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Not 'Equal,' Just Equivalent

TUESDAY, MAY 14, 2019


I recently had the opportunity to discuss specification marketing strategies with a former publisher of a national architecture magazine. I mentioned that a very powerful strategy was to ensure that the appropriate competitors are named in manufacturers' guide specifications. A look of abject horror greeted that remark which, of course, caused me to launch into a primer on specification marketing to design professionals.

Additionally, there has been a significant discussion on about what specifiers want in manufacturers’ guide specifications. Interestingly, naming appropriate competitors was mentioned numerous times.

Specification marketing is second only to continuing education presentations as the most effective branding and marketing tool for construction product manufacturers. A product representative must be a good educator and highly knowledgeable about specifications to be truly effective with design professionals.

Vladimir Cetinski / Getty Images

Sole source specifications are a powerful magnet for substitutions. Make certain that specifiers and designers clearly understand why you are suggesting competitive products and why you consider them equivalent. Remember, there is no such thing as “equal” products, just equivalent.

Competitive Advantage

While the industry understands competitive advantage in terms of faster, better or cheaper, a product representative's competitive advantage lies in the following three critical elements:

  • Know the limitations of your products;
  • Know competitive products as well as your own; and
  • Sell yourself, not your product (develop relationships).


It is critical for specifiers and designers to understand how not to use or apply a product or system. This may seem a bit counter-intuitive but it is not. Many, if not most, product failures begin with the designers and specifiers not understanding how to appropriately use and apply a product or system. More than anything else they help specifiers avoid mistakes.

Competitive Products

Every competent manufacturer and product representative intimately knows and understands who the competition is and how their products and systems stack up. Share that information with designers and specifiers and instantly you become the go-to expert and resource.

Sole source specifications are a powerful magnet for substitutions. Make certain that specifiers and designers clearly understand why you are suggesting competitive products and why you consider them equivalent. Remember, there is no such thing as “equal” products, just equivalent.

Offering specifiers a list of equivalent products allows product representatives to level the playing field and narrow the competitive arena. Be careful to ensure that appropriate competitors are named or your reputation could be damaged.

Solutions, not Products

The final—and arguably most important—element of competitive advantage is the product representative’s relationship with designers and specifiers. Provide solutions, not products. Sell yourself, your expertise, your industry knowledge—not your products.

Specification Review

Whenever possible, request a copy of the specification and offer to review and comment on project-specific information. Any specifier worth their salt will provide project specifications for review. This is a significant opportunity to expand relationships, build credibility and find out what the specifiers know about your product.

In the final analysis, what a manufacturer can reasonably expect from a specifier is a well-crafted specification that lists the appropriate competitors. Who better to help the specifier accomplish that task than a knowledgeable product representative?

Protect your competitive advantage by supporting specifiers in producing complete specifications that contain appropriate requirements and truly equivalent manufacturers and products.

About the Author

Michael D. Chambers, FCSI, FAIA, CCS is Associate Vice President and Senior Project Specifier for HGA and is responsible for the specifications in the four California offices and is principal of MCA Specifications. Chambers also sits on the CONSTRUCT Education Advisory Council with Let's Fix Construction Co-Founders, Cherise Lakeside and Eric D. Lussier.


Let's Fix Construction is written by a collective group of construction professionals involved in, an online impartial platform to provide forward-thinking solutions to many longstanding issues that have plagued construction. Organizers and contributors seek to better the industry by sharing knowledge, while creating open and positive communication and collaboration. Many of the posts have appeared first on and are republished on Durability + Design with permission. Author information is available at the bottom of each blog entry.



Tagged categories: Architects; Business management; Construction; Consultants; Contractors; Design; Designers; Developers; Engineers; Good Technical Practice; Specifiers; Asia Pacific; Coating Materials; EMEA (Europe, Middle East and Africa); Latin America; North America; Specification; Specification writing

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