Selling to architects and interior designers can be challenging. For example, some architects are more utilitarian, while others are focused more on aesthetics. Often, interior designers are driven by current trends but want to express their own style or their customer’s style.
When choosing products and subcontractors, both architects and interior designers rely heavily on those with whom they have long, established relationships. That’s great if you already have those relationships with a group of architects or interior designers, but it makes it tough for a new person to break in. They may be hesitant to try someone or something new and risk issues with delivery, installation, or customer service.
Marketing to these two unique groups requires a little understanding, some self-examination, a good measure of persistence, and patience.
1. UNDERSTAND YOUR AUDIENCE
Generally speaking, you’ll find (at least) two types of people in an architectural firm – visionaries who care about aesthetics and form, and engineers who specify the products and complete the blueprints. In small firms, they may be the same person. Regardless, you want to reach the person who is specifying products.
In larger firms, you also will find junior architects and senior architects. Junior architects are likely millennials who have grown up with the internet, Google, and smartphones. They want information at their fingertips and will be 95 percent on their way to a decision before contacting a company about a product or service. They are cautious, yet they want to make wise choices that gain them respect with others in the company.
Senior architects often have existing loyalties to companies, products, and services. They tend to rely on what’s tried and true. So, when specifying something new, they’ll need to defend that decision to partners, contractors, and clients. You can help them by demonstrating to them that the product or service will produce their client’s desired result and fit into their budget. In short, you need to solve their problem.
Another audience is in-house architects who often are hired by large property owners, mass retailers, big box stores, or restaurant chains. Their primary focus is performance-related issues like energy efficiency. Architects are, by nature, problem solvers. Many live by the motto, “form follows function.” This means that the shape or form of something should be chosen based on its intended purpose and function.
Architects appreciate someone who can help them solve a problem or offer a better solution. If you can do it cheaper, better, or faster (not necessarily all three), that’s even better.
Designers, on the other hand, are almost all about aesthetics. Function is secondary to form. Their goal is to create visually pleasing spaces that spark joy for their clients.
Because designers have different creative styles, you’ll want to identify those that best align with your own style. Another approach is to provide a wide range of choices that fit a variety of designers’ styles.
2. KNOW YOUR NICHE
Think about what you do best and what types of customers most benefit from your expertise. Look at your best, most profitable customers, and figure out what they have in common. It might be tangible qualities like a budget range, type of building, or design style.
Perhaps you specialize in reclaimed or repurposed wood, inlays, medallions, curves, parquetry, or some other special feature. Look for architectural firms or designers that frequently incorporate these in their buildings. Start by looking at their portfolios, which may be on their websites.
Maybe your niche has more to do with intangible characteristics. Try to finish this statement for your company. “We do well with customers who…
…have particularly high standards for quality.”
…know exactly what they want and how to specify it.”
…have a concept, feeling, or idea, but want suggestions.”
…are very conceptual and creative.”
…enjoy working collaboratively.”
How does your statement end? Once you understand your niche, you’ll want to pursue architectural firms that align with your strengths. That doesn’t mean you’ll turn away customers who don’t look like “ideal” customers, but the focus of your sales and marketing efforts will be those that do.
3. REACH OUT APPROPRIATELY
Now it’s time to pursue those firms, independent architects, or interior designers that align with your niche. Rather than spending a lot of time, money, and effort to find them, consider where they already are.
Are they members of organizations or trade associations? Join those associations, sponsor or host events, advertise on their websites, or offer training for their members. Look for chapters of the American Institute of Architects (AIA), American Design Drafting Association (ADDA), American Society of Interior Designers (ASID), or The International Interior Design Association (IIDA) in your area.
Do they read industry, trade, or local publications? Look for local or regional lifestyle or society magazines, and consider regional insertions in national magazines like Architectural Digest (check out mediamax network.com).
Do they attend trade shows? It may be a local home show, Home Builders Association Parade of Homes, or large regional show – but if your target audience is there, you should consider participating.
Those are the traditional methods. Social and digital media give us options for relating to our potential partners in many new, low-cost, and more meaningful ways. Become a valuable source of information. This will keep you in front of your audience, establish your company as experts, and keep you top-of-mind when they need your products or services.
4. KEEP IT UP
It will take time to see results from marketing efforts directed at architects and interior designers, but remember, it’s a long game. Trust is built over time by being in the marketplace consistently, demonstrating your expertise, and providing real solutions to real problems. It may take a year or more before you see significant results, but if you build a reputation as the person or company with the answers, people will be more likely to contact you in the future.