Yesterday, I attended the annual summer BBQ and board meeting of Ottawa’s Construction Specifications Canada (CSC) chapter. CSC is the Canadian counterpart of the Construction Specifications Institute (CSI), organizations well-known to building products manufacturers, specialized industry associations and construction technology proponents. The specification writers, many of whom work under contract or are employed by architects, engineers government procurement agencies, write the contract documentation that tells bidders what is required for any project. So, if a particular product or technology is specified, it must be used, no matter which contractor actually wins the work.
Of course, this is a perfect setting for some really complicated and sometimes ethically challenging stuff. In the perfect world, spec writers will write their documentation to induce and encourage competition and innovation. The challenge is building quality control into the story. (One spec writer said, when he specifies painting services and paints, he now specifies specific tests need to be conducted by the contractor to ensure quality — a concept I’m sure the Ontario Painting Contractors Association is truly happy to hear.)
“Tech reps” fit into the picture here, where manufacturers offer support, documentation, and encourage spec writers in their territory to define the rules so their products are used, or at least are on a small short list. The closest occupational parallel I can think about are the pharmaceutical company representatives who meet with doctors and encourage them to prescribe their products. Neither type of selling is particularly easy. The cycle from initial communication to the point where the manufacturer actually ships the product can be incredibly long. And all kinds of things can screw up along the way.
Yesterday, however, I had the opportunity to listen to qualified (and influential) spec writers and tech reps in an informal discussion on this topic.
One engineering consultant who focuses on heritage projects described a specific tech rep he works with frequently. “He’s always available when I need him,” the engineer said. “He truly knows his stuff. And he never pushes his product on me — if it isn’t the right situation for the application, he’ll suggest alternatives.”
Sounds pretty basic, eh. But the engineer and others around the patio table also described their horror stories, where the tech reps misrepresented the utility of their products, which were then specified. The end result: change orders, disputes, and ugly legal messes. Several individuals at the table acknowledged that it takes some time for the tech rep to build the level of knowledge needed to truly provide support for the professionals writing the specs. The solution: If you don’t know the answer, be up front about it, say you will get the answer within a set amount of time, and then deliver the answer after doing the research. Hard work, of course, especially if you find after the research that you must recommend someone else’s product. But that is the world of the ethical and successful tech rep.
Somewhat related to this process is the description of a great public relations person I discovered in a Society for Marketing Professional Services (SMPS) newsletter last night. I’ll share these observations tomorrow, and add some additional thoughts on this topic on Monday.