Technology’s Role In Building Materials Marketing

Building Brands Episode 3 Benjamin Glunz of Formica

Ben talks 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.

Episode Links
Find Ben on LinkedIn
Visit the BIMsmith Website

Episode Transcript

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 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 strategy 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. So welcome, Ben, to the Building Brands podcast. Thanks for being here.
Benjamin
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.
Benjamin
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 ABC 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, you know, working with Revit to design buildings in 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?
Benjamin
Definitely.
Tim
So. How did you end up getting to the point… 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?
Benjamin
Yeah, so 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 product called Swatch Box, which is a online sample fulfillment service.
Tim
So what… 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 that gave you the confidence to move forward with something like that?
Benjamin
Yeah. So by the time we were ready to spin up the BIMsmith site, we had already been working with 100 or so manufacturers around the globe. And so we saw the need that current tools weren’t fulfilling in that there was there were rather tools that were basically glorified online directories. Right? You kind of take the old catalogs. The old suites 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 on 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…
Benjamin
Exactly right.
Tim
…the materials and things like that. What do you primarily doing now? As CEO of that are you more in charge of product development from the BIM side or overseeing relationships, sales, and innovation?
Benjamin
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 is being used in the project and that we say 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 to manufacturers or not manufacturers? Well, 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 resource is that the you were more customized with manufacturers. You can actually help them model their products to go into the library as well.
Benjamin
Correct, correct. So it’s full service from 3D modeling of the products to the distribution. Whether that’s through our tool or through manufacturer website should think one of your customers is using that 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 your approach both of them at the same time?
Benjamin
So we started with approaching manufacturers because we wanted to have content available on the site for the architects to look at. So, you know, in that case, we started with the manufacturers. And then, as we get more architects using it than more manufacturers become interested and back and forth.
Tim
From the manufacturer 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 and installers, but mostly the architects?
Benjamin
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 the obvious ones. But we’re seeing more and more contractors, design build companies, even fabricators and subcontractors getting involved in the birth of the BIM workflow. So for us, a success story looks like when 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, you know, 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?
Benjamin
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 and in their product vertical and so for them. You know, 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 general that data into their model. So one of the biggest things that we hear to this day is you know, if you’re not providing your product in a BIM format, then we’re not gonna, we’re not gonna spec you. Because it’s to the point now where enough manufacturers are providing it in each category, that 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 A. that you have the assets available and then B. that their current with your actual product line.
Tim
What were architects and designers doing before BIM files even came around?
Benjamin
So you know, 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 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 lines, circles arcs so on so forth. With BIM you’re actually modeling the entire building in 3D, and so, in order to do that, 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 window by showing a box with two lines through it. I need a model of the window to put in. And at that point, I can either use the generic models that come with 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, ah, 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?
Benjamin
Yeah, we’ve, we’ve yet to have anyone stump us. I mean, we’ve had everything from screws to windows, paint to toilets, you know, you name it, we’ve figured it out. I mean, even to the electronic side of things. You know, LG is a customer of ours, and we’re doing all of their TVs and displays and things like that. And then you have you no other folks who might make building materials that are adhesives or insulation or studs. You know, really, If if it’s something you order to for, to go into your building and it’s specified, then it’s, 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.
Benjamin
Yea. So there’s two aspects to the BIMsmith platform. Two main aspects. One is BIMsmith Market, which is the primary research tool where you can kind of search similar to a search engine that you might do but specifically structuring data so that its 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. 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 to developing that extra forge tool to complement the library that you had?
Benjamin
So it was actually the other way around. What’s interesting is we, you know, 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 the content configuration ability to manufacturers. So we took what was previously kind of 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.
Benjamin
Yeah, exactly.
Tim
So when it comes to the building materials manufacturers, how do you think that, maybe not even how you think they should been file should be used in, let’s say, ah, brand equity or marketing strategy, but are you seeing people use them in a way that you’re seeing them find successes with? Do you have ideas about how people should be using them to improve their marketing and sales performance plans for outreach with their target audiences?
Benjamin
Yea. So. It’s gonna 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 there BIM strategy in the same light that they view 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 bill of your your marketing strategy and your sales strategy becomes crucial at that point and just just really being intentional about it.
Tim
Are there any specific, without, you know, naming who potentially, are there any specific implementation tactics that you’ve seen that you have been particularly fond of for anyone that’s working with your system?
Benjamin
You know, there’s there’s kind of a set of best practices that we got our customers through to to kind of layout of been 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, you know, 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 because some people just do it and then don’t tell anyone. And that doesn’t get you anywhere, either. And then fourth eyes just maintenance and support and making sure that 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 you know a lead might come through or someone might get interested based on the content, and you don’t even get back to them on it. And so you know, at that point, that’s a procedural flaw. Not not have 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 strategy is doing for you with things like digital marketing and websites and ad campaigns. There’s a lot of trackable features. For example, we have BIM files on our client site. We track the clicks for mid funnel activity. It’s not really like a conversion lead. That’s more of a, what products are people tooling around in more often, so we’ll see where the activity lives 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?
Benjamin
Yeah, so we have, ah, 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 Ah, lot of manufacturers come to us saying where are the names where 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 ah 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 buying 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 a 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, you know, 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 they’re burying the good leads with the bad ones or the cold ones. And so you know, that’s that’s really important to understand about a BIM strategy is it’s It’s part of the nurture process and it’s part of providing good customer service is part of providing education 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 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 specing and requesting a sample or something like that, which is more of an actual lead conversion, that it is just…
Benjamin
Absolutely.
Tim
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 used the trends lately have been we all gated content a couple of years ago when I was a white paper, 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. Yes, So opening up the downloadable specs even you know what people are doing with content marking out with tips and tricks, installation information, 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.
Benjamin
Right. It’s, it’s permission to play now. You don’t have the luxury of, you know doing that. And I think there’s, ah, 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 is 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 because it you know, in theory we’re all like “Ugh, this is terrible, like we just can’t collect info on people, We’re losing all of our tracking data.” But if you have the tracking data set up correctly, and you do get the actual conversion information. It should be of higher quality because you’re not just forcing people to do it to get content that should be readily available.
Benjamin
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.”
Benjamin
You know, 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, you know, 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 work flow. You know, that’s that’s a tough argument to have. All you have to say is they’re getting it from your computer 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 up front, what they’re doing is it’s kind of an initial brand impression…
Benjamin
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 resource is to the people that work with our product. And that is the differentiator is going to start sending people part 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. I mean, between the Internet and technology like BIM and what everyone’s doing with content and digital marketing, it’s just changed the landscape completely.
Benjamin
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 material space and even how manufacturers are marketing to people like architects and homeowners or installers?
Benjamin
Yeah, you know, there’s, Ah, there’s a lot of emerging trends that are coming along along the lines here. Obviously, a lot of people are talking about pre fabrication due to the contracting labor pool amongst contractors. I think that’s an emerging opportunity for technology to augment the work flows 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 gonna 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 things, you know, like I said along those paths that are obviously going to need to be on our radar. The general trend around e-commerce, you know? What is that going to do to the way 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, you know, 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 specifications 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 you, the day that the municipalities begin to accept a model as a deliverable instead of a roll of paper. That’s gonna 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 gonna be a major shift for the way BIM is used in how completely it’s used by the industry and then by nature of the way that effects building product manufacturers.
Tim
Yeah, and the one thing you touched on, too, with the people sticking to their channels and everything like that, you know, with with what e-commerce is doing now what web sites are doing now you’re seeing some manufacturers that are kind of eating their cake and having it to 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.
Benjamin
Yeah, it all depends on the infrastructure that that manufacturer is willing to put into place, right? I mean, they’re always gonna be there’s always gonna be value for human interaction in the sales process, but it can. 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.
Tim
They don’t want the headache.
Benjamin
They don’t want the headache when you know someone so called because they need a replacement piece for their valves, they don’t want that call. So you know there’s there’s 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.
Benjamin
Well, it’s not like you can just solve it with a quick widget you know, Ah, 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
Hey, 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 gonna go towards technology, but I’ll let you,
Benjamin
Ha, I’m actually gonna go a little bit more analog on you. Uh…
Tim
Excellent.
Benjamin
…anyone can develop technology. Anyone can hire a software developer to make him 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 on even in ah, highly technical and tech driven company like ours, it still comes down to that that touch of ah, 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 their relationships with ABC pros, because at the end of the day, yes, it’s ah, it’s a lead. But at the end of the day, it’s still ah person, and they’re just doing their job. So anything that you can do to create value in the process is is gonna put you leaves and balance 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 that’s what creates a good brand interaction. And that’s what makes people want to buy from you, work for, work with you, and do their projects over and over and over again.
Benjamin
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. Anything you want to close with? That one spectacular thought you’ve been holding in?
Benjamin
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.
Benjamin
My pleasure.
Tim
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