As building product manufacturers, do we have a clear vision of how effective our architectural marketing is? Do we understand who actually makes product specification decisions and what they are looking for? What tools do they use to research building products?
As the Director of Enterprise Solutions for The Blue Book Building & Construction Network, I am responsible for creating multilevel marketing and sales solutions for the most complex companies in the commercial construction industry –building product manufacturers (BPMs).
Unlike any other member of the building team, BPMs are required to communicate with virtually every stakeholder on every project, including: owners, architects, engineers, construction managers, general contractors, distributors, wholesalers, subcontractors and facilities professionals. In the end, these stakeholders all do two things which affect how much of our product ends up on the job. They “specify” and “buy.”
Getting Specified is Important
In my last post, I referred to the aftershock of the 2008 crash and the subsequent changes to industry behaviors. One of those changes was erosion in the value of product specifications and an increase in product substitutions. That being said, the manufacturers of specified architectural products stand a much better chance of their products of ending up on the project due to their “exposure.” If your brand is consistently specified, even if your product is not Basis of Design (BOD) but an “approved equal,” the general contractor will make plans and specifications available to the subcontractors and suppliers for bids. These subcontractors and suppliers will bid the BOD and other approved manufacturers’ products first, and one of these products will likely win on bid day. If you are not BOD, or an “approved equal,” you are relying on your customers to get your product approved. This is time-consuming and most of your customers will bid one of the approved products for the sake of expediency.
Who is Writing Specifications & What Do They Want from BPMs?
Over the past several months, I have been interviewing architects and specification writers to better understand their current workflows and the tools they use to research product information. First, it helps to understand the commercial architectural demographics.
Who is the Demographic? According to the American Institute of Architects (AIA), there are roughly 83,000 members and 17,500 architectural firms that are owned by AIA Members. 75 percent of firms have 2 to 49 employees and 1 percent have 100 or more employees. After speaking with numerous architects and professional specification writers, I’ve verified some key information:
- There are approximately 1000 professional specification writers; they are all members of The Construction Specifications Institute, or “CSI”
- Many are registered architects who focus on the selection and specification of building products, and have acquired additional certifications through CSI.
- Some specification writers are not architects, but have substantial CSI credentials.
- The most common CSI Certifications are:
- CDT – Construction Documents Technology
- CCCA – Certified Construction Contract Administrator
- CCS – Certified Construction Specifier
- Roughly eight hundred of these product specification professionals work full time for architectural firms. Most of these firms employ one hundred or more people. They write all of the product specifications for CSI Divisions 0 – 15.
- The other two hundred are independent specification professionals. They are either sole proprietors, or they work for companies with three to fifteen employees. They are hired to write product specifications for architectural firms. Again for CSI Divisions 0 – 15.
What Do They Want: Let’s get a few key facts/myths out of the way first.
- The vast majority of my interview subjects do not use any product directory or building product aggregation tools other than MasterSpec. I will leave it up to you to identify the other aggregators that they are not using.
- None of them use any of the manufacture’s BIM or Revit objects. Too much detail.
They want easy access to these three items from your website:
- Three-Part Specifications in a Word Document
- Most of the specifications available through the manufacturer’s website are not technical enough and they end up rewriting and placing them in a library. They do not like PDF files.
- Product Certifications
- This was one of the two key items that would make their lives much easier. There is an ever-growing number of required certifications for building products. With Leed v4 coming in 2016, there will be many more.
- Area Representative
- This was the second of two key items from my interviews. When specification professionals have questions about your products, (whether it’s getting updated samples or receiving technical assistance), they want a quick and easy way to find a local representative.
Many manufacturers’ websites have links to product information with specifications (some are easier to find than others). There are a surprising number of websites that either require someone to fill out a contact form to find the local representative, or have no rep lookup at all.
As it relates to certifications, the new Leed requirements will involve meeting the Heath Product Declaration (HPD) and/or Environmental Product Declaration (EPD). Many of the BPMs I communicated with were not aware of the new HPD and EPD certifications or had made no attempt to get certified. The absence of these certifications will disqualify you from projects that want the new USGBC’s Leed v4 stamp of approval.
My purpose in writing these posts is to be a resource to your organization and help you thrive in this ever-changing industry that we love. Please feel free to call or email me with any questions. I would also be happy to visit your company and discuss various ways to grow your visibility in the market and increase sales.
As Director of Enterprise Marketing Solutions for The Blue Book Network, Doug Bevill specializes in consulting with manufacturers of building products on creating effective, actionable, and quantifiable custom marketing solutions by leveraging the power of The Blue Book Network. With over 100 years as an industry leader connecting people, products, projects and related services, The Blue Book’s extensive network of dealers, distributors, subcontractors, architects, engineers and facilities professionals is the most extensive in the industry.