New Tech: Wait or Jump in?

Companies die from failing to change, but also by changing too quickly. Here’s how to find the balance and survive extinction 

By Kevin Oakley, Contributing Editor | July 30, 2019
take the leap or wait to adopt new technology in your home building business?
Should you take the leap and adopt new technology in your business now? (Illustration: jozefmicic / stock.adobe.com)

Well aware of how attention spans have shrunk in this digital age, today’s business leaders and marketers are constantly on the lookout for “the next big thing” that will grab attention and resonate with consumers. Without it, companies risk extinction because, like dinosaurs, they failed to adapt fast enough.

This emotionally charged fear of falling behind sets up many companies for disaster. The inconvenient truth is that just as many companies die because they change too quickly, stretch in too many different directions, and ultimately stumble under their own weight of chaos created from within

So a key element of survival in today’s world is knowing when to dive all-in on the next big thing and when to wait and make sure there aren’t hidden dangers in the water. 

 

Hyperbole: A Salesperson’s Best Friend (and Your Enemy)

The debate isn’t solely due to short attention spans; ego plays a big part as well. Everyone’s seeking that silver-bullet technological solution that will be both easy to implement and will provide an affordable yet comprehensive way to “change the game” for their business. But be honest: In your entire career, how many of those game changers have you truly encountered? It’s happened just once for me in the last 15 years and, ironically, it only partially involved technology.

Yet, when someone in our sphere of influence proudly announces how well something is working for them, our ego—combined with fear—says we can’t afford to miss out. If a buzzword such as “artificial intelligence” or “blockchain” is involved, our ego tells us that being skeptical may cause us to appear ignorant and ancient (like a dinosaur). We skip due diligence, quality research, and testing and instead rush into the next board meeting to champion a solution we actually know very little about.

But we need better filters and guardrails on how we implement technology in our home building companies to protect us from the hype culture we live and work in today. Here are some ideas to help you in that endeavor.

 

My Own Tech Struggle: Online Chat

First, I want to share a story about my own struggle with a specific piece of much-hyped technology: online chats on home builder websites.

Widgets that could be added to your website to enable online chats first appeared in the early 2000s. Millions of people around the world had already experienced personal “chat rooms” online in the late 1990s, and with the launch of AOL Instant Messenger in 1997, the idea of one-to-one messaging online was booming. Home builders wanted in on the action and began experimenting with the technology, too.

In 2009, while attending the International Builders’ Show, I heard about “hosted chat” for the first time. It was touted as a “next big thing” because it would allow a third-party company to chat with your customers to address common questions—with near-instant response times whenever your customers happened to be online. It was expensive, but it also appeared to be a silver bullet. 

But hosted chat ended up actually being a pretty bad idea because customers became frustrated with the overall low quality of interaction that a third party could provide.

Over the next 10 years, people regularly asked me about how to properly implement online chat for a home builder. When I answered, “You probably shouldn’t do it at all yet,” you can imagine the looks of disappointment that flashed across their faces. It isn’t that I hate chat, but if phone calls from people shopping for a home were only being answered 40% of the time, I felt there were bigger, better opportunities for engaging interested buyers than an online chat. 

Even though I knew I was giving the best advice, I always felt like I was being judged as closed-minded. But data supported my opinion and that of the team at Do You Convert. For example, we helped one builder grow its online sales volume by 675%, from 91 sales in 2016 to 705 in 2019, without ever implementing online chat or using chatbots of any kind. 

In fact, it wasn’t until this year that the company started using online chat with a subscription-based service called Drift, which is available for as low as $50 per month. The builder had laid an amazingly solid foundation for online sales and was ready to add new technology the right way, albeit 10 years after it was all the rage. 

 

Timing Isn’t Everything

Being the first to implement a technology is infinitely less important than having all of the required basics organized and ready. Making sure your data is digitized and organized, your content is current and well-produced, and that you have a team of capable players means you’ll be able to adapt quickly to any changes when necessary. 

When the newest social network comes along, for example, companies that have well-organized content on their websites will be in a position to repurpose that existing content for the new platform. Artificial intelligence is worthless without well-organized and scrubbed data to feed it. The examples are endless.

Any tool or piece of technology that ultimately does prove to have a “game changing” impact will be made available to everyone who wants to purchase it. You may be behind for a moment or two, but remember that Apple was awfully “late” to the cellphone race, but by applying existing technology in a better way, Apple ultimately won by a mile with its iPhone.

 

Test Small, Test Often

Don’t rush to implement new technology across your entire organization. Start with a single sales rep, community, or division. The best way to predict correctly is to test often and to test small, and to then expand (and adapt) as results come in. That way, when things do unexpectedly go wrong, it won’t harm the entire company (or your overall credibility), and if the new technology proves wildly successful, you’ll meet less resistance along the way to implementing a full company rollout.

New technology and innovation is necessary, and you should remain on the lookout for well-tested and proven solutions. As Bill Gates said, “We always overestimate the change that will occur in the next two years, and underestimate the change that will occur in the next 10. Don’t let yourself be lulled into inaction.” So don’t fall prey to hype culture, but don’t sit still forever either. There are amazing opportunities out there, but they’re rarely one-size-fits-all. 

 

Access a PDF of this article in Professional Builder's August 2019 digital edition 

 

Kevin Oakley is managing partner at Do You Convert, a company exclusively focused on online sales and marketing for home builders and developers. Write him at kevin@doyouconvert.com.

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