Specification Selling (Guest Article)

Specification Selling (Guest Article)

Chris Ashworth of Competitive Advantage Consultancy is a leading authority on the specification sales process. The company supports manufacturers in the development of their specification sales strategy through the provision of construction personas, industry reports, market research, online learning, learning events and through consultancy to help with CPD resources, specification writing and strategy implementation.

Before deciding if selling to specifiers is the right approach for your business you need to review your product range and identify those which offer benefits over your competitors. Commodity products are not suitable for this approach. For these products it is about price, availability and ease of installation.


The primary reason why an organisation will invest in a specification sales strategy is to reduce the importance of price. The later you become involved in a project the more important price will be. So, although price will always be a factor, it is important to engage with the decision makers at an early stage of a project to make sure they are aware of your products and the benefits they represent. If they recognise the value your product will bring, then it can be included in initial budgeting and subsequently be specified.

When it comes to getting products specified, it is also important to recognise that there is very rarely just one person who will make the decision. The exception is the Client who can insist on a specific product, but this rarely happens. Usually there is a decision making unit (DMU) which comprises Client, Architect or Engineer, Quantity Surveyor, Specialist Consultants, Main Contractor and Specialist Sub-contractor. While none of these can drive through a product choice, any one of them can block a selection. So a key part of specification sales is making sure that each member of the DMU is aware of your products and the relevant benefits of selection for them. You want a situation where when they see your product named in the specification they say “I’m happy with that”.

  • The Architect, Engineer and Consultants will be happy because the product offers the performance they require.
  • The Quantity Surveyor is happy because it represents value. Increasingly, but not always, this is over the lifetime of the building.
  • The Main Contractor and Sub-contractor will be happy because it has good availability and their installers like to use the product.

Research shows that for the majority of projects the architect or engineer will use the products they have used before, perhaps copying the specification from a previous project. They are busy people and do not have the time to research each product for every project. Plus if it worked last time why change it? This is great news if it’s your product which is being used, but presents a challenge for companies who wish to become established in the specification sector. As the new entrant, you need to first create awareness of your product and then demonstrate its benefits. This requires a range of communication channels. Most important is to have a website with easy to access, technically comprehensive information. You need to be regularly publishing thought pieces which address how your product can solve the issues the decision maker faces and presents your organisation as technically competent. When looking for products, the starting point for a high proportion of specifiers is Google. So in addition to your website you need to consider other reference sources such as product directories, leading journals and social media.

Having created awareness, the next step is to allow evaluation. Most specifiers are required to complete Continuing Professional development (CPD) each year. The CPD seminar is an extremely effective means of presenting the benefits of your product, demonstrating the competence of your company and engaging with specifiers. It also leads onto the next stage which is introducing your product’s specification.

There are two forms of specification: Performance and Proprietary.

  • A performance specification, as the name suggests, describes the product’s properties and how it should perform. But the final selection is left to the contractor who will use his experience to select the most suitable brand.
  • A proprietary specification names the brand, hence giving a clear indication of what the specifier requires. But in the majority of cases there is the addition of “Or Equivalent” or similar wording. This then opens up the final product selection.

In both cases it is important for the specifier to clearly define which properties are important for this application. And the manufacturer needs to support the specifier by providing well written product specifications. This is key to the whole process as a high proportion of original specifier product choices are substituted and there is little point in investing in selling to specifiers if you do not have well written product specifications available.

Construction Industry Specification Selling