New Home Sales Training: Online or the Breadline

Recently, I’ve been putting a lot of thought into the current real estate market and I wanted to share my observations with you.

You’ve heard the comment by now from industry pundits who say real estate professionals will be out of business, eliminated or obsolete because home buyers and sellers now have the ability to search for listings online.

Is this true? Possibly, but the probability factor is low because, even though consumers can access Internet listings, they still need a trusted adviser to sort through thousands of online listings and to choose the best home for their family. the best investment for their future, and the best opportunity for them. To bottom-line it, they need a real estate professional now more than ever!

What Worked 10 Years Ago Doesn’t Mean Squat Today

Face it. The real estate industry isn’t what it used to be. Walk-in traffic at model homes is being replaced by Web traffic. Your competition isn’t just down the street; it’s in the next state. Buyers are navigating the Information Highway before ever driving into one of your neighborhoods.

According to Realtor.com and Realtor Magazine Online, 74% of all U. S. homebuyers in 2004 used the Internet in their search, which is up from 65% in 2003. Ten years ago, only 1% of Americans used the Web to go house hunting.

Realtor.com reports that 1 out of every 6 online visitors submits an e-mail request to a real estate agent and 2 out of 6 actually call a real estate agent. The conversion rate for e-mail requests is 1 out of 5.

Browsing For Housing

Obviously, today you are dealing with empowered buyers, dot-com interlopers, progressive thinkers and consumers who live in a PDA/cell-phone/laptop/digital-everything environment and expect the same level of mobility and technical knowledge from you that they have.

Instead of brick-and-mortar traditional agents, more and more consumers are choosing Web-savvy sales professionals who can represent them as they search for a house in cyberspace.

So, Where Do You Fit In?

We are headed for a drastic change in the how-we-do-business department because of the dot-com customer and this change will be reflected in how the homebuyer communicates with the online sales counselor. As a result, there is a huge opportunity for online new home real estate salespeople who can figure out how to serve the online homebuyer in a retail fashion.

The reality is that a good new home sales professional will shine in any market, regardless of whether there’s a slumping economy or nose-bleed home sales. The super salesperson, however, will go one step further. He or she will figure out how to get the competitive edge when the market’s hot instead of waiting for a slowdown and then coming up with a game plan.

To succeed in today’s market, you have to be progressive and proactive — ready to research new technologies. You have to see your real estate career from an entirely different angle.

Try this experiment. Tell two colleagues to take one minute and look around the room focusing only on everything they see that is red. Then tell them to close their eyes and repeat out loud every object they saw that was green.

They probably won’t be able to do it because they only saw what they were looking for — red. Their vision was limited based upon what you told them.

It’s the same way in real estate sales. Most real estate professionals look at the current market and listen to what the pundits say about the new home salesperson becoming obsolete. As a result, they see only red — only what they’re told — and their focus becomes clouded.

You don’t want to be like that. You want to change your perspective — to search for alternative ways to bolster your sales (such as converting more e-mail inquiries). Then you can see red and green and a kaleidoscope of colorful opportunities.

So, what’s the bottom line?

The industry of New Homes Sales and Real Estate as a whole is morphing into a service-based industry and the person/company who can provide the best experience for the dot-com customer will be the one who can capitalize on the future.

Some Things To Think About

Consumers go online to search for property and, while searching, they come across a new home sales professional. Overwhelmed by too much data, online shoppers quickly decide to seek the advice of a professional. If that professional were you, how would you handle the inquiry?

Realtors who respond immediately to requests have a conversion rate of 20 percent. For those who do not respond immediately, the conversion rate drops to 2 percent. Consumers have been trained by Web retailers like Amazon.com, eBay and Toysrus.com to expect an instant reply. Anything else is perceived to be unprofessional. What’s your conversion and response rate?

More than 70 percent of real estate professionals do not respond to e-leads at all. Are you one of them?

What do buyers want most from their new home sales professionals? (1) To help them find the right house to purchase. (2) To assist with paperwork. (3) To tell them how much comparable homes are selling for. (4) To help them find and arrange financing. (5) To figure out how much house they can afford. A Web site can’t do this. It takes the personal touch of a new home sales professional. Do you give them what they want?

Where Do You Place Yourself? Online Or The Breadline

You may have read about the breadlines of the Great Depression. In the absence of substantial government relief programs during 1932, free food was distributed with private funds in some urban centers to large numbers of the unemployed. To get their share, people had to stand in a long line with other unemployed workers waiting to be fed.

Is that where you are today? Are you standing in a long line with salespeople-who-refuse-to-change, waiting your turn to be spoon-fed from a company list of potential home buyers?

Now that you know the current “shopping” trend for today’s buyers and what they expect, get up to speed on the new technology so you won’t be standing in line with everybody else waiting for handouts if the market goes south.

Your company needs a dedicated online sales professional to establish a way to e-mail consumers, respond to inquires and market and sell properties. That person could be you. You can choose to create your own Online Sales Counselor Program or you can choose to become a Realtorsaurous — obsolete and as extinct as the T-Rex.

For the first time in history, the education level of the buyer has placed the customer in control. Homebuyers actually think they know it all. Dot-com shoppers are armed with a sea of information found online and it does empower them. Even prospects you converted three to five years ago using traditional sales approaches, you now risk loosing.

Selling homes to the dot-com homebuyer of today boils down to two primary considerations: information and value. Consumers can get information online. This empowers them with knowledge. However, YOU are the one who will bring value to the shopping process.

Homebuyers who visit model home centers in person or online value a sales professional who will serve as an advisor or guide and help them sort through the sea of information that they’ve acquired online. From you the buyer can learn about:

The per-square-foot cost of the house.
The number of options and upgrades included as “standard” features.
Customer service and warranty.
The benefit of the home’s location in proximity to schools, places of worship, shopping, restaurants, community amenities, employment, etc.
The history of the neighborhood and “inside” information about the area.
The history of the homebuilder and the company.

Ask the age-old question: Do people buy a brand new home based on price or value?

The answer is simple. Overwhelmingly, a new home is bought emotionally — based on the value rather than price — because of the consumer’s perception of reality. What has value in their eyes is where they’ll spend their money.

This Has Several Implications For You As A Modern New Home Sales Professional.

You must work hard to become a new home salesperson they value and an online counselor they trust.

Onsite or online, you have to know as much as the customer knows.

Onsite or online, you have to read and research everything the customer is reading and researching regarding your company and your competitors.

Onsite or online, you must conduct constant research to provide additional resources the customer might not know exists.

Onsite or online, you must become the one who translates all their information and makes it digestible. Be the filter through which they view the Internet. By doing so, you turn out to be someone who is invaluable and indispensable to them.

What About Your Company?

Based upon percentages, if your company does not capitalize on the dot-com customer with a dedicated online new home sales counselor, the customer pool runs the risk of shrinking 70 percent.

At the very least, without a dedicated full-time online sales counselor, your company will fall behind your competitors and lose valuable market share. THE PROSPECTS YOU MIGHT HAVE CONVERTED FIVE YEARS AGO WITH A 25-YEAR-OLD SALES APPROACH, YOU NOW RISK LOSING.

The Internet has become much more than a lead-generating tool. Consumers now expect to communicate with their homebuilder and with you in a digital manner. They expect to find in-depth information on your Web site. They expect you to e-mail them with the information they request and they expect to hear back from you immediately.

What’s Next?

Whether you’re a homebuilder, company owner, broker or new homes sales professional, you must be aware of the power of the e-prospect. So, by now you should be asking, “What more do I need to know about this Online Sales Counselor Program?”

If you receive more than 25 e-prospects per month, then you need a dedicated online sales counselor. This person will maintain your Web site, create e-mail campaigns and respond to all of your e-prospects.

You need an e-mail marketing database to automate your work-flow process. File boxes, notebooks and Post It notes are never going to work. E-prospects must go into a dedicated database that is capable of sending blast e-mail to a targeted list, tracking your sales and reporting activities of the online sales process. This offers mobility to your clients. In today’s world, mobility isn’t driving 25 miles with a five-pound laptop and a digital camera. It’s being able to give your customers what they want anywhere and anytime. You may do this without even touching a piece of paper.

The e-mail marketing database differs from a traditional customer relationship management system (CRM) because it’s equipped to generate e-mail follow-up responses and campaigns where the traditional CRM focuses on phone and direct mail follow up. Keep in mind the dot-com homebuyer’s preferred method of communication is e-mail. Furthermore, when registering online, prospects may not provide their complete addresses so e-mail may be your only initial method of establishing a working relationship. More importantly, it’s not a matter of how you prefer to communicate; to survive and thrive you are now going to do business under the customer’s terms.

One of the major benefits of the e-mail data base is the ability to import the e-prospects and automatically respond and track conversion rates. So, instead of e-prospects being a part of the regular e-mail in-box, they are automatically entered into the online sales counselor’s database.

In addition to organizing, importing and auto responding, most e-mail marketing databases have the ability to send either text-based e-mail or HTML e-mail. HTML e-mail has graphics, logos, photos and hyperlinks.

The Online Process

Just as onsite new home sales professionals sell to a process, online counselors follow a dedicated process to respond to their e-prospects. A basic online process includes the following activities:

Immediate e-mail automatic response.
Personalized (never an automatically generated response) e-mail reply from the online counselor within 12 hours.
Personal phone contact if the phone number is provided within 48 to 72 hours of the request for information.
A third follow-up e-mail on the third day of the date of request.
A fourth follow-up e-mail on the seventh day of the date of request.
A fifth follow-up e-mail on the second week of the request.
If there is still no response, e-prospects are automatically funneled into a monthly tracking file, from which they will be contacted at least once a month until they set an appointment with the online counselor or ask to be removed from the list.

What Is a Generic Job Description Of An Online New Home Sales Counselor?

An online counselor:

Works as a partner to the sales team, sending qualified e-prospects to the model home sale’s center.

Responds immediately to all e-prospects’ requests for information within 12 hours of the initial contact.

Continues conversations/e-dialogue with the e-prospect until an appointment is set or the prospect asks to be taken off the list.

Funnels the e-prospect to the right community.

Establishes all appointments (appointments are a means of compensation).

Inputs e-prospects into the database and continually updates records, notes and customer comments and requests.

Develops e-mail marketing campaigns for all available inventory and for a pre-sale campaign.

Answers the 1-800 e-prospect hotline.

How Is The Online Sales Counselor Compensated?

Most effective counselors are given an administrative base salary with a bonus for all recorded appointments. In addition, a good portion of their income will be commissions based on conversion sales.

Are You The One?

You don’t want to experience the being-caught-with-your-pants-down scenario and run the risk of standing in the breadline. What you do want is to set the course now for your own future.

To enter the career of an online new home sales counselor, you must posses the following attributes:

Be extremely motivated by commission and bonus-compensation plans.

Realize that sales and marketing are not just a part of the position, but also a prerequisite for it. Though a high degree of technical skills is required, make no mistake; this is a sales job!

Be very organized and computer literate with Microsoft programs, such as Word, Access and Excel.

Beyond technical knowledge, you must be Internet savvy and have a working knowledge of the digital customer’s demands and expectations.

The Next Move Is Yours

Dr. Albert Einstein once gave a final exam to an advanced graduate class in physics at Princeton University. After he administered the exam and was on his way back to the office, his graduate assistant challenged the brilliant professor by asking if he had just given the same test he had given the previous year. Einstein readily acknowledged he had indeed repeated the same exact test, which led his assistant to ask, “How could you give the same test two years in a row?”

Pay close attention to Einstein’s answer because it is a profound truth.

He replied, “The test was the same. The answers have changed.”

In our profession, the “test” is still the same as it was 25 years ago — how can you sell more new homes? However, the “answers” have changed. The old model of selling is outdated and obsolete. There are new answers to that question today and I’ve given them to you in this letter.

Now, what are you going to do about it? Read this and forget it? Or take it and run with it?

Here’s Your Sign

Humorist Bill Engvall recorded a comedy album in 1997 based on one premise. His routine, in part, went like this:

    Stupid people should have to wear signs that just say, “I’m Stupid.” That way you wouldn’t ask them anything. It would be like, “Excuse me…oops…never mind. Didn’t see your sign.”
    Like before my wife and I moved, our house was full of boxes and there was a U-Haul truck in our driveway. My neighbor comes over and says, “Hey, you moving?” “Nope. We just pack our stuff up once or twice a week to see how many boxes it takes. Here’s your sign.”
    A couple of months ago, I went fishing with a buddy of mine and we pulled his boat into the dock. I lifted up this big ol’ stringer of bass and this guy on the dock goes, “Hey, y’all catch all them fish?”
    “Nope. Talked ’em into giving up. Here’s your sign.”
    Last time I had a flat tire, I pulled my truck into one of those side-of-the-road gas stations. The attendant walks out, looks at my truck, looks at me, and said, “Tire go flat?” I couldn’t resist. I said, “Nope. I was driving around and those other three just swelled right up on me. Here’s your sign.”
    I learned to drive an 18-wheeler in my days of adventure and, wouldn’t you know, I misjudged the height of a bridge. The truck got stuck and I couldn’t get it out, no matter how hard I tried. I radioed for help and eventually a local cop shows up to take the report. He went through his basic questioning and then asked, “So, is your truck stuck?” I couldn’t help myself! I looked at him, looked back at the rig and said, “No, I’m delivering a bridge. Here’s your sign.”
    We all ask dumb questions at times. But, after reading this letter, one of those questions should not be: Why can’t we sell new homes like we did 20 years ago?

If you know the answer to that question and you’re ready to get serious about selling new homes in the age of technology, but feel you need more guidance or are confused about which direction to take, pick up the phone and call me. We’ll work out a solution together. Or you can visit my Web site for resources that are available 24/7 to help you succeed.

The only sign I want you to carry is one that you place in front of a new home: SOLD!

Image source: ©PhotoXpress.com

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