How to Defend Specification


Want Architects to Defend Specs of Your Products? Give Them the Tools They Need to Do It!

Would you send a boxer into the ring without his gloves? No. Then why expect the architect specifying your product to defend their choice without giving them the tools they need to do it – especially when they feel pressure from building owners, general contractors and even peers?

Selling products that rely on specifications by architects or designers is a tough business. Your sales reps spend a lot of time identifying the right architectural firms for your products. Then they do whatever it takes to develop and nurture relationships with these firms – scheduling Lunch & Learns, updating product libraries and delivering samples.

If they work hard enough and can prove to the architect that your product is the right solution for their project, the architect may spec your product. The problem is that there is still no guarantee that your product will make it to installation.

Typically, it can take anywhere from 12-24 months before a specification becomes an installation, and believe it or not, your specification is vulnerable right up to the installation. That’s because architects don’t work in a vacuum. They must not only answer to the general contractor, who will have his own ideas about the best products to use, but often the building owner also will have an opinion, even if they lack practical expertise.

Therefore, the goal of your sales and marketing efforts is not only to reassure the architect that they have made the right choice, but to give them the tools they need to quickly and easily defend your products to others.

Look on the bright side. While there are certainly lots of chances for substitution of your product, every point along the sales journey is also another opportunity for marketing to reinforce that the only building product or material that is right for a project is yours.

A lot of times, I have to defend a specification because it’s in the owner’s best interest. The price of the substitution may be less initially, but it will cost more in maintenance over time.
— Sarah

Why Are Specs Vulnerable?

Specifications are always open to substitution with the permission of the architect. This occurs mostly when a product is viewed as a commodity—such as gravel or stone. That is why it’s key to make sure you put resources behind developing your brand. A well-crafted brand can certainly command a higher price for its products and enjoy stronger loyalty from architects and designers.

But what happens if a contractor makes the substitution without the architect’s knowledge by appealing directly to the owner? Or if they simply make the substitution themselves and decide to deal with any fallout later? We’ve all heard the old adage that it’s better to ask for forgiveness than permission.

But why would a contractor substitute a different product from the one that was specified? There are many possible reasons, but here are a few:

  • The competition comes in and undercuts the price making a different product more profitable.

  • The contractor doesn’t want to try something new due to time and risk. It will take their team time to learn about the product and train the subs to install it.

  • The owner or developer does not understand the value of your product and the contractor or the architect can’t easily prove the value. Your product may be more cost-effective in the long term, offer better quality or durability, or have a higher brand value for the end user, but the owner just hasn’t been properly educated on this.


Who Loses out When Specs Are Substituted?

The problem is that if your product really was the best choice for the project, everyone loses out in the end—the architect, the contractor and the business owner – plus you’ve lost business.

Look at it this way: If a contractor talks a building owner into a substitution, it may eventually hurt their reputation for recommending the less-than-optimal choice. The architecture firm, on the other hand, will have the project in its portfolio – a key tool for referrals – for a long time, even if the project doesn’t stand up to the test of time. But arguably it is the building owner who has the most to lose when a poor product substitution is made. They are the ones who have to suffer the long-term consequences, whether they be higher maintenance costs throughout the lifetime of the building or complete product failure. In the end, the owner will bear the brunt of a poor product choice.


How to Prevent Spec Substitutions

Manufacturers of building materials and products can help architects and designers to defend their specifications from substitution by following a few best practices. The first thing you need to do is to give them the tools they need to defend their specification choices. Many manufacturers leave this to chance, hoping the architect will take the time to come up with the rationale to defend it. But given that most architects are juggling multiple projects and hundreds of product specifications at any given moment, leaving them to research and defend each product they spec is a tall ask.

Make it easy for architects to make the case for your building material or product by providing them the right materials:

  • Create copy for an email that architects and designers can use to send to building owners and contractors that is clear and concise, outlining in detail the benefits of your product. Here’s an example: “I understand that ABC Construction would like to substitute my window choice of AAA Windows with another brand. While AAA is more expensive initially, the long term benefits to you include…”

  • Create infographics showing how your product stands up to its competition, providing any proof, research or statistics that you have.

  • Provide downloadable PowerPoint slides that architects can easily slide into their presentations.

  • Create spec sheets with any performance data points that can be translated to benefits for the long-term success of the building.

  • Provide downloadable supporting reports or guides that can be sent to the owner.

Remember that you’re not only selling a product, but often educating architects, building owners and even contractors about your product, as well as your product category in general. Position your company and its representatives as experts, who understand not only your product, but competitive products and common installation techniques as well. Then arm architects and designers with the right information and materials to defend their specifications of your products. And remember that strong brands with high customer loyalty have the best odds for making it from the specification to the installation.


Susan Milne

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