Product specification influences and drivers for change

Product specification influences and drivers for change

In this blog post we look at building product specification influences and the current drivers for change.

Written by Chris Ashworth

There are numerous factors which can influence the specifier’s (architect or engineer) product choice. Understanding these allows you to present a convincing sales argument which should be reflected across all of your marketing communications.

The starting point should be a product that is best for the job. Selection criteria will vary depending on the type of project. A prestige project will be looking for products which offer a long life and are of good quality. A speculative industrial unit will be designed with lowest cost of construction in mind. Possibly specified by the same architect, but with different requirements.

Increasingly clients, and hence specifiers, are thinking more about the building’s lifetime operating costs. The BIM initiative has increased recognition of this and is leading to more performance data becoming available. Published figures suggest that over a 25 year period the cost of maintaining a building will be 5 times greater than the cost of design and construction. Work by the Green Building Council in relation to health and wellbeing also highlights that the cost of employees can be 9 times greater than the energy and maintenance costs of a building, so investment in creating a good working environment will be repaid through improvements in productivity. These concepts are starting to drive a change in approach to the selection of building products.

Product specification and sustainability

Sustainability is another key driver, with an increasing number of building occupants wanting to occupy a sustainable building. Sometimes products will be selected because of their influence on a rating for BREEAM or a similar assessment method. It is not unheard of for a product to be added to the design just to lift the rating to the next level. Be aware of any characteristics your product has which could allow it to be used in this way.

When selecting products for a project, a specifier will probably use what they have used before. This is quite understandable, it is a known quantity which delivers what they want. To change to an alternative is both time consuming and risky as it might cause problems on site, or not deliver the performance expected. Good news if it’s your product that’s currently being used, and hard work if you want to introduce a new product.

Very often a specifier will use products because of the support they receive from a manufacturer. This might be as basic as a well-designed website which is easy to navigate and download information from. More likely it will be because of help with the design process, providing advice, CAD and BIM content and in some cases even undertaking the complete design. Help with interpretation of the Building Regulations will be another factor, especially where complex requirements exist, or as sometimes happens, there is conflict between one approved document and another.

Who influences the choice of building product for a project?

The specifier will also be responsive to contractor preferences. This may be achieved by using an open specification, or the contractor may propose an alternative product. In the case of a Design & Build project the contractor could even issue a list of approved products for the specifier to select from. Encourage sub-contractors who like your products to tell you about projects where your competitors are specified and introduce you to the specifier so that you can present the benefit of your product. If the specifier does switch and is happy with the outcome they are likely to remain a committed user.

It is not just the contractor that will influence product choice. The project team will make up the decision making unit which will comprise the client, specialist consultants, quantity surveyor, architect, engineer, main contractor, specialist sub-contractor and possibly others. Also within the contracting organisations there will be more than one influencer; buyer, estimator, contracts manager and site manager are examples.

If you do want to introduce your products to new specifiers, understand all of the drivers influencing the specifiers choice, not just specific to your product but also in the wider concept of its use. Then present the benefits that these features deliver. Remember to present relevant benefits. An architect will be interested in the overall contribution to the building’s performance, an engineer’s view is likely to be narrower with a focus on the effective performance of the system he is designing and the contractor’s interest will be much more around good availability, ease of installation and of course cost.

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Further Information
Chris is a specialist in specification strategy and founder of Competitive Advantage Consultancy which specialises in market research and training for the construction industry. He is a member of the BIM4M2 steering group and Deputy Chair of the organising committee for CIMCIG, the Chartered Institute of Marketing’s Construction Industry Group.

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