Selling to Architects & Interior Designers: Webinar Transcript

Webinar Title Slide How To Sell to Architects and Interior Designers Profitably

We’ve developed a presentation all about ways to grow sales with two key specifier groups: architects and interior designers. The complete transcript from that presentation below. If you’d prefer the listen and watch, click here to access the video recording.

Susan: Hi this is Kenya and Susan from Epiphany and we’d like to welcome you to “Stop Chasing Projects”. This webinar is going to focus on how to sell to architects and interior designers profitably.

Kenya: So, this is our agenda for the call. We’re going to begin by talking about the industry itself, what’s going on, then we’ll be talking about our specifiers; who they are, how they tick, and then we will wrap up with some ideas that you can take away on working smarter.

Susan: So just for a quick background, my name is Susan Milne and I am the founder and Creative Director for Epiphany. I cut my teeth in New York with some big brands like Coca Cola and L’Oreal. Epiphany is really the result of me bringing two loves together; of architecture and marketing.

Kenya: And this is Kenya. I lead our marketing strategy on our accounts. I have a Master’s Degree in architecture so Susan and I share that love. I worked in retail design before moving in to advertising and becoming a partner here at Epiphany.

We begin with the specification journey, thinking about the map of a product sale from point A to a construction site. This is a pretty complex sale as you all are all too familiar with. In this map there a lots of influencers along the way, there are many times when your product may potentially be specified, likewise there are many times when your product may not be specified anymore. As we look at this map each one of these points merits considerable thought and could be its own webinar. Today we’re going to be focusing specifically on architects and designers.

So the state of the industry - the first trend that we’re talking about is just the pace that change is happening. House wrap is a really great example for this. You have a company like Tyvek that came in to the market in the 1960’s and now we see a market that is really flooded with competitors; so much so that housewrap has really become a commodity. And so introducing something new is a challenge. How do you come up with something that people are going to care about when as far as they’re concerned it’s really a dime a dozen? When Zip System came into the market they considered, what’s a problem that they could solve? With the understanding that there’s a considerable labor shortage and we’re looking for ways that we can put together our projects faster, this was an opportunity to really change the category by creating a subcategory; something new that folks hadn't considered before.

The other thing we should keep in mind is that change also impacts the way our specifiers are working and the the industries they are focused on. So for an architect specializes in healthcare, one moment they’re focused on how they can make spaces feel like home and the next they're want to ensure that the materials are negating the growth of germs. Everyone is being assaulted by change and it’s critical that we keep up.

The next trend is the growing importance of the online space. You know specifiers have been using it for research, but now it’s also a sales channel. Sure, folks were ready to buy books before they were ready to buy building supplies but it it’s happening and without a doubt Amazon would be more than thrilled to take the entire pot. So if we want to compete we really can’t just cross our fingers and hope that because of the complexity our sales this change won’t impact our businesses. The days of not having pricing information available online, are quickly coming to an end. We need to be looking at our websites and make sure that they’re easy to use, that we’ve got key information that’s findable, and if we are lucky becomes a way that specifiers are finding us. We  want an online presence that can reinforce decisions through reviews and case studies.

It used to be that B2B customers were reaching out to a sales rep and really leaning on that rep for the lion’s share of the sales process. Now they are a lot more informed before they make that call because they are using their online space to do the initial research.

The third trend is specific to the biggest hurdle that everyone in the industry is focused on; the labor shortage. In truth we want to be thinking when there’s a problem like this, how does our product help that? And the truth is that if our company doesn’t have a solution for it then somebody’s going to come up with something that does.

An example of a company addressing the labor shortage  is a company like Katerra. They are an off-site construction company that’s reimagining the way buildings are being developed with an eye on efficiency and speed. If a wall can be made with the wall finishes in place and that’s going to save some time then someone will make it happen. Companies are taking a Silicon Valley mindset in looking at ways of implementing technology. How can we minimize issues that arise because of the inevitable unknowns on a construction site? If we can reduce unknowns we can build efficiency. So really, we can assume that for every assumption there is about construction, there’s somebody that’s thinking maybe we don’t need to assume that anymore.

The fourth trend here are the blurring lines. So one example of outside of our space - think about plasma televisions. At one time, not that long ago, the assumption was that we would only buy these in electronics stores that barely exist anymore. Then, retailers like Home Depot decided to dabble in the category. So we’re seeing that no one is willing to stay in their lane anymore. Starbucks isn’t just selling coffee, they’re selling food. Likewise, this is happening in the B2B space too. We’re seeing consumer product brands like Williams-Sonoma and Crate & Barrel reaching out to specifiers. On the flip side, more and more of our clients have both professional lines and another line that’s branded specifically for retail. So the question is, how can we be both places without watering down the brand? How can we establish authority for both trade customers and for end-user consumers?

Susan: So in order to do that we need to understand specifiers; who are they, what do they want, and what’s going on in the industry. One of the big things that we’ve seen is that your customer is changing. We’re in a time-intensive industry where designers and architects are no longer interested in 60-hour work weeks and professional communication is now primarily through text and email. We have to consider the mindset of millennials.

How are millennials impacting the market? They want a good work/life balance, they don’t want to work 60-hour work weeks, they don’t want you to call them, and they don’t want to have a meeting with you. They want you to text them, and as Kenya was talking about earlier with the influence of Amazon, they want to look at peer reviews online. They have a high level of design sophistication and they way they search is different - they start online. They’ll begin searching for something like surfaces that reduce the spread of germs online and then go in to their materials library to see if this company is legit. Typically, specifiers that are over forty do the opposite. They’re starting in the library and then they’re going online to validate their selection.If you think about that in terms of marketing, it means your marketing has to be a full 360 degrees experience. What’s online should also be in the library. That sample in the library cannot be outdated. You have to have the right information in the library to easily allow someone to go online and download the specs. So it’s really about creating that full-circle experience.

One of the things that we do is create personas for the people we sell to. We have some persona cards on our website that you can feel free to download. Today we’re going to talk about the architect and designer.

The role of the architect has changed; they’re now both sellers and doers which means they have to sell to new clients and grow work with existing ones. This is a real shift in the industry especially after the housing crash; firms got smaller and more was asked of architects. The briefs that they get from their clients have changed as well and include things like creating spaces that are Instagrammable, or helping a hotel grow in-room spends. One thing we have to appreciate about architects is the importance of each project they take on. They’re highly attuned to the importance of their online portfolio. Each project in their  portfolio represents millions of dollars and thousands of hours worth of work. They need your project, with the products you’ve sold them, to stand up ten years from now. So if this is a firm that specializes in education and just worked on a dormitory for a college, they want to be able to use that as a reference for ten to twenty years. They don’t want to come back and find out there’s mold in the building or some other failure. So consider your sales process to architects through that lens - how can you help them be successful?

Designers are also being asked to deliver results beyond finishes. As a group they feel the impact of social media more acutely especially if they’re doing hospitality, healthcare, multi-family, or residential, where Instagram has become a powerhouse for reviews both positive and negative. When designers work with an architect on a project they do get to make the selections but the architects are weighing in because they want the exterior and the flow of the building to feel like the interior. The designers are really brand focused and often when we interview them they ask, “Why don’t companies organize their samples the way that I use them; by color, by texture, by performance?” Think about how you place your samples in the library to best meet their needs.

If you look at this in the specification journey there are a lot of opportunities where a designer may pick something but the contractor has to go out and buy it, or the owner and architect decide to weigh in too. So when we look at this journey and think about who is the most willing to change and who is the least willing to change and how to a lot our marketing dollars, architects and designers by their very nature are the most open to change. They’re always looking for continuing education, credits, and are part of an industry that focuses on learning. So if you’re bringing a new product to market these are the people that you have the most likely reception with because contractors don’t get paid to learn something new. They don’t get paid to learn how to install it - it’s all on their dime and the last thing they want is to get called back out to a site over and over again. When we think about the willingness to change spectrum I like to take each persona and say - what is their biggest resistance? For architects and designers their reputation is their biggest resistance. Every project they work on becomes a reference for them and they need to know that the materials they select will perform and will hold up over time. If they decide that they’re only going to build homes with ICF, an insulated concrete form, then they can reference a homeowner they built a home for 5 years ago and they can tell you all about the reduced energy bill. They want to know that they can use that reference and when you think about marketing to them talk about all of the processes and procedures that are in place to ensure this material will not fail.

This brings us to the crux of what we want to talk about today which is working smarter, what we’re calling the annuity approach. It’s really about how we sell. Traditionally we try to do more; add another wrap, grow the line, go to a new trade show, because it’s easier.

It’s a lot of work, but it’s work we know how to do. We want to focus on doing better and that’s really what the annuity approach is about. The traditional sales approach has been focused on identifying the projects that would be right for your product and then trying to sell it and get specified. This means you have to keep doing the same thing over and over and over again. Can you push someone else’s product out of the way and insert yours - and in a way everything starts to become a commodity game.

There’s a new model - the flywheel. The focus of the flywheel is to generate motion by focusing on attracting, engaging, and delighting your specifiers. What does that really mean? We want to attract - we don’t want to just say that we carry these types of surfaces, we want to say we carry surfaces that reduce the spread of germs, as an example. And then we want to engage them by having materials both in the library and online that they can download. For instance a designer or an architect who is building a new hospital would love some statistics that show the amount of germs that can be reduced using specific surfaces and they’re going to put that in their presentation, they’re going to use that to sell your products. In this way we delight them, we  come to them with solutions. So overall the difference between the sales funnel and the flywheel; the sales funnel is all about you finding projects, the flywheel is about you solving specifiers’ problems and generating more sales.

Kenya: The idea with the funnel is once you’ve gotten the sale it’s done. I like the flywheel because what you learn from that sale feeds more sales, we become smarter at what we do and that makes the flywheel go faster.

Susan: Absolutely. And that’s why we call it an annuity sale because you’re constantly generating results, you’re not selling by a specific project which has a beginning date and an end date and it’s one and done, you’re setting out to solve problems. And this really invests in the success of your customer. For example there’s a really great restaurant here in town called Stella’s. It’s an amazing restaurant and they try to make it so it has a certain bit of warmth to it, and wood floors are an incredible way to add warmth to a high traffic space. The sales funnel approach would be let’s go after the Stella’s project, but the annuity approach would be let's sell how to add warmth to high traffic places. This is important because briefs are changing. If we think about the way that an architect or designer receives a brief for a restaurant it may talk about the well-being of the space, it may talk about a certain level of comfort and sophistication. The way to sell to a designer is instead of just selling for this 2,000 square foot project let’s talk about expertise and with that expertise we will be creating opportunity. We have a client that makes a high end wood flooring that works for high traffic spaces - their reps can talk about how to translate this warmth to hospitality projects, multi-family, healthcare, retail, institutions like libraries,  post offices, schools - there is a lot of opportunity. Now when your rep comes in they’re not just talking about that specific project, but all projects. And this is a way that we’re talking about generating sales that go beyond 2,000 square feet of flooring.

Kenya: So wrapping it up - what are ways to apply this to the various tactics that we lean on in our marketing work? Thinking about the online space - what should we stop doing, what do we want to keep doing, and what do want to start doing? When we think of our website the thing that looms over us is keeping it up-to-date and yes, we do need to make sure that our website is relevant with having products that we still carry, specifications that are still correct, that we’re doing that bare minimum. What we don’t want to do is be so focused on just the specs that we’re not thinking about why our customer is on our website in the first place. We want to begin to really think about their mindset when they’re on our website. What we want to start doing is think about how does our website compliment the folks that are doing the selling? What information do we want to make sure that someone is able to find easily, what’s something that we might want to be gated so we have a lead so that a salesperson can reach out, and what’s something that we want that salesperson to hand deliver when we have that opportunity for face-to-face?

Next is marketing automation which is marketing lingo for email outreach. What do we want to keep doing there? We want to keep using email generally. We’re really good at using email when we have a new product coming out, when there’s an event we want to send  invitations to, and after or during a trade show. What we want to stop doing is developing these email newsletters that are really a lot of work - they take a lot of resources to put together and often when we do those we send them to a huge database of all different types of customers so that’s often not a great use of time. What we want to start doing instead is figure out how we can segment the list so that the touches that we’re making through email are really relevant. How are we able to learn  if someone downloads a specific form on our website, what does that tell us about them and what’s something we could follow up with that is relevant? How can we use email to emphasize our smarts? And then we want to be sure that we’re measuring those results.

Another tactic are the trade shows. We want to keep connecting with those leads that we meet before, during, and after the show. Even before we get there we want to make sure that we’re not going to trade shows just out of habit. If it’s a show that you’ve been going to for 20 years this year as you put together your trade show calendar think, where is the value? What is the return that we’re getting from this show, and is it something that we want to do again? What we want to start doing when we’re at the show is make sure we are being relevant to the folks that are there. Is there a way that we can have some exclusive content or educational collateral? For leads that we meet at the trade show is there a more regional face-to-face event we can go to and continue that conversation?

Susan: We go to a lot of trade shows and see many manufacturers reach out maybe once or twice after the trade show. Knowing how long this sales cycle is with specifiers it is reasonable to have a 12 month plan of follow ups, a 24 month plan. This is a long sale cycle.

Kenya: Sample libraries; just like we talked about with websites yes we want to continue to make sure that the libraries are up-to-date because we’ve heard from many of our interior designer contacts nothing is more annoying than finding something in a library and it’s been discontinued. What we want to stop doing is having a disconnect between the sample library and information available online. We want to make sure that whether someone is starting their search online or at the library that it’s a seamless experience. When you’re in the GAP buying jeans or you’re shopping online you always know that you’re in the GAP, there’s a similarity in how the product is categorized and organized from one space to the other. We want to start organizing by the specifier preference and really understanding the difference from library to library - are there ways that you can customize that library presentation to work specifically for each client so that we’re not forcing a one size fits all solution?

On-boarding sales reps is another important tactic that we don’t often think of as a marketing tactic but it is an important one. What we want to keep doing is hiring those industry experts and we want to make sure that when they start working for us they understand what makes us different. We want them to be able to continue to leverage their expertise. When we think in terms of what to start doing is how can we blur the lines between marketing and sales a bit more? Let’s task our sales reps to determine ten of your most prized new customers, and provide that list to your marketing team, and then challenge your marketing team to say hey, how can we get these ten guys?

Moving in to collateral and PR, by collateral we mean the brochures, and all of the printed materials that we often associate with marketing and yes, we need to have that stuff. We want to keep developing product sell sheets, we want to have reports and things you can deliver when you’re in person. What we don’t want to do is have materials that we develop in such a way that it’s essentially obsolete once it’s been printed. How can we leverage materials that we’re using online work double duty as a nice printed piece? And as we think about our tool-kit of collateral in addition to the product specific stuff what are some thought leadership pieces that we could develop?

Susan: In summary I think we’ve covered a lot here today but the industry is changing and the way that companies sell has to change along with it. The number one message is you should be helping designers and architects solve their problems. Look for opportunities to transition your sales reps from just selling and chasing projects to becoming true industry experts. Your sales reps are on the ground, they have so much information so really tie that together with marketing. Really look at your marketing plan and determine where is our focus, where are we putting our money, and are we working on doing more or on doing better?

Kenya: So that wraps up our presentation, this again is Epiphany, and we love this stuff! If you’d like to talk more drop us a note, our website is

Susan: Thank you for your time.

Kenya: Bye now!


A virtual lunch and learn:

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


Susan Milne

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.