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Why (and How) to Right-Size Your Online Sales Program

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Why (and How) to Right-Size Your Online Sales Program

How builders can meet the expectations of today’s prospects and tomorrow’s new-home buyers

By Mike Lyon, Contributing Editor December 2, 2020
Illustration of home building marketing and salesperson surrounded by phones
Five telltale signs that indicate it's time you right-sized your online sales program. | Illustration: courtesy Yokunen | stock.adobe.com
This article first appeared in the November/December 2020 issue of Pro Builder.

When all of this COVID craziness hit, restaurants had to scramble. Your favorite spot had to pivot from inside dining to curbside pickup and/or delivery. Restaurants totally shifted their business models to address the surge in online and call-ahead customers.

But what if they hadn’t?

What if servers were still standing around the dining room waiting for tables that would never be filled, and cooks continued waiting in the kitchen for orders to come through from the dining room? That would be crazy, right?

Yet, that’s what’s happening right now in the home building industry. 

Demand and (Lack of) Supply

No doubt, pandemic restrictions are driving the significant shift away from traditional sales approaches, such as staffing sales centers and waiting for walk-in traffic, to private and virtual appointments. Prospective buyers are conducting online research far ahead of their purchasing decision or move date and are contacting builders’ online sales specialists at various points along the buyer journey.

With that, demand for new homes is extremely strong, despite a softer economy. Across the board, the builders that engage our firm, Do You Convert, are currently seeing nearly double the lead traffic and online sales appointments. Sales flowing through the online sales program are at an all-time high. 

Still, many builders are lagging in hiring people to fill online sales roles or shifting resources to help respond to the influx of online leads.

We see online sales specialists doing the job of two (sometimes three) people, and they’re overwhelmed. When the pandemic first hit, they were worried about being let go. Today, they are ready to quit from overwork and the stress it creates.

Not Your Father’s Home Shopping

Despite a return to some semblance of life as we knew it before coronavirus, homebuyers are not returning to the traditional way of shopping. They want to get as far along the sales process as they can on their own before having to interact with someone in person. They certainly are more committed to making a decision before ever showing up in person at your office.

The catch-—and the opportunity for home builders—is that customers still don’t understand the new homebuying process. 

Even if they plan to shop on their own, prospects want to email, call, or chat with a professional to learn or confirm details of the process. Now, builders are scrambling to meet these new expectations and are wondering how to right-size their online sales programs.


Five Signs It’s Time to Right-Size

If your online sales specialists are experiencing any of these telltale signs, then the investment in right-sizing your online program will pay off in the long term. 

1. Extreme stress: Like anyone else, an overwhelmed online salesperson can’t function at optimal levels. 

Whether because of high lead volume or a barrage of requests not related to their core job function, a stressed-out salesperson won’t be able to focus attention and resources where they’re needed—namely, getting and setting appointments. The signs of stress are identifiable; don’t ignore them. If your online sales specialist is overwhelmed, it’s time to find a backup for them or to hire another full-time person.

2. High lead volume: Pay attention to the overall workable lead count. How many active leads is your online sales team (or person) actually working? If that number consistently exceeds 180 to 200, it’s time to hire a second person. 

If you have grand openings or communities that are coming soon, all of those prospects joining the interest list will eventually have to be worked, which adds to the active lead count.

3. High appointment volume: Online salespeople who once set 40 to 50 appointments per month are now consistently exceeding twice that ... or more. From my 11 years of experience working with thousands of online sales specialists, I’ll say that it is impossible for one person to provide an acceptable level of customer service at that rate. 

There are many details involved in setting an appointment, so good customer service and a positive experience for your prospect levels out at around 60 to 70 appointments per month.

4. High call volume: If your call volume is extremely high and your missed call rate is above 35%, your quality of customer service will suffer. The best lead an online sales specialist can ever get is a live person on the phone. You want to make sure phone leads are being managed properly and that your salesperson has enough bandwidth to answer as many as possible.

5. Decreased prospecting: With the flood of incoming phone calls and email messages, is your online sales team or specialist still able to do outbound prospecting? Do they have time to pick up the phone and call aged leads and potential prospects? How are you going to handle the unique prospecting that’s required of a new community launch when the time comes? 

If your online sales specialist is so busy that she can barely keep up with the pace of inbound leads, you’re going to miss the opportunities prospecting brings for future business.

A Word to the Wise

If your online sales program is experiencing any of these challenges, it’s likely undersized—as most builders’ programs are right now. Just like the restaurant industry that has been forced to adapt to current conditions, so too must the home building industry. With the short-term future still uncertain in many ways, organizations that don’t adapt today will almost certainly be left behind tomorrow.

A final word of caution: If you know your online program needs to be right-sized, you should be prepared for some pushback. Online sales specialists are protective of their programs; they don’t want to give up opportunities to make more money. And let’s face it, right now it’s easier than ever to set appointments. But an appointment-setter mindset will only help you with short-term active leads. You’ll also need an online salesperson with an appointment-getter mindset to keep your pipeline full and ensure future business.

As a leader of an organization, it’s your responsibility to make sure 100% of the leads are managed with 100% of the process, 100% of the time. That means you must right-size your program by either adding a second or third person or shifting resources from your traditional sales model to meet the expectations of today’s online homebuyer. 

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Written By
Contributing Editor

Mike Lyon is president of Do You Convert, a company exclusively focused on online sales and marketing for home builders and developers. Write him at mike@doyouconvert.com.

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