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‘Architects don’t know the value of their service – nor how to sell it’


After seven long years of study, architects are ready to unleash new designs on the world. But they don’t know how to sell their services, says Kunle Barker

Architects are well trained in every aspect except how to properly sell the benefits of their services.

This, of course, does not mean that architects do not understand the breadth and benefit of the full complement their services. On the contrary, they understand this exceptionally well, they are just not taught how to integrate these benefits into a sales process that fully communicates the benefits to clients.

The full range of architectural services can be of huge benefit to clients in both the commercial and residential sectors, and it is the responsibility of architects to ensure that clients, understand, appreciate and value the benefits of their services.

Good design sells itself, however it is important that clients are made to appreciate the additional services that architects offer. It’s vital that the benefits of these wider services are communicated clearly and convincingly to clients, even if that means and emphasis on the financial benefits to the clients.

There is a general lack of emphasis on promoting the fiscal benefits of good architecture to clients, it seems that many feel it is inappropriate to discuss ‘money’ in an extensively creative process.

This lack of (for want of a better phrase) ‘sales initiative’ reduces the potential success of practices while simultaneously negatively affecting the potential success of projects and so the clients’ experience of both architecture and construction. Perhaps sales techniques should be taught as part of the wider architectural curriculum?

We are not taught sales techniques

‘We are not taught sales techniques,’ Says Tara Gbolade, founder of Gbolade Design Studio, ‘That’s perhaps why many architects struggle to communicate the value they bring to projects.’

I recently led a CPD session at the RIBA for its’ ‘incubator’ practices. One of the points raised by the practices was that clients normally tried to exclude them after the design stage of a project. Most clients did not want to pay for ongoing architectural support. When asked if the practices had explained the benefits of keeping the architect on throughout the process, they replied: ‘Yes, of course.’. The practices had explained that using an architect throughout the process would probably mean that there was more chance of achieving the design they wanted.

However, they did not explain that having a clear and consistence procurement strategy greatly mitigates problems on the project and would invariable save them money. The practices did not explain that using an architect to administer a contract would greatly reduce the risk of dispute over quality, timescales and payments over the life of the project and that any one of these issues would have great financial repercussions should they be encountered.

Basically, they did not let their clients know that, despite the additional costs, using full architectural services would help save the client, time, stress and money, making it a worthwhile investment in the long run, moreover they did not attribute an empirical figure, be that in % or £, which the client could save by working with them.

Money can be an awkward topic but on speaking to the RIBA ‘incubator’ practices I noticed that many of them could tell stories of jobs where clients had initially chosen not to use their services but then had returned for help at a later date due to problems.

I asked whether these practices told potential clients these stories and explained the financial implications. Most practices said No. This shows a reluctance to demonstrate the fiscal advantages of architectural services; to talk about money shows a distinct lack of appreciation of sales and how a good sales technique could work to their benefit.

This is not surprising when you consider that sales techniques are not covered in depth during an architect’s training. It is vital that in creative industries students are taught how to sell their services.

It is vital that in creative industries students are taught how to sell their services

Of course, not all jobs where architects are not engaged end in tragedy, but as someone who does a lot of project recue work, I can testify that on jobs where things do go wrong, the financial consequences of this are far greater than the fees of using an architect.

When you consider that I believe over 80 per cent of the projects that I rescue would have not needed rescuing if an architect had been used throughout the project, then the financial argument for using full architectural services is compelling, both in terms of design and finances.

This is not just a problem for smaller firms. Last month I met with a large firm whose founder told me a story that they charged a client for work to redesign a large scheme that was not working out. It took 1 day, and they charged £2,500. Their work for this client generated an additional £16 million of sales, due to increased floor area. I asked if they knew how much additional space their work had generated and he said yes, but he hadn’t realised what it was worth.

Inventive and creative architecture should always be the main sales vehicle for architects, but it would not hurt for them to be a little more commercially aware and be brave enough to talk about financial benefits of architectural services; to talk about money. After all, even great design has to be paid for.

Kunle Barker is a journalist and broadcaster on property matters


Readers' comments (4)

  • Been saying this for years - with monotonous regularity

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  • A good piece.
    As Paul says, been banging on about this for years!
    It is all about communications. If you can explain the value of your involvement in words that underpin your client's aspirations then you will be given the time of day. If you can't, why should that client bother with you? It is really very simple.

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  • Industry Professional

    We're no different from a valued accountant. Clients will pay for a good accountant, they are aware of the value gained.

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  • Good article. On your statement, "they did not attribute an empirical figure, be that in % or £, which the client could save by working with them", I notice that you do not suggest a figure either? Is that part of the issue, that it is very hard to quantify what this will be. It certainly isn't a set %, and I think most architects are trained not to give false promises. We are mainly a modest bunch when it comes to financial affairs.

    The RIBA has a download document under 'why use an architect', but again that is very modest in expressing our financial benefits.

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