April 2019 Newsletter

**** The 4specs Perspective

What is Your Marketing Strategy?

After talking with many marketing and advertising people for building product manufacturers, I have some suggestions so they can reach architects and specifiers more effectively and thereby have a better chance of getting specified and selling their products.

This newsletter article is focused descriptive specifications where products will be specified by manufacturer or product name, and does not include products specified by reference standard, e.g., by ASTM or UL standards or products that are minor components usually selected at the contractor's option.

I see three basic strategies for marketing of "specified products."

1. Basis of Design - The architect uses your products and your CAD/BIM objects in their design. Typically one product or manufacturer dominates each CSI section, and has dominated their section for 20-50 years. This product is the one used by the architect as he develops his detail drawings and will be included in the specification section. This is sometimes called the architect's “basis of design." These companies typically have a full-time employee in your territory as their sales and technical rep. They have exhibited at AIA and CSI for many years and advertised in the Sweets green catalog books for what seems forever.

I see many companies attempting in the short term to become basis of design by exhibiting at AIA and Green Build conventions and product shows, doing lunch and learns and providing AIA Continuing Ed credits, with a focus in getting architects to know about your products.

This can be a good start, but, is this the best strategy to be specified in the short term or the long run? Can you actually displace the leading company using only this approach.

2. Comparable Products - The architectural-spec writer will typically include 3-5 comparable manufacturers for each section, including the product that is the basis of design. [Updated from Acceptable Alternate to comparable product]

I estimate that one half of the specifications are written by project architects using MasterSpec, Speclink or an older office master. About half are written by an estimated 800 full-time specifiers. Each half needs to be considered with a different strategy and perhaps at a different time line with the full-time specifiers being first.

Rather than spending the time and effort to become the basis of design, I propose that a better strategy is to start on identifying if there is a full-time specifier (employee or an outside 1099-contract-consultant specifier) for each architectural firm and start meeting and working with the full-time specifiers in each territory.

One effective way is to ask the person you are meeting with - "who in your firm writes the specs and decides which comparable products are to be included in the spec?" Once you know the key technical person, or people, in a firm, you will be more effective in getting your product specified by talking directly with them.

When starting, skip over the project architects unless there is a specific reason or your products are very design oriented. The exception to bypassing the project architect would be the instances where the project architect may contact you for detailed information on your product as he's considering products for a specific application. In this case you want to meet with him, or her, pronto since this can lead to your product becoming the basis of design.

This is generally a lower cost way to support the design and specification of your products. Most frequently your representation in a specific territory will be an independent sales rep representing multiple companies in a specific territory and probably within just one CSI division. The rep will be active in the local CSI chapter and know all the specifiers in the territory with project architect contacts.

3. Substitution - Your local independent rep or distributor will focus on the distributors and contractors offering a lower price on projects as a substitution. The general contractor may offer a substitution for the architect's review and approval. This strategy will generally reduce your profit margins on that sale compared to being specified.

You can use this strategy for the long term, never intending to focus on getting specified and always going for a substitution. I see this as the "Internet Expert Strategy" using Google to put you in front of the design team and contractor/distributor network.

For a short term strategy with new products and new manufacturers, substitutions can be great way to develop a contractor network, set up distribution, and later develop the specifier contacts to become specified as one of the acceptable products. When the first substitutions work well and the contractor and architect like the product, the product may start to be included as as one of the acceptable products on future projects.

Questions and suggestions are always appreciated.


[updated April 4, 2019 with input from a specifier]


Colin Gilboy
Publisher - 4specs
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