is positioned well, it can actually help inspire and fuel their initial vision. When you play inside their ecosystem, specifications of your product are the natural outcome.
To help your sales and marketing teams better engage with the architect community, we put together a few tips based on the information we uncovered while talking with architects at AIA.
5 Best Practices for Engaging an Architect
A few prime points arose while talking with various architects about their communication preferences. First and foremost, architects are busy professionals. Their time is not only limited, it’s also very valuable. As a result, each interaction with an architect should present value to them or it will be viewed as a waste of time and a lost opportunity.
Second, they love process. Their designs are built from inspiration and expertise and they are open to new sources of information to help with their process. Plenty of architects clearly articulated that products can be a source of inspiration if correctly positioned, which creates great growth potential for your brand.
1. Knowledge & Expertise
Architects place high value on their time and so should your team. When it comes down to it, they don’t have time for self-promoting sales pitches or unsupported marketing materials.
“Our time is valuable. Don’t give me a person who will respond to every question with, ‘I’ll have to call you back on that.”
Your product is 1 out of 5,000 products pushed in front of architects. Therefore YOU need to be the expert on your product and how it interacts with the rest of the building structure they are creating. Stand out by making a lasting impact and connecting the benefits of your product to the structures and environments the architect is building. Your job is to make them confident in your product within their overall structure.
Takeaway: Be the expert. Avoid sending in marketing or sales people that don’t have the expertise to answer an architect’s technical questions.
Expertise is accomplished through education. Your sales people should be your biggest brand advocates. They should be fully versed on the ins and outs of your products to be the most effective support system for architects.
2. Be Responsive
The core of engagement is relationship building. An architect may not need your product for a year, but when they need it, they need it now. The nurturing process is critical to a product’s success in terms of architect specifications.
During our conversations at AIA, many architects said that they’ve worked with plenty of large companies that have only one or two team members who actually know anything about commercial building practices. When it’s time to get more information on the product, the architects say it’s tough to find a responsive resource in many product categories.
Takeaway: Responsiveness is key to getting your brand listed. Architects expect an answer immediately. If they don’t get an answer from your team, they’ll move on to the next brand. Have a process and contingency plan in place to increase response time.
Overall, responsive brands are awarded the architect’s time, attention and — most likely — the specification.
3. Process Is Everything
Over and over, we heard comments like “I need companies to know how my firm works, the types of projects we take on, what’s important to me personally and how I like to communicate.”
With architects, it all comes down to process. They expect personalized engagement versus a generalized sales pitch. Each architect runs their firm a little differently, and they each have a dedicated process. The only way to understand how they work is through relationship building and spending time with them and their team.
“Don’t send me someone who just came from selling to the big box stores that same day. They don’t know anything about my process.”
Takeaway: If you treat architects like your other sales channels, you’ve probably already lost. Train your sales team on how to build relationships. One of the most effective methods for building a connection between your brand and architects is creating a dedicated sales team that deeply understands the architect’s process and can talk confidently in their language.
Overall, you can’t win with architects through mass selling methods. Don’t send a sales person with only retail or remodeler knowledge to make the pitch because it just won’t work.
4. Communicate on Their Terms
Many manufacturers make a push to communicate with architects based upon what’s important or new to their company. For example, as a manufacturer, you may have a new product you want to launch because you didn’t have it before. That’s fine, but if you’re only communicating with architects based on your company goals, and not making it relevant to them, it won’t work.
A common message we heard from all architects is that they’re sick of impersonal email marketing. They told us that they get 500 emails a day and to them, another random message (you send multiple times) is just adding to their clutter.
“I will not look at a new product you have sent via email. In fact, I won’t even consider your product if it’s part of my random emails.”
Takeaway: Your brand is important and you can provide value to the architect’s process. The only way to get this message in front of them is by engaging architects on their terms. As we found out, this isn’t through mass email marketing. Your sales team should build relationships and send personalized messages or in-person engagements that clearly communicate how your product can help the architect achieve a specific goal.
If your product launch or message is that important, go talk with the architect directly. They respect and respond to personalized attention from manufacturers.
5. Convey Confidence and Trust
Architects are complex. They want the latest and greatest innovations but they also rely on tried and true standards. When you’re trying to get an architect to specify your product for the first time, your sales team needs to fully educate them on how this product performs and interacts within the entire building solution. Your team needs to go beyond the self-serving elevator pitch and benefits.
“Don’t just tell me all the wonderful benefits of your product. Make it easy to compare your products to others. And make it relevant to one of my past or current projects.”
Takeaway: A confident architect will specify your product every time. Instill confidence through relevant case studies and performance data. The good news for your brand is that architects are very open to new products — they just want to be inspired and confident they will perform.
Encourage them to specify your brand by presenting unique uses of your existing products and show them exactly how your new products can be used to benefit the entire built environment.
Bottom line, stop selling! Engage architects by building relationships based on relevance and expertise. Architects will specify product when they believe in the performance and design it offers, and trust that it will contribute to the success of the vision of their project. Show them that your product is the one to specify through a winning combination of education and expertise. When you provide all of this in a responsive manner, more than likely you will get specified for projects to come.