Five Things not to do When Contacting Product Specifiers

Unless you have been fortunate enough to live on a deserted tropical island, you are aware of the state of the economy and its effects on the building and construction industry. In today’s market, competition is fierce and people and businesses are using whatever means necessary to win. But we know that, “knowledge is the best weapon” and as the market evolves, it is critical manufacturers not only know, but also understand, the latest industry trends, and more importantly, their target audiences to remain competitive.

Function: recently conducted a survey of specifier behavior, targeting the A&D community, in order to provide building product manufacturers with insight into how products are being sourced. In addition to the survey, we conducted phone and insider interviews with architects and designers throughout the country, asking questions to help further identify sales entry points. One question that was posed to specifiers was: What are the most common mistake sales reps make when calling on you?

It may seem like “Sales 101” to you, but with the economy causing purse strings to tighten across all industries, mistakes, even small ones, can result in losing the business of current and prospective customers. Based on responses from Function:’s research and survey, here are the top five things not to do when contacting product specifiers:

1. Do not waste time: The survey revealed the most common mistake sales reps make when calling on product specifiers was timeliness – not being able to provide answers when they are needed. In business today, time is of the essence. As the number of building, design and construction jobs are shrinking; competition is increasing. Workloads are also increasing, meaning architects and designers have less time to spend researching products and working on specifications. One designer said that they would value the simplicity of dealing with one comprehensive source for all product needs (in a specific category) “if they know their product well so I don’t have to waste my time calling 15 people to get answers.”

Providing detailed product information upfront makes a specifier’s job much easier and will increase the chances to get a meeting that results in a sale. If questions arise during a meeting or presentation and you cannot answer them immediately, let them know you will need to check and provide detailed answers within 24 hours.

2. Do not call without knowing the firm’s focus/specialty: As a child it seemed that one of the most spoken phrases was “do your homework”. Though it may not have seemed to be a priority during school, in business – especially marketing and sales – doing your homework is critical. The survey sample group revealed that not knowing the firm’s focus or specialty was the second most common mistake reps make. Research a firm before calling to set up an appointment. Understand the firm’s focus, specialty and be able to mention their current or recent projects. While on the call, ask the architect/designer what their biggest challenges have been on recent jobs and how they define success.

Once a meeting is set, incorporate the information that the architect/designer provided into your pitch and presentation. Product specifiers want to know that manufacturers are knowledgeable not only about their own products, but about the needs of the firm and the projects that the firm has designed.

3. Do not provide irrelevant product information: When you schedule an appointment with product specifiers, provide information that is relevant to the meeting. Understanding the firm’s business and how your product fits into what they do will provide the flexibility to tailor the sales pitch based on their needs. The more personal, customized approach, the better. For example, if an architect is interested in learning more about your company’s products as they relate to LEED, discuss the products that can help achieve LEED certification and why. Do not discuss unrelated products or services. The more specific information and data a manufacturer can provide, the better chance they have of getting their products sourced.

The principal designer at a small residential firm said, “The biggest mistake manufacturer reps make when they visit is trying to show products that we would never use or wouldn't need for our project type.”

4. Do not regurgitate information from marketing materials when answering questions: Often sales representatives only know a minimal amount about the product they are selling and that information is derived from marketing materials. Architects and designers have stated that while they are gathering information they will ask difficult questions to ensure that they are selecting the best product for their project. They look beyond the data on sales collateral and ask manufacturers how they came up with numbers, the circumstances involved in studies, the factors involved in product testing and what makes a specific product “high-performance”.

One respondent said, “If I can get what I need ¬– LEED information for submission, product specs – and if a sales rep knows what they are talking about, it’s key. A lot of companies don’t realize that education and sustainability is more than just giving people a couple of speaking points and a lot of reps are at a disadvantage with information. I don’t expect people to understand every intricacy, but I want them to understand the basics and be able to talk pre/post consumer content, where [a product] is manufactured, extracted…etc.”

Reps need to be able to discus their products in detail and know how the product could save money, work within a design, achieve sustainable goals or be incorporated into various technologies.

5. Do not leave out pricing information: Unfortunately, the best things in life are not always free. Budgets often control the building process and are a significant component of the specification process. An interior design director for an architecture firm recently said that when deciding what product to specify he “start[s] with the budget and work[s] from there. Budget helps narrow down options. Figure out what the image should be, consult the library and then once I’ve got a firm idea of what I’m looking for, rely heavily on the manufacturer’s reps.”

Manufacturers like to believe that their own products are the best fit for a project; however, for architects and designers making the decision whether or not to specify a product can often come down to the price. For firms working on a limited budget, cost is often the first consideration. Unless the rep is offering a unique product that is not available anywhere else, specifiers do not have time to wait for a price quote – they will find a comparable product and move on. Sales reps must be able to provide accurate and timely pricing and any other requested information to specifiers. During a meeting if there is a request for specific pricing information that is not readily available, give the specifier guidelines so that they can best determine how the product and price work within their budget.

Another designer from the study said, “It's great to have the price available so you can come to a decision without having to dig for the cost.”

To truly beat the competition manufacturers need to make specifiers feel important. Be willing to go the extra mile when it comes to training your sales force. Though it may seem like a race, make sure sales representatives take the time to learn about the company’s products, the latest industry trends and technologies and most importantly, the firms they are speaking with and the needs of the specifiers. In the end, showing specifiers that you really understand their needs, and not wasting their time by not understanding your products and tools will help you emerge a winner.

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