The key to getting in front of the architect’s product decisions is to understand his process
Glad to see you’re back to hear the rest of the story on the architect’s decision-making process.
In Part 1, you heard from an architect on the first half of his decision-making process. He’s determining whether he’ll use a particular building product to help him solve a problem. Those first four parts are…
Discovering the need
Researching my options (Phase I)
Initiating contact with a sales rep
Researching my options (Phase II)
If you need to review those steps, you can read them here.
Otherwise, if you’re ready to hear the rest of the story, I’ll let our architect friend take over from here…
Selling the Idea
Thanks again, Jason. And welcome back to you, the reader. I hope you’re finding a lot of value in what we’re sharing here. Let’s get on with the story…
As you’ll recall, the product I’m deciding on is an exterior fascia panel.
So, picking up where we left off, I’ve just finished doing Phase II of my research. Now I’m ready to try to sell my proposed building product to my co-workers, the client, and the contractor.
Each of these “selling” approaches requires different criteria I need to work with. So, ideally, you (the product manufacturer) have provided me with the tools I’ll need to make my case.
To give you a better idea of what I mean, I’ll briefly describe each of these three groups and the key points I need to hit with each of them. Read carefully, and you’ll see several opportunities to jump in and help sell your product through the architect.
My co-workers could be a variety of people, depending on the project team structure. If I’m one of several architects on the team, I may need to sell the other architects on a variety of points:
Aesthetics – Is it going to complement the rest of the design?
Constructability – Will it be easily incorporated into the construction process? Or will it be a potential call back during construction — because it requires some special considerations to install that will add unforeseen costs and time delays?
Available details & specs – Can the project team easily add this new product to our detailing and specification efforts?
Cost – Am I proposing a “Cadillac” product on an economy-budgeted project?
Code implications – Does the product meet all of the local building codes?
For our example here, I need to sell my proposed idea first to the exterior detail team to make sure they agree it’s the best solution. Then I need to sell the idea to the project manager, who then needs to sell it to the client.
So it’s critical that I have all of these sell points in-line and have the needed documentation that I can hand off to the PM for him to make the sale to other key decision-makers on the project.
On some projects, it can be a very twisty path to get to that final acceptance. And it’s often just one discussion point of a long meeting. So chances are good it might not even get proper consideration.
You need to make sure your information and key benefits of your building material or product is very clear and easily-digestible. (Hint: Architects are visual creatures. We love a clear diagram or image that tells the story quickly…)
The client will have a different set of concerns that need to be met and addressed.
He or she might be concerned about the following:
Aesthetics – Does this material project the right image for our building?
Cost – Is it within our project budget? Is this an upgrade that we’ll have to give up something else to get it? Is it worth it?
Maintenance – Is it going to create a maintenance headache for us? Will we have to repaint or re-caulk every year?
Energy Efficiency – If applicable, is it going to save us money in the long run?
While the client does want a building that looks great and projects an impressive image, he has a broader view to keep in mind and others he may need to sell the idea to. So once again, I’ll need to make sure I have the proper information and materials to sell him on these key points.
Or, as I mentioned above, I may be handing off the materials to another team member to sell the idea to the client.
From an architect’s point-of-view, we tend to see the contractor’s concerns as more short-sighted. They’re more concerned about RIGHT NOW. It’s not always the case, like when it’s a contractor or construction manager who has an on-going relationship with the client. But here are the key concerns I see when a contractor is considering a new product for a job:
Cost – What’s the initial product cost and/or installed cost? What’s the overall impact on the bottom line of the construction costs?
Constructability – Can it actually be constructed as detailed? Is it compatible with the adjacent materials or will I need to consider additional materials or structure to make it work?
Installation – How easily is it installed? Does it require a specialty contractor or can general labor get it done?
Reliability – Am I going to get callbacks in a couple months? Will there be warranty issues? Or will this product perform as promised?
Once again, even though this perspective is different, it’s just as valid. If you provide me with the backup information, case studies and testimonial of how well it worked, it makes it easier for me to get your product into the project. Especially if those stories are coming from other contractors.
Jason’s Key Takeaway:
I think it’s pretty clear what you should take away on this one.
Are you making it easy for an architect to access these key pieces of information to help them make the sale on your behalf? Are you providing your sales people and distributors with these pieces to make it easy for them to hand it off to the architect?
This “hand-off” concept is something to think about for a moment. It’s one thing to get my attention with your building material or product, but how do I make the idea of your product portable and easy to hand-off to someone else?
If you have provided a pdf, a brochure, a video or a very well designed product page on your web site, now I have something to hand-off to the rest of the decision makers.
If I said ” hey go to this website and then click here and click there and see this little product here in the corner – that’s the one I want to use” . . .
How would that compare to:
“hey watch this video and you’ll see why i love this product”
This also goes back to my previous posts about providing clear product details and installation animations.
If you’re not providing these resources, you should be. Sooner than later…
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Specifying & Detailing …
Once everybody is on-board with your building material or product, I need to go to work getting it folded into the project documents. So now I’m looking for an “easy button” to help make that as quick and painless as possible.
Are specifications available?
Do you have easy access to different spec formats I can use as a starting point to make the spec writing as easy as possible?
In most cases, the architect won’t use the manufacturer’s spec verbatim. In many project types, it’s important to keep the spec as non-proprietary as possible.
Also, depending on the firm, the specs might be written by the project architect or they may be handed off to a spec writer. So that’s a good reason to provide a spec that has some guidance notes included to help clarify when different options might be more appropriate. Including any key differentiating features your product has that competitors don’t. Otherwise, they could be overlooked or omitted in the final spec that goes out.
Are details available?
Do you have typical details that can be modified for different project conditions? Do you provide a service to help with custom details?
These are key selling points to make sure you don’t lose me after I’ve gotten to this point. If it looks like it will be too much work to get your product worked into my tight deadline, all the upfront research and time might be thrown out the window to get the project out.
So, make sure it’s crystal clear what resources are available to me. And don’t be afraid to reach out shortly after our initial conversations to remind me of those resources and see if there’s anything you can send me to help. Offer to take a quick look at a snapshot PDF of my details and offer any advice.
Jason’s Key Takeaways:
Yeah – you know what you need to do here.
You need to make sure you’ve got these resources – specifications and details – updated and available on your website. Maybe they’re openly available, or maybe they require a name and email to access.
Either way, make sure they aren’t buried and hard to find. In some cases, this may be the first thing an architect is looking for and if they can’t find them they’ll leave your website and go to the next manufacturer.
Also, make sure you’re highlighting any free services you provide to help the architect get your product integrated into their project.
Defending your Specs…
The design team and I have to defend our product and system choices. We have to defend your product as the best choice for the job. So make sure you’ve prepared me for the fight…
During bidding – Most jobs have an opportunity for substitution requests to be made during bidding. If the substituting manufacturer has followed the proper procedure (which is often NOT the case), they have a good chance of being considered.
If they provide a good argument why their product should be considered and can offer additional benefits, they’ll get a thumbs up.
This is where your upfront education efforts are critical. If you’ve done a good job of highlighting why your product is the best choice, then I can make a better judgement when the time comes. If there’s something your product offers that your competitors don’t, then I can make the argument on your behalf during this phase.
During construction – Even if you make it through the bidding process, there’s still an opportunity on some projects for a competitor to kick you out. If they can prove their product can save the owner money, or if they’re willing to pay any additional costs associated with using their product, they’ll get a look.
It’s hard to win the pricing game. It’s like a race to the bottom where nobody wins. So, you’ve got to have presented your product on value for the money to truly win this game.
In other words, if you have demonstrated that your product will be maintenance-free, and more durable than your competitor. Or the quicker, cleaner installation saves the contractor a month. The client may be willing to pay the additional money to get those added values.
But again, you have to have explicitly educated me (and the contractor, if possible), so these facts can be considered before final approval of a substitution.
Jason’s Key Takeaway:
Education is key. You’ve got to educate the design and construction teams.
The more clear and obvious you can make the benefits and value your product provides, the better your chances of keeping your foothold in the project.
And that’s the goal: to have your product installed on the project and have it perform as promised, so you can continue to win.
Assessing the Performance …
Once construction is complete, I’m going to assess how well your product was liked by the contractor, as well as how well it’s performing for the client.
This assessment is key to deciding if I continue to recommend and specify your product in the future.
Reports from the contractor/installer — If I can get these reports, they usually happen toward the end of construction.
Unless I’m on a site visit when the install is actually happening — then I’ll ask the installer how they like working with the product. They’re usually quick to say if it’s a pain or if it’s a dream to work with.
Most times, I don’t get the opportunity to talk directly with the installer, so I’ll depend on the general contractor’s input about your product’s performance. If he had headaches to deal with in terms of coordination with other trades or delays due to the delivery or installation process… I’ll usually hear about it.
To be honest, unless it’s a new product I specifically ask about, I’ll only get the negative reports. So, that’s a good reason to follow up with me during construction. Put a bug in my ear to remember to ask the contractor how your product is working out.
Otherwise, I’m likely to forget about it until it’s too late and everybody has moved on to the next project.
Reports from building owner/manager — Ideally, I’ll have an opportunity to do a one-year check-in with a client to see how the building is performing.
Again, this check-in doesn’t always happen, but it’s the best way to make this assessment of good performance. Of course, if there’s a poor performance, I’ll hear about it whether I check-in or not.
These one-year reviews usually revolve around how the layout of the interior spaces are working. But if I make a specific attempt to talk with the facility manager and maintenance folks, that’s where I’ll get the straight shooting about your product’s performance.
There are also situations where I’ll be working on a large campus with a lot of buildings being built or remodeled. In these cases, it’s especially important to make sure your product performs well (and you remind me of that fact).
I’ve been in several meetings where a university client says they won’t allow a certain manufacturer’s product on their campus because they had a failure 10 years ago. A lot can change in that time, but once that opinion is formed it can stick for a long time.
And if I don’t have the most current information on your product or have a good track record of using your product to share with that client, then I’ll usually just go with a product they’re OK with. And this might even bleed into other projects, where I’ll remember their issues and decide against your product.
Jason’s Key Takeaway:
This is a tough one… but VERY critical.
You need to dance around that fine line of not over-communicating with the architect, but helping remind them to keep an ear to the ground on how your product is performing.
Plus, you want to stay in touch just in case there’s any negative fallout from the current or past projects you need to address.
Marketing legend, Dan Kennedy, says it best that you need to position yourself as the “invited guest,” not the “annoying pest.”
In other words, all that upfront education we’ve talked about can continue to serve you at this point. If you’ve properly positioned yourself, the architect has come to value you as a resource and an expert on your product line.
Now, if you reach out with more information to serve as a guide (and reminder) on how to assess your product’s performance, the architect will welcome the reminder. And is more likely to share what the results.
Adding to Best Practices …
Once I’ve established your product did what was promised and will be a good choice for future projects, I’ll add it to our firm’s best practices. This can take a couple different forms…
Typical Details – Before a product can earn its place in a firm’s library of typical details, it has to have been used successfully on a project. Once it has proven itself, it can have the honors.
But a couple things have to happen first (Hint: here’s where you come in) …
First, I need to remember to take the associated details and share them with the rest of the office. That might be placing them in our designated folder for details. Or it might be submitting them to the Revit content team to incorporate into the standard project templates.
If you follow up with me after a successful project, you can offer to send the final project-specific shop drawings or as-built details to help make that process simpler on my end.
Master Specs – Many firms will maintain a set of master specifications that they will use as a model for projects. Maybe you can offer to review my master specification and offer some ways to update it to current codes and standards and, of course, make sure your product is included as the base manufacturer.
As you most likely know, the master specification will rarely be proprietary, so keep that in mind as you provide this follow up. If you get too heavy-handed and try to make it too specific to your product, I may just toss your recommendations and stick with the more general master we’ve been using.
So tread carefully with this strategy.
Share with co-workers – This last one is good, old-fashioned word-of-mouth around the office. We’re constantly asking each other for product recommendations. So if your product is applicable to a co-worker’s project and it’s fresh on my mind, I’ll tell them to use your product. And share my details and specs you helped me develop and perfect.
Many offices will also do internal presentations sharing lessons learned and successful project experiences. Maybe you offer to come in a present something with me. Or, you could share any project photos you might have taken in the field, so I can include them in my presentation.
Be creative and find those simple little ways to help make me shine with my colleagues.
Jason’s Key Takeaway:
There you have it straight from the architect’s mouth…
Help them look like the hero. Make them shine.
And find those reasons to stay in touch after a successful project. Stay top-of-mind. Don’t wait for the next AIA tradeshow to hope they stop by…
Alright, I hope you’ve learned a lot from the architect’s point of view.
Go back and re-read Part I & II again and come up with an action list of things to do. There’s a ton of ideas there, and you should be able to find something to do at whatever stage you are with your prospects.
And go ahead and congratulate yourself if you’re already doing some of these things.
As always, if there’s anything you need help with in the way of high-quality visualizations — let’s talk. We can get you set up with installation animations and 3D renderings to help tell the story of your building material or building product and sell it to your next project’s decision makers.
About the Author :
Jason Yana has 2 decades of experience in architectural technology, 3d graphics and construction marketing. This unique combination provides highly-effective visual representations of building products that fuel marketing and support efforts.
His award-winning body of work informs, inspires and educates building product customers.