How to Sell Architects

For many products, selling through architects is a necessity. For others, it’s a missed opportunity to stop ignoring.

Selling to architects gets a bad rap. It can take years for the order to be placed. Or you can spend a great deal of time and effort working to have your product specified, only to have it replaced last minute by a competitor’s product.

Despite these challenges, architectural selling can pay off greatly, if properly approached. If you seize this opportunity, you can have your product specified on many of an architect’s future projects.

No, the orders won’t come in today. But think of selling through architects as filling the pipeline for tomorrow.

Spec Switching is Now Less Common

There has been a change for the better in architectural sales. Thanks to the economic downturn, it is now less common to lose a sale because a spec is switched out from under you.

The contractor, who used to be more loyal to a brand, once had the time and manpower to try switching the spec. There are three reasons he is now less motivated to do so.

  • He is short staffed and no longer has the time.
  • He needs the job and doesn’t want to risk losing it. It’s easier to just go with the flow.
  • He is now more concerned about liability. If he switches a spec and there’s a problem, it’ll be his problem, too.

Your competition will still be trying to switch the spec. In fact, there are some companies whose whole sales strategy has been to switch specs, but that’s now much more challenging. The pendulum has swung back on the side of companies that call the architects and get the original specification.

Here’s How to Make More Effective Architectural Calls

Step Into the Architect’s Shoes

Don’t make the mistake of thinking all architects are the same. If it’s worth making the call, it’s worth doing right. Go to their website and learn about them. What types of buildings do they specialize in? Do they have a signature style or feature? How green are they?

Architects have thousands of choices to make when designing a building. They also make thousands of tradeoffs. There are always a few elements critical to them; they may be performance-based, such as a roofing system, or aesthetic, such as the flooring in the entryway. The owner may also have specified particular elements.

Next come products mandated by building codes. Everything else, and even many of the products required by code, are where the architect finds the budget for the more expensive elements he or she really wants.

You need to know where your product falls in these categories and use this information to show the architect how your product or brand can help him achieve his vision for his buildings.

Focus Your Efforts

What type of building is the best fit for your product? Is it, for example, a hotel, shopping center, prison or government building? What type of building represents the greatest potential sale? A large convention center is a bigger opportunity for a roofing manufacturer than a high-rise office building. What types of these target buildings are projected to have the most construction or retrofit activity in the next few years?

Now, get out ahead of Dodge Reports. Don’t wait until all your competitors know there is an opportunity. Focus on the key architectural firms that specialize in the type of buildings you are targeting. If hotels are your targets, there are a few top firms recognized as leaders in hotel design. You can identify them using Google, asking people and watching Dodge Reports for firms that appear frequently for a specific type of building. Beyond firms that specialize in a type of building, there are those recognized as leaders in areas like creativity or green construction.

Find the Top 10 Firms in Your Area of Interest, and Call On Them First

The Triangle of Success

In addition to the architect, two other important audiences make up the Triangle of Success: the building owner and the contractor. Once again, focus by calling on owners or management firms of several buildings where your product is a good fit. Make sure they understand its benefits, as they can also get your product specified.

The contractor can help, too, but he can also hurt your ability to make a sale. If your product offers a benefit, such as easier installation, more reliable delivery or fewer callbacks, make sure they know this. A new product means risk to the contractor. And if he is unfamiliar with your product or thinks it may cause installation challenges, he will likely push back and try to switch the spec. You need to take the time to make him comfortable with your product.

If you cover the Triangle of Success, you have a much better chance of staying ahead of your competition.

Don’t Forget In-House Architects

Many building owners and tenants employ their own staff of in-house architects. They do this to ensure optimal results in their buildings while continually learning how to improve their performance, and schedule replacement and repair. They have a live lab of hundreds, or even thousands, of buildings they monitor — a benchmark against which to measure improvements. A prominent example is large retail chains, especially big box and restaurant chains.

Awareness and Information are Key

Architects need to be aware of your product and your company, and they should have confidence in both. For most products and companies, that’s not an issue, but if you are new, you need to cover this base first. This awareness can come from advertising, PR, trade shows and other media, but a sales call is also a great way to create awareness.

You must also facilitate easy access to information. Today, this is usually online, so your website needs to be easy to use for the architect. For some product categories, however, it’s also a good idea to have materials in the architect’s library. Beyond that, providing contact information for someone from your organization who can answer the architect’s questions, send samples or handle most other requests is also a big help.

It might take some patience to see results from selling through architects, but sowing the seeds today will be well worth the payoff you reap in the future. By focusing on the right people in the Triangle of Success and building awareness and trust among them, you’ll be investing in architects who might not just use your product for one building, but many future designs.

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