A Deeper Look Into Architecture Firms

Very few building material companies have a strong, structured approach to selling architects, and therefore are mostly unsuccessful in getting their products specified. Most often, they simply do not understand the architect or their process.

Secondly, manufacturers usually try to transition their traditional sales reps – who have spent 10-15 years selling to distributors, dealers and contractors – over to calling on architects. There are very different skills, knowledge and approaches needed when selling to architects. Lastly, in this quarter-to-quarter financial world, companies typically don’t want to invest in a long-term sales process. Although the payoff can take time and effort, getting your product specified can yield great exposure and incredible value per project.

Six Key Insights About Architects

To better understand the architect, we have to start with a few central observations about them.

  1. Many people influence the specification of your product. Most companies believe it’s as simple as finding the architect office and doing a lunch and learn. In reality, there are many people within the architecture firm with different areas of focus who can influence specification. See more details below.
  2. They never have enough time. With fewer people in their firm, architect employees have been asked to do more, usually in less time as client timetables have shrunk. You need to understand their process and make it SIMPLE for them to specify your product.
  3. If you’re not on the master spec – you’re not on the job. Architects don’t start from scratch for each new job. They usually simply cut and paste specs from a master copy organized by product category. If you haven’t worked to get on the master spec, you likely won’t be considered for the project (unless the contractor tries to switch out the spec for your brand.)
  4. Your product is not the only option. The vast majority of specifications are “open specs” (versus “locked” or “hard specs”), meaning it’s stated in the specification that the GC/contractor can use a same or similar product within the project. A hard spec is one where the exact branded product specified has to be installed.
  5. The contractor can be the ultimate gatekeeper. Although the architect/specifier has the initial say, the contractor has the ability (except with locked specs) to switch out the final brand as long as it meets the specified requirements.
  6. It’s hard to capture architect loyalty. Architects are not a brand-loyal bunch. Not because of their personalities necessarily, but because they must address so many products and aspects of the project that it’s hard to become attached to any one brand.

An Architect Isn’t A Single Influencer. It’s a Whole Firm.

You may think you only need to get to the architect, but there are many people in the process who can help or hurt your success.

  • Architect: They are ultimately responsible for the whole project. However, their primary accountability is to create the vision of the project and ensure they have the correct team in place to execute.
  • Project Manager: Probably the most overlooked influencer. They may have a background as architect in training, designer or an architect themselves, but they are accountable for meeting all timing, budgets and specifications. You need to engage with and sell this person.
  • Designer: Usually focused solely on the interior aesthetics (color, style, textures), depending on your product category. They are an important influencer to the product selected. However, they are less concerned with the technical aspects of your products. Some architecture firms have their own designers, but many outsource to small design firms, so they are a hard bunch to connect to.
  • Specifier/Specification Writer: This position is also often outsourced due to economic reasons, or it is a responsibility added to a current employee’s task list. They usually use master spec software to make their job easier. You need to ensure your products are included within this software (whatever they may be using – which you need to know), or you may never be specified on their projects.
  • Librarian/Intern/Administrator: Sometimes the most influential people are the ones who are easily overlooked. Most architecture firms have a library where all samples and critical information is kept. If you are not in the library, your product may never see the light of day. Libraries are run by a librarian in mid to large firms, or managed by other positions or interns. They could be your best bet to get your products placed in the library or under consideration. They can also give you a good feel for what other products/brands you are competing against.
  • Property Owner: The property owner usually only comes into play to maintain the property after project completion. However, the building owner may ask their opinion as they have deep experience with product performance and durability. Make sure you are connected to property managers, especially for properties like multi-family that have high turn items (carpet, paint, flooring, etc.)

Loyalty is Hard to Come By

Architects and specifiers are not particularly loyal to product brands. They have thousands of decisions to make in the design and build process, leaving little time to delve deeply into one specific product category or brands within that category. They want to make sure products meet their specifications and that they can get information in a timely manner. If anything, architects are loyal to responsiveness. So architects will tell you they have one or two go-to knowledgeable manufacturer reps or software packages that make their job easier.

Designers, on the other hand, are somewhat more loyal to brands primarily because they tend to be more emotionally connected to the project. They will more often find value in the information, trends and inspiration provided by manufacturers.

The Role of the Sales Rep

Building materials sales reps are probably most accustomed to calling on distributors or dealers – the customers they have a financial relationship with. Asking these reps to extend into the architecture arena has seldom worked – but not because it’s impossible. Frankly, the reps are often simply nervous and ill-prepared to call on the architect/specifier/design (ASD) community. There is anxiety they will be asked questions their usual distributor or dealer customer would never ask. Often, they simply haven’t been trained well on how to sell to the ASD community.

The traditional sales rep has been taught to build ongoing relationships, and stop in every couple weeks to build this relationship and help call on contractors. The architect does not necessarily care about building a relationship through frequent visits; they just need information when they need it. Usually they need a specific technical question answered a few times a year. But when they need it answered, they need it immediately.

Rethinking the Value of and Approach to the Architect

While it is true the architect and their projects are a long-term investment, the value of the specification can be extremely rewarding per transaction. For example, the value of insulation for a manufacturer in a residential home is less than $1,000, while its value in a commercial building is more than $12,000. The ASD community is not as high maintenance as your traditional customers, but they need to be nurtured and called on so their confidence in your products and brand grows. They want to know they can count on you being accessible when they need your resources or information. Once you have developed the right tools and selling approach, they can be scaled to train your sales reps with and then utilized with appropriate architects.

As you look at your products, define the verticals (building types) with which your products best align. Some possible verticals include education, health care, offices, hospitality and government. Architects may tend to work on certain verticals, so find the ones that align with your products’ core benefits.

No matter your product or current approach, you can be successful with architecture firms. It just takes some understanding of the varied roles, processes and needs within these firms and a commitment to developing the right tools and selling approach to quickly meet their needs.

Interrupt has extensive experience helping our clients map out an entire channel strategy or improve the sales results of an existing channel. Contact us if you want an assessment and recommendations for your approach.

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