How Design Pros Evaluate Options When Specifying Building Products

How Design Pros Evaluate Options When Specifying Building Products

As commercial and residential construction evolves, existing design trends will both drive the emergence of new trends while simultaneously keeping pace with current trends. An important customer segment to keep in mind is Designer Pros. Here's are key drivers in how these professionals specify building products.

As commercial and residential construction evolves, existing design trends will both drive the emergence of new trends while simultaneously keeping pace with current trends. An important customer segment to keep in mind is Designer Pros. 

Who are Design Pros?

“Design Pros” is simply a term used in the building industry to quickly refer to the whole group of professionals that includes architects, engineers, and designers, across residential and commercial sectors.

While each professional faces different challenges and has different purchase drivers and customer behaviors to take stock of, generally speaking, each of these Design Pros is unlikely to actually install the products they choose and in most cases are not the final decision maker to place the order, either.

For these reasons, Design Pros have an entirely different process for researching, evaluating, and then choosing which building product to specify.

To help you better understand the specific means of reaching Design Pros, our market research team at The Farnsworth Group surveyed architects, designers, and engineers. Their responses on how they research, select, and specify building products are available in the latest Building Products Customer Guide (BPCG) report

Complimentary reports like this are great conversation starters within your team and organization. That said, the most relevant information to your go-to-market strategies will come from proprietary custom market research, designed to answer specific questions from the specific angle you need. Contact us to get direct insights on your specific product, brand and market from the vantage point of Design Pros and your other customer segments.

Without further ado, let’s address some top considerations when targeting this buyer segment.

General Product Specification Factors for Design Pros

Design Pros are the visionaries of the project and aim to design spaces that are to be used for their intended purpose. To a Design Pro, the matter of which material to use depends not only on the quality of the product, but rather, how the product will contribute to the intended use of the space and enable the space’s core function to prevail while achieve their desired aesthetic.

While nuances exist among different design professionals, here are some of the kinds of questions they may be asking during their research and selection process:

  1. To what degree is this product unique and/or innovative versus timeless?
  2. Is this product on trend, past trend, or an up and coming trend?
  3. Does this product fit the aesthetic of the project?
  4. Does this product fit the budget of the project?
  5. Have I specified the product before?
  6. Does the product easily transfer into my BIM/CAD tool of choice?
  7. How soon can I see it? Can I go to a showroom? Can I order samples?

When able, Design Pros are inclined to spend considerable time researching product options to ensure the perfect match is achieved. When time is limited, Design Pros, as with all of us, will default to familiar brands and products.

To a point, Design Pros are not nearly as concerned with product availability as GCs and installers are, assuming that inventories are steady and that come time for the build to start, and order can be placed and fulfilled reasonably.

Top Challenges Facing Design Pros

Increasing brand equity and market share among Design Pros will require a concerted effort by cross-functional teams to address the top challenges Design Pros encounter regularly. 

Those challenges include:

  1. Time Constraints / Finding the Right Product Information
  2. Understanding Product Use Cases and Constraints
  3. Avoiding Product (and Project) Failure
  4. Preventing Value-Engineering
  5. Keeping Up With Evolving Design & Building Technologies
  6. Complying with Changing Governmental Regulations
  7. Feeling Valued and Like an Important Contributor to the Project

Help Design Pros Easily Find Product Information

What degree of effort is currently required for someone to understand, in entirety, the breadth and depths of product options you offer as well as the specific product specs for each?

  • Can they get the information they need in less than 3 clicks?
  • Can they get to the section of the website page housing the information they need in less than 7 seconds?
  • Can they even find the product information online at all - through your website and through your dealer and distributor websites?
  • Is it easy for designers to contact someone if they have follow-up questions?

Asking questions like these will encourage your cross-departmental team to ensure that product specs are readily accessible by all who seek it, like architects, designers, and engineers.

According to findings from the Building Products Customer Guide, overall, roughly 7 in 10 Design Pros are turning to a building product supplier websites as their primary source of online information during building product research.

The top 3 online sources for information among Design Pros at firms bringing in less than $1.5M in annual revenue are 

  • National Building Product Supplier Website (67%)
  • Manufacturer’s Website (50%)
  • Local Supplier Website (47%)

For larger Design Pro firms, with annual revenues topping $1.5M annually, the top online information sources used are

  • National Building Product Supplier Website (74%)
  • Google or Other Search Engine (54%)
  • (Tied) Manufacturer’s Website (42%)
  • (Tied) Local Supplier Website (42%)

Help Design Pros Fully Understand Product Use Cases and Constraints

You don’t want to be in a situation where your marketing and sales teams overpromise and the product undelivered. 

To solve for this, be clear about what your Product IS and IS NOT better suited for. 

  • Are there certain climates where your product works well or doesn’t work well? 
  • Are the types of projects where your product would be overkill?
  • How compatible is your product to the other materials the Design Pro is looking to use in the surrounding components of the project?

According to findings from the Building Products Customer Guide, it takes Design Pros significantly more research touches, both in store and online, to determine if a product will meet the needs of the project. Whereas an installer generally needs 4 to 7 touch points total, a Design Pro requires 6 to 12 touch points with the product, both in store and online, before making a final decision.

Help Design Pros Avoid Project Failure

Design Pros may not be fully recognized for their efforts when the final build is complete assuming the design works well and the function of each component enables proper use of the space. 

In contrast, it’s easy to notice when a poor design hinders the use of the space for its intended purpose, or some component breaks down quickly. 

Instilling confidence in your products by providing guarantees and strong warranty offerings is one way to reduce Design Pros’ perceived risk of trying your brand.

Product reviews are a proven way to increase a Design Pro’s trust in your product as well. According to findings from the 2023 Building Products Customer Guide, reviews are the top reason architects, engineers, and designers are conducting online research, and are even more of an influence in the specifying decision among commercial Design Pros than among residential Design Pros.

Help Design Pros Overcome Value-Engineering

Because the designer often has no contribution once the design is complete and the project moves into the build phase, friction is introduced once the Design Drafts are completed. From there, what’s on paper is now going to be up to the GC on the project to translate into a physical structure.

Positioning your building product as the ideal choice among Design Pros as well as the ideal choice for installers can reduce this friction between the specifier and installers. Address the different challenges faced by each during the design phase versus the build phase of a project to reduce the risk of being value-engineered out of the design by the GC handling oversight of the actual build.

Further, don’t assume that once you have secured the spec that your team has the sale. Keep working the deal and get buy-in from the primary decision makers on the build side of the project to prevent being value-engineered out of the project. Equip your sales reps to be able to advocate for the Design Pro’s choice of your product in the context of the entire project and convey why no other option will carry the same value for the project. 

Help Design Pros Keep Up With Evolving Design & Building Technologies

Historically, offering “Lunch and Learns” was a primary tactic that manufacturers leaned on to be a helpful aid to Design Pros amidst industry change. In more recent years, inbound marketing tactics have replaced some of these traditional means. 

Design Pros are also managing the evolution of their own design tools, namely BIM and CAD softwares. In fact, a whopping 76% of specifiers view BIM files as important during their decision making process. 

Since the majority of Design Pros seek out manufacturer’s products that have BIM files readily accessible to them, your company can increase market share by simply finding the best way to provide this information to Design Pros, as simply as housing it on your website so that it is accessible to Design Pros 24/7.

Architects, engineers, and designers are also the customer segment with the highest intent to attend a trade show next year, with 6 in 10 stating trade show attendance intent as found in the 2023 Building Products Customer study.

Data from the Farnsworth 2023 Building Products Customer Guide, Request Access to Your Copy Here

Help Design Pros Know When They Are Complying with Government Regulations

There are also changes in governmental regulations for Design Pros to stay on top of so communication strategies that include segmentation of information that keeps Design Pros informed of changing regulations and requirements could be helpful to augment the information Design Pros are getting from associations on that front.

To that point, make it easy for Design Pros to clearly understand if your product helps them achieve different standards of build quality that exist at local, state, and federal levels. 

You can help them manage the change in requirements related to your product category.

Help Design Pros Feel Valued for Their Contributions to the Project

Generally speaking, a great way to increase market share and extend brand loyalty is to enable your sales, marketing, and product teams to become the Design Pros’ ally in intentional ways through the entire design and build process of a project. 

Drawing back to the point of decreasing the risk of being value-engineered out of the project, your sales reps that are able to advocate well for the Design Pro’s choices will increase their loyalty to your brand and, in turn, continue to spec your products into future designs that hit their desk.

Help recognize the contributions of all design and build stakeholders that used your building products in builds where tracking large product orders is manageable, like commercial builds and residential developments.

Inform How You Go-to-Market & Sell to Pros

Our team at The Farnsworth Group will provide you with over 30 years of home improvement industry expertise and specialized market research knowledge to ensure you get the valuable insights you need to make data-driven decisions for your brand.  Simply book a consultation to learn more about conducting custom market research.