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How to Sell to Architects … According to an Architect

What if you could get an inside look at how architects want to learn about your product? Today’s episode does exactly that. Hear about how one architect is working with building materials manufacturers to develop architect-focused education that ultimately drives sales and increases product adoption.

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Photo of Beth PopNikolov
by Zach Williams and Beth PopNikolov

More About This Show

The Smarter Building Materials Marketing podcast helps industry professionals find better ways to grow leads, sales and outperform the competition. It’s designed to give insight on how to create a results-driven digital marketing strategy for companies of any size.

In this episode, Zach talks to Gregg Lewis, Executive Vice President of Promotion Strategy and Communications for the National Ready Mix Concrete Association, about the best way to sell to architects, and why it’s both easier and harder than you think.

When Architecture Is More Than Practice

073 When Architecture Is More Than Practice

Gregg is a non-practicing architect. After a 13-year career with architectural firms, he realized he wanted to make a bigger impact on how buildings are designed and built.

“As a practicing architect, you really only work on one major project at a time. You only have the opportunity to influence a very finite number of projects. If I wanted to have a measurable impact on the way we build, the best way to do that was to step outside of the role as a practicing consulting architect and try to find ways to influence architects in the decision making that they're engaged in every day.”

With the National Ready Mix Concrete Association, and with other organizations associated with and adjacent to the building materials industry, Gregg works to help architects find cost-effective and new ways to use materials like concrete in building and paving projects.

Selling Is Follow Up

073 Selling Is Follow Up

We talk a lot on this show about selling to architects, getting in front of architects and even just what architects are looking for. It’s rare that we get to speak with someone who has both the architectural perspective, as well as a focus on the building products manufacturers, at their fingertips.

Zach says, “I'm really excited to have you on because you don't sell necessarily, but you educate so that others can sell. I'd be really curious to know what is the approach that you see working well and what do you see that doesn't work well when it comes to educating architects about particular products?”

For Gregg, the biggest challenge that manufacturers face is follow up. “It's one thing, for example, to sit through a lunch and learn program and get that sort of initial taste to whatever the product is that the person is presenting.”

Many manufacturers are familiar with the lunch and learn format, or with one-on-one presentations, as part of sales meetings or calls. And while these can be an effective way to introduce a product, they aren’t going to be enough, in Gregg’s mind, to get you onto the specification.

"I'm going to have to get from being intrigued to being able to get it into a set of drawings or specifications."

“If I'm interested as an architect in what you're presenting to me, undoubtedly I'm going to have a whole series of follow-up questions, right? Ultimately I'm going to have to get from being intrigued to being able to get it into a set of drawings or specifications. There's an awful lot of work that happens between those two stages.”

Manufacturers need to have a good process in place to make sure they’re available to answer questions and keep up that enthusiasm for a new product. Without those touchpoints and that enthusiasm, it’s easy to lose out to the competition.

“The goal here is to make sure [architects] have the information they need. If they don't have that information, they're going to look elsewhere. So the failure is simply not to provide the information either upfront or, more importantly, as a follow up to the architects who may have been presented with that initial information.”

Selling Is Being Present

073 Selling Is Being Present

Zach hears from many manufacturers who struggle to get their products specified. “A lot of manufacturers who are listening go, ‘Yes, I've got a great product. I think architects would love the product I have, and they would specify it night and day if they just could see it in action.’ What are some of the most effective ways you've seen manufacturers just increase awareness?”

Similar to his thoughts on follow up, for Gregg, the secret is being present as many ways as possible. “Being engaged in multiple channels simultaneously, right? Because we're all incredibly busy. You're busy. Architects are busy, and getting their attention is one thing, but being there when the question comes up is the really tricky part of the equation.”

He acknowledges that being omnipresent can take a lot of time and effort...and money, whether by committing funds to advertising or staff to attend tradeshows. But the payoff is the growth of a trusting relationship.

“What an architect, like anybody else, wants is somebody to solve a problem for them. At the end of the day, I need to figure out how to make this project more aesthetically pleasing, more cost-effective, have it be built more quickly. And the manufacturers, the suppliers of the products that are going to end up in a specification, need to do their level best to make sure that they're finding ways to solve those problems.”

The only way to solve those problems is both to know what they are, and then be present in a way that allows you to solve them for architect clients.

Selling Is Helping

073 Selling Is Helping

Helping is the new selling.

As Zach puts it, “I like to say helping is the new selling.” He wants to know what Gregg’s approach is when it comes to balancing helping and educating.

Gregg’s answer is both simple and really hard for many sales staff. “The approach that I've always thought was most useful is to go into a room and ask questions. If I'm just talking at you, there's a whole lot less opportunity to keep their attention. I ask, ‘How can I be helpful to you in your projects, current or upcoming and how can I best be a resource so that when those questions come up, I can provide the answer for you?’”

While many product specialists will rush to educate, both out of enthusiasm for their own product and in the belief that they have a limited amount of facetime to communicate the various features their product offers, they miss the opportunity to become more than a salesperson. They could instead become a helper and a problem solver, which are far more valuable in the long term.

“When you go into a room full of architects and try to provide them with some information that ultimately is going to have them specify your product, the only thing that they really want to know is do you want to make them successful? How can I make you successful? And if I can go into a room and convey that, that will win the day every time.”

Selling Is Being Easy

073 Selling Is Being Easy

A lot of selling is about overcoming a client’s preference to go with the competition. Along with making sure answers are helpful and readily available so that architects don’t have the opportunity to find the same answers with a competitor, manufacturers have to overcome an architect's general preference to go with the product they already know.

As Gregg says, “In order for an architect to be profitable, they need to be able to be as efficient as they possibly can in turning around a set of documents for a project. And the result of that, as architects get squeezed on fees, is I'm going to reuse details and products wherever possible unless I have a really, really good reason not to do that.”

So not only do manufacturers have to convince architects of the quality of their product, they have to convince them that it’s worth the time and effort to take out a known and easily repeatable product from a design, and put the new product in, along with all the education and updates to documentation that commitment requires.

“If window X is not causing me a problem and I'm using it and have used it successfully, you've got a heavy lift as a competitor to get in the door and actually get me to put it into a set of drawings. Because even as easy as you might be able to make it, it's still going to be easier to stick with what I've got already in those drawings.”

Selling Is Talking the Talk

073 Selling Is Talking The Talk

When Zach asks for any parting words of wisdom about how to build credibility with architects, Gregg’s advice is twofold. The first is, whenever possible, find ways to have architects to speak to other architects about your products.

“If you're an architect, you're going to be a whole lot less interested in what I have to say about the concrete industry because I'm in the concrete industry. But if I can put an architect in front of you who has successfully used concrete on a variety of projects, that's going to carry a whole lot more weight with me than having the product rep make the case.”

His other suggestion is, whenever possible, help your client prospects, whether they are architects or building owners, see your product in action.

“Bringing the architects to that project to see the installation, to understand the details in place during construction ... is that more interesting for the architects to be on the job site, it also engages them in a much more detailed level on how the building's going to be built with your product.”

Helping potential customers visualize how your product will look and function once it’s in use, is, as Gregg puts it, “a home run” when it comes to getting buy-in.

Got a Question?

Get in touch with Gregg by email or through the National Ready Mix Concrete Association website. You can also visit with them at CONEXPO/CON-AGG in Las Vegas from March 10-14, 2020.

If you have questions about how to become more of a helper and problem solver for architects, let us know! Shoot us an email at [email protected] with all of your questions.