New Home Sales: Turning Online Shoppers into Buyers

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The Bokka Group’s annual survey of homebuyer preferences sheds light on how builders can make better use of digital sales tools to turn prospects into customers.

October 08, 2014

Getting people in the door of your sales center is, in many ways, harder than it’s ever been for home builders. Backed by the power of the Internet, anyone with even a passing curiosity about buying a new home can have information at their fingertips within seconds from wherever they are.

This means that builders need to focus their recruiting efforts on making the most of the digital tools at their disposal. And that’s why marketing management firm The Bokka Group compiles an annual Home Buyer Conversion Report.
 
For this year’s study, Bokka reached out to 400 recent home buyers, targeting customers of the top 100 builders in the United States. Survey questions focused on ways that buyers interacted with builders online. The framework for the Bokka Report is based on the concept of the sales funnel—the process of converting a prospect into a closed sale. There are four phases in the process as it relates to digital marketing:
 
Attraction – The initial point of contact between a prospect and a builder. Builders (and their websites) need to make a strong first impression.
 
Engagement – Website visitors begin to interact with content provided by the builder.
 
Nurturing – Builders should begin to cultivate the relationship with the new visitor. This means interacting directly with individuals who have spent enough time on your site to be interested in your product and have given you their contact information.
 
Closing – The prospect actually comes to the sales center to begin working with the builder.
 

Attracting attention

The top part of the funnel is where builders usually spend most of their advertising budget, according to the report. This is arguably the most challenging portion of the process because the buyer likely does not know your company before visiting your website. 
 
So how do you help them get there? The majority of survey respondents (77.7 percent) said they found a builder simply by doing a Google search. Therefore, where you rank in the search results can make a difference—62.9 percent of respondents said they were attracted to a builder’s site based on paid search results, a 16-percent increase from the previous Bokka survey.
 
As unassuming as they can seem, banner ads, too, are having a greater impact on site visits: 60.9 percent of site visitors were drawn to a banner ad compared with 46.9 percent the previous year. “This was one of several surprises from the survey this year,” says Jimmy Diffee, vice president and creative director for The Bokka Group.
 

Engaging interest

Long gone are the days where simply having a website was enough to make you stand out from the crowd. Once a prospect finds your site, you want them to stay there for as long as possible, and that does not happen without strong content.
 
The Internet is first and foremost a visual medium, so visitors place heavy value on being able to see what you have to offer. The two most important site elements, according to survey respondents, are photo galleries (94.6 percent) and interactive floor plans (86.6 percent).
 
However, photo galleries, while fairly simple to add to a site, can be a detriment if not taken seriously. “You absolutely need to have high-quality photos if you’re going to do it,” Diffee says. Display your full array of home offerings and let buyers see what they’d be getting. 
 
Showing floor plans on your site is easy enough too, but interactive floor plans will give prospects a chance to create their dream home before they buy it. To really set yourself apart, Diffee says, make sure they can save their work and come back to it later after they’ve spent time creating something they like. “Then you can pull it up later in the sales center and go over it with them,” he adds. 
 

Stay plugged in

 
Not surprisingly, the importance of a strong social media presence has seen a dramatic increase in importance among buyers, particularly the younger generations. The percentage of buyers who considered social media important skyrocketed from 15.9 percent in 2013 to 38.9 percent in 2014. This doesn’t indicate that more builders are moving into the social media space; in truth, Diffee says, most are already there in some capacity. “The key,” he adds, “is that more and more prospects are getting value out of builders’ social media presence during the research phase. For them to shortlist their preferred builders, prospects look to social media to gauge authenticity.” This means using whichever tool you feel comfortable with to give prospects an inside look at your organization, whether it’s Facebook to interact with them directly, or Instagram to show off construction photos. 
 
Diffee speculates the rise in social media has also increased the importance of videos and testimonials, which surged 28.7 percent among 25-to-44 year olds and more than 30 percent for first-time buyers. “With most people having smartphones nowadays, it’s become a lot easier to take a video and post it online,” he says.
 
Finally on the technology front, mobile-friendly websites are on the rise, too, with 14 percent more buyers identifying them as important in 2014. Tablets and smartphones allow people to surf the Web from anywhere and everywhere, so if your site doesn’t display properly on the small screen, that could be a turnoff. 
 
While much of the technological upswing is rightly attributed to young buyers, Diffee notes another segment that is keeping up with the Joneses: those at the highest price point (designated for the Bokka survey as $500,000 and up). “The luxury buyers tend to be more influenced by technology because they have so many of the newest gadgets,” he says. 
 

Nurturing a new relationship

So, assuming you’ve gotten buyers to your website and have kept their interest, the next step is to start getting to know each other. Getting users to give up personal information online can be tricky, but Diffee says it’s as simple as giving them incentive to do so. “You have to provide value in exchange for their information,” he adds. 
 
For a builder, the greatest value they can offer their customers is access to more information. The Bokka survey indicates that buyers are most likely to provide their contact information in exchange for email updates on items such as pricing and availability or current promotions and offers. 
 
If you’re looking for something else to pique their interest, Diffee says an interactive brochure is a great option. “This fits with the traditional builder mentality,” he adds, noting that a hard copy is usually the first thing builders give out. “They understand how to present it, and there’s inherent value in that.” 
 
Growth from 2012 to 2013 occurred for all value-added content offered in exchange for contact information. The value of personalized follow-up grew by 25 percent.
 
While offering value is the best way to persuade people to share personal information, as in any other relationship, you have to gain their trust first. According to the survey, adding a link to your privacy policy or to sample emails goes a long way toward building that trust. “Let them know that their information won’t be used to sell back to them,” Diffee says. 
 
If prospects would rather initiate direct contact themselves, phone calls and emails are still among the most preferred methods. The tried-and-true “contact us” link is also still a serviceable option, but Diffee recommends freshening it up a bit by giving it a more engaging name. “Instead of ‘contact us,’ call it something like ‘get more information,’” he suggests. This is a subtle but effective way to reinforce the idea of getting better value in exchange for a prospect’s contact information. 
 
This year’s Bokka survey also saw the emergence of live chat as a major player on the scene. The beauty of live chat is that since they’re already on the website, prospects can begin speaking with a company rep immediately. It’s a great way to simply gather information or even schedule an appointment.  
 
“Think of it as an online sales counselor,” Diffee says. “It’s very important to have someone handling this.” 
 

Closing the deal 

If all has gone well to this point and the prospect likes what they’ve seen, they’ll hopefully find themselves walking into your sales center. But the job isn’t quite done yet—they still haven’t agreed to work with you. 
 
 
According to Diffee, there are a number of digital tools builders can and do use in the sales center. They generally fall into two categories—personal tools and displays. PCs are fairly commonplace these days in sales centers, and they allow visitors to access the website and any on-site databases. Some of the more forward-thinking builders are including tablets and smartphones as well, and even customized apps in some cases.  
 

Sharing the power 

This new wave of digital sales tactics represents a shifting of the tide in Diffee’s mind—and in this case, change is a good thing. 
 
“I think the current status quo in new-home sales processes isn’t sustainable,” Diffee says. Because buyers have instant access to much of the same information builders do, “the power is no longer with the salesperson in terms of information.” 
 
As bleak as that statement sounds, the reality is these digital sales tools give builders and their sales team a different kind of power. “It all points to the power of using customer data and understanding the buyer,” Diffee says. 
 
If you are able to gain a geater understanding of your customers from the data they provide and then tailor your approach to reflect their interests, you will be able to reach buyers on an entirely different level. PB
 
 
 

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