When specification selling there is the tendency to focus on just the Architect or Engineer forgetting about the Contractor. The Contractor or Specialist Contractor are often overlooked and can present a missed opportunity in influencing the specification of your product.

When specification selling on a D&B or PFI project don’t just focus on the Architect, find out who the Contractor’s Design Manager is. The Design Manager will be seeking the most effective solution for the project, which means satisfying the client while minimising the cost. It is a common misconception that the Contractor is looking for the cheapest product, but often a more holistic approach is applied when looking for best value.

To get your product specified you need to find a way of getting the Contractor’s attention and then demonstrating that your product ticks all of the right boxes. Online methods are increasingly accepted, but companies need to ensure they present the appropriate information in an easy to access format and keep in touch with new developments. At the same time do not neglect the traditional media such as magazines and literature, they still have an important role to play.

Our recent research, Construction Media Index, identifies key hardcopy and electronic media used by M&E Contractors, as well as the trade titles actually read.

In this Blog post we interview Stefan Hay, Head of FSA and Marketing for the Electrical Contractors Association, on the topic of Communicating with Specialist Contractors and the best channels of communication to use.

Q: With a significant drop in the usage of product directories what would you say are the most helpful tools for Contractors seeking product information, both online and off?

Starting with offline, our experience at the ECA is that Contractors still use networking extensively; As a trade association we hold numerous events in the regions, supported by manufacturers, for which we gain good attendance. So live events still work for delivering product information and are a strong tool for communicating with Specialist Contractors.

Equally trade shows are also a good source of product information, although we are seeing fewer more consolidated shows, Ecobuild being the more popular of these. The ECA had a stand at the recent Ecobuild and we experienced a significant number of visits from Contractors, the Ecobuild show is in its ascendancy, with a broader number of topics being covered drawing bigger crowds.

When looking at online tools Voltimum remains popular with our members, offering a number of tools in a number of formats, such as a blog; video, daily Q&A and their recent addition of webinars is proving a success.

I have also noted that Manufacturers’ websites are now more information based.

There has also been a significant increase in the use of social media and the ECA have a presence on Twitter, YouTube, LinkedIn and Facebook – we are communicating with our members and Contractors in new ways, across a number of channels. We have found that broadcasting messages across a number of social media channels allows us to reach a broader audience, for example Facebook appeals to a younger audience.

To summarise: networking at events is a good way of maintaining communication with Contractors, as well as using the newer online social media channels. To use a mix of channels and formats also allows for a greater reach.

Q: With a high proportion of Contractors using social media for work and also subscribing regularly to trade journals, how would you see these communication channels being utilised by the specification salesman?

At the ECA we have experienced a number of interesting discussions between Contractors and Specifiers on forum based social media sites, such as LinkedIn. Social media enables more interactions between Specifiers and Contractors, so it is worth being present on these social media platforms so you can get involved.

In relation to trade journals the ECA is bucking the trend. We launched a new journal 2 years ago called ECA Today in print and online. Prior to the launch we did significant research, as we were concerned with the visible decline in printed journals. Our findings demonstrated that 80% of our members wanted a printed journal and currently the publication has a circulation of circa 20,000, well beyond our membership base.

ECA Today also has a turn-page online version which we promote strongly through social media.

I feel the publication works as it is very Contractor driven, advising them of what the Specifier wants. It has focus, some trade journals do not. Often trade journals are too product based and can become bland in their delivery, or they can be too ‘newsy’ and so scattergun in their topic matter. The ECA Today is feature based with strong editorial that identifies opportunities for the Contractor. So it is important for the Specification Salesman to think carefully before working with a trade journal to ensure it is the right one for them and research such as the Construction Media Index with help with this.

Q: With almost a quarter of top main Contractors already using BIM how do you see this influencing working methods and in particular product specification?

We spend a lot of time talking about BIM! We had the ECA council meeting only last week and BIM was on the agenda in a report from the ECA energy solutions team.

I believe BIM will be significantly important, it is set to change the consultancy process between Contractor and Specifier, a change potentially for the better, as the Contractor will be seen more as a solutions provider rather than the final installer.

BIM is very much on the agenda for our larger Contractors already and although I am not sure how BIM will pan out for smaller contracting companies I believe we will see a shift in relationships between Main Contractor/Sub-Contractor and the decision making unit (DMU).

BIM linked with energy saving / sustainable solutions is to trigger a convergence, see the DMU looking at the project as a whole and its life cycle.

Currently electrical installation is an after-thought, someone is contracted for heating, lighting, security… now with BIM on the horizon we are seeing greater connectivity in the project team, where the products are chosen not just for their suitability for the project but also for their after-care.

BIM is allowing the consideraton of total project life cycle, creating a shared knowledge resource, which supports the joint decision making process from early concept through to the eventual ‘operational go live’ allowing the Specialist Contractor to get involved in the total project, not just an afterthought.

More about Stefan Hay

Stefan Hay has been Head of Marketing for the Electrical Contractors’ Association (ECA) since January 2009 and is also Head of its specialist operating division the Fire and Security Association (FSA), a position he has held since December 2007.

Stefan has written in excess of two hundred published articles for the UK building services engineering, fire, security, policing and facilities trade press, is an expert panel member with three on-line trade journals, is the founding Managing Editor of the ECA’s journal, ECA Today, and has contributed to a number of features in national newspapers such as the Guardian, Financial Times and Daily Telegraph.





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