By John Kamin
Builder Partnerships Consultant
Business is very good for most builders today, and the immediate future looks promising. Since ours is a complex and complicated industry, there is still a need to be vigilant in monitoring your business plan. Keeping a watchful eye on hard costs, variances, and administrative “creep” is certainly advisable.
However, when things are going well, sometimes we overlook the obvious. If sales are good, why spend time on an area of the business that is not an issue? There is no sense of desperation, as there was in the lean years.
This is exactly the right time to review your sales and marketing efforts. Increasing market share and margins now will pay off handsomely in the next downturn. And this is also the perfect time to focus on the customer experience. Every builder has a “position” in the market, one that you chose or one that the public perceives.
How can you differentiate your company from the competition? Since the market sets the price of homes, how can you add value that the market will pay you for? One of the things that most builders do not realize is that home buyers are driven more by emotions and feelings than anything else. If you doubt it, watch HGTV’s House Hunters.
Several areas will produce added value to your homes in the eyes of buyers. Let’s discuss three of them:
• Perfect the basics
• Coach up the sales team
• Create a great home buying experience
Perfect the basics
What do customers see when they visit your community? Is the window to your community welcoming? I often hear, “The wind blows all that debris and it’s hard to keep up,” “People jump the curb and cause those ruts,” or “We’ll replace those dead trees next spring.” You get the idea.
In a study, curb appeal was the top answer when buyers were asked what they liked about a home. What do your models and inventory homes say to a buyer? Is it “Wow!” or “Oh!”? Your landscaping should look like it has been there for three or more years; one-gallon plants will not do that for you. Plan your sidewalks and driveway to be a homogenous pour to get a consistent look.
Simply put, your models should be impeccable. No excuses! Impeccable should be your expectation. When was the last time you unexpectedly stopped in? “Inspect your expects” is still a good idea.
TIP: Ask a real estate agent or someone else outside of your company to tour your community. A fresh pair of eyes may help you see what your customer sees.
Does your website motivate customers to visit your homes? Have you thought of upgrading it, but have not made it a priority? Remember that more than 95 percent of potential buyers visit your website first. They also read reviews on social media. What will they find about you and your competitors? You need to know.
Coach up the sales team
Ours is a cyclical industry. Having a professional, well-disciplined sales staff is a positive point of differentiation from your competitors and delivers a much better result. In bad times, they can keep you in business. In good times, they can increase margins.
Start with recruiting. Hire for character and integrity; you can teach selling skills. Ask your sales team to tell you the three best talking points about your company and the toughest objection to overcome. Better yet, have them demonstrate the model to you.
Trust is indispensable in building a relationship that leads to converting a prospect into a buyer. The sales process and presentation need to be all about the customer. In researching why people buy, the answer is the same regardless of the product or service. They buy to improve their lives. Does your sales team understand how important it is for them to know everything about the buyer’s needs, lifestyle, and motivation for searching for their home? Listening is a discipline.
Lately, I have seen that many builders do not want their team members to discuss financing. “Just give out the lender’s contact information,” they say. One of a buyer’s major anxieties is concern for the mortgage process and getting approved. Yet, we disengage from that entirely. I agree that we do not need sales consultants to be loan officers but being fluent in mortgage financing certainly builds trust and confidence and will separate you from your competitors.
Good CRM systems are available, but they are only effective if used timely and consistently. I recently asked a large sales team to follow up on their “dead leads”. They asked two questions: Have you purchased a new home, and have you moved in yet? Out of almost 300 calls, 17 had purchased and most had moved in. Could better follow-up have captured some of those sales?
Create a great home buying experience
The idea is to create a loyal customer — a home owner who will brag about the experience, offer referrals freely, and give great reviews. This is not easy. The buying experience is fraught with confusion and anxiety. What an opportunity to position yourself as the preferred builder in your market!
It starts with earning trust with your buyer. The only way to accomplish this is by direct, clear, and timely communication. Have you heard your buyers say, “I wish I had known that” or “That is not what I was told”? These are signs of miscommunication or no communication at all. Your sales staff should be clear in how and when to communicate with a buyer. Even bad news communicated early can be overcome. It is a sign of respect to be candid and forthcoming with your customers.
Do these statements sound familiar?
“I had to visit the design gallery before 5 o’clock.”
“I had to take a day off work just to meet the lender.”
“I was not allowed to choose different countertops even though my cabinets were discontinued.”
“I was given one day’s notice that my closing has been postponed.”
If you can relate, it is time to change. Aim to delight, not satisfy, your customer. Don’t forget they are the reason you are here. Inconveniencing the customer should not even be a discussion.
Some builders endeavor to truly offer an exceptional experience. For example, a builder in Atlanta calls the family the week the sidewalk is being poured to invite them to put their handprints in the concrete. A builder in Chicago personally writes a thank you note to every buyer when the contract is signed. Another builder provides two men to help on moving day. You have “memory points” in your models; why not in your process?
Attending seminars and workshops is an opportunity to network with builders in other markets and share best practices. Don’t be lulled into complacency by the good times. Prepare now and prosper all the time.