Motivate specifiers to change their habits

To gain market share for my company’s new product, I must displace well-accepted products that have been used for many years. How can I get architects to change their specifying habits?— D.W.F, marketing vice president

There are only three reasons why building designers change their product specification habits:
  • Boredom with existing products
  • Rational evaluation of building requirements
  • Stress
Boredom is an especially strong motivation for designers who constantly strive to create an original look or design solution. You can capitalize on this if your product offers a new look or makes a fashion statement.

It may be easy to get those designers to try a new product, but how long will they stick with it? Tomorrow they’ll be bored again and ready for something else.

Some designers’ habits change as they search for products that meet a project’s criteria. Specifiers who take this rational approach to selecting products are valuable prospects. They will be interested in your product’s features and benefits and the data substantiating your claims.

Most product launches should be directed at meeting the needs of rational specifiers. If you survive their evaluation you can be confident that other customer groups will also find your product acceptable when the motivation hits them.

Unfortunately, few architects and engineers fit the rational specifier category. Most specify products out of habit. Products used successfully tend to find their way into a firm’s master specifications and standard details. Draftsmen are told to follow the example of previous projects. Habits like these change slowly because most designers and builders are reluctant to take risks with new products or suppliers and because evaluating new products takes time.

Changing product habits often creates stress for the building team. But stress can also be an agent for changing old specifying habits. Stress from product failures, unsatisfactory suppliers, changing technology or regulations, and fluctuating prices all can force designers to accept new products whether they want to or not. Stress, I believe, is the primary reason designers change their habits.

The current recession has put plenty of stress on construction markets. Take advantage of these stressful times to reshape your customers’ buying habits and to build market share. Doing so will position your business for growth when activity does increase. Consolidate your efforts to refocus on your company’s strengths, and take advantage of niche opportunities you overlooked during more prosperous times.

In the long term, your success in converting customers depends on offering products or services with significant cost-to-benefit advantages for clearly defined market niches.

I plan to prepare a display panel or boxed set of samples showing the range of products made by members of my association. Would architectural firms be interested in receiving samples? Is direct mail an effective way to distribute them? —C.C.P., association director
Samples are an important part of a building product promotion. Because they can be manipulated, samples communicate with recipients at multiple levels. They stimulate product awareness by cutting through the marketing hype to get noticed.

Architects generally are interested in receiving them. Samples help them in product selection, detailing, and specification by answering questions about product performance, assembly, compatibility with other products, and ergonomics. They are especially important for evaluating products exposed to view or touch.

Manufacturers frequently submit samples to the designer before materials are ordered or manufactured. Samples can demonstrate compliance with specifications, expedite color selection, serve as templates for coordinating work, and establish the standard against which later construction will be compared.

Though samples may have a favorable impact when first presented, few architects or engineers have the space or the inclination to organize sample files for future reference. Instead, designers expect fresh samples to be available whenever needed. Then they usually discard the samples, relegate them to some out-of-the-way shelf, or donate them to architectural schools.

There are exceptions. Interior designers maintain well-organized sample rooms to facilitate matching colors and textures. And most design firms keep samples of materials they consider essential to their work, such as an often-specified item.

Direct mail can be used to distribute small samples, but it is not cost- effective for large samples or sample kits. A better use of direct mail is to offer to send a sample kit in response to a phone call or bounce-back card. That will increase your direct mail’s readership, reduce your costs, and assure that samples are sent only to prospects with a bona fide interest in your product.

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By Michael Chusid
Originally published in Construction Marketing Today, Copyright © 1992