Here is a trick question: Which would you rather have as a customer, a slow-paying, disorganized contractor who purchases $30,000 a year or a long-term, loyal customer who offers fair margins and purchases $250,000? If you think this is a dumb question, then consider that you may be driving right by the more favorable type of customer on a daily basis—the architect. Even though architects may not spend a dime in your showroom, they can be a source of significant profitability.
In spite of the many years of my life I spent dedicated to architectural sales, even I have neglected to write about this important audience, one which should not be ignored. The architectural community offers an outstanding opportunity within the distribution channel that is remarkably lucrative for those who commit time to an architectural sales process.
There is at least one market segment of new construction in which architects wield more influence on product selection than builders—the custom home market. Approximately 15 percent of all single-family homes are considered “custom” homes and, while many of these homes are constructed by builders that strongly influence the product selection process, consumers play a bigger part in product selection for custom homes than they do for production homes. And a key source of influence for the consumer is their design professional, the architect.
Up Close and Personal Architects purchase in exactly the same way builders and dealers and others buy products: They buy from people. If you want to have success with this largely ignored audience, consider making a concerted, long-term effort of promotion and sales. The key to success is to treat them like any other paying customer with regular sales calls, education, and servicing, ultimately striving to build a long-term relationship with qualified architectural prospects.
The architectural sales challenge usually begins with a debate over the issue of sales responsibility. Dealers spend time pointing at vendors, telling them to get the product specified, while vendors pressure dealers to do a better job of promoting the vendor's brand. The reality is that the individual who builds a relationship with an architect is the one who wields sales power. So if you want to control more sales in the market, call on architects and recognize that your objective is larger than merely getting a product speced.
A specification is not a sale, but rather provides a strong opportunity to complete a sale. Architectural firms work in very close concert with homeowners on the design of their houses both for new construction and remodeling. By the time the builder gets involved, many product decisions have been made and the opportunity for a sale is significantly increased. However, the sale is complete only when the order is secured, product is delivered, and payment is received. Establishing a relationship with the designer and homeowner early in the process can dramatically increase your chances for a sale.
Many salespeople are concerned that architectural sales efforts will not result in “guaranteed” sales, citing the evidence that sometimes a competitor sells the same brand that was originally being promoted for the project. While this is a valid concern, it is also true that a salesperson has no guarantee they are going to earn the business when they are busy working three hours on a complex project takeoff. Business offers few guarantees but, on the other hand, does offer the opportunity to take advantage of favorable percentages.
Amazingly, architects are an audience that actually enjoys discussing product features and benefits. They are usually in their office and willing to give a few moments of time to a credible (i.e., knowledgeable and trustworthy) sales representative. In fact, they often rely on the expertise that a highly skilled sales representative can provide.