The Unique Experience of Architectural Sales – written by Andrew Garner

What is it that makes architectural sales so vital to the products we represent? What is an architect looking for from a product representative? What roll does the manufacturer play in supporting this effort?

The preliminary answer to these questions in a word is information. Our jobs when consulting to the architectural community is to provide accurate, timely information regarding the products we represent. Anything less will keep us from being included on bid day. We all know without that support we fail as a business.

So what does that mean? It means being an industry expert. We not only have to know our own product, but the product supplied by our competitors. Presenting an AIA presentation is one of the best examples of presenting the industry as a whole, without bias, to professionals who rely on us for industry trends, new technology and explanations of product performance. Further, unique to the nature of our business and our vendor relationships, is the complexity of the parts and pieces that are required for a successful installation for their projects. We accommodate this by having a standing offer to help them write their specifications. These professionals are reliant upon us to share our expertise, write a specification that best serves their client even if our own product offering cannot meet all of their needs.

That can be a difficult pill to swallow especially in this competitive world we live in, but better to take a hit than misrepresent ourselves or the industry for immediate gain with something we cannot do or advise against particular performance criteria when it is available in the market elsewhere. This breeds trust, the biggest factor for repeat business opportunities in this segment. Once you have gained trust, you will be regarded as a go-to person. It takes time (well managed) and attention to detail. If you choose to be completely self interested, with no regard for the interest of the architect or their client and trust is lost, you may never regain it.

We have information to share and an understanding of what it takes to get us there. What is the vendor’s roll? The obvious and immediate answer is support, right? Of course, but it is much more complex. Every vendor I have ever had the pleasure of representing has always said, “We are here to support you”! Vendors have multiple levels of a marketplace they must keep their eyes on, competitors, distribution, general contractors, sub-contractors, consultants and yes, architects. They’ve got to be on the ball for all of these, but much of the success is dependent upon being specified or co-specified. It often starts at the architectural office.

Vendors are required to always keep an eye on the whole marketplace. Research and develop new innovative products or perhaps develop or adapt something in reaction to a product not in our offering but offered by a competitor. It’s also service with a quick response and warranty that protects their clients in the event of product failures.

It is this bloggers steadfast belief that architectural sales is a “soft sell” environment, meaning provide them with the resources, i.e. literture, samples, test reports and any other item or pieces that support the case you are making for product acceptance. It will certainly be important for you to do your thing here, point out the features and benefits, but realize that ultimately it will be taken out of your hands. Seasoned architects and specifiers are expert product evaluators and will want to be left to their own methods in order to evaluate on their terms.

Make sure that the literature and test reports you use are completely up to date and from reputable testing agencies. If that’s not the case run to your vendor and make this a requirement. Have samples and the rest of your selling tools cleaned, without blemish and in working order. Since it’s ultimately their call not yours, leave nothing to chance to give yourself the greatest probability for success!

Architectural selling takes planning and patience. Appointments are always necessary and you may have to extend the appointment further out than you would like. That is the nature of the business, never cold call.

Finally, to vendors, dealers and rep agencies make your websites easy to navigate, eliminate any registration requirements, have a place to go on your tool bar that says, “I Am An Architect” and have local representative contact information easy to find and up front. Architectural offices everywhere are going paperless; they don’t want our binders anymore! This is where they get their information, trust me!

Good Selling!