To protect your interests when selling, government regulations should not be your only concern; it’s also critical to ensure you are capable of interpreting the legal documents that regulate construction projects. You will protect your profitability on complex sales and, at times, learn to walk away from ones that create losses. I learned this vital lesson after earning my certification as a construction documentation technologist (CDT). 

Bob, a window sales representative, asked me for assistance on the sale of windows for an upscale golf clubhouse. Division 8—Windows & Doors—of the project specifications required a special paint finish on the exterior metal. Bob was in trouble because he already had been awarded a contract that he had sold “according to plans and specifications,” although he bid only the standard window paint finish.  

Against my advice, he decided to ignore the specifications even though my company offered to include the paint upgrade below cost. Instead of losing a small amount on the project, he decided to risk the consequences of delivering and installing the standard product. Predictably, his case was settled in court two years later at a significant loss to his company. 

Ron, a framing subcontractor, received a request to bid on material installation for a three-story apartment building. Division 1—General Requirements—of the specifications required “substantial completion” less than six weeks from the date of his bid. Ron believed he could be “close to done framing” by that time and prepared his offer, unaware that substantial completion is a term defined in architectural documentation to mean a certificate of occupancy can be issued. In this case, he was able to help the general contractor renegotiate deadlines with the owner and avoid subsequent problems.

Protect your interests in these types of situations by earning your CDT, the credential offered by the Construction Specifications Institute (CSI) to industry professionals who pass the test once per year. It’s a big challenge that many fail on their first attempt. But even in failure, the classes available through your local CSI chapter will prepare you for battle and keep you ahead of your competition. 

The benefit of pursuing a CDT is that you will become a stronger consultant to purchasing agents, designers, contractors, and subcontractors. You will gain the credibility to protect their interests and, in some cases, take a proactive role in writing the specifications on projects you sell. 

More adventuresome industry professionals can pursue the certified construction product representative certification. At this level, you are an accredited sales leader in the design community and have significantly differentiated your professionalism from the competitors in your market. For more information on these valuable industry designations, go to the CSI webiste

At a minimum, I suggest you consistently ask for (and read!) all of the documents involved in architectural design projects. You will be sought out for your credibility and avoid legal problems on the sales you get. In some cases, you may walk away from projects that raise red flags. Sometimes, the better sale is the one you don’t make. The best sale always is the one that produces elated clients who got exactly the service and product they expected.