Over 90% of home shoppers start their search online. Your website is your new storefront and your phone or computer is your primary source of communication. With this shift in shopping behavior, builders must examine how they are set up to manage the digital side of their business. Your model centers and sales offices still serve an important purpose. But today that purpose is very different than it was 5 years ago. Your customer's first point of contact is no longer the salesperson. It's your Online Sales Counselor (OSC).
The role of the OSC: Selling the appointment vs. Selling a home
We have many home builders ask, "What is the primary role of the OSC?" While there are different types of OSC programs, we believe the role of the OSC is not to sell homes. We've built a proven program around this model. The OSC is there to learn about the prospect's needs, uncover their motivations to move, answer questions and set an appointment with an onsite sales professional so they can close the deal.
Let's take a step back to understand why the OSC came into existence.
Onsite salespeople can't realistically handle the volume of online inquiries needed to fill your sales pipeline. Don't get me wrong - many successful sales programs have been built on a model where the onsite salesperson handles ALL incoming leads. But it's an old way of doing business. Before the age of the internet, people would see an ad, drive into the neighborhood, walk directly into a sales center and talk to Bob the salesman to get the info they need. Bob could handle this. And on Saturdays when traffic was high, you just increased the staff.
But now every home builder on the planet has a 24/7 online model center (aka your builder website) with all the information a prospect could ever want and more. Now add to the mix inbound digital campaigns, content marketing, SEO, Social Media, digital ads, and search marketing - all sending more traffic than ever directly to that 24/7 model, and you have a major problem with the old sales model. Especially when every one of these new prospects is expecting an immediate response from you or they move on to the next builder.
Should we expect Bob to stop in the middle of a model tour to respond to a web inquiry? Certainly not. But that means we're wasting the thousands (or millions) of dollars that's being spent to generate all this digital traffic. So the staffing solution for the 24/7 online model is a person or team that serves the needs of all of those people at the top of the digital sales funnel. Someone that can bridge the gap between online and onsite. An Online Sales Counselor! This new role is someone that understands where prospects are in the funnel, responds immediately, and becomes their trusted guide.
Trust is difficult to come by in the digital age, but it's critical to the success of the OSC.
What is key at this very early stage of the relationship is the ability to build trust with someone you just met over the phone, live chat, or through email. You build trust by responding immediately and showing interest in them. Allow the curiosity to show in your voice and ask the right questions. Remember, at this early stage, it's all about them. You lose credibility if you try to suggest a solution before you understand what the problem is.
As an OSC, you should be offering an empathetic ear and listening carefully to your customer's vision for a new home. To effectively listen, you must be asking good questions. Make suggestions based on what you hear and understand what is motivating the customer to move. This will go a long way to help your onsite sales professional close the deal. In other words, you should be a people-pleaser. What our customers need at this point is someone to listen, understand, make suggestions, and lead them through the forest of questions, doubt and confusion they have.
A successful OSC is great at discovery.
As mentioned before, the primary goal of the OSC is to set appointments for the onsite sales professional. However, that's not enough. In our research, we learned one of the biggest struggles the OSC has is understanding how to conduct proper discovery. What is the motivation for your customer's desire for moving? What do they like to do in their free time? What is their favorite room in the home?
Asking questions like, "Was there a particular thing or event that prompted your search for a new home?" Or asking why their current home no longer serves their needs will provide wonderful insights on how to serve your customer and advance the sale. When you ask these types of questions in a conversational way and put curiosity in your voice, you build trust in your customer and you will gain valuable insights that will ultimately help you deliver more qualified appointments that will assist the onsite salesperson.
Avoid the awkward hand-off and set better appointments.
The OSC goal is to gather the motivational reasons for why people want to move, then sharing this information with your onsite sales professional, through your home builder CRM (Customer Relationship Management) system is key to a good customer experience. This will make it a seamless process. Provide a smooth handoff through email or video introductions. From the buyers' viewpoint, the last thing your customer wants to do is to retell their story to another salesperson. As the OSC provides confirmation of the appointment that was set, the onsite sales professional should also send out communication confirming the appointment and expressing excitement to meet with them.
What to do when prospects "go dark."
In our experience evaluating OSC's, we found that too often the OSC gives up on a customer if they haven't responded to their attempts to connect. There could be many things in play why you have not heard back from a customer. This customer simply may not be ready to engage a person and start the "sales process" just yet.
Research has shown that the time it takes once a customer starts the new home search, to when that customer actually signs a purchase agreement is, on average, 10 weeks.
We also know the OSC's and onsite sales professionals have had 10 to 12 touches with that customer before they signed a purchase agreement. Touches are identified as face-to-face meetings, emails, texts, phone calls and video call encounters. Understanding this, why then do OSC's and sales professionals give up after 2 or 3 attempts? Our research has shown that sales professionals tend to not know what to say, so they send an email that says, "Hi, I'm just checking in..."
Please don't send "just checking in" emails. They carry no value for your customer. The best thing to do is to have a well-defined drip campaign with multiple reasons for following up in place.
Utilize automation and a drip campaign for follow-up.
Right now you might be thinking, "How the heck can I keep up with 10 to 12 touches with every prospect when I deal with over 200 leads a month?" I get it. It would be impossible to keep up with what would amount to tens of thousands of emails, texts, video messages, and phone calls a year. This is why you accomplish this through automation through your CRM. Don't have a CRM to assist with this program? Start small, get in the habit of setting up a systematic follow-up program with calendar reminders to reach out.
If you are setting up a new OSC program or looking to optimize your existing one, make sure you keep this in mind. Be sure your drip campaign for follow-up emphasizes your unique selling position (USP) and provides a minimum of 10 touches within the first 30-day span of that prospect reaching out to you. Your drip campaign should leverage the benefits and what's unique about your company and link back to your website so the prospect can learn more about the advantages of building with you.
Just ask Ingrid: my conversation with an OSC
To add a builder's perspective to this article, I recently reached out to a seasoned manager of an Online Sale Counselor program to learn about her experiences. I had a wonderful conversation with Ingrid Prince with Shaddock Homes in the Dallas/Fort Worth market. Ingrid has performed the OSC responsibilities and now manages several OSC's in their growing program Here is part of my conversation with Ingrid:
Bokka: Now that you have a solid OSC program in place, what are you finding as challenges or failures as it relates to delivering a great buyer's experience.
Ingrid: Wow, I like how you framed that question, coming from the "buyer's experience" perspective because I don't think we always take that into account when putting together an OSC program. It's not enough to just set an appointment. We need to help our onsite sales teams find success by providing the back story on why our customers feel compelled to move. It's easy to get into that conversation when you show interest in their story.
Another area I have seen OSC programs fail is with a poor handoff from the OSC to the onsite sales professional. It's important to be clear about who your customer will be meeting with onsite and have both the OSC and the sales professional confirm the appointment.
Ingrid also shared one way her team makes this handoff much more personal for their customers. She started recording a video message of herself with each one of her sales teams together in the video. This way, when the appointment is set, both Ingrid and the sales professional are in the video sending a welcome message. As Ingrid says, "It puts a face with the name of the sales professional they are going to meet with. We have personalized the experience." It also takes away the confusion that occurs occasionally when the customer shows up for their appointment thinking they will be meeting with the OSC.
Bokka: That is great advice for all builders with an OSC program. What else have you seen during the handoff stage that tends to strain the buyer experience?
Ingrid: One of the biggest pain points buyers experience at this stage is that they don't want to retell their story. At Shaddock, we take pride in the level of detail our OSC inputs into our CRM so that the onsite sales professional understands the motivation behind the move. Prior to the appointment, the onsite salesperson reads all the notes and picks them up at that point. Done right, the buyer knows who they are coming to see and feels comfortable engaging that salesperson because they know their story.
I love the idea of a combined video with both the OSC and the onsite sales team, together, welcoming their customer, virtually, to their community. I also would suggest the onsite salesperson sends an acknowledgment email confirming the future appointment with directions to the model center. This email could be as simple as a restating of what's important to the customer and that you are looking forward to meeting them.
Bokka: Shifting gears a little, I know Treadmaker Homes utilizes NterNow, a program that allows buyers access to homes after hours. How has this technology influenced the OSC role in the past year?
Ingrid: I'm glad you asked that question. We believe in the convenience of what NterNow provides, but we also believe in building strong relationships with our customers and while NterNow is a wonderful tool, we leave this as a last resort as a solution for our customers. It's wonderful to have when needed, but we find our customers are reaching out to us because they have exhausted their research and now are ready to engage our team. We have to be available for them. They have questions only our team can answer.
My conversation with Ingrid was very revealing from someone who had been operating a successful OSC program for many years. We appreciate Ingrid's contribution and transparency for this article.
Some tips Bokka recommends as part of your online sales program:
- Automation: Over 90% of our home shoppers begin their search online. The level of queries for information have consistently gone up over the years. If you don't have an automated process to assist your OSC's with these leads, it will be impossible to keep up.
- 250 Max: This is the consensus number of how many leads one OSC can effectively handle on a monthly basis with automation. If you are experiencing more volume than this and have one OSC, you may consider growing your program.
- Drip Campaign: When setting up your automated OSC drip campaign, it is suggested you leverage your builder's USP's by including links in your email communication back to those areas on your website that will help your customer learn more about you.
- Staff up for e-blasts: At times when you plan to have a lot of prospects all coming to your website at once, like during a big marketing e-blast, make sure your staff appropriately. Have your live chat on and staffed to account for the increase in traffic and inquiries.
- Lead Nurturing: It is suggested that after your prospect has gone through your 30-40 day drip campaign with no response that you don't give up on them. You continue the relationship through a nurturing campaign for at least the next year (some builders go out 2 years with branding messaging) with monthly touches with meaningful information about you and your company.
- Don't send "check-in emails": When you look at this through your buyer's lens, these types of emails bring no value. To the buyer, your email or call is basically saying, "I need to sell a home this week, are you ready yet?" At every touchpoint you need to bring something of value for your customer (this is why discovery is so critical in all areas of the sales process). Pay attention and be relevant.
- Long Term Follow-Up: This has been a point of contention with many OSC's we have spoken with. Who owns the lead? It must be clearly defined within your group on who owns the lead, the OSC or the onsite sales professional. For example, the OSC starts a lead, then sets an appointment with the onsite salesperson. The customer has met with the onsite salesperson at least one time. If that lead did not buy on the first visit (which happens more than most people think) and there is no second appointment made, who should be responsible for the continued follow-up? We've found it best practice to have the onsite salesperson owns that lead going forward. They have established a relationship and learned more of your prospects desire to move and should build on this relationship. As the OSC has its own drip campaign, so should the onsite sales professional.
- Pricing: This is another area in which you need to decide on how to respond. It is suggested the OSC never gets involved in any negotiation on price or terms. Objections and negotiations are opportunities to advance the sale and are best left for the onsite sales professional. Conversations around base pricing are appropriate for the OSC, but option pricing and custom change pricing is probably best left for the onsite sales professional. Remember, your job as an OSC is to gather as much intelligence from your prospect as you can and set the appointment, not sell them a home.
- Call Tracking: As a way to examine how effective your OSC program is, we suggest using a call tracking service so that you have actual, recorded calls to listen and train to. As the old adage goes, "We never stop learning" and we must always "inspect what we expect." Call Tracking is a great tool to hone our skills so that we are at our best for our customers.
- 1-on-1 meetings with sales as part of OSC on-boarding: To help you best serve your customer and to guide them through the steps of your process, we suggest the OSC spends time onsite shadowing their sales professionals and learning their perspectives. This will help the OSC understand how the sales presentation is delivered. This will also assist in making a seamless handoff.
At the Bokka Group, we are experts in the field of building proven Online Sales Counselor programs that deliver great results. If you are considering taking that next step to build an OSC program for your group or if you have an OSC program in place and not getting the results you are looking for, give us a call for a free consultation, we are great listeners. Keep in mind, we just don't deliver a proven OSC program, we also provide follow-up training to refine your touchpoints with your customer. We consider ourselves a partner in your success and because of that, we are in it for the long haul step-by-step with you.
Other resources for building your home builder online sales program:
If you'd like to read more, check out these 2 articles, where we laid the framework for a strong Online Sales Counselor program.
- How to Build an Online Sales Counselor Program That Really Works for New Construction Home Sales
- The Ultimate Toolkit for Online Sales Counselors in Homebuilding