Tuesday, 11 September 2012

Building a career in specification sales - Part 1 'What is Specification Selling?"

Specification selling is now more important than ever for a building product manufacturer. A Specification Sales Job is an exciting and rewarding role that should be considered by anyone looking to develop a sales career in the building product industry.

As the industry continues to focus on sustainability, coupled with the tightening of building regulations, specifiers are beginning to look primarily at product benefits on-site and factors such as lifetime building operating costs and durability rather than just purchase price.

A more expensive and higher quality product can offer greater value – ensuring the correct people are aware of these benefits is the foundation of specification selling. As a result, it will encourage brand loyalty and provide enhanced competitive advantage. Another attractive benefit of specification selling is that it gives the manufacturer control over their own product, rather than the control being with the distributor, although truly effective specification selling will actually improve the manufacturer/distributor relationship and the level of business put through the stockist.

Specification selling requires a different approach and skill set to traditional account sales. In five parts Pin Board, the Pinnacle Consulting Blog, talks to Shaun Davies, Technical Consultant with Rockwool UK, on how he has developed a career in specification sales and what is involved together with his advice on how to succeed and the job satisfaction it can bring.

In the first part Shaun gives us an overview of specification selling and how it works.

Pin Board: "What is specification selling?"

Shaun: "In essence, a specification is a documented advice note informing a contractor which products and materials should be installed, the standards that they should meet and guidance on their installation.

"Specification selling is about influencing the nature of this advice note and then making sure that it matches the attributes of the product you are selling and then working with the specification chain so that your actual product is selected. This requires you to offer the specifier a large amount of readily available and relevant technical information. You will need to be supported by the internal sales office, company website/marketing materials and those involved in testing and product development to succeed. This will help to open dialogue with a specifier and, if you can make their life easier, it is easier to make contact in the future.

"However, it is a huge sales and marketing challenge and can be a very long process, involving many different people who require a variety of messages. Different people will control the specification throughout the process, so you need to ensure you are fully aware of the stage that the project is at and who is in control.

"The specification can be broken at any time and this is why you need to be involved in the project from start to finish. The best form of specification selling is when your product is the only product that ticks all the boxes. In these cases there is no ‘or equivalent’ available for the specifier to select.

"Specification selling requires a great deal of skill and hard work to be effective and to understand what is involved it is useful to know what the process is."

Pin Board: "Who exactly is the specifier?"

Shaun: "A number of people normally contribute to the specification decision that is traditionally made by the Client, Architect or Engineer. However, the people that influence their decisions are just as important, particularly when it comes to brand selection.

"A building project will have a special ‘project team’, which traditionally includes: the Client, Consultant, Architect, Engineer, Quantity Surveyor, Main Contractor and Sub-contractor. Other specialists may also be called upon when required.

"The project contract type will also vary from project to project eg Traditional, Design and Build, Management, etc and may affect your approach.

"As you can see, a specification specialist has a lot to control, understand and influence and on top of this you will normally have multiple projects to deal with."

Pin Board: "What stages does the specification decision process go through?"

Shaun: "The specification process goes through four main stages."
  • The client’s brief – This usually details the functional needs of the building and other details such as overall look and required performance. This stage will drive the products that will eventually be selected.
  • Specialist consultation – In order to define some of the requirements set out in the client’s brief for the building’s performance, specialist consultants in areas such as fire, acoustics, security, HVAC and sustainability, are usually brought in during this stage.
  • Architect’s input – The design of the building will now be developed from the information contained within the client’s brief and the specialist advice from the consultants. It is at this stage when the project gets more detailed and product selection may be indicated –certainly in terms of specification, performance and approvals, etc. Mechanical, electrical and structural engineers are likely to work with the architect during this stage.
  • Appointment of the contractor – It is often the main contractor that is responsible for product selection, although the actual decision is also often made by the sub-contractor (appointed by the main contractor) particularly in terms of brand.

"However, the role of the specification salesperson does not end there, as you will be expected to advise and assist during the installation and construction process, even once your product has been bought and delivered to site. You have control of the project in your hands - don't drop it"

In the next part Shaun will be advising those thinking of getting into specification selling on the common mistakes to avoid making.

If you are interested in developing a career in Specification Sales in the building industry then please contact us to discuss the Specification Sales Job right for you. Call our expert building industry recruitment consultants for a discussion on your career on 01480 405225.

Hand image courtesy of jannoon028 / FreeDigitalPhotos.net


  1. Quote

    "specifiers are beginning to look primarily at product benefits on-site and factors such as lifetime building operating costs and durability rather than just purchase price"

    Hallelujah...don't tell me the penny has finally dropped. Was doing this >20 years ago and we also used to say at Liebert that after the initial owner/operator/decision maker, the opportunity of an order dropped from ~95% to ~65% once a third party got involved. It went down to about 37% once a contractor contaminated the buying process, adding zero value-add into the bargain as well.

  2. Shaun obviously speaks from experience and he highlights one of the biggest mistakes that many specification sales people fall foul of - taking their eye off the ball and losing the specification somewhere along the way to project completion. It's important to remember that just because a specifier/decision maker says they will use your product, others in the project chain may have other ideas - particularly where money is concerned.
    The specification route to market is becoming very competitive and to command time with key specifiers and decision makers is becoming increasingly difficult. Differentiating yourself/your organisation from the rest of the pack is vital to success. I'm sure Shaun will cover this in future sections of this
    very complex subject which I hope generates the significant interest it deserves. I look forward to reading Shaun's views.

  3. Super article, Shaun speaks volumes of common sense but unfortunately specifications are broken every day due to ignorance and cost. This in most will cases reduce system performance and sustainability for the client. There is a sentence written into many architectural drawings "equal or approved" I believe should be removed and replaced with "equal or better" this will add more protection for the specifier and the manufacturer.Example: No one should change the insulation specification of a home without the written consent of the homeowner and the architect. All to often the homeowner pays indefinitely for poor decisions made during the building process.