Contributed by Michael Chambers
In my perspective from the back of the bus, I often wonder why so many product representatives feel ineffective or intimidated calling on architects. Granted, some architects can be quite a treat. The terms argumentative, aloof, know-it-all, unapproachable, abstract, and expletive deleted are often mentioned. Have you ever stopped to wonder why?
Without trying to defend architects, consider that often an architect’s attitude towards product reps is the result of being misled or over-sold on the applicability, features, and benefits of construction products. Look at a typical reaction to telephone marketers or used car salespersons, what is it that is so offensive? I would suggest two aspects. First, the unrelenting hard-sell without having any idea of your needs or interests; and second, the underlying attitude that the product offered is the only possible choice and how could an architect be so stupid not to immediately understand?
Unfortunately, product representatives must overcome the back wash of less enlightened sales types that have gone before them. However, it is relatively easy to overcome this type of resistance by using a solution-oriented approach rather than a typical product-oriented approach. Architects are primarily concerned with finding the most appropriate range of solutions not the best or greatest product.
In a survey done (editor's note: many years ago) by McGraw-Hill Sweets, architects were asked what they wanted from product representatives. The top 2 results were ‘recommended uses & application of products (92%)’ and ‘guide specifications (88%)’. The last choice was ‘manufacturer’s history, experience, overall capacities & range of products (40%)’. This means that architects want to know how to appropriately apply and integrate products into their designs, not be confused by competitive features and benefits. The need for guide specifications clearly indicates the need write clear, competitive, and enforceable specifications. Lastly, horror of all horrors, the least thing architects want to know is about your company.
Another critical element for effective architectural sales calls is the ability to listen. Practically every time a rep calls on me, the first words are about company history, the president’s ancestors, and how many products have been installed in Outer Slabovia last week. Next, we hear how many years he or she has been in the business, how big their territory is, on and on. Then, a guided tour through the product binder, page by page by never ending page. In all this time, usually 30 minutes, never once has the rep asked about projects, how products are selected, are the office master specifications up-to-date, and the like. The best advice I can offer for effective architectural sales calls is to SHUT-UP AND LISTEN!!!! You will be amazed by the knowledge and insights you can discover about what the architect knows and wants to know about your product. There is a definite reason why the Creator gifted us with 2 ears and one mouth. Here is the outline that I used when making architectural sales calls. These are basic issues and touch points that I found highly effective when dealing with project architects, curmudgeonly specifiers, and firm principals.
I. Strategic placement and opening remarks
You will notice that discussing products is not included, especially features and benefits. Use and application, design solutions, enforceable specifications, industry procedures and standards are far more effective that talking about products, and eventually will enable you to discuss products without forcing the issue.
At the end of the day consider this. I once called upon an architect that had forgotten my appointment and said he could only give me 5 minutes. After 45 minutes, I commented that he was rather busy and asked what it would take to get in his specification. He expressed great admiration for my firm, my products and indicated no problem getting specified. Here’s the rub, never once, in that 45 minutes, did I mentioned my firm or my products. I asked open ended questions, provided broad-based industry information, talked about key competitive issues, and discussed effective specifications, and how to minimize substitutions. I also never mentioned I was an architect and specifier with too many years of experience.
Effective architectural sales calls are very simple..... be quiet, listen, and provide industry standard knowledge and resources. That’s my view from the back of the bus, welcome aboard; come on back! Let me hear from you.
(Editor's Note: Michael D. Chambers, FCSI, FAIA, CCS is Associate Vice President and Senior Project Specifier for HGA and is responsible for the specifications in the four California offices and is principal of MCA Specifications. Michael also sits on the CONSTRUCT Education Advisory Council with Let's Fix Construction Co-Founders, Cherise Lakeside and Eric D. Lussier.
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