Would You Buy from Your Sales Staff?

While visiting home builder sales associates in almost every part of the country, it was surprising to find that the salespeople were still selling like it's a buyers' market. Here are ways to make the sales process more valid in today's housing market.
By Rick Heaston, R.A. Heaston and Co. | January 31, 2007

How long has it been since you've mystery shopped your sales associates? If it's been a while, you might want to consider stepping up your schedule. I think what you find might surprise you.

I've had the opportunity to visit sales associates in almost every part of the country. What I found was interesting, to say the least. Salespeople are still selling like it's a buyers' market. Not only did they fail to give me, a buyer, a reason to be interested in what they were selling, they failed to provide a reason I should be interested at all. And that's a problem, especially when you're trying to survive in a market where every sale makes a difference.

Sales associates need to improve; the problem is that they never will. But don't blame them — it's not their fault. They don't have the secrets of selling in a tough market.

Subconscious Buy-In

Timothy Keiningham, co-author of the book "Loyalty Myths: Hyped Strategies That Will Put You Out of Business and Proven Tactics that Work," has dead aim on the home-building business. One crucial point: Managers need to cultivate the habit of questioning the underlying assumptions of their own views.

Keiningham found managers were more willing to believe what conformed to their perceptions than they were willing to improve.

"A manager's bias toward a specific business outcome shapes their interpretation of causes and effects," he says. "In other words, they subconsciously latch on to beneficial outcomes in order to validate a current process, practice or idea." How about you? Are you protecting a sales concept, practice or idea?

The following questions, basic as they may seem at first, will provide you with the secrets to selling in today's market:

  • Is my sales process valid?
  • Is my sales process being taught, coached and practiced?
  • Is my sales process being measured?
Is My Sales Process Valid?

A valid process is the key to selling in today's market. And that's not just my opinion —it's that of Michael Hammer, author of "Reengineering the Corporation: A Manifesto for Business Revolution." If your process isn't the right process, you stand less than a fair chance of success.

The first step in validating your sales process has to start with a simple question: What's a process? Hammer has the answer: "The focus of a process is not on individual units of work, which by themselves accomplish nothing for a customer, but rather on an entire group of activities that, when brought together, create a result that customers value."

Did you notice the common link in Hammer's definition? It's your customer. Most of all, it's about adding value to their visit. Think about it. He's telling you that your selling process has to be about your customer and not about you. Which makes the next question easy: How do you think about your selling process?

Most managers believe their sales process must add value for their sales associate, not their customer. That's a fundamental mistake, especially in today's marketplace. You might not know it, but it's possible to have a process that adds value for both you and your customer.

If you have a valid process, it will create an outward rather than inward focus, be directed at your customer and be directed at the results that customers require. If you don't know what customers require, you'll never have a sales process that makes a difference. Ask yourself the following questions to determine if your selling process is valid and will make a difference:

  • Do you understand your customer's step-by-step shopping process?
  • Does your selling process mirror your customer's step-by-step shopping process?
  • Does your selling process help you sell your customer or help your customer sell themselves?
Is My Sales Process Being Taught, Coached and Practiced?

As simple as it seems, most companies don't have a plan for teaching, coaching and practicing their sales process. And if they do, it doesn't separate them from their competitors let alone cause them to stand out to their customers. How do I know? Let me ask you a couple of quick questions, and I think you'll see what I mean.

Do you have a written sales plan? And does that plan address monthly training topics, coaching objectives and individual practice goals? And what about when you visit your associates at their communities? Do you have a preplanned agenda that provides you with specific coaching objectives?

How you answered these questions isn't important. The important thing is that you took a moment and thought about your current training and coaching program. It's important because outselling your competition is your smartest, easiest, cheapest and most productive way to sell more homes.

I can't tell you how many sales directors plan their meeting just before it's about to take place and how the same managers believe hiring a trainer for four days a year constitutes a sales-training program. It doesn't work that way. If you want to think more about the effectiveness and validity of your training program, ask yourself these questions:

  • Is your training program broken down into a series of selling behaviors rather than actions or tactics?
  • Do you have a sales training manual that identifies, describes and defines each selling behavior in terms of the sales concept and how to use the concept?
  • Do you have a plan that regularly schedules meetings with each associate (or small groups) to role-play and practice each sales behavior?
Is My Sales Process Being Measured?

Jack Phillips, coauthor of "How to Measure Training Results: A Practical Guide to Tracking the Six Key Indicators," has a different idea about measurement. "Historically, training has been measured from the perspective of what transpired during the training program: did the participants enjoy the experience; was the content relevant; did learning occur?

"This approach is still used in many organizations, and a great deal of training is not measured beyond participant-reaction smile sheets and self-reported learning, which are easy to complete and tend to reflect positive results." It seems there's got to be a better way — and there is.

Home builders are using measurement systems as a final program to sell more homes. And their program is simple and successful. How did they do it?

  • They started by validating their selling process, making sure that what they are measuring matches their customers shopping process.
  • Next they broke their selling process into small parts and defined the parts by selling behaviors.
  • They train, coach and measure their associate's behaviors monthly.

Yes, it does say monthly. But don't be overwhelmed by it — it's not as hard as you might think. A new behavior is defined and coached each month (or training period). Once this is accomplished, the associate has 30 days to work with a "training buddy" before he or she is scored in a role-play session.

If you do it right, it's simple and efficient. And the results are astounding. Not only is one large Midwest builder outselling its closest competition by a margin of 2 to 1, it is averaging about five percent less in incentives than anyone it competes against. In fact, it's getting a $10 return for every training dollar it spends.

If it sounds interesting, here are a few questions you'll need to answer to see where you stand and if your measurement system is valid:

  • Do you have a method to meet on a monthly basis to coach and measure practice results?
  • Do you have a tangible way to measure the results of the dollars you spend on training?
  • Are you using a score sheet to track and trend the progress of each associate?

Now that you know the secrets to selling in a tough market, it's up to you. After all, now they aren't secrets any more.

Author Information
Rick Heaston is president of R.A. Heaston and Co., a sales-training and marketing firm. You can reach him at rick@touchpointselling.com.


PB-Management,PB-Sales + Marketing,PB-Sales,PB-Best Practices