RIBA Insight Monthly Briefing

Marketing to architects – an alternative strategy to 'the push'

Su Butcher, practice manager at architects Barefoot & Gilles, offers some practical advice to anyone wanting to build a relationship with architects.

What is the best way of marketing to architects?

Marketing to architects – an alternative strategy to 'the push'Let me answer that question as someone who runs an architectural practice and is often the first point of contact for those wanting to sell to them.

I get called and or emailed several times a week by companies with whom we haven't worked before. Sometimes the person who calls is a marketing manager who is trying to set up meetings with as many architects in an area as possible.

I'm not suggesting that this is how your firm does things, but it's a very common tactic. Look at that situation from the architect's point of view, however, and it might help identify an alternative strategy.

The architect's perspective might be summarised as:

  1. I don't know you – so I have to make a decision in a sentence or two. So you're on the back foot already
  2. I didn't call you – so I probably don't need to speak to you right now
  3. You're asking for some of my time and we're not looking for what you're offering right now, so why would I say yes?

I've worked for half a dozen architects in my career and most of them employ a gatekeeper as soon as possible to distance themselves from this type of enquiry. Not just because they're busy, but because they often find it difficult to say, “no, thanks”. That means you'll often end up in front of an architect who says they want to meet you, when they're actually thinking, “Oh God, not again. Please go away!”

What you want to achieve is the exact opposite of this. So let's start with the architect's motivation.

When do architects want you?

When does an architect want to work with a brand new supplier?

  1. When the existing one screws up
  2. When they don't supply what the architect needs
  3. Er, that's it.

No-one likes change for the sake of it. The most likely spur to change is that someone in the team no longer wants or likes what they already have.

So your first tactic should be to work out how your competitors screw up and or don't deliver, and differentiate yourself on those points for all you're worth. Then, when they start looking for someone new they'll be more likely to look favourably upon your offering.

How will architects find you?

What do architects do when they need a new supplier?

  1. They ask friends, colleagues and clients – and then they look you up online, or;
  2. They look for suppliers online – and then they ask their friends, colleagues and clients about you.

Either way, you're unlikely to get a call or a sale without some sort of prior relationship, and the best prior relationship is a direct introduction from someone you know and trust to someone they know and trust.

So tactic number two is: build your relationships, not your direct mailing list.

Where will architects talk about you?

Let's say you're a structural engineer. Who else uses, works with, or is positioned to directly recommend structural engineers based on personal experience? Other architects of course, as well as other clients and consultants. All these people talk to each other in many different ways, and you have to become part of this discussion.

Of course you should consider how architects will find your website, but bear in mind that an even greater influence will be any connection they have to you via a trusted associate. That's where ‘social' networking comes in.

Tactic number three is: use social tools as an extension to traditional relationship building, not as a tool to shout with.

The idea that social tools like Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn etc are somehow separate from the ‘real, professional' world is a myth and a potential wasted opportunity. Social tools – indeed any platforms with an interactive, conversational element – are a direct extension of the palm-pressing service providers have been doing for generations. The only differences are, you can do it far more quickly and effectively (especially making first contact, or keeping in touch between meetings), and some of it is conducted in public (so that people can find you directly).

Many, many architects and other construction professionals actively use Twitter as a serious business tool. To see it as unprofessional is a mistake. Don't be put off by the doubters who suggest that people will be overwhelmed. They've misunderstood its purpose – social media platforms are about search, not browse. Here's how it works:

The reason why you, your company and your client-facing staff should be on social networking sites is that they reveal to all the network of human relationships between people. As a result, architects who happen to find your website or blog can then Google you to find where else you are. Then they can go on LinkedIn, find one or two of your people, and see whether they know anyone who knows them. They can discretely (anonymously even) examine your profiles on Twitter to see who you're talking to, and whether it's perhaps someone else they know. And then they can call, email, message, or DM that person and ask, “How well do you know so-and-so at Fred Bloggs Partnership? Only, I'm looking for a new structural engineer…”

The great thing about this type of approach – take it from me – is that while you have to put in the legwork, you don't have to call people up, spam them, or hassle them while they're busy. They'll come to you, and the first thing you'll know is when you get a phone call from them asking to meet.


Author Su Butcher is practice manager at Barefoot & Gilles, and regularly blogs and Tweets on architectural issues. A version of this article was first published on LinkedIn.

Editor's note

Learn more about developing relationships with architects and specifiers, based on trust. Over 500 construction industry manufacturers and service providers have successfully done so already via the RIBA CPD Providers Network. Find out how...


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