Which would you rather have: a) a slow-paying, small-volume customer working from the back of a pickup truck; or b) a loyal, long-term client that offers significant sales volume, is intensely interested in your product, and relies on your professional advice? Dumb question, right? The catch is that choice b) is an architect in your market, just waiting for a local dealer’s sales representative to take her seriously. Architects might not spend a dime in your showroom, but, as I say often and wrote in my first book*, you should nevertheless treat them like paying customers.

Architects drive decisions that create billions of dollars in purchases every year. They are also an ignored audience by many LBM sales reps and therefore are an easily tapped revenue source. As a former full-time architectural sales representative and national sales director for an architectural sales department, I can guarantee a few ways to help you gain margins and market share with this audience.

All sales relationships are local. Manufacturers want dealers to pursue architects, but many local dealers think it’s the manufacturer’s job to drive architects to specify products that the vendor makes and the dealer sells. That’s wrong. You would never want a manufacturer’s rep owning the relationship with a builder and deciding which dealer’s salesperson should handle a project. It should be no different with architects. Own the relationships with this audience.

Ask the million-dollar question. You determine the creditworthiness of a builder with a credit application. You determine the decision-making influence of an architect by asking: “Is your client typically the owner of the project or the builder?” If the architect draws plans for owners– e.g. custom home owners, businesses, governments, etc.–you can assume the architect strongly influences product decisions. But if the architect is working for a builder, the influence isn’t anywhere near as strong. Leverage the relationship with an architect when it will help you gain more meetings with owners–the ultimate decision-makers.

To build a relationship, be repetitive. Only amateurs drop off a brochure to a builder and wait for results to pour in. Doing the same with an architect is equally bad. Create a plan to have ongoing interaction with architects so you become their preferred representative on projects.

Get involved in the project design stages. The common practice for most sales representatives is to bid projects while scrambling to “convert” specs, later discovering their bid was not taken seriously. That wastes everyone’s time, and salespeople become discouraged with the pursuit of architectural sales. If you are involved only at the bid stage of construction, you are too late. According to the Construction Specifications Institute, 70% of a project’s life span takes place in the planning and design phase. Your ability to influence product selection decisions (and interact with the owner making decisions) is strongest during the design phases. Get involved early in order to be the favored bidder later.

Go past merely being spec’d. The sure sign that a salesperson does not “get” the architectural sales process is a stated end goal of getting the dealer’s products specified for a project. The real goal should be to make a sale with the owner and contractor. Getting spec’d is the beginning of the process, not the end. Your goal is to get in front of owners who make decisions and contractors who rely on the input of their designers.

Build relationships with influential designers in your market; you’ll discover that the payoff is loyal clients who pay higher margins. You will even discover that selling is fun again when you get to talk to an audience that actually cares about product features and benefits.

* Strategic Sales in the Building Industry, available at www.builderbooks.com.

Rick Davis is the president of Building Leaders, a training organization devoted exclusively to the sale of building materials. His latest book, “The Sales Secret,” is now available. To order it, go to www.buildingleaders.com, 773.769.4409, or contact Rick at rickdavis@buildingleaders.com.