Just look around and it's easy to see how obsessed the world has become with speed, convenience and "buy it now" attitudes. Zappos, Amazon and Airbnb are great examples of this obsession. Heck, people are even willing to pay more for self-service and convenience (e.g. Amazon Prime.) Did you realize there are 101 million Amazon Prime members as of December 2018 in the United States alone? You can get meals, groceries, phones, cars, boats - you name it - online...in a day if not hours. And all without engaging with a single salesperson.
Buying a New Home Today
With the technology available it's possible to buy a home without ever stepping foot into a model. With online visualization tools, you can tour a home completely online and feel confident you know how the home is going to feel. Builders today have provided the opportunity for home buyers to purchase a home with minimal effort, all online. In the time it takes you to read this article, you could buy a home online, without ever talking to a sales person. You can choose all interior finishes through a digital experience with programs like "Envision." Your loan process can be fully automated with blockchain, and you can close remotely through digital home closing. When it is all said and done, you can actually buy a new home without ever meeting a single person.
What do We Need a Human For?
So, I ask you, why do we even need a new home sales person? As a long time new home sales person and sales leader, it pains me to ask that question. But I have to ask the question to better prepare for tomorrow.
Home buyers need an information filter.
I recently spoke with several sales trainers and coaches across the country about this topic. Quint Lears of newhomesales.com shared with me, "Sales people of today and tomorrow need to develop the skill of asking more questions to understand more about their buyers in order to reduce the vast amount of information your customer has gathered. We need to help subtract and hone into what is truly meaningful to your buyers."
That's great advice from Quint. Sales professionals don't necessarily have to add to the information, they need to help buyers organize the information they already have. We'd be best served to innovate and evolve to keep pace with the tools available to the customers. We are finding Realtors, travel agents and yes, new home sales professionals having to reinvent themselves to keep up with technology.
We certainly have come a long way from the Glengarry Glen Ross days. But builders are still far behind the evolution of today's home buyers and what they need from a sales representative. Builders would be best served to look at the buyer's journey before, during and after engaging a builder to help redefine the role and purpose of the new home sales professional. Let's embrace the disruption, learn from it, and pivot to serve our customers with the best intent. We just need to pay attention and make ourselves relevant to the experience we want to deliver.
It's hard to visualize what the future holds for new home sales people.
In 2009 none of us really thought we would be using AI in construction or using Chat Bots like AtlasRTX to communicate with our prospects. Who would have thought we'd have an Online Sales Counselor Program to help us set appointments, or use text messaging as our primary communication tool? A lot can change in 10 years, that's for sure.
And in today's always-on culture with communication tools like Instagram, Twitter and text messaging, it's all about immediacy.
Consider these communication statistics and their impact on new home sales:
Only 5% of phone calls get answered - I used to say, "nothing beats a well-placed phone call with the right intent". I still believe in this today, IF you have prepared your customer for that phone call. However, the stats show only 5% of phone calls are answered. Voice mails are filling up. And don't even bother leaving a voice mail for a millennial.
Only 14% of emails get viewed and answered - Sales professionals hiding behind emails are betting on a pretty low rate of engagement. Let's be selective in how we use email as a communication tool for selling homes.
98% of text messages are responded to within 2 minutes - Those using text messaging as their primary source of communication is experiencing a 98% read and response rate within the first 2 minutes.
1% - the percentage of builders using Chat Bots to help with customer experience in 2019.
80% - the percentage of builders expected to be using Chat Bots by the end of 2020.
5 minutes is your window for responding to a lead - Gone are the days to respond to a prospect within 24 hours. You've heard the phrase "a day late and a dollar short." You respond a day later and that prospect is gone, moved on. Rapid response, whether that be via the OSC on a web inquiry or using text messaging to respond to your customer after they left your office, is highly suggested. You need to catch your prospect while they are thinking of you.
3 things a buyer needs to feel confident in their decision to purchase a new home: Information, Knowledge, and Wisdom
Before the internet, the salesperson had all the information, most of the knowledge, and some of the wisdom. They would guard this information very closely and ration it as they saw fit.
Today, the role is reversed. Our customers are now incredibly well-informed. Enough so to make an intelligent decision before visiting your model. Regurgitating information they already know will not serve you well.
Your customers have gained the information and knowledge by talking with experts, reading reviews, touring homes and walking homes under construction. They probably know your website better than you do. However, they lack the wisdom on how it all comes together.
What buyers really need is a trusted guide to help them navigate a very complicated process.
Drop the X's and O's and Understand the Why.
Instead of simply focusing on the X's and O's (# bedrooms, square footage, bathroom count, garage configurations, etc.) sales professionals today fill the role of trusted advisor. That means becoming a resident expert on all the intangibles of home buying.
Sales professionals should focus more on discovering the 'why' behind the customer's desire to move. Asking more questions to help understand your customers emotional motivations gains trust. When you gain your customers trust, you can help advise them and help guide them to a logical conclusion.
Ten years ago you saw renderings and floor plans on the sales offices walls. You experienced trap fencing, herding customers like cattle during hours similar to bankers. All these things benefit the builder, not the customers. Our sales centers went from information gathering and a closing office to more open, inviting places to have a conversation and relax.
Today's New Home Sales Environment
Today, you find model centers designed more like cafes' with no product on the wall at all. Instead, opting for lifestyle photos, imagery aiding the customer to imagine what life would look like living in that community. And, if you can't make it to the office during "office hours" some builders provide products like Nter Now or My Time Home Tours by Brookfield Residential to tour a home at any time of day or night, without a sales person's escort. Is this disruption? Heck yes. It changes the way we sell homes today. Just check out this article from Housingwire on how the iBuyer is adjusting to how buyers want to buy.
The sales professional's role is less about providing information and more about learning, listening and understanding their customers motivations for making a move. You have to earn the right to be in the conversation. This is not to say the sales professional doesn't need to know the product. It's now just as important than ever. But today it's about how to apply the information and knowledge to meet a specific need of the customer. It's about choosing to serve your customers needs, not to sell. Do this and you'll bring value to the relationship.
AR, VR and AI......Oh my!
It may not be lions and tigers and bears, but for some of us, it may as well be. Is your head spinning trying to keep up with the cool, new technology permeating our space? We don't need to look too far into the future to realize the change that's upon us today. Virtual Reality is being practiced by many home builders to help their customers experience their homes. Artificial Intelligence like Siri, Alexa, and Chat Bots are already so familiar to us we sometimes forget we are actually having a conversation with a computer. And with Augmented Reality, we can mix digital renderings into our local environment to peek into the future and see what a home will look like when built on a particular homesite. And we're just scratching the surface.
The role and purpose of the new home sales professional is evolving: embrace the change.
Whether we like it or not the winds of change are upon us. As John C. Maxwell once said, "Change is inevitable, growth is optional." We can challenge the old ways of doing things and grow through embracing change, or we can be left behind.
As sales professionals, we need to start looking at how buyers want to buy not how we want to sell.
Let's welcome the chance to learn new things and apply them to our business to connect better.
Here are just a few tools to connect with your customers and be more buyer-centric:
- BombBomb - a video messaging system to personalize your follow-up.
- IRIO - A text messaging platform allowing you to respond faster and more personal.
- Builder Signal - A communication tool to thrill your home buyers during construction.
- Opendoor - allowing customers access to a resale home without Realtor representation.
- NterNow - gain access to homes anytime, day or night, without engaging a sales professional.
- Marco-Polo - A video communication app to communicate either live or view when available.
- AtlasRTX - The use of Chatbots to connect with your customer anytime 24/7.
10 Best Practices to be the Sales Professional Your Customer Needs
So where does all this leave our sales professional? With all this automation and new technology, do we really need sales people in the new home building world? My answer is a resounding: YES. But sales professionals cannot operate as we have in the past.
Customers today are much more ready to buy than ever before. Before visiting you in the sales office, they are about 85% certain they are buying your home. We need to recognize this and adjust our engagement accordingly.
For some of us, we need to get out of our own way to find success. The sales environment today is filled with smarter customers, shorter sales cycles and exciting opportunities. In order to address the needs of today's customer and tomorrow's home buyer, here is a list of skill sets sales professionals need to develop:
- Embrace the relationship with your Online Sales Counselor (OSC). Talking to builders and OSCs across the country, I still hear sales teams feel "threatened" by the OSC. I don't understand this. They contribute to the salesperson's success. There is not a sales manager I know that will say, "you are writing too many deals with the OSC's help!" You have a chance to personalize the buying experience with a prospect obtained from an OSC appointment. And shorten the sales/buying cycle.
- Re-examine your sales process - Is your sales process all about your wonderful product? If so, change it! Make it all about your customer and their motivations to buy. Be curious. Ask "why" more often. They are in your office because of your product, not to learn what you offer - they already know. As Jeff Shore likes to say, "What is the one clue that indicates you're talking to a buyer? The fact that they showed up in your office."
- Learn everything you can about your CRM - Become more familiar with your CRM. Most CRM programs provide insight into your prospects habits, i.e. website visits, page visits, buying behaviors, etc. You can personalize your buyers experience and stay ahead of your competition by using the tools within your CRM, but you have to put forth the effort to learn the tool inside and out.
- Become an exceptional listener - Be insatiably curious about your customer story and motivations to move. Become skilled at listening with your eyes. Non-verbal communication is a big part of new home sales. Be observant.
- Give your buyers what they can't Google. Think about that one.
- Stop the interrogation! Detective days are over. Discovery happens throughout the visit, it's not a moment in time. Make your visit more conversational and never interrupt your customer when they are speaking. We are so eager to share our information we tend to interrupt our buyers. Keep in mind, your buyers are eager to tell their story too if you let them. Always allow them to complete their thought. Practice the pregnant pause. You'll be amazed by how effective this technique is. They may even answer their own objection.
- Remember the 18% - Would you believe that 18% of your visitors buy on the first visit? This survey was taken several years ago, so I contend this number is even higher today. On the flip side of that, only 8% of buyers buy after the 3rd visit. With the availability of so much information for your prospects, they are better prepared once they finally do visit your office. Prepare your presentation in a way that finishes with your closing question on the first visit. Begin with the end in mind. Again, in the words of my friend Jeff Shore, "Closing is not what you do to your customer, it's what you do for your customer."
- Practice Information REDUCTION. Quint Lears reminds us to help our customer narrow the list of possibilities by listening to your customers wants and desires. Your customers depend upon this skill from you. They need your help. Make a difference in your customer's mission and be the reason they bought from you.
- Educate Yourself - Continue to learn. Read books, attend seminars, listen to podcasts, aspire to be the resident expert. Fill your tool box with the tools needed to help your customer with their story. Get out, walk your homes. Understand how a home comes together. Spend time with your construction manager, come in early and sit in their trailer to understand his/her day. You can only lead your customer through the building phases of a home when you understand them yourself. Make a difference in your customer's life.
- And for Pete's sake - Follow-up! - This is the most under-developed, under-utilized skill of sales professionals. Use the tools mentioned earlier in this article. Show you care and that you listened. Follow-up IMMEDIATELY with meaningful information to advance the sale. And, always (with every prospect), leave your customer with both of you understanding what the next steps are.
The process of buying and selling homes is changing. Self-service is taking hold, and those that refuse to acknowledge it and embrace change are just ushering in the death of the salesman. But those sales professionals that are willing to get out of their comfort zone to evolve and learn new skill sets are the ones that will survive and thrive in the age of the customer.
Bokka Group - Your Trusted Partner
As a new home sales and marketing leader, trainer, and coach for the past 18 years I have personally sold over $100 million in new home sales. I find myself learning every day and adjusting to the home buying and selling climate. I talk to builders across the country to help them face the challenges we see in today's selling environment. If you have a specific area of the sales process that is challenging your team, give us a call at Bokka Group, we are happy to help and support your efforts.