Be careful what you say

I don't know who created this. But is is too good to pass up. 

Cross-Cultural Marketing

Taking a product from one market into another with a different culture can be fraught with challenges. Consider the following story:

A disappointed salesman of Coca-Cola returned from his assignment to Israel.

A friend asked, "Why weren't you successful with the Israelis?"

The salesman explained, "When I got posted, I was very confident that I would make a good sales pitch. But I had a problem. I didn't know how to speak Hebrew. So I planned to convey the message through three posters.

First poster : A man lying in the hot desert sand totally exhausted and fainting
Second poster : The man is drinking Coca-Cola
Third poster : Our man is now totally refreshed
"And then these posters were pasted all over the place."

"Terrific! That should have worked!" said the friend.

"The hell it should have!" said the salesman. "No one told me the Israelis read from right to left!"

Thanks to Alan Glassman for sharing this with me. Do you know original creator?

Inside Mind of Specifier: 8 Things Product Representatives Should Know

This webinar is a great tool for building product sales representatives.  The presenter is Liz O'Sullivan, AIA, CSI, CCS, CCCA, LEED AP BD+C, NCARB, SCIP, a Denver architectural specifications writer. Her firm, Liz O'Sullivan Architecture, LLC, provides architectural construction specifications consulting services to other architects. Her blog,, offers many insights that building product manufacturers can use.

Product Reps – A Worthy Rant

From a blog post by Cherise Schacter, CSI, CDT. She serves in an administrative capacity in a large A/E firm and has some gripes about the way some product reps treat her. I concur with the advice she gives below:
  1. DO NOT assume that just because a woman is scheduling your lunch & learn, that she does not know what she is doing.  Likely I could teach you more than a thing or two.
  2. DO NOT ask me to order your lunches or go around and take individual orders for lunches.  We have as many as 6 lunch & learns a week sometimes.  I am pretty sure my rather large company did not factor into our operating budget doing your job for you.  We give you full instructions as soon as you schedule. Please read them.
  3. DO NOT leave your mess behind for someone here to clean up.
  4. DO NOT call me demanding that your Product needs to be immediately inserted in our specs because you talked to a Principal about it.  Name dropping one of my bosses is not going to get you into our Masters any faster.  We have procedures here and that boss will let me know when he wants your product incorporated into our specs.  If you are not in yet, there is a reason for it and I likely know that reason.  For example, maybe another Principal with whom you did not meet had a disaster on their project due to your product.
  5. DO NOT send me 30 pages of poorly written manufacturers specs and expect it is getting into my Master anytime soon.  Your company clearly has not taken the time to be a member of CSI or to learn the spec writing principles and language that is essential to specifications in the project delivery process.  I have spent as much as three days rewriting a manufacturer spec to make it usable in our CONTRACT documents.  If you want your products put in my master quickly, learn how to give me the specs the way I need them.
  6. When you come to visit, DO NOT talk to me like I am some kind of moron because you assume I am a flunky.  I don’t care if it is me, my Administrative Assistant or the janitor, I will not tolerate it.
  7. Manufacturers, at product shows, LOSE the slick used car salesmen in the 3-piece suits.  I can spot them a mile away and avoid them like the plague.  I want someone authentic and engaging who knows their stuff and will give it to me straight.  If your product is not for me, that is what I want to hear.  Be real and do not be pushy.
  8. At product shows, give me the information I asked you for.  DO NOT try to keep me at your booth for 4 hours telling me about every single product under the sun that you offer.  I have a lot of people to see.  It leaves a bad taste in my mouth when you try to corner me and I probably won’t stop by again.  If I ask you for additional information and to follow up after the show, you should probably do that.  Not one of you did from the last show I attended.
  9. At product shows, DO NOT assume that I am not worth your time because my badge says engineering and you rep architectural products.  Not only is most of my history in architecture and, for all you know, I may end up back there but I am also a leader in my very large CSI Chapter counting many of our local architects as friends.  My good opinion of you and your products, whether I spec them or not, might just carry some weight somewhere.
  10. Honey (I assume if you call me that, it is OK to call you that), my eyes are up here, in the middle of my face.  Please talk to those eyes, there are some brains behind them.
The bottom line here, you don’t really know who you are talking to, who they might know or where they may be going in their career.  It is in your best interest to leave behind a favorable impression with EVERY SINGLE person you meet.

Selling Through Independent Agents

Manufacturers’ Agents National Association (MANA) is a good resource for manufacturers that sell (or are considering selling) through independent rep agencies. I got the following message from Jerry Leth, the organization's General Manager, spelling out their services to "principals", the companies that employ agents:


We help manufacturers find prospective professional manufacturers' reps through the RepFinder, an online directory of our manufacturers' representative members. We suggest you try our “Test Drive” to get an indication of the potential number of MANA representative members  that might be prospects for your company.  Before you actually try the test drive, watch the “Tips for Successful Search Results” tutorial.  Alternatively, you can advertise for representatives either in Agency Sales magazine or through our new MANA Online “Rep Wanted” Advertising Platform.


We also provide a number of resources to help manufacturers learn how to get the most from their manufacturers' representative relationships.  We recently created our Steps to Being a Quality Principal program that enhances the learning process and we conduct our “Best Practices With Reps, Planning With Intent” manufacturers’ seminar twice a year.

We publish Agency Sales, the premier monthly magazine that provides relevant information on the representative business. 

The annual membership includes all the educational resources other than the ““Best Practices With Reps, Planning With Intent” seminar.  If you decide to purchase any of the ads, those are extra as well.

Read the MANA “Analyzing the Manufacturers' Rep-Principal Relationship” special report to learn more about the right way to work with representatives.

Advancing the professionalism and utilization of independent manufacturers' representatives.

Should a manufacturer request a substitution during bidding?

I posted this question on CSI's LinkedIn group:
One of my clients, a building product manufacturer, calls architects during bidding to ask them to accept his framing accessory as a substitution. (He gets their names from a subscription service of jobs being bid.) When I said that Instructions to Bidders typically states that architect consider substitutions only if requested by a bidder, the manufacturer said that many architects don't abide by their own documents and he has a high rate of success at changing the specs. Now he wants my help with calls.

What would you say to this manufacturer if he told you his strategy? Should a manufacturer treat specs as inviolate or accept the realities of the marketplace?
Here is the gist of the feedback I got from CSI members. As a group, they want manufacturers to know and follow the instructions to bidders as published in the bidding documents.  CSI members may not be representative of the industry as a whole, but it is dangerous to ignore them:

  • Tell him "No, it's not right". Just because he breaks the rules does not mean you have to. There is a possibility that you will loose this client, but doing the right thing never fails. I have witnessed this principal to be true many many times. I understand that sometimes the rules must be broken, but from my perspective, this is not one of those times. 
  •  I would absolutely tell the manufacturer "no." If bidding documents say no substitutions or approved manufacturers only, then we should abide by them. I don't accept any calls from manufacturers during bidding as any information would give them an unfair advantage in bidding. I refer them back to the General Contractor or CM.
  • I would stick to your specs as the product manufacturer should be looking to get into your own office MasterSpec for future projects and not just for the "Now" project.
  • Manufacturers who market by playing outside of the rules or riding the fence can develop a reputation with the specifying community that is less favorable. It is the merit of the products and the value brought by good support of the products, that really wins, in my opinion. 
  • I would say that in that situation, the manufacturer needs to spend his efforts to convince the architect to include his product in future projects rather than the one out to bid.
  • ...the design professional is the one who's on the hook. If something is designed in, added by addendum, or approved after award of contract, it makes no difference; the person who certifies the documents is responsible. That alone makes me wonder why architects often appear eager to approve anything that comes in the door. Note that I didn't say design professionals in general. Neither engineers nor interior designers I know show little inclination to approve anything other than what they chose, even in public sector work. 
  • I often see that we Architects and Specifiers do not follow what we write or preach. We do allow substitutions be submitted without backup materials and often it is left to us to research and analyze the substitutions. Having said that...we often allow substitution during bidding process for value engineering, but if considered, we still request a formal Substitution for formal review. 
  • As a manufacturer's rep for a line that hasn't had a lot of presence in my territory, there is not a lot of consistency on how to approach substitutions.. .At the end of the day I recognize it's persistence, follow through and building a proven track record in my market.
  • Maybe it's the backwater I work in, but local reps generally follow the rules, and the new ones have been pretty good at calling to discuss their wares before applying for prior approval or substitution. 
  •  The point of having the substitution come through a primer bidder is so that the archtiect doesn't waste time approving products that no one wants to use. And, the manufacturer/subcontractor needs to know what the rules actually are for projects.
  •  Rules is rules, but the reality is, we often make exceptions. If one of my go-to guys calls me, I'll listen. They earned that status by helping me do my job, and I will listen to their advice at any time. They will understand if there is some reason I can't do anything for a specific projects.

  • Our market tends not to have very many manufacturers who try to bend the rules. Our reps do present their products to us for prior approval to put in our specs for projects. It's only once in a half year or so that I get phone calls or letters asking to bend the rules and they are mostly from outside our market area.
  • I am in belief that bidding should be done by the process. To that end I will share a story. Years ago I put a project out to bid. The hardware schedule specified products, and acceptable manufacturers. Further, I noted that no other products are acceptable without preapproval by the architect (me), and such request for substitution must be received 7 days prior to bid. So, the contractor submitted the hardware schedule submittal with non-approved products. I sent the submittal back with a statement, these products are not acceptable refer to Section 08700 (the hardware section). Contractor responded that they did not understand. You need to request a substitution. More ??????? from the contractor.
    Finally, I issued a statement that the products were not allowed under the terms of the specification section. Should the hardware supplier wish request that these products be used they must request a substitution, and I would have to see the cost back to the owner for this substitution. The contractor said that he could put together the data needed for a substitution review, but that the cost savings was already in the bid price. I responded no it is NOT. The bid price reflects the specified products. Your request for substitution will have to be a cost back to the owner. Guess what I got the specified products. This required me to educate my owner and I had to hold firm in the face of an frustrated, and irritated contractor. If we as the architects, perform lazy, the contractor will seize the opportunity. When that happens, the good products reps get chewed up. I do not want our trusted advisors chewed-up.
  • I feel like my company is on the same page as most posted here, we do not let manufactures submit for substitutions, it must be the bidding contractor. Buy in is critical, why would a specifier allow a product that won't be bid, it weakens your spec. manufactures are trying to show traction to the corp levels, but in reality if the product doesn't get used everyone just wasted time and money. The other way for contractors/manufactures to do this is actually use the substitution listing form at time of bid, have the contractor bid what is specified and then show a substitution with the alternate product and cost difference. This would prove much more to the owner reviewing bids.

    Here is my own answer to the question:

    Thanks, everyone, for the thoughtful answers to my questions. I spoke with my client today and recommended against his initiation of substitutions during bidding. I explained it to him this way:

    "If you approach the architect during bidding, you might get named in an addendum, but that will not help your long term cause. Bidding is a rushed, chaotic process, and most of the team that put together the contract documents will have moved on to other projects as soon as the job is put out to bid. This means that most substitution requests are reviewed by just one or two members of the project team. They might say 'yes', but that information does not become part of the institutional memory of the firm. Instead, I recommend working with the office so they understand the benefits of the product and you get buy-in from the project architects, draftsmen, specifier, engineer, cost estimator, and other members of the team. Otherwise, they will simply fall back onto old habits, cut and paste old details, reuse existing spec masters, and you will have to fight for another substitution on the next project."

    I suggested a sales-oriented approach of working with sub-contractors to submit substitutions after contracts are issued. This works to my client's advantage due to the reduced labor associated with his product.

    In tandem, I recommended a business-development goal of working with architects to show how to bring their standard details and spec masters into compliance with best industry practices.

    One of my mentors was a forensic engineer. He told me that most of the product failures he had investigated were substitutions that were rushed through without adequate research, coordination, or documentation.

Networking for Fun and Profit

Two Men TalkingI got 20+ solid leads during a two-hour networking event this week.

Sponsored by a CSI Chapter, there were about 45 table top displays from building product companies, and over two hundred attendees. The leads were generated by brief contacts in the exhibit space, in the lobby outside the meeting space, and even in line for the parking lot attendant afterwards. The leads created opportunities for follow-up phone calls or emails or generated new leads and introductions. On top of that, I got to say hello to dozens of other industry contacts to keep our relationships fresh.

You can create similarly high results at similar events. Here are five tools to make the most of networking events:

1. Know your goal: I went to the CSI event with the intent to interact with a lot of people, and I succeeded. But I may have had other purposes in mind. For example, I went to a party at a trade show for the specific purpose of meeting a potential client that I anticipated would be there.  He was, and I was able to get him to join me for a full hour at a table on the periphery of the event.

2. Be prepared for surprises: Be ready to change your goals as opportunities or circumstances arise. I was at one conference, anticipating an afternoon of glad-handing, when the conference organizer approached me and asked me to be on a panel discussion in place of someone that cancelled at the last moment. Instead of 20 1-on-1 conversations, I addressed an audience of 200. At another event, I was drafted to serve at the registration desk, and got to introduce myself to everybody at the show.

3. Ask others questions about themselves: You are itching to talk about your product or service. But start by asking others about their businesses, their families (if you have a personal relationship), or any new products/projects they have. Networking has to be a win-win situation, and your interlocutor must feel a stake in the conversation. More, his or her comments may reveal needs or opportunities that are openings to sales opportunities.

4. Get to the point: Everyone at the event is there for networking. So forget the small talk during business hours; save it for receptions and the lounge.

5. Get contact info and set up a follow-up: Carry more of your own cards than you think you will need. But be sure you know how to contact the person with whom you are speaking. Get permission to recontact the person when possible. This could be as simple as saying, "I'll send you XYZ with more info." or, "Would it be better for me to call you tomorrow or later in the week?"

To learn more about networking, sign up for this webinar offered by Ceiling and Interior System Contractors Association (CISCA):
How to Construct a Strategy for Networking at Conferences
Wednesday, March 12, 2014. 2:00p.m. ET
Free for CISCA members, $49.95 for others

Networking creates an opportunity and strategy to build and maintain relationships with current and prospective customers. Networking involves more personal commitment than company money. No matter how busy we are, we all still need to make time out of our schedule to network. It requires dedication on an individual level. This webinar will examine specific ways you can expand your network for yourself and your company.

Learning objectives:
  • The Keys of Successful Networking
  • Networking Etiquette: What works…. and what does not
  • How social media can aid in your Networking goals
  • Building and Maintaining the New Relationship by adding value
Click here to register.


If you are not an exhibitor at or sponsor of the event, don't be a carpetbagger. It may be a fine line, but there is a difference between doing sales and networking.

If you are networking with an exhibitor for purposes other than learning about his or her product, do it only when there is not a real prospect in or approaching the booth.

Telephone is a most social media

Tweet, text, post, email -- all have applications in building product sales. But the sound of a voice, with the ability to sense tone and inflection, to listen and share, in real time duplex communication, fosters connection not available in other social media.

I am reminded of this by feedback I got from "Tim", a client of mine. 

Tim called last week and asked for my advice on the pricing he charged a long-time customer. Tim had bought his way into the customer's vendor list by underpricing his services. The pricing strategy made sense, at first, since Tim had excess capacity and was seeking an entry into a new market segment. But now, Tom was operating at full capacity, was firmly established as a preferred vendor in the segment, and had even improved the product.

We reviewed his options and agreed that a significant rate increase was justified. But when Tim said he would send the new rates via email, I stopped him.  You see, Tim had never had a face-to-face meeting with his customer. In fact, had never even spoken with him by phone. Their only relationship was based on price. I told Tim, "If you send it by e-mail, all your customer will see is the price increase.  You need to speak with him directly.  Tell him how much you have appreciated his business and ask him if he is satisfied with your work and what improvements you could offer. Only then can you explain why a price increase is necessary and point out how you have been providing extra value not offered by other vendors. By being in conversation, you let your customer express any concerns about the new costs so you can look for a win-win situation."

Tim said he felt awkward about speaking with customers -- that is why he had built his business service model around internet and email instead of direct selling.  I understood, but urged him to work outside his comfort zone to see what would happen. Since the customer is on the other side of the country, making a face-to-face meeting impractical, I urged Tim to phone the customer.
 Tim wrote me today, saying:
"Your seat-of-the-pants insistence (or so it seemed, to me) that I not send an email but instead talk on the phone with my guy in NYC surely made this a different process from what it would have been, had I done things from "my will." Changed behavior led to improbable outcomes: For the first time in memory, in a significant way I have asked for what I need, and I got it."
I found these dictionary definitions of "social":
1. relating to or involving activities in which people spend time talking to each other or doing enjoyable things with each other
2. liking to be with and talk to people: happy to be with people
So be social and pick up the telephone. (My number is +1 818 219 4937 and I would love to hear from you.)

Photo is public domain and accessed at Wikimedia Commons.

Speed Dating Architects

Instead of flying from city to city to meet with key architectural specifiers, imagine having them congregate in one location in a format that allows you to have one-on-one meetings and networking opportunities.

This is the "speed dating" concept of building product sales calls.  Like the social speed-dating programs where the ladies get in without charge, specifiers will attend these junkets on an all-expenses paid basis. Manufacturers pick up the tab.

Key to the success of the events is that the attendees select the slate of manufacturers on their dance card. Your tête-à-tête is with someone that has a specific interest in your product, and probably a project on the boards.

Here are two of the leading matchmakers:

Bond Events
Bond says its mission is to "To create effective one to one meetings forums which educate, stimulate and assist principal architects & interior designers from the largest firms to better serve their clients. To facilitate high-level product discussions with senior delegates from manufacturing and solution provider companies." They currently have three events:
  • Arc-US - for principals of design & specification from North America and Canada.
  • Arc-interiors - for heads of interiors from Interior Design magazine's list of largest firms.
  • Arc-Middle East - for principals from the biggest firms in the Middle East and North Africa.
The next Arc-US will be in 2014-November in Southern California and costs start at $8800. For more information, contact Chris Pond or +1 617 792 5253

Construction Specifications Institute
CSI's "Master Specifiers Retreat" is similar. The gathering is more intimate and, I suspect, more congenial since many of the participants will know each other from other CSI activities. Attendees have titles like "director of specification" or "specification consultant" and fewer people with titles like "director of design" or "project architect". This more technical and product-oriented cohort is invaluable for manufacturers in many product categories.

Their 2014 event is sold out. The next is scheduled for 2015-January in Scottsdale, AZ. Costs range from $7000 for non-CSI members to $6000 for CSI "corporate partners". For more information, contact Susan Konohia, or +1 703-706-4744.

Credit for drawing.

Selling Products Effectively to Construction Specifiers

This is the handout from a presentation Michael Chusid made to the 49th Annual CSI Show and Convention, April 2005 in Chicago, IL.

Selling Products Effectively to Construction Specifiers
By Michael Chusid, RA, FCSI, CCS

It is not much of an exaggeration to say that all I know about building products I learned from sales representatives. Who else, after all, is willing to take time to explain the details of specifying a roof, glazing a window, or meeting codes for exit hardware?

Similarly, sales representatives also taught me most of what I know about building product sales and marketing. What do successful building product sales reps know about selling specified construction products, I wanted to know. What insights or habits enable these men and women to establish enduring careers, enjoy the respect of their colleagues and customers, and reap a bountiful harvest from their labors.

Despite the vicissitudes of the industry’s economic cycles (which can destroy even the best-managed businesses), daily rejection during sales calls, and the all-too-frequent frustrations of losing hard-fought bids, the reps I admire most are those who relish the opportunity to speak yet again about the merits of whatever sealant, valve, or louver they offer. They take pride not only in building their businesses, but also in their contributions toward building their communities and industries.

Here are a few of the important lessons they have taught me:

Ask and Listen: Linda taught me the value of asking questions and listening to the customer. During her first sales call on my architectural office, she got right to the point. “I’m new to the building products industry,” she said, “And frankly, I have a lot to learn about ceramic tile. I don’t want to take a lot of your time, but it would help me do my job if I could ask you two questions. What can I do in my position as a sales rep that would be most helpful to your firm? And do you have any problems or questions about tile?”

My impulse was to conclude the interview immediately because she apparently had no useful expertise to offer. However, taken aback by her candor and earnestness, I told her who to see about updating the samples in the firm’s library, and suggested she attend CSI meetings to learn about the industry.

Then I mentioned a tile problem we had on a recent project, plus an unusual requirement for a job currently on the boards. She said she did not know whether there was anything she could do about either of these problems, but would look into them.

Concluding our brief interview, I escorted her to the office door, expecting it would be our last encounter.

To my surprise, I saw her the following week at a CSI meeting. “I took your advice and joined,” she said, adding, “I asked my manager about the problems you described. May I come to your office tomorrow and show you some products that might be suitable for your projects?”

When she came to my office this time, she had several products to talk about, but also asked more questions about the firm: “What was our design philosophy?
How did we make product selection decisions? What was our attitude towards tile and other finishes?”

Every question she asked uncovered more of our firm’s needs, opening new opportunities for her. She was soon in our office on a regular basis, presenting us with possible solutions and asking still more questions. She became the sales rep my coworkers and I called first when we needed information about tile.

Unfortunately, for me at least, our relationship lasted only a year; she was promoted to national sales manager and moved out of the territory. Not a bad trajectory for a sales rep who knew little about her product line, but sure knew how to ask questions and listen to her customers.

Educate your Customer: I had relied on Bill for years to provide help specifying overhead industrial doors. He represented a leading brand, and whenever I called, Bill came to the office, looked over the plans, and recommended an appropriate model. I would insert the recommended model number into the office master specification, and move on to the next project. All I knew about overhead doors was to call Bill.

That changed about the 10th time I called Bill. “I will be glad to come over,” he instantly said, “but first, I owe you an apology.” I had no idea what he could have done requiring an apology, so he continued, “I appreciate the support you have shown by naming my product line in your specs. However, I have lost 90 percent of the bids where you have named my product ‘or equal’.”

I had not noticed this was a pattern in the office, but Bill went through a list of recent projects and I could see he was on to something. He continued, “So I am apologizing to you because I have not taken the time to help you understand the various product grades in our industry.”

Bill explained that while the ‘or equals’ satisfied the same wind load and thermal insulation requirement as the specified brand, there was a world of difference between the ‘contractor grade’ product I was getting and the ‘specification grade’ product I was expecting. “I don’t care which grade you want, since I also have a second product line at the lower price point, but I think it is time you learn the difference so you can write enforceable specs.”

Instead of meeting at my office, Bill invited me to his warehouse where there were side-by-side installations of several door grades. He pointed out differences in weatherstripping, hardware, finishes, and other details affecting quality and price. Then we discussed the specification language I could use to pinpoint the level of quality a particular job required. He even suggested the names and models of several competing products comparable to his, explaining, “I don’t mind losing a bid now and then as long as I am playing on a level field.”

By taking time to educate his customer, Bill not only leveled the bidding turf, he also established a competitive advantage as a building product sales rep. Now that I understood more about what he had to offer, I had even more reasons to call Bill for all my overhead doors requirements.

The Blind Men and the Water Cooler: Electric water coolers – could there possibly be anything interesting to learn about them? I was sure it was going to be just an ordinary in-office, boxed-lunch sales presentation: a slice of greasy pizza (if we were lucky) and maybe a quick nap. This is what often happens when a sales rep loads an audience with carbohydrates, dims the lights for a slide show, and then drones on for 30 minutes about the minutia of his product.

Richard surprised me. He did not launch into a canned speech when he saw most of us around the big conference table had finished eating. Instead, he pulled an easel with a large, blank pad of paper to the front of the room. Then he put a box of ceramic mugs,each imprinted with the name of his firm, onto the table. After pausing to get our attention, he said, “I will give one of these mugs to anyone in the room who will tell me about any problem they have had with water coolers.” Then he waited.

After an awkward moment of silence, the fellow who did our field observations, never one to turn away from an argument, asked accusingly, “Why is it contractors can never get the electrical, water, and drain connections for your coolers in the right location?”

Richard replied, “Great question,” passed a mug to the fellow, and wrote on the paper pad: “Coordination of Utilities”.

Everybody in the room suddenly woke up, and you never heard such a list of gripes about drinking fountains. The interior designer complained about the colors and finishes. A project architect pointed out coolers in her school projects were always getting clogged. The specifier was concerned about new standards for lead-free solder in potable water fixtures. This one complained about price, and that one about energy consumption. He said delivery delays, and she said obstruction of exit corridors. We were like the proverbial blind men describing an elephant: each person had a different outlook on water coolers, depending on their responsibilities and previous experience.

Only after a dozen or more mugs had been distributed, and the pad of paper filled with complaints, did Richard begin speaking about water coolers. Before the lunch hour was over he had discussed how his product addressed every one of the complaints raised.

Plus, he achieved something far more important: he made water coolers a topic worthy of architectural consideration. Heretofore, the architects in the firm had abdicated responsibility for water cooler selection to their mechanical engineering consultants and coped with their architectural concerns in frustrated isolation.

Richard understood it is not enough to pitch a product to just the designer or specifier. While it is true certain individuals in a firm may have ultimate authority for product selection, any team member can be the one who brings a fresh product idea up for consideration. As a project moves from one phase of design to the next, or from preparation of construction documents into bidding or negotiating, the decisions of one team member can be overturned by someone else with a different perspective.

Successful sales reps reach out to the entire project team to influence product selection.

Driving to Succeed: I had an early morning appointment with the president of a large building product manufacturer. At 8:00 AM, a whistle blew and my client asked if he could be excused as it was time for the company’s weekly health and safety talk. Out of curiosity, I asked if I could attend as well. I expected we would head into the factory and hear about eye protection or other industrial hygiene. However, to my surprise, he brought me into a nearby conference room full of salesmen.

Bruce, one of the sales reps, laid it on the line. “You, my fellow salesmen, have the most dangerous job in the company – your job requires you to operate an automobile.” He explained that the chances of being injured or killed in a car crash during a sales call are far greater then in an accident while operating any of the machinery in the plant, and pointed out that “a punch press has multiple safety switches and hardly every moves at 75 miles per hour.”

We went around the room and each rep offered a tip on safe driving: Pull off the road before placing a cell phone call. Leave extra time in your schedule so you never have to rush to an appointment. Check tires and under the hood daily for potential hazards. Never drink alcohol before driving, even if your client is offering to buy the round. Study the map in advance so you don’t have to read it as you drive. And more.

Bruce then taught the reps a series of stretches and exercises they could do in their car to help stay in shape and relaxed. “It’s a great way to make use of your time at traffic lights,” he added.

Remembering what Bruce told me has probably saved my life many times over. It could save yours, too.

So Many Prospects, So Little Time: “There are so many prospects in your territory, how do you call on all of them?” That’s the question I asked Maggie, a sales engineer a manufacturer rep agency. She surprised me by answering, “I don’t even try to call on all of them. Instead, I select targeted accounts and focus on them.” Here is how she explains her approach:

“First, I have to understand how much time is available for outside sales calls. Most of my time is filled with dealing with the factory, handling paperwork, preparing quotes, returning telephone calls from customers, providing technical assistance, and scheduling appointments. Nevertheless, I got my sales manager to agree that I could spend an average of two days a week on the road making business development calls.

“In some parts of town, I can park my car and make eight or more sales calls in a day. But lunch meetings can take longer, and there are important firms in outlaying areas. On a good day, I can manage an average of four or five calls.

“I am selling a new concept and it takes time to introduce it, educate potential users, and identify suitable projects. So I have a lot of missionary work to do to convert designers and builders to our system. I try to see each targeted firm once a quarter until either they become true believers and start using our product or I decide to drop them from my short list.”

Running the numbers in my head, I saw that four or five calls a day, two days a week, and twelve weeks in a quarter meant that Maggie could only target 100 firms. “That’s right,” Maggie affirmed, so I have to be strategic about whom I target.” I asked her to explain how she does this.

She continued, “The next step is to understand the types of project that could take advantage of our product. For example, we aren’t interested in residential work, so that eliminates a lot of design firms and builders right away. Many of the professional and trade associations have websites that identify the specialties of their member firms, and that is a lot of help. Plus, for a fee, the construction news services have good databases of the types of work done by various firms.

“My agency and the companies we represent also have internal sources of data I can mine. For example, I look for firms that have used our products in the past but have stopped doing business with us.

“Perhaps the most important thing I do is to ask for referrals. When meet with a contractor, I always ask him or her about the designers that do the type of work we go after. In the same way, I ask design professionals to identify the contractors they like to work with. This not only gives me local and current information, it enables me to work projects from both ends so I can build consensus among both the designers and the constructors to use our product. And, that first appointment is a lot easier to get if I can say that ‘so-and-so recommended that I call you’.

“Finally, I sit down twice a year to purge the list of anyone who is no longer attractive to me and to add new names that have come to my attention.”

While Maggie’s specific plan of action may have to be adjusted to your particular circumstances, her disciplined, targeted approach is part of her success and can be emulated by anyone working a building product sales territory.

© ™ Chusid Associates, 2005 

Misinformation: Why it sticks and how to fix it

Have you ever had a customer stubbornly cling to outdated or erroneous specifying practices? Of course you have. Few building product sales are made to individuals that offer a blank slate of preferences, so selling often requires you to get someone to reassess what they believe.

New research, reported in ScienceDaily looks into cognitive factors that make certain pieces of misinformation "sticky" and identifies techniques that may be effective in debunking or counteracting erroneous beliefs. The report states:

Weighing the plausibility and the source of a message is cognitively more difficult than simply accepting that the message is true -- it requires additional motivational and cognitive resources. If the topic isn't very important to you or you have other things on your mind, misinformation is more likely to take hold.

And when we do take the time to thoughtfully evaluate incoming information, there are only a few features that we are likely to pay attention to: Does the information fit with other things I believe in? Does it make a coherent story with what I already know? Does it come from a credible source? Do others believe it?

Even worse, efforts to retract misinformation often backfire, paradoxically amplifying the effect of the erroneous belief.

The report offers these strategies for setting the record straight:
•Provide people with a narrative that replaces the gap left by false information

•Focus on the facts you want to highlight, rather than the myths

•Make sure that the information you want people to take away is simple and brief

•Consider your audience and the beliefs they are likely to hold

•Strengthen your message through repetition

Research, and my own experience in the building products business, has shown that attempts at "debiasing" can be effective in the real world when based on these evidence-based strategies.

Lunchtime Follies

Once again, the folks at tell it like it is.
For many employees in a design office, lunchtime educational programs are one of the few perks they get. Use their hunger (for education and for nourishment) to your advantage.

They may come for the food, but make sure they leave with something more than a full belly. (I mean useful information, not just leftovers.)
Most people that make the effort to attend a professional society meeting are highly motivated. This makes them a good prospect for what you have to teach.

Evolution and Building Products

I have developed a new theory to explain how bipedal humanoids evolved from lower orders of primates that walked on all four limbs.

My theory is based upon recent findings that apes "show engineering skills when building", in the words of the BBC. According to the research, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of the United States of America:
Nest-building orangutans demonstrate engineering know-how to produce safe, comfortable beds

Nest-building orangutans must daily build safe and comfortable nest structures in the forest canopy and do this quickly and effectively using the branches that surround them. This study aimed to investigate the mechanical design and architecture of orangutan nests and determine the degree of technical sophistication used in their construction. We measured the whole nest compliance and the thickness of the branches used and recorded the ways in which the branches were fractured. Branch samples were also collected from the nests and subjected to three-point bending tests to determine their mechanical properties. We demonstrated that the center of the nest is more compliant than the edges; this may add extra comfort and safety to the structure. During construction orangutans use the fact that branches only break half-way across in “greenstick” fracture to weave the main nest structure. They choose thicker branches with greater rigidity and strength to build the main structure in this way. They then detach thinner branches by following greenstick fracture with a twisting action to make the lining. These results suggest that orangutans exhibit a degree of technical knowledge and choice in the construction of nests.
So how does this explain the evolution of humans that walk on the ground instead of climbing in trees?

Simple -- How else could a sales rep deliver samples if the rep had to use all four limbs for climbing.  ;-)
Artist Unknown
Abstract:, accessed 2012-Apr-16, 

Authors: Adam van Casteren, William I. Sellers, Susannah K. S. Thorpe, Sam Coward, Robin H. Crompton, Julia P. Myatt, A. Roland Ennos

Take This Tablet To Improve Business

Tablet computers are moving into the construction industry in a variety of ways.  A series of articles in the February, 2012 edition of California Builder & Engineer describes various uses of tablets for contractors, including on the construction site, both ruggedized tablets specifically designed for construction, and the un-ruggedized but incredibly sexy Apple iPad. 

Tablets have an equally attractive potential as a sales tool.  The iPad, for example, offers an engaging way to share visual information, and it has impressive functionality to implement that process.  Development of specialized software – apps – that can present your product or system in the ideal way is relatively inexpensive.  It can to provide your product and sales information with high visual engagement – think about a brochure with embedded videos, or an interactive design tool for placing your product into an environment -  as well as pull down information from the Web, and email any and all of it to the customer as you work. 

There’s still time to be near the beginning of this trend.  But probably not much time.

Where Young Architects Learn

I recently discovered Architexts, a cartoon published at by two young architects that tell it like it is.

Most of the strips deal with the frustrations of CAD, interoffice politics, and the difficulties of making a living as an architect. Some of their cartoons, however, contain insights that are valuable for building product sales and marketing people. 

I plan to  occasionally repost some of the strips and offer my comments about them in this blog. 

There is a lot of truth to the strip above. To a large extent, architectural schools teach theory, and architectural practices focus on production. This educational vacuum creates opportunities for building product firms to build their brand and get specified by providing training to young architects

Good building product sales reps, for example, take time to answer questions from young architects. Continuing education programs - both in an architect's office and in other venues -- are also excellent tools.

Your website, print collateral, articles in industry publications and online, and other marketing communications play an important role, too.

An educated, trained customer is more likely to appreciate and stick with better quality products.

 Published February 2nd, 2010,
Creative Commons License Architexts is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.
This means you are allowed to download our work and share it with others as long as you mention
Architexts and link back to us. You can't, however, change it in any way or use it commercially.

New "Speed Dating" Event

Instead of flying from city to city to meet with key architectural specifiers, imagine having them congregate in one location in a format that allows you to have one-on-one meetings and networking opportunities.

This is the "speed dating" concept of building product sales calls.  Like the social speed-dating programs where the ladies get in without charge, specifiers will attend these junkets on an all-expenses paid basis. Manufacturers pick up the tab, starting at $6000 per sponsor.

Forums like this, from Arc-US and others, are already part of many manufacturer's marketing mix. Now, the Construction Specifications Institute has decided to play matchmaker, too.

CSI has announced a "Master Specifiers Retreat" to be held March 8 – 10, 2012 in Tucson, AZ. It will "bring together senior specifiers from across the country for an intimate gathering of focused education, group networking, and one-on-one meetings with building product manufacturer executives." The event, they say, is for:
  • "Expert specifiers who specify millions of dollars of products, and who are ready for a high-level discussion about specifying.
  • "Manufacturer executives who are ready to develop profitable, mutually beneficial relationships with these specifiers."
The mix of attendees is likely to be different than those at the Arc-US events, attracting more people with titles like "director of specification" or "specification consultant" and fewer people with titles like "project manager" and "principal." This is a useful cohort for manufacturers in many product categories.

For more information, contact Susan Konohia, or 703-706-4744.

Are You Ready for World of Concrete?

World of Concrete 2012 kicks off just 4 months from now.  When are you going to start getting ready?
A little planning now saves big headaches at the show!
If you're exhibiting at WOC, now is the time to be putting the pieces in place, so you can make World of Concrete work for you to its maximum potential.

* Is your booth designed?
* Is your sales collateral up-to-date?
* Have you written, shot, and edited the videos you're going to show in your booth?
* Do you have an up-to-date press kit to put in the Press Room, so trade magazine editors can learn about your products and your news?
* Have you booked a press conference to tell the world about your new products and innovations?
* If you're giving a seminar or continuing education presentation, is it written and designed?
* Are you going to do anything to encourage customers and prospects to visit your booth -- like direct mail, pre-show advertising, or at-show sponsorships?
* Who will be staffing your booth? Are they trained in booth skills?

Light a fire under your people, so they can tackle these issues bit by bit during their downtime, and not cut into business later with a big last minute crunch.

Exhibiting at any tradeshow is a big investment.  Support it with the proper prep, so you can make it pay off.  (And if you need help, don't hesitate to call on Chusid Associates.)

Match your sales approach to the project phase

This is an encore of an article Michael Chusid wrote almost twenty years ago. It is still applicable today.

My sales manager is urging me to make more architectural sales calls during the design phase. But experienced sales reps tell me I’m wasting my time if I make a call before the construction documents phase. What do they mean by project phases? And which phase is the best time to make sales calls?—J. P., sales trainee

Architects typically provide their services in a series of phases described in American Institute of Architects document B141: Owner-Architect Agreement. The sales assistance an architect needs may differ from one phase to another. Understanding the following seven phases will enable you to adjust your sales style to each.

1. The sales process begins even before a project is identified. The pre-design phase is not just for prospecting, it provides an opportunity to form relationships with architects and their staffs and to position yourself as a valuable resource. Ask about the firm’s experience with and attitude toward your product and have the staff explain their product selection process. These kinds of questions will put you in the role of a consultant and not merely a vendor.

Architects deal with thousands of products in a typical building. The pre-design phase is not the time to overload them with data that has no immediate use. Instead, concentrate on creating positive impressions of your product’s primary benefits. Give the architect enough background to make intelligent product decisions.
In-office lunch programs are an excellent way to do this. The lunch format reaches individuals in the back office who make many product decisions but whom you can’t call on individually. Rather than fill your presentation with product facts and figures, discuss areas of broader concern. If you sell waterproofing, for example, don’t talk about application technicalities. Discuss ways to construct a building that minimizes the potential for leaks.

2. During schematic design the architect establishes a building’s concept, size, appearance, overall quality, and budget. Decisions about major building systems may be made, such as whether a steel or concrete structure will be used. And “single line” drawings will be produced showing the building’s general layout.

Your goal at this time is not to sell your particular product, but to assure that your product type is the basis of the design. If you sell metal roofing, for example, pitch the aesthetic and functional benefits of sloped roofs compared with flat roofs. Become part of the design team by asking questions about design criteria, project schedule, and team members.

It is hard to find projects in schematic design because only a few people may be involved at this point and because many projects, particularly commercial ones, are kept quiet to give clients room to maneuver.

3. After schematic design demonstrates how the building will satisfy the owner’s needs, design development determines how the building will be put together. The design team becomes more complex as engineers and consultants get involved. Designers will refine floor plans, size the building systems, check building code requirements, and address coordination problems.

Many products are selected at this time, especially where the selection affects the design of other systems. Some brands may be specified, but most product decisions are still generic. For example, if brick was indicated in the schematic design, the architect will now determine whether the walls are thin brick cladding, brick veneer, or load-bearing masonry. If you have already established yourself as a resource, you may be invited to help make these decisions.

4. The construction documents phase completes the design and preparation of detailed drawings. Products are selected by brand or performance and specifications are written. The architect expends at least 40% of his effort is during this phase, and additional staff and consultants become part of the project team.

You must be able to speak to each team member in his own language. Discuss details with the job captain, pricing with the cost estimator, warranty and delivery with the project manager, energy efficiency with the mechanical engineer, finishes with the interior designer, and product performance with the spec writer.

5. The team that worked on the construction documents begins to break up as soon as a project enters the bidding or negotiation phase. The individuals who chose your product may be reassigned to new projects or even laid off. Just a core group remains to take questions from bidders and to prepare addenda. It is very important that these individuals understand how your product contributes to the job’s success because they are in a position to accept or reject substitutions proposed by bidders.

Bidders are now part of the design process and bring issues like pricing, delivery, and installer preference into sharp relief. I have seen salespeople struggle to get named in the specs but lose the sale because they neglected to sell the bidder. Be aware of the project’s bidding instructions regarding bid submittal, substitution procedures, and other requirements.

6. Contractors require your primary attention during construction contract administration because they can actually write an order. But do not forget the architect. He can still accept substitutions or negotiate your product out of the job should a budget overrun occur.

The architect’s contract administrator or construction observer may not have been a part of the design team until now and may not know why your product was selected or how it is expected to perform. Try to enlist him as an ally. Tell him what to watch for in the shop drawings and on the jobsite. Remember, too, that the draftsmen who detailed your product do not have many opportunities to see construction. Arrange jobsite visits so they can see and handle your product in person.

7. A satisfied customer is your best advertisement. So use the post-construction phase to consolidate your relationship with the architect and to lay the groundwork for future sales. Also, be sure the building owner or occupant understands how to use and maintain your product. Be responsive to complaints.

Do a six-month or one-year follow- up inspection and report your findings to the architect. Contact design team members who have lost touch with the project. They will appreciate learning about problems encountered during construction and how you helped solve them.

Take job photos and put them in your three-ring binder in the architect’s office. This will remind the staff that their firm has used the product in the past and can confidently consider it again.

As a project moves from phase to phase, the architectural personnel assigned to the project may change. Projects are often handed over with little communication or documentation about product selection decisions. You must be alert to these changes and make sure that new team members understand why your product has been considered. Be on guard, too, for fast-track construction or other scenarios that affect project phasing.

So when is the best time to make sales calls? There is no one best time. Each project phase presents sales opportunities. A useful exercise would be to analyze the types of decisions made in each phase and how they can affect your product. Get used to asking architects, “What phase of architectural service is this project in?”

It would be ideal if you could call on an architect before a project is identified and then shepherd your product through each phase. This may be practical if you can justify frequent contacts with a particular architectural firm, but most salespeople have to target more selectively.

Your strategy will depend on many factors, including your personal style, the opportunities at a particular architectural firm, and your company’s marketing plan. Some suppliers use salespeople just to answer questions or take orders. But others want them to establish stronger relationships with architects. By doing so, you can shape your prospects’ attitude towards your product and guide them through design and construction to assure a successful sale.

Have a question you'd like us to answer?
Send an email to 

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

Product Rep Blogs Done Well: I Dig Hardware

The I Dig Hardware blog wastes no time letting you know what it's about. The top of the first page proudly proclaims:
Following the tone set by the title, the blog's style is very informal. The layout is simple, using a pre-made template with minimal customization; this keeps focus on the blog's content, instead of high-tech bells and whistles. The language is very personal, like a conversation with a colleague rather than the business or textbook style adopted by many corporate blogs.

Which makes sense because this is not a corporate blog; it's personal.

Lori Greene, AHC/CDC, CCPR started the blog when she was basically the New England product rep for Ingersoll Rand. But it was not a company project; she started it on her own as an evening hobby with three stated goals:
  1. Keep her name in front of New England architects
  2. Gather all the building code information she had collected over the years in a single site
  3. Make learning about hardware less painful
A fourth goal has since emerged, increasing awareness of new fire door codes. 

The blog has developed a very active community of commentators, and high daily readership. Lori reports that some people have even set it as the home page on their web browsers, and is picked up as a monthly column in Doors & Hardware magazine

Not bad for a night time hobby.

Why this works
The first key to Lori's success is that she started with clearly stated goals in mind. As the blog has grown, reoccurring topics have emerged (such as "Wordless Wednesday" where pictures of interesting doors speak for themselves...mostly). In the early days of a blog, deciding what to post can be very intimidating, so having goals helps you identify good topics and give structure to the blog.

The informal, personal style is also a major strength. Developing relationships with architects is still the best way to get specified, and the conversational tone does more to foster a relationship. If the blog felt like a constant sales pitch, or used very dry "professional" communication, it would not make that same personal connection. Especially for this topic. The original title of the blog was "I Hate Hardware", a tongue-in-cheek acknowledgement that many architects do not understand, are scared of, and get intimidated by hardware. The informality defuses the subject, making it more accessible.

Which is not to say all blogs need to be this informal; many great blogs benefit from creating an "expert" or "consultant" tone. The key is to decide what tone will resonate most with your audience, and what you will be most comfortable writing. 

The blog is also very multimedia. Almost every post has a picture or video; given that many architects are visual learners and thinkers, relying solely on text would be a mistake. Especially given the perceived complexity of the subject. It also makes the page more visually interesting, and provides other avenues for readers to find your site by following links from YouTube or photo-sharing sites.