The Sales Power of Independent Manufacturers’ Representatives in the Building Materials Industry

Posted by on February 6, 2015 in Uncategorized | Comments Off on The Sales Power of Independent Manufacturers’ Representatives in the Building Materials Industry

This blog, originally published in 2015, is being revised with a new title and with greater focus on the building materials industry. The goal of building material manufacturers is to maximize sales at the lowest possible cost and at the same time maintain an outstanding service reputation with their customers. Should the sales team be comprised sales employees, independent manufacturers’ representatives, or a combination of both? A sales employee is totally directed and paid by the manufacturer.  An independent manufacturers’ representative, or “rep,” is a firm who sells products of many manufacturers. The manufacturers’ rep may also help his manufacturers market their products or even be a distributor of products. Reps can be small, one or two-person operations, or they can be larger firms with multiple branches covering large geographic territories. For many reasons large building material manufacturers seem to prefer using employee sales teams in recent years.  Many are overlooking the benefits of a rep.  For small manufacturers or startups, independent manufactures’ representatives are an ideal choice for the sales team.  This type of sales team helps keep sales costs down and can gain quick entry into key markets.   Advantages of Using Independent Manufacturers’ Representatives Cost of sales efforts – Sales costs are directly tied to sales volume. Since a rep is only paid commission on products sold, there are no fixed costs of salary, fringe benefits, travel, or other sales expenses. If sales volume decreases, commissions also go down.   Although the cost of a sales call varies widely from industry to industry, information from the Manufacturers’ Representative Educational Research Foundation indicates that the estimated cost of an individual sales call for a sales employee might range from $250 – $500 per call. This cost includes salary/commission, fringe benefits, other sales costs and overhead. For a rep sales team, these costs are paid by the rep organization. Long Term Personal Relationships – These are a key to the success of any business. Individual reps normally work in a smaller geographical territory than a sales employee. Since a manufacturers’ rep owns his business and lives in his territory, his personal relationships are built over decades. Sales employees turn over much more often due to promotions, resignations or terminations and for many other reasons. Proximity – Since a rep lives in the compact territory he covers, a contact for service to customers is close by. When an architect or engineer or a buying customer requests an office or job site visit by a representative of the manufacturer, a rep can often make the visit within a few hours. Since a sales employee normally covers large geographic territories, his office may be a number of states away from the customer, so a personal visit to handle a service problem or discuss an important order normally takes longer. Preparation and industry-specific expertise –A rep is a trained sales professional. Even if a rep is relatively new, he likely has some past sales experience.  He may already have been trained as an employee of a manufacture.  A manufacturer has modest or no expenses for sales training, beyond specific product training. Overlapping sales opportunities – The multiple lines handled by a manufacturers’ rep allow a rep to operate his business with the lowest possible selling costs per line represented. A visit to a...

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Ten Keys for Success Selling Commercial Construction Products to Architects

Posted by on August 20, 2014 in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Ten Keys for Success Selling Commercial Construction Products to Architects

What defines success for a manufacturer’s product representative who is selling to architects? Success is when a product representative is accepted as a trusted consultant and his manufacturer’s products are included in an architect’s specification as the standard of design. Architects and their consulting engineers are important members of the team that is hired by a building owner to complete a project to meet a specific set of needs. Although architects do not write purchase orders, manufacturers of construction products must call on them to be sure their products are included in the building specifications. A Product Representative’s 10 Key Concepts for Selling to Architects (These concepts also apply to selling to engineers.) Do your Research. For a first call on a particular architect’s office, learn as much as possible about the firm. Sources for information include the architect’s website, general contractors, subcontractors, and other architects. How is the office organized to handle design projects? Are they organized by design studio or by project? Does the architect have a particular clientele or type of work they pursue, or do they design for a wide variety of clients? Is a specific person designated to meet with product representatives, or is this the responsibility of each project manager? Be the Expert. Be technically knowledgeable about your product, industry, and competition. Use project photos and a list of local projects completed by your manufacturer as appropriate. Be prepared to answer an architect’s questions concerning product benefits, specifications, detail questions and pricing relative to competition. If it becomes necessary to check your manufacturer for an answer, provide it in a timely manner. Show Respect. Many manufacturers have a negative opinion of architects. They are described as “different,” fixed in their opinions, and in many other ways just frustrating. Product representatives need to recognize architects as hard working people with a job to do for their clients. Architecture is often a difficult and challenging profession. The architect is responsible for selecting all the varied products that are required to construct a building. They must design and detail the building and work with the rest of the building team to complete the project in a manner that provides the architect’s client with the value promised. For the architect to do his job, he needs professional, knowledgeable product representatives from a broad spectrum of manufacturers. Respect can go a long way in establishing strong personal relationships with architects. 4. Assist with Specifications. Understand how the specifications are generated. Is there a specification writer? Are the specifications generated from an office specification by the project manager and production team? Assist by asking to review the office specification or a specification for a specific project. This provides an opportunity to verify that your manufacturer is included as equal or – better yet – as the design standard. Suggestions can be made to the architect as to how the specification can be strengthened to assure competitive, fair bidding. Assist the architect in writing the type of specification he wants. Do not include features that limit competition unless specifically requested by the architect. 5.  Be Thoughtful of an Architect’s Time. Make appointments for most in-person sales calls. It demonstrates respect for an architect’s time. Balance the use of personal sales calls, telephone calls, and emails to properly serve the architect’s...

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Strong Personal Relationships Are Key to Closing More Architectural Sales – part 2

Posted by on June 25, 2014 in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Strong Personal Relationships Are Key to Closing More Architectural Sales – part 2

Last month the blog discussed the importance of developing strong personal relationships with both architects/engineers (A/E) and buying customers.  This month the blog suggests specific actions that architectural sales representatives (ASR) can take to develop and strengthen these critical relationships. With the client architect/engineer: Become a valued product consultant.  The A/E is seeking honest, technically-correct information to determine if a particular product meets the design parameters of a specific project.  No one product can meet the needs of all projects. If a product does not meet the needs of a particular project and the ASR can suggest an alternative, equal product with which he is familiar, this assists the architect and strengthens the ASR’s reputation as a valuable consultant. The ASR must be technically knowledgeable about his product your products.  On each project, the ASR must gain a clear understanding of the specific design requirements.  Clearly explain the features and benefits of the product.  Be prepared to provide an honest comparison with competitive products, if asked.  Offer to help with construction details and to assist in writing the specifications. If a design question is asked that cannot be answered directly, consult the manufacturer and provide the answer in a timely manner. If the A/E asks for help in writing a specification, determine what type of specification is required. Does the A/E want a proprietary, performance driven, or non-proprietary specification?  If a performance or non-proprietary specification is required, the architect’s client probably expects a reasonable degree of competition, so the ASR should only include product requirements that can reasonably be met by at least two other manufacturers. Offer names of two other manufactures that will provide fair competition. If a proprietary specification is needed, one tightly written around the ASR’s manufacturer is appropriate. When product problems arise on an A/E’s project site, assist in solving them as quickly as possible.  Offer honest opinions and recommendations even if they may not be what the A/E wants to hear.  Commercial buildings are complicated structures; they can present difficult challenges during construction. Follow up with the manufacturer and/or installing contractor until the problem is completely resolved. An hour outside the office environment to talk about family and life creates a stronger bond and growing level of personal trust.  This level of trust is very important if an A/E intends to use an ASR’s product as a standard of design or in a proprietary specification.  A/E’s are very busy and normally under tight schedules to meet design deadlines, but take every opportunity to take them for lunch or for any other type of suitable entertainment. Become an active member of CSI (Construction Specifications Institute).  Obtain a CDT (Construction Documents Technologist) certificate and the CCPR (Certified Construction Product Representative) designation. These documents demonstrate an ASR has a thorough knowledge of how all the players in the construction industry work together. They also show an ASR understands the roles of the different members of the architectural team and that he understands how all the components of construction documents fit together. With the buying customer: Take time to understand your customer’s personality, needs, and wants. Every customer is unique. Learn what sports he follows and/or plays, who are the members of his family, etc. Pay particular attention to interests you have in common.  Incorporate this knowledge in...

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Strong Personal Relationships Are Key to Closing More Architectural Sales

Posted by on May 20, 2014 in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Strong Personal Relationships Are Key to Closing More Architectural Sales

A strong personal relationship is one in which the customer fully trusts and likes the architectural sales representative (ASR), whether they are a direct hire employee or an independent manufacturers’ representative.  The customer is interested in a partnership that is equally valuable to him and to the manufacturer the ASR represents. For any product or group of products, the customer is willing to give most or all his business to that manufacturer. There is a perception today among many in the commercial architectural products market place that personal relationships in selling are less important today than in years past. Information is available to architects and other specifying influences on the web as well as through LinkedIn, Twitter, and other social media.  Buying customers can place orders directly with manufactures. There is a wide spread feeling that most customers just buy on lowest price. However, personal relationships are as important in architectural sales today as they have ever been. In many ways, they are more important because of increased competition.  The old adage that people deal with and buy from people they trust and like is still a selling truth. What has changed is an architectural sales representative today must be more thorough and persistent to determine which architects write tight specifications for equal products and which end customers truly value personal relationships and will purchase the highest value products and services. Although price has a strong influence on any buying decision, a manufacturer’s product quality, warranties, customer service, after-sale service, and sales relationships are also critical elements in determining perceived value.   Perceived value is the balance between price and the benefits of a product.  Perceived value is truly the basis for most customer buying decisions. It is the architectural sales representative with his detailed technical product knowledge and strong personal relationships with both architects/engineers (A/E) and buying customers, who can clearly communicate product value that can optimize a manufacturer’s sales. How does an ASR determine if an A/E or buying customer considers a strong personal relationship important in making design or buying decisions?  They are interested in the total package of sales and services provided. This total package includes thorough company and product knowledge, support during and after the sale, the willingness and effort to exceed expectations, and, of course, the price. They understand the price may not be the lowest in the marketplace but trust it is competitive. They value honesty and integrity. They work toward a “win/win,” solution when a problem occurs. They express interest in becoming a strategic, valued partner. They are interested in the life of the ASR – including family information, business background, hobbies, etc. – and also want to share the same information about themselves. To build upon this relationship, they enjoy lunches, a factory visit, and other entertainment as time permits. They look for opportunities to see how an ASR acts outside the daily business environment.   This helps them develop a high level of trust in the ASR. They depend on the ASR to be a trusted consultant when they have specific product or general industry questions. The blog next month will explain how the architectural sales representative can develop and strengthen personal relationships with both architects/engineers and the buying customers who write the purchase orders. Image courtesy of watiporn #100223285 /...

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