85% of Users Say Products are Switched, Does That Include Yours?

A section covered in the CPA’s Construction Product Information Survey looks at the frequency of specification switching. This provides a useful reminder to building product manufacturers about the importance of publishing well written product specifications.

Much of the work Competitive Advantage undertakes for our building product manufacturer clients is around the actions to minimise specification switching. Well written specifications incorporating the USPs of the product. Blog articles, CPD and project stories should all be reinforcing these messages. If this is not done effectively then there is no point in a company investing time and effort in building awareness of its products with architects or engineers if the specification is subsequently switched at the sub-contractor stage. So, it is useful to have independent confirmation of the frequency that this happens, but also alarming to confront the information. To expand on my attention grabbing headline, the CPA asked “In the last 12 months are you aware of the substitution of a product originally specified at an earlier stage in the project?” 37% of Users (see below for a definition) said “Yes, this often happens”, 31% said “Yes, this sometimes happens” and a further 11% said “Yes, this occasionally happens”. Of the remainder only 8% said “No” with 6% who didn’t know.

The CPA then went on to ask those who were aware of product substitution why it happened. 73% said because a cheaper alternative was available. This is probably of no surprise to those familiar with the specification process. It also seems likely that in two thirds of cases there was a performance compromise associated with that change. I’ve reached that conclusion because when asked if an alternative product better met the required performance criteria only 35% of Users said yes.

The CPA also asked if, when a product substitution was made, “The performance criteria of the replacement product was compared to the original, ensuring it was equivalent” to which 64% of Users said it was. But this is the crux of the matter, when that comparison was made how comprehensive was the technical specification? Which brings me back to my original point about well written product specifications. Manufacturers MUST provide specifiers with technical specifications, both Performance and Proprietary which set out what makes their product special, thus ensuring that if a substitution is proposed there is an effective check list that the alternative can be compared with. And if the architect or engineer is going to include these clauses, they MUST have been shown what the benefit will be of each feature; aesthetics, reduced maintenance costs, durability, efficiency in use, ease of replacement to name a few. The opportunity to introduce them to this is in Case Studies, technical blog articles and CPD seminars.

To be effective at this the manufacturer sales team must understand the decision making unit, the points in the RIBA Plan of Works when decision are made and the reasons why (or how) product choices are changed. They must them engage with the key decision makers at the critical times providing relevant reasons, or benefits, for retaining the original specification. An ideal way for the sales or marketing professional to get a better understanding of this is to attend my open course Creating Demand through Specification

About the CPA’s Construction Product Information Survey

One of the follow-up initiatives resulting from the Hackitt Review has been the formation of a Marketing Integrity Group by the Construction Products Association. The purpose of this group is to ensure that construction product information is provided in a clear and unambiguous way. The intention is that the group will publish a set of recommendations for the industry. As part of that process there was a call for evidence which resulted in the publication by the CPA of a Construction Product Information Survey. The report is based on 524 responses. This includes 178 manufacturers & modular factories, 146 specifiers and 37 contractors. In addition, there were also 58 distributors and 105’other users’.