Acquiring and Keeping Dependable Specifications – What I Learned After 38 Years That Every Spec Salesperson Should know

Acquiring and Keeping Dependable Specifications – What I Learned After 38 Years That Every Spec Salesperson Should know

In 1979, when I got my first job with a manufacturer’s representative representing commercial and industrial lighting manufacturers, I knew nothing about calling on architects, engineers landscape architects, and I had no idea what an interior designer did.  I had just finished 8 years working as a licensed electrician. I worked for a major distributor for a year and the same amount of time for an electrical engineer. The agency principal sought me out because I was young, eager, motivated by money and had just specified one of his brands. I jumped at the opportunity.

Thinking I could go back to my old haunts, (only one of those was able to produce specifications), I set out with my three-piece suite, briefcase, no training to speak of, and the belief that if I showed up, I would get specifications. Most of the accounts I was given were long time engineering firms with a few architects and maybe one landscape architect.

I took my first trip to visit one the manufacturers we represented, Wide-lite shortly after going to work for that agency. I was given a T.I. Silent 700 modem terminal, the first semi computer available. I would input information over a telephone and receive back a calculations printout on heat sensitive rolled paper. I found out very quickly that I needed more tools than that.

I started making calls on specifiers with factory representatives and painfully worked my way through the client list I was given. At that time, we represented 30-40 manufacturers.  The local competition had far more lines, so I decided to zero in on what we did have. I left that agency after a short sting and worked for two different manufacturers who primarily manufactured industrial, classified atmosphere and outdoor site lighting products. Those two companies gave me my “pedigree”, because I steadily learned what I needed to do to be successful in getting effective specifications and making dependable and loyal contacts in the industry. They also became good friends.

So how do you in today’s competitive environment, with line cards of 120-130 lines, perform day to day create the long- term relationships in order get and keep dependable and repeatable specifications. The following are what I learned over my 30 plus years to be key in being a good specifications salesman.

  • Know your clients well– See them as often as you can without making a nuisance of yourself
  • Repetition ad infinitum– Look for opportunities to get in front of your clients
  • Return phone call promptly– And use the opportunity to tell them about something new
  • Lunch and Learns, Wine and Cheese, Late Afternoon Cookie Breaks– They are all great for exchanging new product or technology information. Be ready to show it visually
  • Take Advantage of and Use Any New Digital Tools– A must now in this business
  • Take Your Client’s on Factory Trips– Even if it is only for a day, a trip out of town tells the client that they are special, and deserving of white glove treatment
  • After Hour Events– Good for factory rep visits. Get a margarita machine and set it up in the lobby of your building or a hotel lobby.


John Rice, recently retired as the senior specification salesman at Hossley Lighting Associates in Dallas, Texas after 26 years of service. John is well known around the specification community and concentrated on education and medical facilities as well as large scale site and infrastructure products. John is available for consulting and training. Contact him at

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