Although the construction industry is not glamorous it is responsible for 9% of UK GDP and has a very complex decision making unit (DMU), hence a marketing challenge. Although very cost focused the industry is increasingly selecting products on value, recognising that a more expensive product can often deliver pay-back in terms of greater speed of installation, lower building operating costs or longer building lifetime.

To be able to influence the specification of a product, it is first necessary to understand what a specification is and how it is created.

What is Specification Selling?

A specification is used to give a clear written indication to the contractor of which items are required and how they are installed.

“A detailed description of the construction, workmanship, materials, etc., of work done or to be done, prepared by an architect, engineer etc.” Oxford English Dictionary

The specifier can be Client, Architect or Engineer. He or she may be employed by a Contractor or be an indirect influencer such as a Quantity Surveyor, Planning or Building Control Officer. Today, it is very rare that a single person will have full control of the decision to purchase, but many have the influence to prevent the selection of a product. It is thus important to fully understand the decision making chain, where the influence is and to ensure that at every stage, of what could be a 2 year process, specifiers and influencers are happy with your products.

The Decision Making Unit

The construction sector’s Decision Making Unit (DMU) is far more complex than many business to business markets. This is because the team responsible for designing, selecting, purchasing and installing products is formed for a single project and then disbanded.

To further complicate matters, the nature of the relationship between the members of the project team will depend on the type of contract used (Traditional, Design & Build, Management, PFI or Prime Contracting).

To effectively sell it is necessary to understand the type of contract being used and then identify the organisations in the project team. These will comprise Client, Consultant, Architect, Engineer, Quantity Surveyor, Main Contractor, Sub-contractor. There may be other members of the team such as a Building Surveyor, Acoustic Engineer, Interior Designer or Landscape Architect.

There may also be multiple organisations, for example one Architect’s practice may be responsible for taking the project to outline planning approval, another will be responsible for detailed design.

The decision making process goes through five key stages:

  1. First of these is when the client defines the brief for his building. This will be based on his functional needs and will probably include some aesthetic and performance requirements. Although not directly selecting products this stage can have a significant influence on the products used. Those clients with a large portfolio of buildings may also define specific products.
  2. The second stage will involve specialist consultants responsible for areas such as fire, acoustics, security and sustainability. They will define the performance requirements for their area of interest, but at this stage will not nominate products.
  3. Next is the architect who will be responsible for taking the client’s brief and combining it with the advice of the consultants to develop the building’s design. At this time he may take advice from consultant and contractor on detailed aspects of design and possibly product selection. Working with the architect will be engineers responsible for structural, mechanical and electrical design.
  4. The fourth stage involves the main contractor who may be responsible for product selection. He will also indirectly influence the product selection process by appointing the specialist sub-contractors.
  5. The final stage is the appointment of the sub-contractor. Depending on the nature of the architect’s specification he may be responsible for making the final decision concerning product selection. He will be influenced by technical support, familiarity, speed of installation, availability and price, trying to achieve cost savings within the scope of the specification.

Why Specification Sell?

Effective specification selling is an important skill for the construction professional, the benefits are:

  • Reducing the focus and thus importance on price – By adding value, through stronger business relationships, you will encourage customer loyalty and reduce the focus on price.
  • Demand creation – by creating awareness of products and systems with specifiers.
  • Forecast demand and identify trends -By having close relationships with key customers and decision makers.
  • Streamlined business processes – Working together means unnecessary processes can be striped back, saving time and money.
  • Stronger business relationships, enabling repeat orders –  By encouraging customer loyalty you will gain repeat business.
  • Lessons that can be applied across your customer base – Learning outcomes from developing streamlined processing with one customer can be cost effectively provided to all.
  • Improved customer satisfaction – Greater efficiency and value for money will result in happier customers.
  • Gain competitive advantage over competitors – Building strong business relationships and hence loyalty will make it much harder for your competitors to secure any of your business.

Conclusion

To assume that the contractor is insisting on using the cheapest product available is far from the reality. There are many influences on product choice. The specification sales team is an expensive resource, but used effectively it can create demand, reduce the importance of price and transfer influence away from the supply chain to the manufacturer.

Further reading:

Communicating with Building Service Engineers – An interview with Tina Cardy
Communicating with Architects – an Interview with Su Butcher
Communicating with Specialist Contractors – an Interview with Stefan Hay
Key Factors for Succesful Specification Selling
6 highs and lows of communicating with construction specifiers
6 Reasons why you need to provide BIM objects
Don’t Ignore BIM

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