Homebuilders Improve Sales by Recognizing Problems

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Too many home builders follow rather than lead when it comes to sales strategies. Rick Heaston discusses steps housing’s giants can take to stop covering up a sales problem and bring it out in the open.

April 01, 2007

In the December 2006 issue of GIANTS, I suggested home builders not wrestle with a pig. The pig, like your customers, doesn't mind seeing you get a little muddy in an attempt to complete a transaction. I'd like to follow up that point with this point: Putting lipstick on a pig will not change how it looks. A pig, after all, is still a pig.

What? Let me explain.

I've been running into builders lately who are trying to "doll up" their sales programs — putting lipstick on their pigs, if you will. Dolling up entails tying to market and selling with discounts. No matter how much lipstick they use, their sales process is still lacking.

If you really want to get in touch with customers, there's one thing you need to do: ask yourself some questions.

Q: OF ALL OF THE DIFFERENT DEPARTMENTS IN YOUR COMPANY, WHICH DO YOU NEED MOST TO STEP UP AND HELP YOU BE SUCCESSFUL?

I've asked builders the very same question. Overwhelmingly they've responded, "My sales department."

Every builder commented that it's not about building and servicing customers, it's about selling to them.

Q: OF ALL OF THE DIFFERENT DEPARTMENTS IN YOUR COMPANY, WHICH IS LEAST PREPARED TO STEP UP AND HELP YOU BE SUCCESSFUL?

Again, builders answered unanimously: "My sales department." Builders believe their design, production and service departments are more prepared to do their job than their sales departments. In other words, they believe their sales associates don't have the skills they need to outsell their competitors.

Go See for Yourself

How long has it been since you've mystery shopped your sales associates? If it's been a while, you might want to consider stepping up your schedule. I think what you'll find might surprise you.

I've had the opportunity to visit sales associates in almost every part of the country. I've been everywhere from Pittsburgh to Phoenix and from Orange County to Tampa. What I found was interesting, to say the least.

Salespeople are still selling like it's a buyer's market. Not only did they fail to give me a reason as a buyer to be interested in what they were selling, they failed to provide a reason I should be interested at all. That's a problem when you're trying to survive in a market where every sale makes a difference.

Most associates haven't figured out that combining relationship selling with the basics won't get them where they want to be. It's not their fault, though. It's like I mentioned in my August column: You haven't given them the skills they need to make a sale.

Is Your Sales Process Valid?

To sell in a tough market you need a valid sales process.

If the key to winning in today's market is a valid process, you'll need to be able to recognize it when you see it. Most builders are so busy trying to sell their customer, they aren't aware they can get customers to sell themselves.

Michael Hammar, co-author of "Reengineering the Corporation: A Manifesto for Business Revolution," agrees. He says a valid process involves a group of activities that, when brought together, creates a result that benefits your customer instead of you.

Most managers have been taught their sales process must add value for their sales associate, not their customer. Customers need to feel like they're in charge — that it's their agenda and they can shop the way they want to shop. This means you're going to need a process that focuses on them but at the same time allows you to do what you need to do.

A customer-focused sales process will focus on four main steps every customer goes through before they buy. Do some research and try to identify those steps — they're out there. If you want to outsell your competitors, you have to focus on how customers decide rather than on how you want to sell.

Ask yourself the following questions to see if your selling process matches your customer decision process:

  • Do you understand your customer's four-step decision process?
  • Does your selling process match your customer's four-step decision process?
  • Does your selling process utilize techniques that will allow you to help your customers to sell themselves?

Do You Know How to Zag?

You'll need a strategy if you're going to do more than offer bigger discounts to make your numbers. I can boil down the strategy you'll need to one question:

  • What are you doing that causes you to stand out from your competitors?

Branding expert Marty Neumeier offers some insight in his latest book, "Zag: The Number One Strategy of High-Performance Brands." In "Zag," Neumeier declares the No. 1 strategy common to all high performance brands is radical differentiation. In other words, when everyone zigs, you need to zag. And that could be the easiest or the hardest thing you might ever do. Let me show you what I mean. http://www.zagbook.com/

What pops into your mind when I mention differentiation? Isn't it product design, service and customer satisfaction? How long does it take to create a world-class program? And once you have it, how long does it take for someone to copy it? It kind of makes it hard to zag when all of your competitors are zagging too. But I've got an idea for you.

Why don't you try zagging in a place where all of your competitors are still busy learning to zig. Talk about a competitive advantage. I can virtually guarantee more sales, more be-backs and fewer discounts. Want to know what I'm taking about? It's your sales process.

Your sales process is the easiest, most cost efficient and effective way to be where your competition isn't. What department do you need most, is least prepared to help and is using the same process as everyone else? It's like before; it's your sales department. But that's just the beginning.

How Do You Like It?

When was the last time you asked your customers about your sales process? Would it surprise you to hear most customers say that new-home salespeople are not much different than car salespeople?

Today's customer is tired of being greeted, qualified, questioned, presented to and closed all in the name of completing the sale.

Winning in a tough market isn't that hard. All you have to do is quit putting lipstick on the pig. After all, it's still a pig no matter how much lipstick you use.


Author Information
Rick Heaston is president of R.A. Heaston and Co., a sales-training and marketing firm. You can reach him at rick@touchpointselling.com.


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