A marketing strategy for gaining construction product specifications

csc event
A Construction Specifications Ottawa event where owners of environmentally sustainable projects were invited to speak on their successes. These kinds of initiatives lead to relationships -- and business development

If I’m having real challenges in developing a marketing model for our new monopoly-busting business with a direct, specific and highly geolocated offer (and with knowledge of the market size and at least partially, the specific clients), then consider the challenge if you are tasked with getting your building product materials or technology written into construction specifications.

In theory, being “speced” is the golden key — since once things are written into the contract documentation, it is difficult (if at all possible) to change things — meaning that you are getting the business no matter which contractor or sub-trade wins the work.

But the story unfortunately isn’t so simple. First, many specifications writers are loath to set up any sort of sole-sourced specifications; second, the initiative is in the early stages of project development — meaning there will be many months (if not years) before the specified product/service reaches the construction stage where an order is placed. And plenty can go wrong in that intervening time.

Finally, as a marketer you have the usual challenge of breaking through all the noise and clutter of competing messages and offers, and of course the very real difficulties in getting the ears and attention of decision-makers (a technical spec writer may draw up the documentation — but is he or she acting on orders from an architect, engineer, or even owner?)

These questions make me laugh about how easy my ontarioconstructionnews.com marketing challenge is in comparison. I mean, when people need the product — always at the very end of the construction process — they must buy it (in Ontario) of course. I can tell that there are in the range of 1,000 “needs” a month from public database information, which also provides information about people who have recently purchased the product elsewhere. Everything is finite and quite immediate and specific — unlike the rather vague challenges for specification-oriented marketing.

So, what should marketers do in the latter case? Here are some thoughts largely based on a useful article by U.K.-based Chris Ashworth’s CompetitiveAdvantage website.

  1. Engagement with relevant specifications organizations, such as Construction Specifications Institute (CSI) in the US an Construction Specifications Canada (CSC) makes plenty of sense, especially if you are a technical rep and want to work with local/regional specifiers though the relevant local chapters;
  2. Develop effective technical literature;
  3. Effective construction CPD seminars and programs;
  4. Writing standard specification documents; and
  5. Communication, especially online.

Ashworth writes:

The building product manufacturer needs to have these specification tools readily available.

Providing well written specifications in both a Performance and Proprietary format, will very often drive your other marketing tools: your technical literature and CPD seminar.

Your product literature and specification documents need to be available as downloads from your website, in a form that can be emailed to specifiers by your technical department or the sales team. And they should be distributed at the end of a CPD seminar.

In a recent study conducted by Competitive Advantage, more than half the architects contacted said that they considered there was sufficient information available online to research products without contacting the manufacturer. Which tells us it is vitally important to have good content available online. Our research also told us that specifiers do not just stick to one information source, most will use a variety of sources as they seek out information.

In reality, specifications-focused marketing requires much work, patience, and acceptance of uncertanity. Is it worth doing? Considering the size and scale of business that can result (or be lost to your competition if you leave the market unguarded), it is right to invest time, energy and resources in the specifications market. Just be prepared for the long haul.

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