Contributed by Michael Chambers
Continuing education for design professionals is arguably the most effective and powerful marketing opportunity available to construction product manufacturers in North America. However, there appears to be some confusion as to what continuing education is supposed to accomplish. In my opinion and experience, continuing education can bring three things to the bottom line. First is brand recognition, second is getting specified, and third is holding specifications against non-competitive substitutions.
There is a bizarre notion that manufacturers provide continuing education out of the goodness of their hearts for the benefit of design professionals. Or worse, manufacturers think that continuing education is a perfect tool to sell product to design professionals. Is there any wonder why local AIA components and a growing number of large design firms no longer allow manufacturers to present programs?
Unless manufacturers can begin to bring excellent programs to the design professionals, the opportunity inherent in continuing education is going to be lost.
One of the most powerful and least understood aspects of continuing education is brand recognition. The biggest issue I see here is that manufacturers do not understand how to brand with education. Successful branding is never about logos or products; it is about high quality education that speaks directly to the audience and provides solutions to design and construction issues. It is never about product, never, never, never.
A high quality program designed for adult learners, presented by qualified, knowledgeable product representatives is the best possible branding opportunity. At the level of design professionals, people brand manufacturers far more effectively than product advertising and the like. Product representatives must be knowledgeable not only about their products but about the industry and most importantly about the competition.
In this same regard, presentation skills are even more critical than product knowledge. A poor presentation will trash a brand faster than anything. Product representatives must be good presenters and have the ability to make effective presentations.
An excellent education program presented by a professional product representative can have an incredible impact on the bottom line by providing usable information and identifying the “go to” resource for the design professionals.
One of the things that I can not understand about 95% of the continuing education programs I have endured is that no one ever talks about specifications. In the final result, where do products get listed? In the specifications! If a manufacturer wants to be specified competitively they must educate the design professionals about how (generically) products are specified, identify critical competitive issues, and demonstrate how an appropriate specification should be written.
All the product information, literature, and samples in the world are useless unless the design professionals understand how to integrate them into their documents. Design integration is handled by details. I can count on one hand the number of times I have encountered design and installation details in a continuing education program.
Product integration is handled in the specifications. While having a guide specification is a good thing, most design professionals still do not know how to adequately or appropriately use a guide specification to modify or revise their documents. Specification issues and examples must be a part of every continuing education program.
Getting specified is the acknowledged bottom line with design professionals. Therefore a successful continuing education program must educate design professional in how to appropriately and competitively specify and detail products and assemblies for their projects. Getting specified is the bottom line, period.
In my experience, the number one reason for “successful” substitutions is lack of education on the design professional’s part. Design professionals must deal with hundreds of products and assemblies on each project and when the contractor comes along with a “less expensive but better” product it can be next to impossible for the design professional to rebut. Poor substitution approvals almost always are made because of lack of education and knowledge on the part of the design professionals.
If you want to eliminate or at least minimize substitutions make certain that critical industry and competitive issues are covered in the continuing education programs. This does not mean that you trash the competition or talk specifically about products. This means that you educate the design professionals about critical industry issues that affect your products and explain the types of competitive issues and problems that may occur.
Preventing non-competitive substitutions is critical to everyone’s bottom line. Educated and knowledgeable design professionals working with industry professional product representatives can eliminate the majority of poor substitutions by being knowledgeable about issues and being confident enough in the information to stand up to the contractor.
Educate design professionals how to solve problems in an industry acceptable and standard way that is recognized and used by the majority of the competition. Educate design professionals how to specify products appropriately. It has to be drawn and specified correctly or you have completely wasted your educational efforts.
Harness the branding power of education and you will get specified, sideline substitutions, and have great competitive advantage.
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