Seven Steps To Architectural Specification

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When is the best time to have your product specified? The answer is easy—before the project begins. Architects and designers have their “go-to” specifications that they apply to almost every project. This means that they have found a product that works so well for them that they have shut out all others in its category. This is the building material manufacturer’s marketing dream—if theirs is the go-to product. The reality is, while specifiers have a few go-to products, the rest of the selections are up for grabs.

Let’s face it: If you want to grow sales, you have to increase specifications for your building material or product. Sales reps play a crucial role in garnering specifications; architects and designers rely heavily on their expertise and customer service to make their projects successful. That doesn’t mean that sales reps replace the need for marketing—they do not. Marketing still serves a crucial function; it builds awareness for new products and retention for established brands. Marketing is a broad term used to describe anything from a business card to a Super Bowl television spot. Deciding which tactics will resonate best with architects and designers is key to successfully marketing building materials and products.

A recent report by DODGE DATA & ANALYTICS uncovered a crucial disparity: Over half (53%) of building material companies believe that an architect has selected more than half of the products they’ll use when they start a project. In sharp contrast, the majority (55%) of architects say they’ve generally preselected less than 50% of the products they intend to use.

-DODGE DATA & ANALYTICS: Open the Door to Architects to Drive More Business

It turns out, many building material and product companies are counting themselves out of the game before it’s even started. Sales reps assume that they know if and where an opportunity lies and tend to ignore the rest.

Case in point: A multi-line sales rep came into a lunch-and-learn with several binders/sample kits. A group of architects sat around a large table enjoying lunch, ready to learn about the products. The sales rep took out two binders and said “You all know what these are (they didn’t) and I know you rarely use them so let me get them out of the way.” He turned around, put the sample kits on the library shelf and proceeded to get on with his featured products for the lunch-and-learn. He didn’t open up the binders, mention the product name or even the product category. Those two lines were shut down before they could ever get started.

We followed up with the group to hear what they thought of the sales rep’s actions. Much to my surprise the architects barely remembered the incident. So we did a little testing to see if the sales rep was right in his assumption. We took out the two binders and presented the products to the group. Turns out the firm had specified the products in the past but the new (younger) team didn’t have an awareness of the line.  An architect noted that one of the products was perfect for a project he was working on.  He then took the sample kit back to his desk. The rest left knowledgeable and aware, ready for future specification opportunities.

It’s important to understand why architects and designers preselect products in the first place. Preselected products are described as tried and true, dependable and reliable. Architects tend to specify what they are familiar with. But that doesn’t mean the sale is lost—architects will change if they believe a new product has superior performance. Marketing can disrupt the preselected specification by building product awareness and focusing the messaging on performance.

Here’s how:

It takes a person seven times to learn something new. You must get a product in front of a specifier a minimum of seven times before they can even see it. Which, admittedly sounds kind of crazy. Unfortunately, this isn’t unique to marketing building products—it is simply how the human mind works.

Marketers need to understand the seven steps it takes for an architect or designer to “see” a product. To do so, we must see how the human mind accepts new information:

  1. The first time the information is presented, the brain identifies it as noise and dismisses it altogether. The brain is on the defensive in this mode—it does not want any new information to disrupt its existing knowledge base.
  2. The second time the information is presented, the brain thinks, “Hmmm that sounds like something.” No real registration of the information but not throwing it out entirely either.
  3. The third time, the brain says, “Ahhh, that is something to listen to” and promptly forgets. The brain can accept the information and neutralize it.
  4. Now here is where the information starts to gain traction. On the fourth time the information is presented, the brain thinks, “I’ve heard that before…”
  5. The fifth time, the brain actually hears it and immediately puts it in a slot. The brain must classify all new information or risk being overthrown by chaos. So it hears it and thinks, “How can I categorize this information?”
  6. By the sixth time the information is presented, the brain says, “I KNOW THAT. That is this bit of information that I have assigned meaning and to a category.”
  7. By the seventh time, the brain has mastered the new information and understands it in relation to other information. The brain feels confident of its assignment and will resist questioning it.

This is why advertising is so repetitive—it needs to be in order to get the message across.

Marketing building materials and products has to be repetitive too, just in a different way. The building industry requires more of a consultative sell, meaning I don’t think we are ever going to do away with sales reps.

If you look at the steps to learning listed above through the marketing lens, 1-3 are all about building awareness. These steps can be taken using several different tactics—trade shows, traditional print advertising, social media, even word of mouth (or buzz marketing) to build awareness.

In steps 4-6, it is crucial to have the right positioning. This is where marketing has a duty to lead with the product’s benefit first—in other words, what problem is it solving for the specifier? Our minds want to assign the product a slot—is it high performing or green or mold resistant? The brain wants to know exactly what it is dealing with. This is the time that we lead with a benefit and open a door to a complex and nuanced relationship. Marketing tactics that work best in this area are the relationship with the rep, website, educational content—anything that speaks to benefits and creates conversations.

Step 7 is repeat, repeat, repeat. It’s important to consistently keep your product in front of your audience. Email campaigns, PR and case studies are good marketing tactics that remind specifiers to consider your product first when the right situation arises.

Marketing building materials never stops. As soon as one group of specifiers forms a solid relationship with a company, another uninformed group is pushing up right behind them and the cycle starts all over again.

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Want to grow your sales by increasing specifications by architects and designers? Click here to download our guide: HOW ARCHITECTS AND DESIGNERS SPECIFY BUILDING AND ARCHITECTURAL PRODUCTS. If you have a question that hasn’t been answered or to find out more about how Epiphany can help you get specified, give me a call. 804.377.0106