Construction headlines in 2021 were dominated by material cost increases, supply chain disruptions and labor shortages. Despite these challenges, based on our recently completed Starnet State of the Group Survey, our members continued to add sales professionals and invest in specification and business development roles. Starnet members identified more than one hundred associates across the network dedicated to specification and business development. They clearly differentiated the specification and business development roles from other job descriptions in their organizations such as account managers, project managers and estimators, which had greater populations of associates.

End user clients trust the Starnet specifier and business development professionals to provide successful systems combining multiple manufacturers and services. This requires ongoing training and professional development. Through monthly committee work and annual training events the Starnet members refresh their professional skills and share best practices between members focused on specification and business development. Starnet professionals in these roles balance the realities of the construction industry with the outcome desired by the end user, their influencers from the design community, and organize the series of manufacturers needed to properly complete every project.

Across the membership the job descriptions for a specification and business development role varies, but fundamentally their mission is to increase the influence of the professional flooring contractor on selecting and recommending products. Starnet members have decades of brand goodwill at stake in a local market, which motivates them to provide the absolute best value for the end user client. The specification and business development professionals carry that value story to various audiences and have become vital resources to industry stakeholders.

During the ‘War for Talent’ Where Do Members Find These Professionals? 

In the past, during the soft surface mill alliance era of the 1980-1990s, the owners of Starnet member firms would often fulfill the specifications and business development role for their company. Today many of them continue this activity because they enjoy it or maintain their connections with important clients. During the mill alliance era the industry was dominated by soft surface manufacturers, which were highly differentiated by brand. The main floor product selected could carry the entire budget for the projects. Today the business is much more complex, with intense competition and limited differentiation, so a varied bundle of soft surface and hard surface products and accessories must be managed to achieve the budget target. In some cases, the labor, accessories, and subfloor preparation easily carry the bulk of the project budgets. 

Due to the changing industry dynamics, specification and business development roles are commonly staffed by senior level professionals. Those professionals may have once been manufacturer sales representatives or credentialed interior designers, who find the role challenging and fulfilling. Alternatively, very experienced sales professionals or project managers often migrate to a business development position as their book of business expands and they become influential with many end users in a region. 

Early career associates in the specification and business development role are often identified as high potential employees with the business acumen needed to be successful long term. They can quickly add value with support from the Starnet member leadership to enhance their product and construction industry knowledge as they develop. The motivation for leaders at Starnet members to staff these roles is related to managing overall margin opportunity and retention of senior professionals in their companies. 

In the past, there was some risk for these top performers to leave the service side of the business and join a manufacturer for career opportunities. That trend is not as common today. The turnover at manufacturers in their field teams is generally much higher than Starnet member companies, and specification and business development professionals commonly stay in their positions for longer periods. This tenure combined with breadth of experience enhances their value in the market and with their Starnet company employer. In addition, they become trusted resources to end users and designers important for the local or regional market. 

How Does the Specification and Business Development Role Benefit the Interior Design Professional? 

Interior designers have a tremendous scope of work they need to address on every project. This includes newly emerging trends around mobility and remote work, increased technology requirements and renewed focus on sustainability as well as health and wellness. The construction industry generally burns up innovation and value creation through the crucible of the bid process, making a designer’s vision for innovative approaches or newly uncovered trends difficult to accomplish without allies on the project. 

Execution in the field based on segment norms also influence the outcomes for every project. Many of these compromises on value are hidden from the end user, so the specifier and business development associates can be invaluable in protecting a non-traditional or innovative approach to interior solution specification. Professional designers can be much more productive by working with a Starnet specification and business development professional to rapidly assemble commercial flooring solutions supported by efficient installation and maintenance services. The long-term client satisfaction delivered by this model will be far greater than ordering samples online or working with narrowly focused specialist representatives. 

How Does the Specification and Business Development Role Benefit the Manufacturers? 

The manufacturer’s limited warranty places all the responsibility for end-user satisfaction on the servicing flooring contractor. Until that language changes in the warranties, the flooring contractor manages all the risk for the industry. Because of this reality, the value of every manufactured flooring product is protected by the guidance of Starnet specifiers and business development associates. They are also loyal to manufacturers that support them and will work to move budgets inside the specified brand as the first choice when asked by the end user to manage the budget down. 

By working together to exceed end user expectations, the client will happily increase investment in commercial interiors year after year, creating a healthy industry. Beyond the tactical project view, the specifiers and business development professionals can help manufacturers reinforce the strength for local segment demand, manage distributor partners, and rally teams of stakeholders for new product launch support. This creates a stable and sustainable business model for representatives that cannot possibly cover a market street by street. 

Mission Accomplished with Continuous Improvement  

Starnet started with a simple idea: to build a collaborative network of the best flooring contractors in North America. The goal was to elevate the quality and professionalism of the industry. Together with likeminded vendor partners who are also interested in elevating the industry, Starnet members solve some of the toughest site-related concerns. The resulting continuous improvement efforts save the customer time, money, and disruption, and lead to improved outcomes in their space.