Written by the Interior Design Team
The following whitepaper has been written using interior design as an example; however, the tips outlined would apply equally to presentations given on any topic or discipline.
A vital part of any interior designer's job is to find the right product to suit their client and their project. As more products become available, as manufacturing processes are upgraded by technology, and as environmental concerns gain importance, there is much to comprehend before a product can be confidently specified. Designers rely on manufacturer representatives to provide critical information that assists them in selecting a product. The relationship between interior designer and manufacturer representative should be mutually beneficial.
But as more generic presentations, off-the-mark product information sessions, and fluffy webinars come through the door, the value of product presentations is not only diminished, it can be totally lost. The following are some insights that interior designers have identified that would make product presentations more effective, informative, and beneficial for all.
1. Talk About Your Product
It's critical to know your audience. When booking your appointment, ask questions to determine what is most important about your product to communicate to the group. Although it seems reasonable to give some background information, product representatives often spend considerable time talking about aspects that are not useful to the group.
Here are Some Suggestions:
What is the history of the specific product? What is the difficulty or consideration in using it? How is it shipped, from where, and how long is the wait to get it? Are there minimum orders? Is it shipped in a particular manner, maybe with a special coating or packaging, that the contractor needs to be aware of – and budget for? What are your product's options? What does it cost? Does it cost extra if the factory output is modified? Does it cost less if more is ordered? Is your factory environmentally sensitive and the product content sustainable? Do you provide models of your product for software such as AutoCAD and Revit that are easily downloadable?
Understanding an audience's needs and knowledge level at a particular time and tailoring your presentation to suit goes a long way towards building that mutually beneficial relationship between designer and product representative.
2. Be Respectful of Time
Time is limited. Be mindful of the time made available to you and use it to greatest effect. Consider forwarding an agenda highlighting / summarizing topics of discussion prior to the event to help the designers determine if there is value in their participation. If using a PowerPoint presentation, consider highlighting only main points on the slide – what designers need to understand and remember – and go into greater detail if requested. Have supporting information available to discuss or to send out via email after the presentation so the audience can save the information to their resource library for future reference.
Be respectful of time by not talking until the very last minute of the hour. Budget time within your limit for questions or discussion. Be a strong moderator and manage the time well. Specific questions or information can always be followed up after the lunch with a phone call or email. Being selective with presentation content and delivering it in a timely, engaging and effective manner makes time spent at the presentation valuable to interior designers. Leave them wanting to know more, not bolting from the room in frustration.
3. Know Your Product Well
Presentations stand out for designers when they gain new insight into a product. How does it work? How is it made? How is it installed? How is it maintained? Talk to them about the newest technologies and advancements. This keeps designers current and up to date on the specifics of the industry and your company's product.
Knowing the benefits of your product versus your competition's gives a favourable impression and makes the designer comfortable selecting your product knowing that it is backed by a thoroughly knowledgeable resource – you! Comparing the pros and cons of the competitor in an open and honest manner goes a long way in building trust.
Knowing your product well also means knowing your technical data, detailed facts and website well. If you intend to familiarize your audience with the company website during your presentation be aware of all that it has to offer (or doesn't). Some designers may have already been to the site and if they don't find it as helpful or as user friendly as you believe it to be, listen to this feedback. If you are getting negative responses about the website from a majority, it needs to be fixed. Designers are only one click away from your competitor.
Presentations that are dynamic, stand apart and are valued are the ones where concise and memorable information is put forth and a professional relationship is established.
It is appreciated when well-sourced information and substantiated research is simply and honestly relayed.
4. Why Should We Select Your Product?
For designers, evaluating and assessing a product and a company can be a formidable task. To stand out from the crowd, tell them what makes your product equal to, better, or unique from the rest.
What are the benefits of using your product compared to other similar products on the market? How does it perform differently and why would your product be better suited for a project? What is the product warranty, and how does this compare to other competitive companies? Is the warranty longer than other similar products? If there is damage to the product, what is the process for repairing or correcting the issues and what is the estimated time the client would be inconvenienced.
If your product has many equals in the market, your one advantage may be great service and forging a healthy working relationship with the designer. Be the "go-to" rep that designers have on speed dial.
5. How Much Does It Really Cost?
A designer will be resistant to re-specify a product that has hidden or uncommunicated costs resulting in a past project that went over-budget. It is not enough to quote prices per unit. This is never the complete cost. Some additional costs are expected and acceptable – shipping and installation, for example – but designers must know all possible costs, even if those costs are not always incurred. Are there minimum orders? Are there differences in price based on color / pattern, etc.? Quote prices based on the industry standard unit so other products can be compared – imperial, metric, yards, feet. What are the extra costs of custom orders? Does the product require additional, essential accessories when installed and if so what are those costs? Is there additional work required to finish the product? What is the cost to maintain your product and what special equipment is required if any, to do so? Cost comparisons are helpful when your product does something different or is installed in a unique way that may save the client money. Life cycle costing analyses are also extremely useful when presenting options to our clients.
6. Is Your Product Readily Available in Our Market?
Where your product is manufactured can be almost as important as the product itself. If the project is on a tight schedule and your product is coming from overseas, if your shipping costs are prohibitive, or if sustainability is a project criteria then chances are low that it will be specified.
Explain honestly where the product is manufactured and where it will be shipped from when ordered. Relaying information about delivery that is not completely correct in the hope that your product will be selected over a more available option never ends well. If your product is everything you've said it is, being transparent about the logistics will help build a long-term relationship with the designer and pave the way for future business.
While a local warehouse or storage facility within North America is optimal, remote facilities and longer delivery times can be accommodated in many cases for the right product.
Consider providing a list of distributors that would be available to assist and answer the designer's questions as well as a list of installers in the area who are familiar and expertly qualified to install your product.
7. Show Inspiring Pictures of Your Installed Product and Indicate Places Where it is Installed Locally for Viewing
A picture says a thousand words, so you don't have to! A designer is more confident specifying a product if they have a good idea of how it will look when installed. Bring plenty of images that accurately represent the installed product – the more applications the better! Can this product be used in an office, a hotel lobby, a condo development? Designers want to see it all! Passing a small sample around the room and having the designer rely solely on their imagination is not as effective as a picture. Have samples displayed after your presentation (or as the audience queues for their lunch). Take the time to note any local installations of your product that the design team could visit. This is more valuable than a sample in a product library. This allows the designer to get a better sense of not only how the product looks, but how it feels, how it wears over time, and how it appears under different lighting conditions.
Sharing the contact information of your existing clients is another helpful tool that a product representative could consider. What people, who actually live or work in the space, say about your product is incredibly valuable. Pictures, examples of local installations, and speaking to end users – THAT sells a product.
8. Where It Would Not Be Suitable – Application Limitations
Product developers invite designers to explore the possibilities of their product. However, it saves valuable time and avoids costly mistakes, both in terms of material resources and client's money, when product limitations are made clear, comparable, and understandable. This enables designers to make good decisions and provide the end user with appropriate products that serve their needs. Having the courage to disclose limitations fosters good relationships for on-going business opportunities.
9. Identify the Testing it Conforms to and What Those Tests Measure
Data to support the performance and durability of your product plays a significant part in the selection criteria for any specification. If third-party testing cannot be provided demonstrating that a product meets all required performance criteria your product cannot be considered.
Many notable, recognized, national testing bodies in the industry such as – ANSI, ISO, IEC, ASTM – regulate the criteria and provide licencing to your product to guarantee that required performance criteria have been met. Designers rely on these standards to ensure that the products that they specify will be suitable to the application.
10. Take Aways
Leaving something behind to remind the designer of your company can be money well spent but typically the only take away that counts is something that displays your logo, is practical, and may get used. Speaking about your company's great green record and then handing out landfill destined swag is counterproductive. Anything that prompts your presentation attendee to further investigate your product is key. Displaying website information and directions to any online tools is informative; however, this doesn't have to be anything more than a well-designed business card with current information.
Manufacturers are keen to have their products seen by the professionals who will be responsible for specifying them and product presentations are a great way to accomplish this. With a little planning and consideration, you can maximize the effectiveness of this selling tool to the benefit of everyone involved. Happy sales!
The authors of this article are the ft3 Interior Design Team: Joanne McFadden, Shiona Green, Heather Wagner, Allison Shevernoha, Erika Sammons, Esther Engbrecht, Lisa Shelton, Liz Holl, Lorilee Penner, and Tali Shapera.