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The Role of Technology in Building Materials Marketing

Podcast

BIMSMITH 2/6/2020

BIMsmith CEO Benjamin Glunz recently joined Tim Bouchard and the Building Brands Podcast in its third episode to discuss the transforming role of technology in building materials. The podcast covers the story behind how BIMsmith was started, as well as the ways technology is providing advantages for manufacturers, how it’s benefiting building professionals, and what future role it will play in the building materials industry.

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The Role of Technology in Building Materials Marketing

Tim: Welcome Building Brands listeners. In this third episode, I have a conversation with Benjamin Glunz, CEO of BIMsmith. BIMsmith is a completely free platform for building professionals to research, configure, and download building product data from the world's leading building product manufacturers. We talk about how BIMsmith was started, the ways technology is providing advantages for manufacturers, how it's benefiting building professionals, and what future role technology will play in the building materials industry. Enjoy the episode. If you're an owner or a marketer in the building materials, manufacturing, distribution or contracting spaces, looking to set up your brand for success now and in the future, this is the podcast for you. On this show we talk about brand and market strategies used in the real world that grow companies and truly connect with consumer audiences. So sit back, listen in, and let's get to it. 

Tim: So welcome Ben to the Building Brands podcast. Thanks for being here. 

Ben: Thanks for having me. 

Tim: Why don't we start with the easy question, which is introduce yourself, give a little background about who you are and the companies that you're involved with. 

Ben: Sure. My name is Ben Glunz, I'm the CEO of BIMsmith. And we're a group based out of Chicago, Illinois. And our whole focus is removing friction between building product manufacturers and AEC pros. So architects, engineers, contractors, and my background is in architecture. So prior to starting the company in 2010, I was in practice as an architect and working with Revit to design buildings and early days of that technology and BIM technology, and saw the need for building product manufacturers to have access to that workflow. 

Tim: So you probably experience some of the pain points that you're actually solving with BIMsmith through the previous job roles that you had. Is that correct?

Ben: Yeah, definitely.

Tim: You actually have a parent company Anguleris – was BIMsmith the first product for that or did you come into being able to make the BIMsmith product because of your company that you founded? 

Ben: Anguleris got its start as a services company helping building product manufacturers model their products in Revit. And so from that we've spun off BIMsmith, which is our product research and selection site for BIM. And then we also added to the lineup a product called Swatchbox, which is a online sample fulfillment service

Tim: So what kind of was the trigger where you were like, "I have this product that I want to create for BIMsmith, I'm going to make the jump and put this out there." Did you reach out and do feelers first in the industry? Did you, were you already getting feedback from people and it gives you the confidence to move forward with something like that? 

Ben: Yeah, so by the time we were ready to spin up the BIMsmith site, we had already been working with a hundred or so manufacturers around the globe. And so we saw the need that current tools weren't fulfilling in that there were other tools that were basically glorified online directories, right? You kind of take the old catalogs, the old Sweets model or something like that, right. With the giant green books and they just put that online. And so for us, we saw the need to take it further to assist in actual product research and then fully integrate that into BIM in a way that actually works well with the workflow that the firms are now using.

Tim: And that's helping them, from the manufacturing side, what they're really accomplishing is providing more tools to their sales targets, which helps in the B2B sense, you're not just selling products, you're also selling the ability to help someone solve problems. And for architects it's things like scope and materials and things like that.

Ben: Yeah, exactly right.

Tim: What are you primarily doing now as CEO of that? Are you more in charge of product development from the BIM side or overseeing relationship, sales, innovation? 

Ben: Yeah, so my partner Freddy Munoz is our COO. He's the other owner in the company. And so he oversees the actual execution of the projects and making sure that the latest technology is being used in the project and that we stay ahead of that. And then my role is around vision, product innovation, sales, marketing, and overseeing those individuals on our team. 

Tim: So you're actually marketing a little to manufacturers and a little to architects as well, because you have tools that both of them can use with the library of BIM files and also the resources that you work more customized with manufacturers. You can actually help them model their products to go into the library. 

Ben: Correct, correct. So it's full service from 3D modeling of the products to the distribution, whether that's through our tool or through the manufacturer website, which I think one of your customers is using that technology within the website. And then also to promote and train sales reps to be able to talk about BIM out in the marketplace in an intelligent way. 

Tim: Yeah. And when you first started BIMsmith, were you primarily going after the architect side or the manufacturer side first? Or was it something where you approached both of them at the same time? 

Ben: Yeah, so we started with approaching manufacturers because we wanted to have content available on the site for the architects to look at. So in that case we started with the manufacturers and then as we get more architects using it, then more manufacturers become interested and back and forth.

Tim: From the manufacturer's side, I mean, obviously you've grown the product since you first launched it. What types of success stories are you hearing from them having these types of files available to their target audiences like architects and, and you know, to some degree contractors, installers, but mostly the architects. 

Ben: Yeah, I mean it really is the full range that we see benefiting from BIM assets from a manufacturer. So of course the architect and interior designer are the obvious ones, but we're seeing more and more contractors, design-build companies, even fabricators and subcontractors getting involved in the BIM workflow. So for us, a success story looks like when we go out to meet with a company and they've been working with us for some time and we get to meet some of their sales reps and they tell us real stories from in the field where they've won actual projects that they were able to create enough value to get that project awarded to them. And then for them to point back to specific aspects of the BIM strategy that helped to boost that conversion for them. 

Tim: What challenges, you mentioned in your last statement when, when you're sending your people out into the field, what are the challenges that they're hearing from the architects and designers side that the BIM system is helping solve, that if manufacturers buy into this and help provide these resources, the benefits to their customers what are those challenges solving for them? 

Ben: Sure. So really it all revolves around having good data at your fingertips without having to do a ton of work to put it together. So the manufacturers are the ones who already have all that data on their products so then they're product vertical. And so for them it's easier for them to get it into a Revit or a BIM workflow than it is for Johnny the architect to go out and have to reinvent the wheel to enter all that data into their model. So one of the biggest things that we hear, to this day is if you're not providing your product in a BIM format, then we're not going to spec you. Because it's to the point now where enough manufacturers are providing it in each category that you know, you, you'd be crazy to spec a product that didn't have those assets available to you. And then part two of that is keeping them current and up to date. So making sure that A, that you have the assets available, and then B, that they're current with your, your actual product line. 

Tim: What were architects and designers doing before BIM files even came around? 

Ben: So the predecessor to BIM is obviously 2D CAD. And you know, the key difference that I always tell people is that with CAD we were, we were drafting with lines and arcs. And really it was just a digitized version of hand drawing. If you think about it, you're still drawing the lines, circles, arcs, so on and so forth. With BIM, you're actually modeling the entire building in 3D. And so in order to do that, you're, you're kind of digitally constructing it. And so to digitally construct something, you need digital building materials. So it's not like I can just draw a window by showing a box with two lines through it. I need a model of a window to put it in. And at that point I can either use the generic models that come with the software or I can use the actual thing. And so that's really where the advantage for the manufacturer comes in because it provides them the opportunity to get into the project sooner and further upstream in the design process. Because at that point they're getting placed much earlier. 

Tim: Have you ever had a challenge introducing a manufacturer's products into a BIM format? Or is this something that's pretty easy for you guys to get set up for anyone that comes to you that wants to provide this type of digital file and asset to their customers? 

Ben: Yeah, we've yet to have anyone stump us. I mean, we've had everything from screws to windows, paint to toilets you name it. Uh, we've, we've figured it out. I mean, even to the electronics side of things LG is a customer of ours and you know, we're doing all of their TVs and displays and things like that. And then you have other folks who might make building materials that are adhesives or insulation or studs. Really if it, if it's something you order, to, for it to go into your building and it's specified, then it's a fit. 

Tim: Cool. And you actually have a tool that people can use, the BIMsmith Forge tool, that, I'm assuming gives access to the library and an area for them to use these files. 

Ben: Yeah. So there are two main aspects to the BIMsmith platform. One is BIMsmith Market, which is the primary research tool where you can kind of search similar to a search engine that you might use, but specifically structuring data so that it's machine-readable and usable within a BIM project. And then the other side is our patented technology called BIMsmith Forge. And that tool allows you to create content on the fly.

Tim: Gotcha.

Ben: And so the idea behind BIMsmith Forge® is that you can take multiple products from different manufacturers and assemble them into a complete assembly. So you might take paint and drywall and studs and insulation and cladding and put that all together into an assembly. And then BIMsmith Forge will spit out the Revit family, the cut sheets, the specifications, everything that you need for that assembly to get spec'd. 

Tim: What put you over the hump into developing that extra Forge tool to compliment the library that you had? 

Ben: Yeah. So it was actually the other way around. What's interesting is we, um before we had the research tool in the library there, we were developing that technology. And even prior to us making BIMsmith technology available to the public we were white-labeling that that content configuration ability to manufacturers. So we took what was previously kind of a, a high-end enterprise white-label only solution and then we found a way to take it to market in a mass appeal sort of way for the architects, engineers, and contractors.

Tim: So we all just found out about it second. 

Ben: Yeah, exactly. 

Tim: So when it comes to the building materials manufacturers, how do you think, and maybe not even how you think they should, the BIM files should be used in let's say a brand equity or marketing strategy,  but are you seeing people use them in a way that you're seeing them find successes with? D you have ideas about how people should be using them to improve their marketing and sales performance plans for outreach with their target audiences? 

Ben: Yeah, so it's going to vary based on the vertical that you're in, right? You know, the answer I would give you for a paint manufacturer might be different than a furniture manufacturer, but at the end of the day, really the biggest overarching theme I can say is to have a BIM strategy. Not to just check the box in terms of saying, oh yes, we've got Revit files or, oh here, here's our BIM content. The companies that are most successful view their BIM strategy in the same light that they view a social media strategy or a web strategy or any of the other aspects of your go-to market. Taking that seriously from a BIM perspective and figuring out the ways that that touches the different aspect of your marketing strategy and your sales strategy becomes crucial at that point. And just, just really being intentional about it. 

Tim: Um, are there any specific (without naming who potentially) implementation tactics that you've seen that you've been particularly fond of for anyone that's working with your system? 

Ben: You know, there's, there's kind of a, a set of best practices that we got our customers through to, to kind of lay out a BIM strategy. There's really four main points that we work with our customers on. First, being the, creating the quality content, making sure it's consistent, current, and up to date with the actual products. Two, making sure it's distributed through your website and through a tool like BIMsmith to the audience and making sure that it's available and easily accessible. Three marketing and sales training, making sure that people know that you're BIM-ready, cause some people just do it and then don't tell anyone and that doesn't get you anywhere either. And then fourth is just maintenance and support and making sure that the content stays up to date and that it's well supported when people actually do use it and engage. We have had manufacturers who have failed in the past where a lead might come through or someone might get interested based on the content and they don't even get back to them on it. And so you know, at that point that's a procedural flaw, not a, not a BIM flaw. 

Tim: A lot of people forget that marketing compliments sales, compliments technology. You know you can bring the horse to water, but it's not necessarily going to drink, obviously. So you mentioned understanding what the BIM strategy is doing for you with things like digital marketing and websites and ad campaigns. There's a lot of trackable features. You know, for example, we have BIM files on our client's site. We track the clicks for mid-funnel activity, it's not really like a conversion lead, it's more of a what products are people tooling around in more often. So we'll, we'll see where the activity lies for that. Do you guys have anything internally on the BIM side for the library that you provide for metrics or resources for people that are involved in the system? 

Ben: Yeah, so we have a, a full dashboard of analytics that allow people to understand product popularity, things like that, regionality. But you hit on something important there that I'd like to just reiterate and that is a lot of manufacturers come to us saying, where are the names? Where are the names of the people that have downloaded these files? And one of the things that we have to educate our customers on is that at this particular part of the funnel, it is a mid-range lead. It is not a buyer conversion lead. And so at that point it's not really appropriate to be reaching out to the person that's downloading it because it's not consistent with user and buyer behavior in that they're placing the model. It's very early in the project. And so it's not the kind of thing where every product I download, I want to get a call. I might download 300 products in a day, and I don't want to call from 300 manufacturers. What I do want, is that when I reach out and say, "Hey, I'd like to chat with you about this", I would like a very expedient response with relevant information, talking to a person who can actually assist with my issues the first time. We find that a lot of our customers burn up a lot of their personnel and their space trying to chase what are essentially cold leads through funnels and buying lists and things like that. And then when they get those really hot leads, they're not really prepared or ready to respond to those in a timely fashion. And so in, in essence they're burying the good leads with the bad ones or the cold ones. And so that's really important to understand about a BIM strategy is it's part of the nurture process and it's part of providing good customer service, it's part of providing education to, to the customers. And it's about helping them move down the buyer decision journey towards, hopefully, specifying you in the end. 

Tim: Yeah, I mean they're likely- anyone downloading those files is either already a client and trying to pull something in. But, even that person is still just likely in the research phase. Like you said, they could have 10 things they're trying to pull in and see what's going to work best before they move to a spec-ing and requesting a sample or something like that, which is more of an actual lead conversion than it is just a research conversion. And the other thing I thought was interesting is the idea of treating something like a BIM download, like a lead conversion is, I use, the trends lately, have been, we all gated content a couple of years ago, whether it was a white-paper or something like that. And what's happened is no one wants to give, like you said, the lead conversion information, their name, email, project details, just to get something that helps them research.

Ben: Yes.

Tim: So opening up the downloadable specs, even what people are doing with content marketing now with, with tips and tricks, installation information, um videos 360 videos of products, things like that, that you know, manufacturers and marketers used to use as gate- gateable content. It's just something you need to have out there to make sure that you're spreading the message that you're different from everyone else. From a customer service standpoint, from a product quality standpoint.

Ben: Right. It's permission to play, now you don't have the luxury of doing that. And I think there's a change in consumer behavior with the advent of GDPR and the California Privacy Act, as well as some of the things that have been happening in the news with the major tech companies, that there's a general mistrust that's emerging amongst privacy and privacy data and not being nearly as willing to hand over that kind of information unless there's exceptional value being created. 

Tim: And in that case, it actually makes those leads more valuable.

Ben: Yes.

Tim: Because it in theory we're all like, ah, this is terrible, like we just can't go up to collect info on people, we're losing all of our tracking data.

Ben: Right.

Tim: But if you have the tracking data set up correctly, and you do get the actual conversion information, it should be of higher quality now,

Ben: Yes.

Tim: Because you're not just forcing people to do it to get content that should be readily available.

Ben: Yep, you're exactly right.

Tim: Is anybody actually apprehensive about introducing BIM files into a marketing collateral toolbox? Have you had anyone that's like, I don't know if I want to dive into this. 

Ben: Yeah probably the closest thing to that that I've heard is I don't get any call for BIM, why would I do this? Well, it's probably because they're calling your competitor is basically the response. Because for anybody to kind of deny the fact that BIM has become mainstream, it's, it's no longer the future. It's here. It's the way we design buildings. You know, folks who want to sit and deny that BIM adds value to an architect's workflow that's, that's a tough argument to have. You know, all you have to say is they're getting it from your competitor so they don't need to call you.

Tim: And when you're not, when you're not offering the technology and you're not offering the content upfront, what they're doing is, it's kind of an initial brand impression.

Ben: Yes.

Tim: Where these people are too guarded...there's either something wrong with their product or they haven't innovated enough and these people are very open about saying what the value proposition is, how to install it, we care about our customers, we give resources to the people that work with our product, and that is the differentiator. It's going to start setting people apart from a brand standpoint versus what used to be the good old days of having a sales network and a good pricing plan for your wholesalers and just being one of the first products into the market where there are only two or three to choose from.

Ben: Right.

Tim: I mean, between the internet, technology like BIM, and what everyone's doing with content and digital marketing, it's just changed the landscape completely.

Ben: Yep. You're spot on.

Tim: Speaking of that, I guess this is a segue, how do you think technology moving forward will change the building materials space and even how manufacturers are marketing to people like architects and homeowners or installers? 

Ben: Yeah. You know, there's a lot of emerging trends that are coming along the lines here. Obviously a lot of people are talking about prefabrication due to the contracting labor pool amongst contractors. I think that's an emerging opportunity for technology to augment the workflows that we already have.

You know, I think a lot of people talk about disruption, disruption, how do we disrupt this? How do we disrupt that? I tend to stay away from that because I think a lot of times the word disruption can have a negative connotation. And in some cases I don't think things should be disrupted, I think they should be evolved. I think they should be augmented, I think they should be improved or innovated. So I look for companies that are not coming in swinging a sledgehammer saying I'm going to disrupt this industry. I'm looking for companies that are coming in to help it improve and help it move forward.

And so there are a couple of things like I said, along those paths that are obviously going to need to be on our radar. The general trend around e-commerce what does that gonna do to the way a building materials are sold? You know, there are some companies who are absolutely refusing to sell online. There are companies who are sticking by their channel 100% there are also companies that are throwing out the playbook and starting over.

So you know, I think those workflows will definitely define the way building materials are sold over the next 10 years. And then obviously this segment is about BIM, so I think BIM, in itself, changes the way building materials are specified. It used to be that 100% of the reliance was on the specification manual because you didn't call out products in your drawings. But the opportunity with BIM is to move past traditional construction documents and traditional paper-based delivery styles and to leverage the model to do quantity takeoffs, to do bidding, to do all of these types of things that people are doing. And that a lot of the design build firms are leading the way around. And so the day that the municipalities begin to accept a model as a deliverable instead of a roll of paper, that's going to be a very disruptive day for the entire industry because in a way, we're all being held back by the fact that most municipalities still require paper deliverables or PDFs. So the day that that shift happens and that breaks through, that, that's also going to be a major shift for the way BIM is used and how completely it's used by the industry, and then by nature of the way that affects building product manufacturers. 

Tim: Yeah, and the one thing you touched on too, with the people sticking to their channels and everything like that with, with what e-commerce is doing now, what websites are doing now, you're seeing some manufacturers that are kind of eating their cake and having it too, where they're not only selling through distribution channels, they're also trying to sell direct to consumer as well, and play that fence a little bit before they, maybe, who knows in the future, you might see manufacturers pull up from distribution and just start going directly through their own distribution channels from a logistics standpoint and selling directly online or through sales teams. 

Ben: Yeah. It, it all depends on the infrastructure that manufacturer is willing to put into place, right? I mean there's always going to be value for human interaction in the sales process. But again, it just depends on what you're selling. So you know, and whether you can support that. Some companies don't want the overhead of the tasks that the distribution takes care of for them. You know, they want the cut of the profit that the distribution takes. Everybody wants that back, but...

Tim: – they don't want the headache –

Ben: ...they don't want the headache when you know, so-and-so calls cause they need a replacement piece for their valve. They don't want that call. So there are fundamental changes even beyond the technology in terms of the way that we all interact with each other that need to be addressed as well. 

Tim: And this is an industry that has a lot of companies that have gone through multiple generations and have long-lasting employees and processes and things that are just starting to turn over. Even though technology in terms of internet, web and digital marketing, social have all evolved over the last 10 to 15 years. This industry is still coming to age and catching up with that right now too. 

Ben: Well, it's not like you can just solve it with a quick widget. You know, a calendar is a pretty simple thing to go from paper to digital. I mean even that has its nuances. Right. But you know, taking an entire building, now that that's a challenge. 

Tim: Mhmm. Are there any other things that we haven't touched on in technology or BIM or building materials manufacturing, marketing, brand, that you think one critical thing that every brand should be doing now in this space? And I'm guessing you're going to go towards technology, but I'll let you pick. 

Ben: I'm actually gonna go a little bit more analog on you.

Tim: Excellent.

Ben: Any, anyone can develop technology. Anyone can hire a software developer to make them a website. Anybody can you know, do the next greatest thing. I think one area that we all need to be working on is interpersonal communication and interpersonal relationships. And even in a highly technical and tech-driven company like ours, it still comes down to that, that touch of you know, how do people want to be treated? How do people want to get information? How do people want to be communicated with? I think that's still something that a lot of companies need to pay a little bit more attention to as they go and manage their relationships with AEC pros. Because at the end of the day, yes, it's a lead, but at the end, end of the day, it's still a person and they're just doing their job. So yeah, anything that you can do to create value in the process is going to, going to put you leaps and bounds ahead of any other technology. 

Tim: And if you just go back to the root of it all, marketing is about answering questions, and sales is about solving problems, and you need people to drive both of those initiatives. And that's what creates a good brand interaction and that's what makes people want to buy from you, work with you, and do their projects over and over and over again.

Ben: Completely agree.

Tim: Do you have any final thoughts before we wrap up? This has been awesome, both because I love talking about tech and building materials, so this works out very well. Um, anything you want to close with that one spectacular thought you've been holding in?

Ben: No, nothing off the top of my head. But I appreciate you having me on the show and it was very enjoyable. 

Tim: Yeah, this has been great. And everyone can find out more about BIMsmith at bimsmith.com. Thanks for coming on.

Ben: My pleasure. 

Tim: If you're interested in hearing more stories and strategic insights from industry experts, please subscribe to the Building Brands podcast on Apple, Spotify, or Google. If you've enjoyed this episode, please post a review and share with others who may be interested as well. Thanks for listening.

 

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