Stop Chasing Projects: How to Sell to Architects and Interior Designers, Profitably


We all like to think that sales reps live the easy life, filled with lunch-and-learns and the occasional material sample drop-off. If only it were that simple.

In truth, getting specified is like the World Cup—every step of the specification journey leaves a product vulnerable to being replaced by the competition.

Historically, specifier sales have been project-driven. Sales reps find out who is designing the new hospital or hotel and chase down the specifiers in hopes that their line will be included in the project. Smart enough, but here’s the rub: their competition is doing the exact same thing.

In today’s competitive marketplace, manufacturers are forced to win on price, driving down margins. When specifiers simply choose the cheapest product, it’s a commodity and the entire category loses.

It’s time to change your strategy.


Growing Specifications: The Annuity Approach

An annuity is an investment that pays back dividends on a consistent basis. Every time you invest in new sales materials or reps, you are putting funds towards something you hope will provide a recurring stream of revenue year after year. The annuity approach to growing sales is one where the rep focuses on building a relationship with specifiers through problem-solving and expertise rather than shared meals and dogged persistence.

We share our office with a mid-sized architectural firm, and we watch both sales approaches played out on a daily basis. To illustrate the difference more clearly, I’ve provided two scenarios below, each demonstrating a different sales approach. In both cases, Bill, our fictitious rep, is selling doors.


Applying the Traditional Approach

Bill has a territory to cover and a new product to sell. He schedules a lunch-and-learn to share the product line with his contacts at a few of the larger architectural firms in the area. Lately, the crowd he’s able to draw has been shrinking. Bill does his usual dog and pony show, putting a lot of focus on the features of the new line—specs, finishes, and custom options. He’s particularly excited to share product installation shots from a few recently completed projects.

Ultimately, Bill’s main objective is to get a sense of what projects are going on that this line of doors would be appropriate for. Once the lunch-and-learn is over, he stocks the library and leaves with a mental list of projects to follow up on. He now must walk the fine line between pleasant follow-up and hounding.


The Annuity Approach in Action

Bill knows this door line is ideally suited for hospitality and multifamily because of its durability, design, and finish options. He’s measured the projected construction activity for both verticals to determine the breadth of opportunity and market growth potential for each and decides to focus on hospitality. The client base Bill has been working with don’t do a lot of work in this space, so he does his homework and identifies some new firms to focus on, developing a targeted list of high-value prospects.

Before making contact, Bill immerses himself in the industry. He focuses on understanding the challenges and pain points specifiers face when working on hospitality projects. He knows that every business is focused on standing out in the marketplace and growing their own sales; so, if he can help designers win more projects, he can sell more doors to them.

Bill schedules a lunch-and-learn with a focus on The Things Millennials Are Looking for When They Choose a Hotel. The presentation seeks to educate specifiers about designing for a holistic guest experience, with an emphasis on wellbeing and privacy. The door line is then presented within this context, positioned as a piece in the larger guest experience puzzle. Rather than spotlighting finishes and price, Bill talks about privacy, sleep quality, safety, and light. He includes professional product installation shots from a few recently completed projects as well as a handful of Instagrams taken and shared by hotel guests. He tops it off with screenshots of TripAdvisor reviews noting how quiet the room was.

Bill keeps his presentation to about 20 minutes. He knows that if he talks much longer, it’ll feel like a lecture, and they’ll lose interest. By cutting back on his presentation, Bill frees up time for two-way discussion. While he wants to know which projects are in the works, Bill sees the lunch-and-learn as an opportunity to hear about the problems his prospective buyers are facing. He knows that to sell the product, he must position it as a solution.

Annuity selling means that you are making an investment in expertly solving the challenges of specifiers rather than selling a product. Taking this approach means that reps don’t have to wait for new samples to arrive before they have a reason to check in; they can also bring industry insight and expertise. Specifiers can then take that knowledge and apply it when they’re interviewing to win a new project or defending a specification down the road. Projects that have to solve privacy and sleep quality issues can be translated across industries to multi-family, residential, and hospitals—and that, in part, is what makes it an annuity.


A virtual lunch and learn:

Stop Chasing Projects: How to Sell to Architects & Interior Designers, Profitably


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. 


Sales SupportEpiphany Studio