Building Product Manufacturers work tirelessly to improve their products in the hopes of getting those products specified by those who determine the materials used in a particular construction project.
The reality at most architectural firms is that design projects are months-long processes… involving the input of architects, designers, project managers, specifiers and other stakeholders – and typically include multiple review/approval stages. Specifiers are brought in during the product specification stage and ultimately have less decision-making power than architects. In fact, at smaller firms with only a few principal architects, specifiers may have little-to-no influence.
Architects, regardless of the size or culture of a firm – by and large – are the most important influencers in the specification process. According to fascinating research from the American Institute of Architects, Building Product Manufacturers are notorious for underestimating the importance of architects… who play a key role in bringing products to the attention of the team. And who research those products. And, most important, who make final product decisions.
While many Building Product brands focus on the specifier, architects scout information throughout the design process – to ensure all stakeholders are satisfied and the products chosen satisfy building codes and environmental requirements. Of particular importance are: Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification and Home Energy Rating System (HERS) scores.
When architects seek product information, they are often frustrated when the information is difficult to find, out-of-date or nonexistent. By understanding the culture of architectural firms, the specification process and the pain points involved in the process, Building Product brands can be “at-the-ready” to provide information when architects and their collaborators need it most.
Understanding the Culture of Architectural Firms
Architects are notoriously difficult to reach. Contrary to popular belief, however, architects do want to talk to your representatives. They just don’t want to be ‘sold’ to. Architects are looking for consultative partners who are knowledgeable about all of the products in a particular category. Not just the products you represent. Instead, they are seeking useful, unbiased information… delivered in a timely fashion.
All architectural firms, of course, are not the same. When you reach out, it’s important to understand the firm’s size, age distribution, commitment to the environment and willingness to take risks. Larger, more established firms tend to be “creatures of habit” and often go with providers with whom they have established a comfortable working relationship. Those firms typically value clear technical product descriptions, pricing info and design guides more than glowing health product declarations (HPDs). If you’re a smaller brand – or have a product that’s new to the market – you’ll likely have to work diligently to convince architects that you’re a serious contender. Providing specification writing services – or offering to write, edit or review specifications for an entire category – is one way to go above and beyond expectations.
Mid-size and small architectural firms tend to be more flexible. They’ll be more willing to accept the risk associated with considering a new relationship. And can be more open to innovative ideas and new advice. They also tend to be the most committed to dynamism and, as such, may be more excited about newer building methods and products that improve efficiency. Or solutions that could have a more positive impact on the environment. These firms are the most likely to demand BIM (building information modeling) objects and CAD (computer-aided design) drawings to supplement technical information about a product. Making sure this information is current – and easy to find – will help immensely with the product specification process for smaller firms.
All architects are busy people. They must continually balance the needs of multiple stakeholders while overseeing projects and earning the confidence of clients all along the way. Rather than waiting until the specification stage, you should try to establish collaborative partnerships much earlier… while projects are still in the design phase. This is when key decisions are being made about the products that ultimately will be specified.
During the project design phase, technical product descriptions, pricing information, product specification data and design guides will weigh more heavily in decision making. And during the actual specification process, installation instructions, environmental labels and warranty info will be highly valuable to the engineers involved in recommending a product to architects. Whereas, in the review/approval stages of a project, architects and other stakeholders will need quick access to product specification data and technical descriptions to keep all parties in accord.
Establishing a relationship with an architectural firm early on – and providing timely information during the critical decision-making stages – will increase the chance the firm views your representative as a knowledgeable consultant… rather than merely a biased, brand steward.
Tips for Influencing Architectural Firms
Successful Building Product brands offer value beyond the products they sell. Going above the expectations of architectural firms, being knowledgeable about a wide range of related solutions and being able (and willing) to share that knowledge in a pressure-free environment will help your product gain consultant status. And ultimately improve specification rates.
Here are four ways Building Product brands can rise above their competitors in the eyes of architects:
- Do your research. Every architectural firm has different personalities and different needs. Define the personas present at each firm. Prioritize firms that are more open to product conversations. And design a marketing strategy that speaks to the needs of firm influencers. Appeal to the curiosity of architects… by helping them solve building challenges.
- Engage early. Don’t wait until architects and designers go looking for answers. Make your website easy-to-navigate. And keep your information – specification data, technical product information, BIM objects, etc. – updated and easy to find. So that when influencers start looking for solutions… you have one that is tailor-made and ready-to-distribute.
- Move beyond transaction relationships. Architectural firms are looking for consultants. Not salespersons. Strengthen your relationships with architectural firms in ways that don’t require a purchase order. Architectural firms appreciate hosted ‘lunch-and-learn’ events, as they allow multiple stakeholders to learn about product category advances without consuming valuable billable hours.
- Nibble at the edges. Sometimes it’s difficult to grab the attention of bigger firms if you’re a smaller player. Or new to a product category. So, if you’re a challenger brand, don’t be afraid to begin outside of the firm to develop inroads. Consider reaching out to external influencers like trade magazines and contractors to help reset any of the firm’s outdated opinions that may exist about your channel’s solutions.
To learn more about how you can better position your Building Product brand for architects and improve marketing strategies to more effectively engage this key audience, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.