Sales Management

Trade Show Follow-Up: Use booth photo

Inline image 1
After a trade show, I usually get a flurry of emails from exhibitors. In many cases, I don't remember the name of the company or what triggered my interest.

David Condello, Commercial Accounts Representative, Ceilume Ceiling Tiles has a technique to trigger the memory of visitors to his booth; he puts a photo of the booth at the top of his email. For visual thinkers, like many designers and builders, this communicates more than the proverbial thousand words.

He also writes a great letter and sprinkles it with other photos. And most amazingly, he sends the emails just two days after the show.

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.

New service helps locate sales reps, a new website, a has the potential to deliver three valuable services:

1. Help specifiers and contractors locate local sales reps.  Suppose an architect looking for an door hardware representative to assist with a project; the architect doesn't care which manufacturer, but wants a rep that is local, knows local conditions, and can come to the job site on short notice. The architect can probably find such a rep by visiting manufacturer websites or calling manufacturers, but this is time consuming and not always productive.  The new website allows the architect to enter, for example, "CALIFORNIA" and "Division 8 - Doors and Hardware" and locate Valarie Harris, FCSI and other qualified sales representatives. (I hope the site is refined in the future so I can refine the database so one can search, for example, by Zip Code and by MasterFormat section numbers.)

2. Give reps a way to promote themselves. While the database seems set up to allow individual reps to enroll themselves, I am sure a manufacturer's sales manager can figure out a way to enroll all the reps for the company.

3. Provide a recruiting database where manufacturers can locate reps and agencies to that can be approached to join the manufacturer's team.

I salute, David G. Axt, CCS CSI SCIP, the site's publisher, for developing this and wish him success. In a phone call with David, he points out that many manufacturers have cut back on the extent of their rep force and reps make fewer cold calls on architects; this has made it harder to know local reps. More, architects used to be able to find a rep's business card in a manufacturer's three-ring binder, but few firms use them anymore. He recommends that websites for product manufacturers include contact info for local reps.

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 

Supreme Court: Architectural Reps ineligible for overtime

A "detailer", in pharmaceutical parlance, is a person that calls on doctors to introduce new drugs and provide samples. There are also building product detailers, the factory representative that calls on architects or engineers, but does not negotiate or handle sales to dealers or contractors. Also known as "Architectural Reps", they introduce products, provide samples, offer continuing education programs, and assist in specification writing.

A recent Supreme Court decision may affect the way Architectural Reps are paid.

Federal law exempts outside sales people from overtime-pay regulations. This was challenged by several drug detailers, in a class action supported by the US Dept. of Labor, that argued pharmaceutical sales representatives were different from traditional salespeople because they don't actually sell medicines to doctors but merely promote them. Court, in a 5-4 decision, didn't by this prescription.

Justice Alito dismissed that argument as "quite unpersuasive," saying drug representatives effectively function as salespeople "in the unique regulatory environment within which pharmaceutical companies must operate," an environment that prohibits MDs from reselling drugs.

Justice Stephen Breyer, writing for the dissenters, said the representatives' primary duty is to provide doctors with information about drugs. If a particular drug is the best treatment for a patient, a doctor will prescribe it "irrespective of any nonbinding commitment" he made to a sales representative, Justice Breyer said.

Pharmaceutical sales representatives are typically paid a combination of base salary and performance-based commission, earning a median pay exceeding $90,000 a year.

It is not clear how this decision will effect industries outside of pharmaceuticals. Building product manufacturers with detailers may want to discuss the new ruling with their HR lawyer.

Photo by RayNata used under Creative Commons License.

Sales Training at CSI Academy

Every building product sales rep or marketing manager will benefit from attending CSI's Product Representative Academy, to be held at the CSI Academies, March 1-3, 2012 in San Diego.

Here is what you will learn:

I'm Not Getting Through! How Do I Communicate With Design Professionals?
Do you ever feel you're not getting your message across in your architectural visits? Is it your age difference, your delivery method, the style, the timing, your cologne or all the above? Age difference is not the only problem -- it's the communication methods you use to get your message across. Architects work, learn, hear and express differently than most product representatives. Most of them have been interested in architecture and building since they were kids, and have a passion about the profession. Throw in a generational difference, and as the product representative, you need to find out the best way to get your message across. Join in this conversation on finding the best methods to share your information effectively with your architectural customers.

  • Learn about the communication barriers caused by the personality differences between architects and product representatives
  • Understand changing office dynamics and the benefits and pitfalls
  • Understand how different age groups respond, communicate and use your information
  • Learn to build trust in your relationships with architectural firms
Get It Right - What To Look For In The Specifications
Do you race to Part II of a specification to see if your product is specified and then ignore the remainder of the document? There may be important information that you are missing that could mean the difference between success and losing money, or the job. Listen to an architect/specifier's explanation of why all the information is important, how it will affect your product, and how it integrates with other products.
  • Learn the parts of a specification and the importance of each
  • Discover the frequent problems specifiers have when writing speicifcations
  • Learn how you can help the architectural team improve their specifications
Bringing Back Customer Service: How To Redevelop Relationships in Construction
What happened to the good old days, when a handshake meant something? Is customer loyalty a thing of the past? Has your personal communication with customers turned into a cold, electronic auto-response? This session will explore ways to help you redevelop relationships with customers by focusing on becoming their source and resource for information to solve their problems during design, bidding and construction phases.
  • Learn about the importance of building your network
  • Discover how referrals help make you the guru of your profession
  • Understand the importance of staying in the forefront
  • Find new ways to rebuild loyalty and remind your customer why they need you
Proprietary Specifications: The Mistakes Manufacturers Make
Many manufacturers provide electronic guide specifications written around their products exclusively. Are these sections useful, and are they worth offering? Who uses them, how they are used, and how effective they are in getting the sponsoring companies specified will be the main topics of this session.
  • Understand the difference between a generic and a proprietary specification section
  • Learn why many design professionals decline to use proprietary specifications
  • Discover the benefits of including the names of comparable products in your specifications
  • Learn why it’s a bad idea to disguise a proprietary product spec as a generic section 
How to Submit the Ultimate Substitution Request (Panel Discussion)
Who likes submitting their products for approval, especially when there is no guarantee that you'll be considered or even reviewed? This interactive, 90-minute panel discussion with two architects and a product rep/subcontractor will help you understand the process, the why-where-when-how of making a request for approval of your products, what CSI forms are available, and where to find this information in the construction documents.
  • Learn how to avoid ever needing to make a substitution request again
  • Hear why architects don't want substitutions
  • Discover the rules of the game for a successful submittal
  • Understand how to make your request meet the needs of the project and its requirements, so it will be accepted
You Want Your Product Specified? How NOT To Spend Your Marketing Dollars
Websites are important. Print advertising is useful for establishing an image. Electronic directories can be helpful, providing you use them properly. Proprietary specifications can get you specified by smaller firms on smaller projects. But getting your products listed in the major master guide specification is crucial. This session explains why.
  • Learn about the website features that are important to a specifier
  • Understand the differences between the various product directories and where you should concentrate your resources
  • Learn why print advertising is less effective with specifiers
  • Discover the importance of getting your company included in the major master guide specification systems - and learn how to do it 
Integrated Project Delivery - The Good, The Evil, and Its Affect on The Building Team
Everyone’s talking about Integrated Project Delivery (IPD), but is anyone doing anything with it? In this seminar you’ll meet a team on the IPD fast track, with a real project under construction. The panel will explain how this project delivery method completely shakes up the standard roles of architects, contractors, owners and suppliers by making them one team, focused on realizing the project, which results in shared responsibilities, shared rewards, shorter construction schedules, lower costs, fewer disputes, no legal battles, and a more enjoyable project experience for all. Sound too good to be true?  Maybe it is -- or maybe it’s a process worth serious effort. This model changes the whole role of a product rep in the construction process. In the IPD  process many of the project trades are contracted, on the basis of qualifications, rather than a hard bid for the work! Don’t miss this opportunity to find out how to compete for your place in this new delivery method -- or you may be find yourself on the outside as a spectator.
  • Find out why owners, designers and construction teams are considering IPD as their new delivery method 
  • Understand how IPD is changing the process of incorporating product knowledge into a project, and how that affects you
  • Learn about the pitfalls and downsides of this delivery method over traditional methods
Why Is It So Difficult To Get My Product Specified? Viewpoints Of An Architect and Product Rep
At the end of the day, all product reps and manufacturers want is to see their manufacturer, model number and product type listed in the architect’s specification. Sounds like a simple request, doesn’t it? It’s just what the architect needs on the job, so what’s the problem? Attend this session and listen to an architect and product representative discuss the complex choice and decisions that are essential to the product selection process and how these selections can make the difference between a successful or failed project.
  • Learn about the architect’s office policies and process of selecting products for projects 
  • Hear the manufacturer’s side of developing new products and getting them specified 
  • Discover the liability of creating specifications and who is responsible for their performance
  • Understand the influence of the owner or outside forces when making product choices
Reading the Architect's Drawings - Do You Really Know What You're Looking For?
When you visit with a designer and they roll out the plans, does fear race through your veins? Are you afraid the architects will find out that you can't find your own product on their drawings?  If you want to know the difference between a plan and elevation view, what section and details mean, how to read  an  architectural scale, or just want to look like you know what's on a set of drawings, this session is for you.
  • Learn where to find your products on the drawings
  • Find out how to identify the types of drawings and how they relate to each other
  • Work with archiectural scales - hands-on!
  • Discover how plans, elevations, schedules, details and the specifications work together
The Eleventh Hour Of Bidding
BACK BY POPULAR DEMAND! Have you ever been in a general contractor's office on bid day and wondered why they don't talk to you? If this bid's today, why weren't they working on this proposal sooner?  Experience the excitement of being in a general contractor's office just before a bid is due. While you may know everything about your product, learning how the general contractor uses this information and your quotes may surprise you. This fast paced exercise will give you new insight why it’s essential to know about the construction documents, the bidding procedures,  and the means and methods BEFORE you submit your price.
  • Learn how subcontractors use your prices and how you may be disqualified
  • Understand the importance of knowing how your information may be analyzed at bid time
  • Find out how General Conditions, Supplementary Conditions, Division One, Specifications and Addenda affect what you need to include in your prices
Ways to Make the Audience Hungry for Your Box Lunch Presentations
What do presenters do right or wrong during box lunch presentations? Hear it from an architect that has sat through many presentations and a product representative that has provided thousands of programs. Learn the important steps to make your lunch-and-learn education session more productive, effective and beneficial to your architectural audience. Discover new ways to stimulate interest in your product, methods to improve retention for adult learners, and techniques to make you their first call for product or system consulting.

Using General Conditions and Division 01 to the Product Rep's Benefit
If you're just selling the product to your customer without knowing how the General Conditions and Division 01  affect your product or its installation, you may be walking into trouble! Know that those who frequently read the General Conditions and Division 01 are lawyers, judges, and the well-informed users who keep themselves out of the courtroom. Attendees will learn the importance of the General Conditions and Division 01 and who is responsible for what, how, and when. Beat the competition by knowing how the General Conditions and Division 01 affect your product and your Bid. Learn which sections of Division 01 you simply cannot miss reading.
  • Understand the role of Division 01 General Requirements in the Construction Contract
  • Understand what parts of the General Conditions and Division 01 affect the technical specifications and the product
  • Learn what articles in the technical specifications relate to what Sections in Division 01 
  • Learn how Division 01 shows you who is responsible for what, how and when 
A Link is Not a Relationship! Social Media for the Small Rep Agency
LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook and similar social media platforms are new tools – but what you should be doing with them isn’t! They’re today’s way to support your relationship with designers, so that you can remain the go-to person your clients think of first. In this session, we’ll discuss using social media to build and maintain relationships with the design team. We’ll use examples from LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook. You’ll leave with a strategy for getting started in social media, or, for the experienced social media user, strategies for making your social media profiles work harder for you. Submit links to your profiles in advance, and we’ll discuss what you’re doing in social media!
  • Understand social media and its unique value for construction professionals 
  • Learn the process of turning a “like” into a relationship   
  • See where you can incorporate social media into your marketing strategy
  • Develop a plan for getting started in social media 
When to Say “NO”: A PR’s Dilemma Of Providing Too Much Free Assistance
How many material samples did you deliver this week? How many box lunch educational sessions have you presented with only interns and secretarial staff attending? How many voice mail messages did you leave as you followed up on budget pricing? Have you created your own monsters because there is no value perceived in what you are providing as a complimentary service?  Designers, architects and specifiers needs to understand what value you bring to the team. Gain tips and ideas to ensure your place as a respected colleague, not just a sample delivery person.
  • Learn methods on how to interview your customers to provide the right samples and right budgets effectively   
  • Discover ways to control your urge to say and do too much
  • Understand your role as a source of accurate architectural information
  • Discover how NOT to be just a salesperson
Helping Design Professionals Make Sustainable Choices: Performance vs. Greenwashing
Everyone, including the design professional, wants to make choices that provide a better environment. They know they have choices to make in the design of a sustainable project, and in the selection of products and systems. Some choices seem right -- they appear to satisfy environmental, social and economic elements.  But, are they really the correct ones for providing a truly sustainable project, or do they just appear to be? A product or system can perform on a sustainable project, but does it meet the true intent that complies with the rating system used? Some questions will be presented that may be used to assist in that review.
  • Review some of the current tools for analyzing products and systems that claim to be “green” or “sustainable”
  • Learn what design professionals can do to minimize greenwashing
Product Reps Giving Back: The Importance of Professional Memberships and Certifications
There are many product representatives loyal to their company's products and interested in seeing them specified. Memberships in professional organziations help to achieve that goal, and give the product rep an opportunity to become an appreciated and sought after industry professional. Hear from two long time CSI members and Fellows of CSI about how professional memberships have enhanced their careers, and their bottom lines.
  • Hear how active involvement can build your leadership skills
  • Learn how the CSI network can enhance business and employment opportunities
  • Build your reputation through participation 
  • Listen to others share how professional memberships have enhanced their career

Register now!

Misuse of Product Reps by Architects

CSI Product Representative Practice Group Meeting
July 13, 2-3 pm ET


Topic: Product Rep Abuse - The Growing Misuse of Product Reps by Architects

Presenter/Group Leader: Alana Sunness Griffith, FCSI, CCPR

Have you experienced elation when design professionals call, need your services desperately and you drop everything to respond immediately? Have you experienced frustration when you call the next day to follow up and are told they are too busy to talk to you? Or, are they are unresponsive when you want to spend a few minutes with them to share education about your product or the product's application? We'll share some "war stories" on July 13, but also will talk about some ideas to help you become better connected with the design professional.

System Requirements
Windows® 7, Vista, XP or 2003 Server
Mac OS® X 10.4.11 (Tiger®) or newer

How do Spec Writers Decide?

The following is from the blog of Liz O'Sullivan, AIA, CSI, CCS, LEED AP, NCARB, a Denver architectural specifications writer.

One for Construction Product Manufacturers: How do Spec Writers Decide What Products to Specify?

Maybe in a perfect world, spec writers would research ALL the available products, and specify ALL of the products that meet the project requirements.  Think of the competition that would create, and the potential cost savings to the Owner because of that competition… and think of the additional costs to the Owner for the time the specifier would have to spend on all that research!

The construction industry generally seems to agree that having 3 competitors provides enough competition to get a fair price for a product.  I believe that the law of diminishing returns would apply to a practice of researching and specifying any more than 3 comparable products, or “equals”.

So how do spec writers select those three products?  Sometimes the Owner tells the design team what they want us to specify.1  If an Owner doesn’t have a preference, the Architect often makes selections based on aesthetic requirements.2  And, if neither the Owner nor the Architect has a preference, the specifier makes product selections.

Last night, I got a comment from Kirk Wood about the third situation.  Kirk was wondering if it’s a case of “who you know” rather than “what you have to offer” that determines which manufacturers’ products get specified by spec writers.

First, I have to mention that the manufacturers’ reps that spec writers know best are those whose products we have researched and have had questions about; the reps we know best are those whose products we know best.  We know these reps through the process of researching the products we were specifying, NOT the other way around.  It’s NOT that we know them, so we spec their products; it’s that they rep products that we spec, so we turn to them when we have questions about the products (compatibility, pricing, product options, availability, et cetera).

So how do specifiers know about these products or manufacturers in the first place? 
When preparing specification sections for a project, many of us start with commercially available master specifications.  (I use MasterSpec, by ARCOM.)  These master specifications usually list available manufacturers for the products we’re specifying, and many of us start the selection process there.3

Moving ahead from the master is where, due to time and budget constraints, the process of product selection has the capacity to get random…

When possible, we select products and manufacturers that we are familiar with, and we do research to make sure that these familiar products work for the specific project.  If we haven’t ever researched any of these products before, they’re unfamiliar, so we start from the list provided by the master specification, and research those.  It’s a very rare situation when all the products listed in a master specification will meet the project requirements.  So, I research the listed products until I get three that meet the project requirements.

Here’s how I go about this:  I start with the list, and delete those that don’t work.

A manufacturer’s website with too many barriers to entry will make me jump to the next manufacturer on the list.

A manufacturer’s website with no information, just contact information for the manufacturer’s rep, will make me jump to the next manufacturer on the list.

A manufacturer’s website that is running too slowly will make me jump to the next manufacturer on the list.

A manufacturer that has NO WEBSITE is OFF THE LIST.

It’s not who you know.  I’m not saying that product selection isn’t a bit random at times, but generally, if a manufacturer has clear, easily accessible, easily navigable, correct, quickly available, concise, complete, and non-conflicting4, information on the internet, that manufacturer’s products are more likely to get specified.

Spec writers are a predictable breed of design professional.  We prefer to see things published, in print, rather than to listen to someone tell us about them.  We’re skeptics, and aren’t likely to blindly accept things that we can’t independently verify.  We are detail-oriented and generally are not interested in information beyond the technical.  Most of us are introverts, and a lot of us would rather write than talk (can you tell?).

So, my advice to manufacturers is the following:  Have a good website.  Have a good technical information department.  Have great manufacturer’s representatives!  Encourage your reps to join CSI, the Construction Specifications Institute.5

Being active in CSI is not about getting spec writers to know you so that they’ll spec your products; it truly does not work that way.  Being active in CSI is about getting spec writers to realize that you, a local manufacturer’s rep, are there to answer our questions, and to help educate us about your products, and about comparable products (your competitors’ products).

Reps should become resources for spec writers.  Specifiers aren’t really susceptible to old-style salesman techniques; we’re skeptics, remember?  Don’t go to CSI meetings and try to “sell.”  Go to CSI meetings and let design professionals know that you’re there, and when you’re given the opportunity, educate us about your products (and about how they compare to your competitors’ products.)

We’re all in this construction industry together.  The primary goal that all of us have is to get a building built for an Owner, and to make a living doing it.  When one manufacturer’s product is more appropriate for a project than another’s, that’s the one that should be used in the project.  I think that, objectively, we can all agree on that.  The best way to make sure that the most appropriate products are being incorporated into the project is for manufacturers and their reps to make their best efforts to educate spec writers.  And if there are a bunch of equally appropriate products, then specifying 3 of them is a good way to get a fair price for the Owner’s project.
  1. Ah, yes – the natural question is, “How does the Owner pick the products that they want us to spec?”  Well, that’s always a bit perplexing.  Many of the products that Owners require in their technical guidelines aren’t actually comparable, but are written as if they are.  Many of the products in the Owners’ technical guides have been discontinued, and listed manufacturers have gone out of business.  Some of the products and manufacturers never existed – curious typos and misspellings have created shadowy products or manufacturers that somehow get repeated, project after project…  Truly, a mystery.
  2. When the Architect makes product selections, the spec writer researches the Architect’s desired products, and if they meet the project requirements, and are compatible with other specified products, the spec writer specs the product or products selected by the Architect.  If there are comparable products, or “equals”, selected by the Architect, the specifier will include those.  If there really aren’t exact equals, the specifier will usually indicate that the Architect’s selected product is the “Basis of Design,” and will allow substitution requests for products that almost meet the specifications.  The Architect will decide if proposed substitutions are acceptable.
  3. More than once, I have suggested to a manufacturer’s rep that they should contact ARCOM, MasterSpec’s publisher, to see if they can get their products listed.  If spec writers don’t know you exist, we can’t specify your products…
  4. Yes, I have reported conflicts between different bits of technical information on a manufacturer’s website.  Come on, people!
  5. CSI’s website:
Thank you, Liz.
COMMENTS David Stutzman posted the following comment on Liz's post:
I might add one more thing for manufacturers to do. When called or emailed, please respond promptly. I cannot tell you how many times I have filled out the contact form on a manufacturer’s website because the architect selected their product and then waited and waited. I recall one that did follow up by phone several months later. I asked what project the call was about. The caller had no idea. Neither did I. That ended the conversation and left an impression that will not be forgotten.

Facebook for Building Product Sales

CSI Product Representative Practice Group Meeting
These online meetings are a great way for sales reps to stay in touch with evolving practice concerns.

May 4, 2-3 pm ET

Topic: Facebook: How to plan for and develop a successful business page
Presenters: Matthew Fochs and Stirling Morris, CSI, CDT
Group Leader: Alana Sunness Griffith, FCSI, CCPR

Since it's infancy in 2004, Facebook has grown to become one of (if not the) largest networks of people across the globe. Over the past seven years, many iterations of Facebook have come and gone and with each change, businesses have tried to find a way to connect with the nearly 615,000,000 users that visit the site. From profiles to groups to pages, navigating the different ways that Facebook can connect with people can be both confusing and time consuming. Looking specifically at Facebook pages as a platform for promoting, marketing and sharing your products with users across the globe, this month's presentation will not only show you the step-by-step process for getting started but also walk you through some of the tricks and pitfalls of Facebook marketing.

Learning Objectives:
- Learn the Who, What, Where, Why and How of Facebook Pages
- Investigate the import question that many companies forget to ask, "Why Facebook and Why Now?"
- Understand the resources (money, personnel, and content) needed to develop and maintain a Facebook Page - Come away with the knowledge to start your own Facebook Page in one afternoon, but get the knowledge to keep it going for years.

System Requirements
PC-based attendees
Required: Windows® 7, Vista, XP or 2003 Server

Macintosh®-based attendees
Required: Mac OS® X 10.4.11 (Tiger®) or newer

Click to Register

Reps who Write Specs can Ring up More Sales

By being able to lend a hand to architects, reps can lose the stigma of "salesman" and be recognized as an integral part of the design team 

This article is an encore of something Michael Chusid wrote nearly 20 years ago. It remains true today.

Q. Getting our products named in an architect's specifications is an important part of our sales strategy. What would the advantages be if our reps knew how to write specs themselves? And how can they get the training they need? - C.B.F., sales manager

A. Let me answer your first question by relating an experience I had once while working at an architectural firm. 'Joe" was a building product sales representative who carried a roofing system I had never used. He called on me several times to introduce his company and explain the benefits of his product. I became interested in his product, but, like most architects, I couldn't devote the time to research and write a spec for it.

Then one day a storm destroyed the roofs of several local schools. An emergency school board meeting was held and my firm was awarded the contract to design the re-roofing. The next morning, Joe showed up at my office asking how he would help. Since I had a pressing deadline, I asked Joe to write the roofing spec while I assembled the rest of the bid documents. He took a seat in my conference room and several hours later presented me with a well-written specification section.

If Joe had not been able to roll up his sleeves and write an effective spec Tor his product, I would have been pressured by time constraints to use another roof I was already familiar with. Joe's spec was written in the style used by my office, the format recommended by the Construction Specifications Institute (CSI). It was properly cross-referenced to other specification sections, and it showed an understanding of bidding requirements and the conditions of the construction contract. I was able to put Joe's spec into the project manual with a minimum of editing. And I saved the section in my computer to use as an office master specification.

Joe's spec was written around his company's products, of course. But because the client was a public agency that required competitive bids, Joe named several other suppliers as acceptable substitutes. By spelling out exactly what was required, Joe made sure that his competitors couldn't cut costs by bidding a lower quality product.

In my mind. Joe had ceased to be a roofing salesman and had become my roofing consultant-part of my design team. In this new capacity, he was invited back many times to bid other projects and was able to roof many of my buildings.

Why reps should know specs
While opportunities like this don't happen every day, it demonstrates how important it is for a salesman to understand spec writing. Another roofing salesman might have merely referred me to his technical manual for the specifications. Joe's product may have been no better than the alternatives, but the advantage he had was that he knew the language of the industry and was capable of using it to service a customer.

Sales reps who can help with specs and detailing are a valuable resource. Architects are typically under tremendous time pressures and cannot possibly be expert in all building materials, so they frequently rely on sales reps for assistance. In some trades, such as elevators and door hardware, specification writing is an established part of the sales rep's job. The ability to write specs is also crucial when promoting maintenance projects or other work for which an owner has not retained an architect or consulting engineer.

While it's easy to feel intimidated by 500 pages of project specifications, a rep who understands how specs are organized and prepared is likely to have a greater sense of self-confidence and professionalism. Even if the opportunity to write a section does not arise, these reps will have many chances to suggest specifications or modifications that will improve a building's design or ensure their product is used correctly. By working with the specifier, the rep has a better chance of getting his product's proprietary advantages included in the specification. And his understanding of specs will help him prepare more accurate bids and deliver projects with fewer problems.

Where to learn
I recommend taking one of the introductory classes offered by many CSI chapters or by industry groups such as the National Concrete Masonry Association. Such classes can also be presented as part of a company's sales meetings.

These classes introduce the CSI, Manual of Practice [now called Project Resourse Manual] which describes organization of construction documents, principles of effective spec writing, and CSI's recommended three-part format. The manual's latest edition has chapters on product presentation techniques, product literature, and effective technical assistance. The classes also prepare you to earn CSI's Certified Construction Product Representative designation. (Call 703-684-0300 to order a copy or to get information on classes and certification.)

It also helps to read as many specs as possible, especially the sections that apply to your product. Also, familiarize yourself with bidding requirements and conditions of the construction contract. Keep a reference file of good specifications and sections that address special conditions.

When calling on a new firm, meet the specification writer and find out how he prepares specs. Give him copies of your specs on the type of computer medium he uses. If he has an office master specification, offer to review it for technical accuracy and compliance with the latest standards. The more you know about how the specifier works, the better equipped you'll be to render assistance.

Specification writers will usually respond favorably to your interest. Consider how Joe learned to write specs. As a novice, he would write a specification and then ask experienced specifiers to critique it. He would revise the spec to include their recommendations and then give it to them to use as part of their office master specifications. In addition to helping Joe learn to write specs, this process got the specifiers involved with Joe's product.

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

By Michael Chusid. Originally published in Construction Marketing Today, ©1994

Putting the Brakes on Substitutions

This is an encore of an article Michael Chusid wrote nearly 20 years ago. Substitutions remain an issue, and the article is still relevant.

Be involved in the entire specification process, and you'll increase the chances that the specs will be followed.

The only people who benefit from substitutions are the subcontractors and suppliers who win bids from competitors and then boost their profits by supplying lower-cost materials than those specified. Everybody else loses. This means that building product manufacturers have something in common with the specifier, general contractor, and building owner: You all want the project delivered as designed and specified.

So, instead of seeing yourself as the hapless victim of substitutions, act as an ally to the design team. From this position, you can influence the design and contracting procedures to help avoid or control substitutions.

Why specs go astray
Substitutions occur throughout the design process. You know the scenario: An architect calls and asks for assistance evaluating your product for a job. After a long discussion, you agree on details and specifications, and the architect says it's just the solution he's been looking for. But when the project appears in the plan rooms, the spec is based on your competitor's product, and you aren't even named as an acceptable manufacturer. What happened?

First, many layers of decision makers are involved on all but the simplest projects. Designers, draftsmen, project managers, specification writers, general contractors, subcontractors, suppliers, and building owners all play a role in product selection and substitutions. One of your toughest jobs is to identify everyone who influences the sale. You must provide each with the information they need to understand how your product contributes to the project's overall success. You should also help the design team as a whole develop a shared understanding of, and commitment to, your product.

Even after your product is specified, however, you must continue your sales effort. At each project phase, responsibilities may pass to new team members. These newcomers may not share their predecessors' understanding of your product, or they may have new criteria for the project. Promote your product with information appropriate to the phase: aesthetic or functional information during design, technical information during the construction document phase, quotes during bidding, and field support during and after construction.

Once the design team is committed to your product, they will welcome your input to assure they get what they want on the project. When this happens, you can use your understanding of construction documentation and the contracting process to steer the project to your cause.

Begin by helping the specifier prepare a tight specification. In my experience, most substitutions occur because the specs are not specific enough to keep out undesirable materials. Poorly written specs are difficult to enforce or to use as a basis for evaluating proposed substitutions. Offer designers complete and accurate technical data about your product, and help them specify it correctly.

When an architect or engineer still won't limit the bidding to your product alone, offer to recommend qualified competitors. Assured that the specification allows price competition among several reliable producers, the specifier should be willing to limit the spec to the named suppliers without employing the dreaded "or-equal" clause. It is to your advantage to bid against competitors with similar pricing and capabilities than to bid against unknown "or-equals."

Another approach is to encourage specifiers to write a firm "base bid" spec for your product and an alternate for other products. By doing so, the specifier will be expressing a preference for your product a preference that will usually prevail.

Assist with cost control
Design professionals may also need your assistance with budgeting and cost control. Many sales reps make a mistake by not bringing up cost during sales presentations because they fear designers will reject their product as too expensive. But architectural design is somewhat removed from market costs, so designers tend to specify quality over economy.

This creates a perfect opportunity for substitutions later, because the reality of costs will no doubt become an issue.  It is better for you to deal with it while you are still in a position to affect the outcome. If the product  cost is over budget, try to help the designer find savings elsewhere in the project. If that doesn't work, suggest a substitution within your own product line.

Discussing costs upfront can also alleviate the designer's fear that limiting a spec to one source may eliminate competition and inflate prices. Overcome this resistance by making written price commitments based on design documents. This is especially effective with big-ticket items. With a major chunk of the budget fixed, the designer can predict total project costs more accurately.

If appropriate, negotiate a contract directly with the building owner or as an owner-selected subcontractor. If the owner has an ongoing maintenance program, try to establish a corporate purchasing program where you become the preferred supplier in exchange for a discount or improved level of service.

A well-written project manual spells out procedures for proposing substitutions in an orderly way during the bidding or negotiating phase. Proposed changes, if acceptable to the designer and owner, are added to the bidding documents and become part of the construction contract. Any changes that take place after the execution of the contract should be formalized with a procedure called a change order. Change orders are usually reviewed by the designer, owner, and contractor since they are legally binding and can change the contract requirements and price.

Despite the change-order process, many substitutions occur informally during the submittal process. Specification frequently require suppliers to submit shop drawings, product samples, or other information about the materials. Often, a product not complying with specifications is submitted and is then considered as an acceptable "or-equal" if the contractor or architect does not specifically object.

When such changes result in building failure, the architect and contractor often accuse each other of inadequate review of the submittals. The entire construction industry benefits when changes are documented with a formal change order instead of a casual submittal.

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

By Michael Chusid. Originally published in Construction Marketing Today, ©1994

A tale of two companies

by Sheldon Wolfe, RA, FCSI, CCS, CCCA, CSC

Smoke and mirrors?

A few months ago, in "Go-to guys", I spoke of the many excellent product representatives I know, and how valuable they are to me in my job as specifier. This past month, I experienced something just a bit different. It wasn't that the product reps weren't helpful, but their corporate structure made it difficult for them to offer the help that specifiers need, which, in turn, makes it difficult for specifiers to properly serve their clients.

It all started with an e-mail from one of our construction administrators, about a substitution request. The subcontractor claimed that a substantial savings would result from using the proposed products, and went on to say that one of the proposed substitute products was, in fact, identical to one that had been specified.

I'm sure many specifiers are asking themselves, "If it wasn't specified, why didn't you just reject it?" That's a great question for a future discussion, but for the moment, accept as fact that there was more than one good reason to consider the request.

My research began with the supplier's claim that one of the proposed substitutions was the same as one that had been specified. As it turned out, this was not
a simple claim that one product was very similar to the other, but that the two literally were the same. This was something of a surprise, as we had been using the specified products for more than a decade, while the supposed equal product was an unknown.

It didn't take long to determine that the manufacturers of the competing products were subsidiaries of a larger company. The fun began when I called the parent company's toll-free number. After identifying myself, the call went something like this.

"I'd like to talk with someone in your technical department, to find out if [specified] product A and [substitute] product B are the same."

"Where are you located?"

"St. Paul."

"Call your local representative at 555-555-0101."

"Does that representative deal with both A and B?"

"No. If you want the representative for B, call 555-555-0123."

"I'd like to speak with someone who is familiar with both products."

"You'll have to call your local rep."

"Do you mean to tell me that there is no one in your office who can answer the question?"

"That's what our field representatives are for."

It was clear that this wasn't going any further, so I said "thanks" and hung up. I called one of the numbers; the phone rang for so long that I gave up and tried the other. That rep was out of the office, so I left a callback message.

I then went to my secret source of information, the CSI member database. Ta-da! I found the name of a person who was a vice president of the parent company. I called and got a message saying that person was out of the office. Transferring to the operator, I again found myself talking to the person I had talked with a just a few minutes before. I'm sure she wasn't pleased that I was still trying to burrow into the company, but I wasn't pleased by the run-around.

A short time later, I got a call from the rep for product A. When I told him about the substitution request, and the claim that A and B were the same, he expressed frustration, and made comments to the effect that he had run into this problem before, that A and B were not the same, and that there was some confusion at the corporate level that led to the problem. He said he would look into it and get back to me.

I then got another call, which I assumed would be from the VP of the parent company. However, instead of returning my call, the VP had passed my request off to a head of the product B company, so I was unable to talk with someone who could speak for both companies.

"Mr. B, I have been told that your product B is identical to product A. Is that true?"

"They're not really identical. They do use the same material, have the same properties, and use the same MSDS, but the pigment and the name are different."

"So they're really the same?" Although Mr. B never came right out and said so, everything he said indicated that A and B are the same. He then spent some time explaining the distribution systems used by the two companies. One is sold direct to installers, while the other is sold through distributors. Furthermore, an installer of A is not allowed to purchase B, and vice versa.

"What I'm concerned about is that we've been specifying A for many years, and now it appears that your company is selling the same thing under a different name at a lower price. In other words, our clients may have been paying more than they had to. Is there a difference in the quality of installers?"

"No. We do have factory training, but we do not certify installers."

Giving up the battle, I asked if we could get a list showing all of the products of both companies, indicating which are the same. I'm certain someone knows this information, but I was told such a list is not available.

When I got back to my computer, I discovered an e-mail from the product A rep. He told me the proposed substitution wasn't available any longer, and had been replaced by another product. Mr. B said that was essentially correct - but the new product is really the same thing with a different name.

OK, maybe there is good reason to have two distribution systems for a single product, but why not just sell the same product and avoid the confusion? Is there a point to this shell game? Could it be nothing more than a way to get around public bidding requirements? Whatever the reason, it doesn't really matter. Apparently, we have two product representatives selling many of the same products under different names, competing with each other, and, understandably, not too interested in talking about the competing company's products.

Design professionals need straight answers, and episodes like this can quickly destroy a company's credibility.

Written by our guest blogger, Sheldon Wolfe
See Sheldon's other work at: Constructive Thoughts

Switch gears when prospecting for specifiers

This is an encore of a column Michael Chusid wrote nearly 20 years ago.
To sell a product line that I recently began distributing, I must get it written into specifications. I am used to finding jobs to bid by checking the plan room and staying in touch with the contractors I serve. But these methods don’t identify projects still in the design or spec stage. How should I prospect for architect/engineer work?—M. T. Humphrey, distributor

Successful prospecting depends on understanding your strategy and on having a good plan. Answer the following questions to determine whether it makes sense to depart from your traditional business to call on specifiers:
  • What is your competition? If other products are established in your market, success at the specifier level will be difficult unless your product offers significantly greater value.
  • Does your contract with the product manufacturer assure that you will be able to keep the line after you have developed its market?
  • Will specifiers take an interest in and be willing to make a commitment to your product? Do some market research before you launch an all-out initiative. This can be as informal as making a trial presentation to several dozen prospects and asking for feedback. Or you can use a marketing consultant to conduct an independent, objective survey or focus group.
  • Do you have the time, talent, and money to support the new venture?
  • Will calling on specifiers strategically benefit your other product lines?
Next, you need a sharper focus on who your best prospects are. Does your business plan require you to take a project-oriented approach, calling on firms with jobs on the drawing boards regardless of their potential for repeat business? Or can you pursue a relationship-oriented approach, targeting individuals and firms with the best long term prospects regardless of the work they have today?

Assume, for instance, your product is used in hospital surgical suites. In a project- oriented approach, you may want to subscribe to a construction news service that reports on health care facilities and to go after immediate business by calling on designers of current projects. You would not be concerned with how often they do surgical suites. Alternately, the relationship-oriented approach requires you to identify designers and firms with a long-term involvement with hospital design and who, as industry leaders, may be in a position to influence others.

Once you understand whom you want as a prospect, you can define sales tactics and select the prospecting technique that best fits your target. There are, in general, three methods for locating prospects:

1. Construction news services gather information about proposed and actual building projects and make it available to subscribers. The largest and best known service is the F. W. Dodge division of McGraw-Hill Inc. Dodge has an international staff of reporters to collect project news, and it delivers information in a variety of formats, including microfilmed bid documents.

Another nationwide news service is Construction Market Data, owned by Southam Co., Canada’s leading construction industry publisher. Southam recently acquired R.S. Means and Co. and has launched several other U.S. construction publications, suggesting that Construction Market Data is an organization to watch. (CMD is now Reed Construction Data.)

The Clark Reports searches for projects by scanning thousands of magazines, newspapers, and other documents every month for news suggesting a company is considering a new facility. Clark also prepares customized reports. (Now part of Reed Construction Data.)

There are many local and regional construction news services that sometimes do a better job of covering their specific communities. Check the Yellow Pages or ask a local contractor for help in locating these services. Other news services concentrate on specific industries or types of construction. Many services are now available through online computerized databases.

2. Networking not only identifies projects but also helps to build relationships. Your customers are watching what their competitors and customers are doing, and they may be glad to share their insight with you, especially if you reciprocate. Referrals from satisfied customers are among the best leads you can get.

Many salespeople take established customers for granted and make no effort to stay in touch with them. Your prospects are not only design firms, but individuals within those firms. Architects and engineers often change firms as project workload dictates. Try to maintain your relationships with these migrant designers; they can get you in the door at a new employer’s office. Keep track of their home addresses so you have another way to reach them.

Building owners, developers, real estate brokers, chambers of commerce, and economic development agencies are other sources of news and referral. In many cities, there are “breakfast clubs” where noncompeting contractors and material suppliers gather monthly to share information about prospects.

3. Advertising and other promotional activities such as trade shows and public relations can also be used to build your prospect list. The proper measurement of the effectiveness of an advertisement is not how many inquiries it produced, but the number of inquiries it produced from people fitting your prospect definition.

Finally, give your strategy enough time to work. When you bid to contractors, you usually know a construction schedule and delivery time. Calling on designers, however, requires a much longer fruition period. Allow time for the designers to get to know and trust you. Remember that design projects are often placed on hold while owners re-evaluate financial or other considerations. Along the way, you must guard against substitutions and be alert for new members who join the design team.

A project may take months or even years to get through design to the point where you can actually bid the project. But if your strategic plan is solid, keep with it, and you will find selling at the specifier level to be worth the effort.

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

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

Maybe your sales rep shouldn't be local?

New research suggests that you may be more successful if you conduct your negotiations over long distance rather than nearby. If further research validates the findings and shows broader applicability, it could suggest new strategies for conducting sales negotiations. For example, it may be better negotiate via long distance instead of from across town.

Note that this research does not compare distance negotiations to face-to-face negotiations. However digital technologies are increasing the amount of negotiation done at a distance. 

According to a press release from The University of Texas:
Adding physical distance between people during negotiations may lead to more mutually beneficial outcomes...  Psychologist Marlone Henderson examined how negotiations that don't take place in person may be affected by distance. He compared distant negotiators (several thousand feet away) with those who are nearby (a few feet away) in three separate studies. While much work has examined the consequences of different forms of non-face-to-face communication, previous research has not examined the effects of physical distance between negotiators independent of other factors. 
"People tend to concentrate on higher priority items when there is more distance between them by looking at issues in a more abstract way," says Henderson. "They go beyond just thinking about their pursuit of the options presented to them and consider higher-level motives driving their priorities."
Stay tuned for more developments.

Prospects for AIA Show in 2011

The AIA Show website shows that there are still many unsold booths for their May 2011 gathering in New Orleans.  This means you can still get good booth locations if you decide to exhibit there. But by most accounts, the AIA's show in Miami earlier this year was sparsely attended by architects.

What are the prospects for the upcoming event?
Attendance may be a bit better this year:
  • The economy has begun to turn around a bit, (I hope.)
  • New Orleans is more centrally situated for most of the country.
  • Who wanted to go to Miami in the summer, anyways?
  • I think many architects are curious to see how New Orleans is being rebuilt (at least I am).
Attendance may be up the show has new management -- Hanley Wood. HW's magazine, Architect, will become the official publication of AIA as of January. I suspect Hanley Wood will be pouring lots of resources into building the show this year.

Unfortunately, I don't see that yet. Their website, just six months before the event, is still little more than a place holder saying, "Continue to check back for more details."

Where to spend your marketing budget?
HW has other challenges. When AIA produce the event, it could tap into its members' sense of community. Now, the AIA Convention is at risk of being seen as just another of HW's events for architects. This is a weak position. For example, I don't go to HW's CONSTRUCT trade show because it is a major trade show (it isn't), but because I identify with the Construction Specifications Institute (CSI) community that holds its annual meeting at CONSTRUCT. If CSI relocated its annual meeting to another event, I would follow my tribe.*

HW's architectural show will now have to compete against its other events for architects -- CONSTRUCT and their new virtual trade show, And will architects still traipse half-way across the continent if they can get all their continuing education credits from Hanley Wood University?

Booth prices begin at $4200 for a 10 x 10 ft booth. (Of course, renting space is less than half the cost of exhibiting.) It is unlikely HW will discount prices. Perhaps you will be able to negotiate a frequency discount if you exhibit and advertise in their magazines?

Should you exhibit at AIA or any tradeshow this year? 
The answer is no longer an automatic "yes". You have to look closely at the fundamentals: What do you want to accomplish? Does the show provide the right audience? How can the show leverage the rest of your marketing budget?

Many of my clients have done the math and have budgetted for trade shows in the coming year. For some, it may mean a smaller booth. One the other hand, one of my my clients has a new product launch that will benefit from a live demonstration. They are increasing their trade show participation because it is more economical than sending crews across the country for demos.

Reduced attendance at a show does necessarily mean reduce effectiveness. The World of Concrete (also a HW event) had significantly lower attendance in 2010; but those who came were there to buy and not just for a junket in Vegas.

I still believe trade shows have an important function, even in the digital age. It will be interesting to see what the next few years bring. 

* Prediction: HW will merge the AIA and CONSTRUCT shows into one super-sized event. Let's hope so, it would make for a more rational industry.

New way to reach prospects.

Concept: Pay your prospects to read your email.

Description: Conventional methods of advertising may have a low response rate and go to many unqualified individuals, Instead, you can identify the prospects that interest you the most, and pay them to read your ad.

Background: A new website,, conducts what they call an "Attention Auction." Their site explains:
If you are a busy person? Receive too many messages? Forced to spend a lot of time reading crap but still lose useful information? Sell your attention at auction.

If you want to contact an important or busy person but never had chances to deserve his or her attention. Buy attention at auction. purports to provide a way to contact celebrities. For example, movie star Jim Carrey will read an email from a fan for $2.50. But for just $1.99, you can also bid to buy the attention of Jim Bonenfant whose profile says, "Designer/Architecture residential design/modern commercial design/Gourmet Kitchens and Baths/Real Estate investment." A manufacturer of gourmet kitchen appliances might find this a cost effective way to communicate with Jim, since the charge only occurs if Jim actually reads the email. is in a beta release and is very crude. For example, there is no way to search for an individual by trade or location. But I can imagine an the concept being developed further to provide deep coverage of the A/E/C field.
  • As the database of participants is enriched to indicate the types of projects and level of professional responsibility, the system could become being very targetable. 
  • By including various response options in the email, such as clicking through to your website, you could measure the effectiveness of various copy.
  • Advertisers could develop algorithms to determine which prospects to contact. If you need to reach a star architect, perhaps you would be willing to pay $50 to assure that Zaha Hadid reads your email. But if goal is to support a new sales rep in Peoria, Il, you could bid for professional specifiers in town for $1.50 each.
With current economic conditions, I suspect many designers and builders would be delighted to supplement their incomes by being paid to read your advertising. If the idea catches on, it would lead to the end of spam email blasts; prospects will start ignoring the junk mail once they realize their time is worth something to other advertisers.

Instead of waiting for to attact a critical mass of construction industry people, some smart publisher will figure out how to do this. (If you are inspired, please contact Chusid Associates to help you roll out this new service.)

Watch for further developments.

Recession Changes Where Designers Work

One result of the recession may be a further decentralization of architectural practice. This will create new challenges for sales reps wishing to make calls on design offices.

I began reflecting on this after receiving the following email from an architect that had closed his small office after 25 years of practice at the same location. While his direct impetus was a downturn in workload, he points out the shifting nature of practice as follows:
"We have seen the tools of the trade evolve from Phones, Pencils, Parallel Rules and Paper - to black and white computers, fax machines, and pagers - to color computers and mobile phones the size of bricks - to 3D CAD drawings, remote access, and multi-media cell phones. Over the past several years, staff and I have taken advantage of this technology to work more and more from homes where we have ready access to our server and speedy graphic communications. So we have now moved our operations into our home offices."
Another friend, a construction specifier, opened a home-based consulting practice after being laid off by a large A/E firm. After getting use to more flexible hours and being more available to her children, I doubt she will ever again take a job that requires her to commute into the city.

These two examples are being replicated throughout the country. The recession is accelerating a fundamental shift in design. More online bandwidth allows easier and speedier collaboration among far-flung project teams. Even as the recession recedes, it is likely that corporate offices will remain leaner while more employees work from the field or from home.

In the past, a rep could visit four or five design offices in a day and potentially see dozens of architects and specifiers at each. It would be a challenge to have as many face-to-face contacts with people working out of home offices or remote locations.

Unless, that is, the sales rep embraces the same communication technologies that designers are using: email, social media, file transfer protocols, webinars, computer-to-computer video links, mobile applications, and the rest.

The other response available to a sales rep is to take advantage of professional society meetings and other events that attract large numbers of designers.

Happy Hunting!