To be effective, the process of relationship building really needs to start before a project has even been conceived. But how do you achieve that? By working smart and embracing new opportunities such as social media. Effective specification selling – understanding how relationships are key Let me start with an example. We are currently working with a client who is new to the specification sales process. Stage One was to analyse their target markets using a project leads system such as Glenigan. This allowed us to identify the top clients, architects and contractors operating in each sector, and how they work together. Telephone research was then used to confirm who within these organisations was actively involved with their type of product and to understand the key communications channels they used.

Once contacts have been identified in this manner the process of relationship building can begin. Phase One uses targeted promotion offering technical advice and CPD seminars. The seminar is an important first stage in relationship building and an opportunity to create product advocates. Relationships can also be built using blogs, LinkedIn groups and Twitter. The aim is to develop and maintain relationships with individuals – not to sell to them.

Once a project is started we can then use our established relationships to explore opportunities for product specification, talking to our advocates to learn more about others in the decision-making unit who will become targets in our relationship-building process. First, the company builds relationships with the specifiers, and then the sales person follows up in circumstances where he or she is effectively pushing against an open door. The more doors the promotional activity can open for the sales person, the more effective he or she will be.

Having got their foot in the door the sales person can then build on the established relationship to map the other players in the decision-making unit: client, architect, engineer, sustainability consultant, QS, main contractor and specialist contractor (both buyer and project manager). They can all influence the selection of products. Very rarely does one person have the power to force through a product choice, but all have the power of veto.

As the project progresses and more influencers join the team, the specification sales person will need to build relationships with all of these players and understand how influential they are, as well as try to move his or her product offering up their priority lists.

How do the decision-makers interrelate? This is partly driven by the type of contract. Relationships within a traditional contract will be different to that in design and build. It is also dependent on the experience of the designer and the input they will accept from the specialist contractor. Increasingly, more sophisticated specialist contractors are recognising the advantages of being involved in a project at the design stage.

All of this is about ‘thinking smart’ rather than just throwing resource at the problem, a key consideration in these tough economic times. A consequence of the recession is that specifiers have changed the way they work. They’re now using social media more. Our research Construction Media Index found that the number of architects using Twitter for work increased from 9 per cent in 2011 to 42 per cent in 2012. We have also seen a start in the adoption of apps in the construction sector, lead by architects. And then there’s the adoption of BIM, and all of its implications…

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