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Product Reps Should Involve Both the Designer AND the Subcontractor/Installer

By Ken Lambert, CSI posted 07-21-2020 10:13


Product Reps Should Involve Both the Designer AND the Subcontractor/Installer

By Ken Lambert, CSI

Editor's Note: CSI is pleased to publish this blog from Ken Lambert, Director of Industry Development and Technical Services for the International Masonry Institute. He can be reached at If you have an idea or opinion you would like to share with your colleagues in the construction industry, please contact CSI Content Strategist Peter Kray at He would love to help publish your thoughts.


Though I am no longer a manufacturer representative, or technical sales rep, I was for several years. Of course, everyone knows that you need to have an excellent reputation and relationship with design firms to be successful. The first thing you are taught in Manufacturer/ Territory Representative School is specification-driven product sales.


This is all important, and true. However, for about half of my career I spent my time as a Project Manager and Estimator for a few subcontractors and general contractors. And what I think is key to note is that the best product representatives stay tight with their regional product installers and have ongoing, sincere discussions with them. This can be just as important as getting your products specified by the designer.


I think it is beyond clear now, especially with more design-build projects and more delegated design scopes, that General Contractors/ Construction Managers can have substantial influence on whether or not a specific product is used on a building project. Their insight is often sought early on from the architect and/or the project owner.


But further than that, and I’d argue just as critical, is the fact that for a myriad of reasons, installing contractors, or trade subcontractors, can end up being the make-or-break for a product/manufacturer.

I recall a time when a Project Manager for one of the largest CM’s in the country asked me (a subcontractor) to bid a specified product on a collegiate project. After I tried to get some answers and material pricing, and also after speaking to others familiar with the manufacturer, I told the PM that I didn’t want to price it and that it might be a mistake for them to install that product.

The conversation was a little awkward, but in the end I believe the Construction Manager appreciated my candor and scope-specific insight. All parties involved in a building project want it to go well. Involving subcontractors early on in a project allows them to contribute valuable insights based on their experience installing various materials and can provide useful information about schedule and budget.

After about a month, he ended up submitting an Alternate to the architect, which was approved. The project moved forward with the Alternate, as can be the case with many “soft-spec” project clauses.   This kind of project, which may have several approved products or the “Approved Equal” clause in it, can help the overall project team ultimately make the best decision.

Similar scenarios have happened now and then in my past, across several years. When I was on the installer side of the equation, I sometimes struggled with certain manufacturer or distributor inside or outside sales representatives who were not super responsive or informative. That is part of the problem, in my opinion. Contractors need to know that the manufacturer rep is available, and is there to assist as applicable.

The best manufacturer representatives value the installation crews and actively work at those relationships. If something technical is not working in the field as it is supposed to, the rep wants to be able to help solve the issue directly, oftentimes onsite, with the subcontractor. In many of these occasions, the project architect is not even aware there is/was a problem or issue. And with the provisions of “construction means and methods,” that is probably a welcome non-situation for the designer. In these types of cases, everyone wins.

Product representatives/technical salespeople sometimes work based on the hierarchy of designer, GC/CM, distributor, subcontractor; perhaps a more practical tactic is “All of the Above”.

Qualified and experienced craftworkers are instrumental to a successful project. As is the case in most planning endeavors, the earlier in the process that they are included, the better.