Response to "The gentle art of product-rep self-defense"

Over at the Intern 101 blog, writer Lulu Brown (a pseudonym) posted a scathing piece about the role of product reps, and how and why young architects should learn to avoid them:
If you're ever caught off guard by a vendor, deflect and defer to your boss. If you get a phone call, transfer them to your boss with the indication to the rep that you aren't in charge of these kinds of decisions... If they catch you in person, say the same thing and take their business card to pass on to your boss. Taking product literature along with the card can be helpful as long as they don't give you a book. (A lot of product literature tends to go into the recycle bin, so it seems.) Remember: if any rep ever catches you off guard, defer and deflect, no matter the size of the project.
The full piece is even more painful, painting a picture of "vendors" as the enemy to be avoided or exploited as fits your needs.

Problem is, she might be right.

The sad truth is, this is how many architects view product reps because this has been their experience with reps. Brown writes, "Now and then, the firm for which I work will get a call, a visit, or an info packet from a company that does custom kitchen cabinets or designs spa bathrooms or closets. Nice to know, but we do little to no single- or double-family high-end residential work." It is hard to believe, but there actually are reps out there making sales calls without doing even this basic level of research. No one has a product that will be useful to every architecture firm; failing to spend 10 minutes discovering if they even need your product shows a lack of respect that will permanently color the architect's perception of you.

Look at some of the other issues Brown raises; how many of these have you committed at one time or another?
  • Ignoring young architects until they are in charge of important products, and then flooding them with attention.
  • Contacting architects when it is convenient for you, rather than for them.
  • Ambushing architects when they are not prepared to talk to you, rather than setting an appointment for later follow-up.
  • Focusing on your needs instead of theirs.
  • Treating architects as prospects, or targets, rather than clients.
  • Acting like a sales rep, rather than part of the design team.
Product reps have an important role to play in the design process. As Stirling Morris, CSI, CDT said in response to this post, "Architects don’t (and can’t) know everything about every product or how any given product may fit into any given project’s needs, so they should be taught and encouraged to lean on Product Reps as caregivers. They should be taught that Product Reps are involved throughout every Phase of any construction oriented project." Playing that role, however, depends on building strong, positive relationships early on, probably before there is an opportunity on a specific project, so that when the time comes the architects know, and are willing, to talk to you.