Paul Gerber’s presentation to the annual Construction Specifications Canada (CSC) conference in Winnipeg probably attracted more attention than any other in the four-day program.
“Inside the Mind of a Specifier: What All Product Reps Should Know About How a Specifier Works” captured the interest of the individuals trying to influence the influencers in the AEC industry — the specification writers who set out the contract documentation and thus, ultimately can determine whether one manufacturers’ product is used or another’s should be considered.
Gerber, a specification writer in DIALOG’s Toronto office, serves as CSC fourth vice-president. This means that some years from now, he will likely be the association’s national leader.
Although Gerber made clear that others in AEC practices have decision-making authority, the tech reps still make a bee-line for the spec writers — and at least one person in the audience asked how reps can get past the gatekeeper to speak to them.
Gerber said this isn’t a problem in DIALOG’s Toronto office. The receptionist simply puts the call through to him. And he said he doesn’t have a problem meeting with technical reps even if he doesn’t urgently need their support for a specific project, but he hopes they will provide useful information, honestly, without pushing the sales pitch — and (to be truly effective) the rep should really know about the specifier’s interests and priorities before pitching anything.
Specifiers are busy, Gerber said, often working on multiple projects at the same time. They are skeptical, and creatures of habit. They need factual information and prefer to work with technical reps who will tell the whole story, including where the product may not meet the project’s requirements, or there are limitations in its application. He suggests a technical rep should become a “Golden Rep” or, in the US parlance, a “trusted advisor” — but this trust can be blown through a single slip-up, and once lost, will be very hard to recover.
Other points he made, in maximizing the relationship-building potential, include:
- Always always always be honest – being skeptical and detailed oriented, we will eventually come to discover you have attempted to “feed ups a line”.
- We all get asked questions we may not have immediate answers. In these situations, say you need some time to provide a complete and accurate answer, provide a timeframe you will follow-up in, and then stick to it.
- If you meet with a specifier about specific project needs, offer to review the profile once the specifier has completed it or it is near complete. Some specifiers are more open to this than others, so don’t let a profile decline deter you from asking this question of others.
- Build relationships, not sales leads.
- Never, never engage in negative selling – remember what your mother told you if you don’t have something nice to say about anyone, don’t say anything at all. No other thing turns specifier off more than someone to run down the competition to make their product appear superior, especially if you can’t back up your claims with facts. Even if you can, present the facts in unbiased way that supports the decision.
Other take-away points from the session:
- Gerber said manufacturers should provide their product information in accurate, detailed, and readily0accessible formats on their websites, and not restrict access to the data with password protected access. This observation won several nods from the specifiers in the audience. The problem: Besides the time waste in getting the information the specifiers need, they don’t want to be put on the manufacturers’ email/marketing list and have even more unwelcome email in their in-box.
- The best way for reps to begin to build relationships may be through associations such as Construction Specifications Canada. Membership counts, and certification (as a Certified Technical Representative (CTR) carries weight.
- Gerber made it clear that specifiers are not interested in a “free lunch” — but they welcome information, and they appreciate when technical representatives engage and provide information to others in the design team. Meetings should bring everyone with an interest in the project together to make connections and provide information.
There of course is no magic quick-acting formula to becoming an effective and successful technical representative. I came away from Gerber’s session, however, realizing that the old-fashioned basics always apply — build your reputation, share, represent yourself honestly and accurately, and connect and contribute to the relevant community, and you’ll do well in the long-term.