This is the second in a series of columns on up-selling by Rick Davis, a trainer in the construction products industry who also writes the Sell Sheet column for ProSales Magazine.

They might not spend a dime in your showroom, but architects influence buying decisions that result in billions of sales dollars.  They can become your advocate and proxy sales representative or a marketing terrorist working against you. Architects coincidentally represent your best opportunity to up-sell to your flagship products. Your success will occur once you treat architects like paying customers.

The most common mistake salespeople make is focusing on project transactions rather than relationship development. Instead of bidding and waiting for your product to be specified, recognize that sales success is created by those who are involved with architects early in the design process. This can happen only when you have established a relationship based on credibility and trust.

Get Involved Early

From the salesperson’s perspective, the process begins at the bid phase when the call comes from a contractor seeking a price. The salesperson notices that a competitor’s product has been specified and reacts by contacting his manufacturer's representative to see if she can change the spec. Meanwhile, the salesperson starts working up a bid and hopes that he can sell the superior features and benefits of his company's product to the contractor and owner of the building. Not only is this time consuming and ineffective, it’s downright insulting to the architect who has invested months researching multiple products and diligently worked them seamlessly into her design.

If you want to up-sell, you must be involved early in the process. You can make this happen by establishing strong relationships and treating architects like paying customers. If you wait until the bid phase, it’s too late. Project budgets rarely increase, but frequently decrease. Therefore, up-sell must occur during the design phase.

Don’t Stereotype

I get a lot of salespeople in my seminars who stereotype architects as detail-obsessed nerds. Many builders and contractors criticize them as unrealistic artists who produce impractical designs. My response to these and other generalizations is that some salespeople are highly competent and others are buffoons; some builders and contractors do excellent work while others leave a mess in aisle five for the next contractor to clean up. Architects are no different. Some are highly sensitive to the practical realities of construction management while others lack practical experience. I joke that, in the end, architects are very similar to people.

To sell your top product brands, you must establish your role as a credible adviser early in the design process when product decisions are made. Here’s how to do it:

Choose your audience. Seek architects who are likely candidates to work with you closely and who have the ability to influence product decisions. You don’t want every architect in the market. You only need a few to create up-sell opportunities.

Map out your campaign. Plan a series of relationship-building sales calls. You wouldn’t make a one-time sales call to a builder, drop off a binder of information, and then expect the orders to start flowing in. It won’t work for an architect either.

Your first meeting, like any in business-to-business selling, should focus on understanding the client, and then give them the nickel tour of your product offer, starting with your best products first. In subsequent meetings, you could drop off samples or provide technical information. As the relationship progresses, ask about future projects.

Less is more. It is better to conduct numerous five-minute meetings spaced over weeks in which you provide excellent content than it is to conduct a verbose hour-long presentation.

Offer what they need. Architects deal with hundreds of product categories. They are generalists who rely on credible industry experts to assist in design selection. Become one of their go-to people.

Shun the box lunch. A box lunch, particularly one conducted too early in the relationship, is not an effective means of establishing a relationship. It merely establishes you as a provider of food. This is an offer you should make after you have a well-grounded relationship with an architectural firm.

Play for the end game. The end game is people, not products. Your goal is to leverage relationships with architects who introduce you to project owners and their network of builders. You want to become the credible expert who mingles seamlessly inside that network as the preferred provider of choice for your product category. This is how you become the expert who up-sells to his higher-end product categories.

Selling to architects requires a long-term commitment. Success is not instant, which in fact is the powerful opportunity. Once you have established a small network of architects who trust you as their product adviser, it will be difficult for your competitors to unseat you from this position.—Rick Davis

More from ProSales:

Architects and Dealers Find They Can Connect Profitably

Bigger Dealers More Likely To Sell to Architects

Use Your Pitch to Push Brand Value