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This article first appeared in the PB April 2014 issue of Pro Builder.

The World Series, Super Bowl, Winter Olympics, March Madness, and the Masters: These are the main events for athletes, stakeholders, and fans. Yet from the hundreds of thousands of people involved in these sports, only an extremely small percentage ever get to experience the thrill of competing at the highest level. Those who do are the most talented and highly trained whose skills have been constantly tested and evaluated against the highest standards. No one is there simply because they love the sport.

In new-home sales, the main event occurs every single time a sales representative interacts with a customer. The stakes are high and costly. Conversion ratios are the scorecards, and customers are the judges, referees, and scoring officials. There are no mulligans or timeouts here. Preparing salespeople to be capable and ready to perform always at the highest level of effectiveness for each main event is the collective and joint responsibility of everyone who spends company resources on marketing. It is the supreme obligation of everyone in a position of sales management.
As with coaches who direct athletes in the pursuit of championships, here are a few essential tips for sales managers:
1. Have the right players.
2. Create a system to educate through curriculum, train with a purpose, coach with a passion, and evaluate with accountability.
3. Implement consistently, congruently, and constantly, and then do it all over again.
Following the wisdom of the English philosopher Herbert Spencer, who said nearly 100 years ago, “The great aim of education is not knowledge, but action,” here are two specific activities that should form the foundation for any new-home sales training program.

Simulated Selling

Formerly known as role-playing, most people don’t like simulated selling, which is exactly why they must do it. By doing so, they are demonstrating conscious competence. In other words when they can show it, they are showing that they know it. Practice makes salespeople better just as a flight simulator does for fighter pilots, controlled scrimmage for football players, and the driving range for golfers.
Two more rules:
1. Never ask a salesperson to role play (simulate) a scenario that you have not taught them already and given them the opportunity to learn and practice.
2. When performing simulated selling exercises, if it is not performed correctly, stop, critique, correct, and coach.
“Please don’t make me role-play, it makes me nervous,” is a common and universal response to the concept of role-playing, typically followed by, “but you ought to see me with a customer; wow, am I good.” Don’t take them at their word. Instead, hone their skills through role-playing.

See-Me-With-the-Customer Evaluations

The performance of athletes in games and competitions is video recorded so they can learn from it. Similarly, the proper use and implementation of video shopping the sales process is the shortest road to developing a highly successful new-home sales team. The results clearly show the appearance or absence of unconscious competence. Two common objections I frequently hear from builders and sales managers about shopping is cost, and I have heard salespeople say they don’t like it or need it.
But after spending hundreds of thousands, if not millions of dollars on land, models, decorating, advertising, and other marketing costs, the investment in shopping becomes totally insignificant and will provide high dividends by capturing sales that are now being missed, while marketing dollars are simultaneously being wasted. As for the “I don’t need it” denial, for professional new-home salespeople, these videos are the most important movies they will ever watch. I strongly recommend three mystery video shops per year, per salesperson. This frequency is a minimum level of acceptable evaluation. Take heed of the words of General Norman Schwarzkopf, who said, “When placed in command, take charge.”

Real-World, Real-Time Relevance

Christie Redner, director of sales, Schaeffer Family Homes, in West Berlin, N.J., is a practitioner of these strategies and tactics. Redner says the following:
“I have learned through results that consistent involvement with simulated selling exercises and shops with high accountability are critical to the success of my sales team. We take training, accountability, and evaluation very seriously, and I train everyone personally. Every time I do it, I get better. Training all new hires immediately has become part of our culture. Among other things, simulated selling presentations are a constant. We have classroom for a full day, then we do role-playing and learning in the field or during a model home demonstration. From that point on, the new hires are sent off to learn, memorize, and show that they are progressing within the timeline we’ve established. I set up one-on-one or small group training in the sales offices to role play the scripts. The most important thing with this is to stop a salesperson immediately if they are not properly presenting. They use their phone to record themselves practicing, then evaluate, correct, and improve. As Bob says, ‘Competence leads to confidence.’ Once they know what they are talking about and learn the correct way to ask appropriate questions and more, they now are free to be themselves.
After the salesperson has had a couple of weeks to become comfortable in simulated selling situations, we sit down for the first coaching session of preparing for the main event, which we call the see-me-with-the-customer evaluation. The score sheet is reviewed and the purpose of the mystery shop is explained and discussed. When someone knows that they are going to be shopped, they will do everything in their power to be at their best, which is a display of conscious competence. I give them that push to learn it now rather than later by sending out the shoppers as soon as I feel they are ready. I don’t wait too long for fear that they will start learning the wrong way, and changing a bad habit is harder than learning the right way from the beginning. If they know shoppers are out, I promise you that every single prospect that walks through the door during that time period experiences the best my salesperson can do at that time. After the mystery shop is complete, they watch the video on their own without scoring. Then they watch it again and score, and once more again for good measure, just to listen to it.
As Bob suggests, the difference between the first shop and the second shop is what matters. One of our most significant training successes proves this. We recruited a salesperson from retail, with no new-home or real-estate sales experience. After she completed phase one of our training program, her process was evaluated by a first shop. Expectedly, the score was just okay. Then we moved into phase two. As planned, after a short time, she was ready for her new and improved evaluation process. Her second see-me-with-the customer evaluation was amazing. Bob said it was one of the very best he had seen in many years. Within their first week, this video is now required viewing for every new hire because it forms the basis for understanding my training objectives. As a manager, trainer, and coach, I evaluate myself on how well my sales team does with their simulated selling exercises, and ultimately on these shops. When they succeed, I succeed. If you have highly coachable, open-minded salespeople, and train and evaluate them appropriately, they will reach high levels of unconscious competence. That is the end goal that I have in mind.”
For more information about video shopping as a training tool, contact and mention "Professional Builder-Video Shops" in the subject line. Christie Redner can be contacted at