Need Information? Develop Your Network!

Last week I was reminded just how valuable good relationships are. A trusted product representative scheduled a meeting with us to explain recent product developments forced by building code changes.

The meeting was almost impromptu, and certainly not AIA CES approved. Eliminating the "generic" requirements for learning units actually allowed us to learn more. We were able to question the product rep in detail about the new product. We were able to explore the differences between the new product and the existing product line.

  • Where is the product used?
  • What are the limitations for its use?
  • What are the performance differences?
  • What are the cost differences - new to existing products?
  • Do other manufacturers offer something similar?

What made this meeting so special?
We did not request this meeting, the product representative did. The product rep knew something of the industry we did not. He also knew the information would be important to our business. We would be able to share the information with our clients to help them make better choices to solve their design problems within their owner's project budgets.

Perhaps the product rep knew that if we were informed, he could rely on us to inform others - our clients and our network. Perhaps he wanted to put us in a position of looking like heroes to our clients when we solved their problem. Perhaps he wanted to sell his product.

With a personal touch and a morning's time, he accomplished all three. The product rep's reach was ultimately far greater than the seven specifiers in the meeting.

Why meet at all?
In today's digital world, the question is raised, especially since much product data is available on manufacturers' websites. The electronic data is usually more current than what is available in print - especially binders left by product representatives only weeks before.

This meeting was a prime example of why meet. The new product is not shown on the manufacturer's website, yet. The website does not even mention the new product line and the problem it solves. The manufacturer is relying on representatives to get the initial word on the street.

What better way is there than to have a trusted colleague call to present a new product? Past experience with this product representative established his credibility. So new information, new products, are usually received more positively. Plus the product representative gets to hear first hand the questions, the concerns, the praise, and suggestions about how to approach the market - an informal specifiers focus group.

The face-to-face discussions can produce invaluable marketing information for the manufacturer and allow the specifier to be perceived as an industry leader while solving architect's design problems. Everyone benefits, and the time investment is brief.

Websites provide data for passive perusal. Trusted product representative meetings provide an active opportunity for idea exchange and improved product understanding.

The moral of the story
When you are battling to complete the design, don't dismiss the product representative with the new, ultimate weapon sitting outside your door because you don't have time to talk. That new weapon may be just what you need, delivered at a time you need it most.

A/Es, Designers, Specifiers: Trusted product representatives are a valuable resource. Take time to develop your network to enjoy the advantage it brings. Take time to talk, to learn, and to apply new knowledge to existing problems.

Manufacturers, Product Representatives: Take time and make the effort to build trust. Keep your network informed, especially about new industry and product developments. Helping solve both current and future problems builds credibility.

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