Do you speak construction?

This blog has previously given the straight-up benefits of CSI Certification for careers in building products. So let me get the message across in a more lighthearted attempt:

When selling in Mexico, it helps to speak the language they hablan there.

     ¿Habla usted de la construcción?

Or to be fluent in Française when making a pitch in Quebec.

     Parlez-vous de la construction?

So if you sell building products, of course you'll want to

     Speak Specifese, the language of specifiers and contractors!

Specifiers and builders, like people everywhere, appreciate it it when you attempt to address them in their native tongue.

Now, you can learn Specifese even if you have never studied a second language before. In fact, many individuals become proficient in Specifese in under three months.

Language immersion classes are forming right now, at Construction Speaking Insiders (CSI) clubs around the country.

Members of the club take pride in their achievement; displaying the initials of the club's slogan,"Communicate, Don't Talk through your hat"* (CDT) after their names.

Impress your friends and family, and even your boss.

But hurry, this opportunity ends at the end of this month.
Act today, and get FREE CDT Study Guide.
Come on!
Do it
*The phrase "talk through your hat" means talking about something without knowing much about it.

Green Advantage: Coming to a Job Site Near You

Green Advantage (GA) is filling one of the missing links in sustainable construction. No matter how carefully a project is designed, environmental goals may be compromised if construction crews do not understand principles of sustainability nor how to best manage a jobsite to protect the environment.

To meet this challenge, Green Advantage offers a personnel certification program by which a builder can demonstrate competency in these areas. Chusid Associates is providing marketing and technical support to the organization.

While the Green Advantage program has been gaining adherents since its launch in 1998, I believe it will soon gain critical mass and become part of the construction mainstream. One reason for this optimism is that USGBC has determined that a LEED Innovation Credit can be earned if 30 percent of a project's field supervisory personnel are Green Advantage Certified Practitioners. The Green Advantage Field Personnel Standard can also be embraced by building owners, designers, and contractors that are not pursuing LEED certification.

There are several ways by which building product manufacturers can take advantage of the Green Advantage program:
  • Employees that go onto jobsites can become GA Certified Practitioners. This credential will enhance their professional stature and help establish their credibility.
  • Having GA certified employees reinforces your brand's commitment to sustainable construction.
  • GA certification can also be a criterion in the award of subcontracts since the 30 percent standard also applies to subcontractor personnel that provide services on the jobsite.
Consider getting GA certification for all members of your field crew. Liz Boastfield, Director of Communications at Green Advantage, can help you arrange for training and testing for your organization. Call her at +1 540 822 9449 x105 or email

Finally, Green Advantage is a non-profit organization and needs corporate financial support to supplement its income from certifications. Support of the organization can provide PR and other benefits to your company. I encourage you to contact Liz to discuss this opportunity.

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

Still Debating Taking the CDT Exam?

From a CSI news bulletin: 
Still debating taking the Construction Documents Technologist (CDT) Certificate exam? Participate in a FREE Webinar on the CDT Certificate on July 13, 2:00-3:00 p.m. ET.

The CDT 101 webinar is an opportunity for individuals to learn about the benefits of CSI's Construction Documents Technologist certificate. The webinar will cover the requirements and resources needed for successful exam preparation and study.

July 20 is the EARLY certification registration deadline for the fall exams, which will be held September 20-25, 2010! Learn more, or register for the exam.

LEED Green Associate Credential

Several friends and colleagues have asked me recently whether they should become LEED professionals. With the new hierarchical structure in LEED 2009, it's not easy to determine the appropriate level and specialty. As it happens, I've recommended to most of my colleagues that they seek the LEED Green Associate credential.

LEED Green Associate is the first step toward a specialty LEED Accredited Professional credential, but also represents a body of knowledge that is very helpful for a product rep or consultant to have. A LEED Green Associate understands the LEED application process, documentation requirements, credit interpretations, and standards that support LEED credits. He or she also has a basic understanding of the LEED credit categories and their environmental purposes. Project team structure and synergy, so important to the success of a green project, is also part of the exam. This is a great foundation of knowledge for any member of a LEED project team.

What this credential says about a product rep, consultant, or manufacturer is that the individual is "already on the bus", is already committed to sustainable design and construction. By investing time and energy in learning to be a LEED Green Associate, this person demonstrates the ability to support the project's team members in the critical tasks of LEED certification:
  • Selecting appropriate products that comply with targeted credits

  • Integrating products into high-performance systems

  • Documenting product compliance with credit requirement
  • Working together on coherent strategies to attain performance credits

The LEED Green Associate credential is similar to CSI's Construction Document Technologist, in that both credentials are prerequisites for specialty credentials. Like the CDT, the Green Associate shows a solid foundation of knowledge that benefits the team. Both credentials contribute to their holder's reputation as a trusted advisor, someone a design professional can turn to for help and good advice. Both credentials show that the holder understands the big picture of the project and its goals. If you're looking to distinguish yourself among your competitors, both credentials are great additions to your profile. The difference? CDT says that you'll be a good teammate for any project, and LEED Green Associate says that you can help get a project across the LEED finish line. (Why not do both?)

How will you know if LEED Green Associate isn't enough for you? I took the LEED AP exam when I had worked on enough LEED projects that colleagues already assumed I had the credential. Like CSI's certification exams, people frequently pursue the higher credential when they need to demonstrate a new level of commitment, either to clients or to employers. With the new specialty exams, you may find that you can distinguish yourself in a particular project type, like schools or retail, with that specialty exam. If you meet the qualifications to sit for the advanced exam, and pursuing LEED projects is an important part of your work or career goals, it may well be worth the effort to take the specialty exam.

If you are already on a LEED project team, you can fast-track to a LEED AP credential in your specialty by sitting for both parts of the exam at once. If you are a black-belt test-taker, by all means, take the plunge. Generally, though, as an exam coach, I've advised candidates to separate their exams by at least a month, to relieve the pressure on exam day and increase chances of success. This means, once again, that LEED Green Associate is your first step.

Ready to learn more about LEED Green Associate? is the place to begin.