Here’s a crazy idea: Tell your salespeople to stop trying to sell homes.
Sure, it seems counterintuitive, but I contend that no one has ever actually sold a new home to anyone. Imagine the farcical notion that you can talk someone into spending $300,000 on a life-changing purchase that will dramatically affect their family’s future. I don’t think so.
I began my career in home building as a new-home salesperson in December 1983. I was newly licensed and knew practically nothing about selling homes or about construction. My “training” consisted of a couple of hours of a “community overview” and I was handed the keys. With that introduction, I was dubbed the “Sales Manager” for my community. Yikes!
In those days, there was no internet or websites or virtual model tours. Customers came into my sales office knowing only what they’d read in a quarter-page ad in the newspaper. On my first Saturday, they knew about as much as I did.
A good salesperson can sell someone a pair of shoes, but they can’t talk a customer into buying a new home they don’t want.
Luckily for me, my first prospects (and ultimately my first buyers) were Mike and Debbie Green. Mike was an engineer with a penchant for details. I told them that I was brand-new in my position and knew little about my products. I promised that I would get answers to every question they asked by Monday. Mike was fine with that. By the end of their visit, I had more than 50 questions in my notes.
I learned quickly that I needed to know every single detail of my products and my community. More importantly, I learned early on that I couldn’t sell anyone a home. Yes, a good salesperson can sell someone a pair of shoes, a used car, even a timeshare contract, but they can’t talk a customer into buying a new home they don’t want. They can only help them to make a good decision.
Once I made my role clear, the prospects' guard came down, along with their anxiety, and I was able to begin building a relationship of trust.
I learned that my role was to provide my customers with all of the information they would need to make this life-changing decision on their own. And I told them so at our first meeting. My opening line: “I promise not to try to sell you anything. Once I know more about you and what type of home and neighborhood you need, I’ll provide you with information that will help you make the right decision for your family, even if my community and homes don’t meet your needs.”
That “framing” of my role instantly changed the dynamic of my relationship with my customers. Their guard came down, along with their anxiety, and I was able to begin building a relationship of trust. I became their advisor and counselor, not a “greedy salesperson” trying to hook them. They were ready to talk about what they wanted and needed (and even what worried them). I was able to get to know them in an unthreatening atmosphere. I became their friend.
Largely because of this approach, I was able to secure contracts for nearly 70 homes during my first year (when interest rates were around 12%!). What’s more, I really enjoyed myself, helping families achieve their dreams.
Beyond Trust, Product Knowledge Is Key
To build on the level of trust established by serving as a true “counselor,” detailed product knowledge is essential. Today, before potential customers even visit your sales office, they’ve been on your website looking over floor plans, the site plan, included features, and photos of your “move-in-ready” homes. They’ve Google searched or looked up your company on Yelp to see what customers say about you.
Today’s consumers make decisions based on complete information about the products they buy. They won’t buy a blender without detailed product specifications or good ratings, especially from other buyers. So, imagine how much information they’ll need to buy a new house!
How do you “sell” more homes? Know your products inside and out; not just floor plans and square footages, not just included features and lot sizes, you must know everything about every aspect of your customers’ decision-making list of priorities. Every serious buyer has such a list, and every serious salesperson should, too.
Know Your Builders’ Stories
Help your customers know who they would be doing business with. Explain how long the builder has been in business and how many homes they’ve built. Describe their reputation in the market and what they’re known for. Share any recognition they’ve received or community service they perform.
Know Your Area
In addition, customers from out of town (or even from the other side of town) will want to know about the general area around the home, including major travel arteries, area shopping, employment centers, places of worship, health care facilities, and recreational facilities such as golf courses and parks.
If they have school-age children, they will want to know about local schools, student/teacher ratios, test scores, after-school programs, special needs support, and so on.
Know Your Community
Know the total acreage of the community, homesite sizes, green spaces, amenities, and municipal services. If there’s a homeowners association, explain what it provides and how the fees work; know about street lighting and the location of utilities; be aware of adjacent properties and, if they’re undeveloped, their possible future uses; know about taxes and fluctuations in property values.
Know Your Competition
Your customers will shop other builders, visit resale homes, and consider all of their options before choosing the right home in the right community with the right features for them. So, know not only your products but how they compare to other housing options in the market—in detail. If other builders’ homesites are larger, if their included features are superior, if their price per square foot is more affordable, you need to be able to cite those differences.
The more you know, the more your customers will trust you to guide them. The more you can answer questions with certainty, the more helpful you will be in their decision-making process. The more you can match your community’s attributes with the customer’s list of priorities, the more likely they will be to choose your home. You haven’t sold them, you’ve helped them.
The Bottom Line
The best salespeople don’t sell, they advise. They counsel, and they help their customers make informed decisions. As such, they earn the right to ask for the order (gently) and to say, “It’s clear you’ve discovered that our community is perfect for your family. This is the right decision for you. Let’s take this home off the market!”