Four Steps to Home Sales Recovery

Education & Training with

Rich Carlson, president of Carlson Communications in Northborough, Massachusetts, has been involved in advertising, marketing and public relations within the housing industry for 35 years.  He’s also the author of a new book, Are You Prepared for the Recovery.  Rich sat down with us to discuss his book and the major steps he feels are essential for getting through the current market and successfully moving forward.  The following are excerpts from our interview:

Step One:  Market Research

One thing that I try and emphasize is the importance of listening to your customers and conducting continuous research.  Research, just like sales training, it is not a one-time affair that’s done annually; it really must be regular and ongoing.  One thing that we’re learning as a result of the recession and the rise of social media, which I’ll talk about a little bit later, is how much consumers are better informed nowadays and the marketplace is more competitive.

Everyone in the industry really needs to be thinking about what they can do now to be better prepared as the economy and the housing market improves, to really lead the way ahead of their competition in the recovery.  In the market research phase, it’s not just getting a lot of qualitative or quantitative research, but you really need to understand the buyer’s motivations – why they might consider buying, understanding who your competition is, how people feel or perceive that you’re better or different than your competition.

The key thing now is that it’s very, very important to listen to the customers, listen to your prospects and really understand why they either have bought one your homes or would consider moving to your community and then taking that information and applying it to the marketing communications, and also to your sales training.

The methods of market research really depends on whether you’re talking about product design, or about what people like from a motivational standpoint to inspire them to, let’s say, come out to your community.  Market research, if done by professionals that have experience in the housing industry, can be very valuable.  I realize that a lot of companies today don’t have large budgets for that, but you certainly can do some grassroots research, such as having forms that people fill out as they’re leaving your community or after they’ve visited your model.  Or, you might do a survey by telephone, mail or online.

It’s key not to make it too complicated, just tell people it will only take a few minutes to fill out a brief form. Focus groups can be very effective if you want to ask follow up questions.  That’s really qualitative research.  You wanted to make sure that you do it with a relatively small group of 12 to 15 people for a traditional focus group setting.

Step Two:  Communicate Your Message

Whether you have qualitative or quantitative research results, you want to take that information and you apply it to your marketing methods and communications.  That really starts with the overall brand or what people feel your company represents, and it applies to all of your messages

You want to make sure that you take the information and once again, some of the key questions you want to ask in the market research phase is, ‘What two or three words or phrases come to mind to describe our company or community?’  Use some of that information as you develop messages that will help to market your company, and then you have very focused messages.

I’ve included in the book something I call the Creative Work Plan, a tool to help you get the answers to the questions you need to form your marketing strategy.  The answers to the dozen or so questions really provide the opportunity for the builder or developer to have much more focused messages.  When you sit down with the creative group or an ad or marketing agency, it really helps to explain what you and your sales team believe makes you unique in the marketplace, and then how that can best be conveyed through marketing messages.

You want to make sure that this consistent vision or brand of your company is conveyed in all of the media so that whether someone goes to your website, into your sales center, receive a direct mail piece, see a print ad or they hear a radio ad, that the message that they’re getting, which has been based upon the research you conduct, is a consistent message that’s reinforced in all of the different media.  So it’s this seamless transition – having consistent methods that really get conveyed online and also onsite, along with good, consistent follow up afterwards with the salespeople – that reinforces the overall brand.

If you’re a builder or a developer or a remodeler, your company name should bring a certain image or expectation to mind when someone sees your name or they hear your name.  That’s what I call having a ‘brand experience.’  When someone walks into your subdivision or they call you on the phone, they have a certain level of expectation as to what kind of service they’re going to be getting when they do business with you.  That’s very, very important regardless of what your business might be.

Step Three:  Effective Sales Training

In sales training there are a couple of key points that I’d like to make.  First, everyone is a salesperson in the company, whether you answer the phone, you’re in a stock room, or you’re out on site as a project superintendent.

I’ve encouraged our clients, builders and developers, to get everyone involved in sales training.  So if someone comes in for a two-day sales seminar, for the first two or three hours the builder should have everyone in his company, including the receptionist, take part in that sales training.  The idea is for everyone to have a shared experience and the builder can share his vision for the way he wants people to be treated when they answer the phone or by a sales consultant.  I really believe that everyone should get some type of formal sales training on an ongoing basis.  Just like with market research, sales training must a continuous process.

I’ve been in the business over 30 years and I’ve been attending IBS, the builder’s show, since 1980.  I still go to the sales training seminar.  I still go to the super bowl sales rallies, to regional seminars at NAHB and other associations around the country because I think if I learn one good thing out of a sales training seminar or a marketing workshop that I can take back with me and apply today, I think that’s absolutely key.

The other thing that I really try and emphasize is motivation. You can have the best marketing programs and the best sales training in the world, but you have to understand what motivates your sales team and why your buyers are motivated to consider doing business with you.  That’s why in the market research phase I try and ask customers, “What was happening in your life that made you decide that you wanted to move from your current situation?”

Listening is absolutely a key factor in the sales training, and then role-playing I think is very, very important as well.   There are many opportunities out there, whether you bring in a formal sales trainer every quarter or it’s books or tapes or CDs or podcasts or blogs such as this one, but the key to a formal training program is to have it organized and make sure you do it on a continuing basis.  Do that and you will see a difference in your sales.

Step Four: Tracking and Evaluation.

Tracking and evaluation is more important than ever because everyone is so price sensitive with how their money is being spent and what’s working and what’s not working.  Nowadays, through the internet and through website analytics, you can really track to see which ads are running or working the best.  Or if you have PR, which I think can be an extremely important component of someone’s marketing campaign, you can track what long-term impact that might be having as well.

You can track you online activity through Google Analytics.  You can assign different phone numbers to different components of your marketing campaign, whether it’s a website, an email blast, an onsite signage, a direct mail campaign, or print advertising.  We have some clients that if they’re running multiple publications, they’ll assign a different phone number for each publication.  That allows them to track specific ads.

When a prospect walks into a subdivision or a sales center, they might say, “Well, I saw your signs” or possibly, “I heard your ad” or maybe, “someone referred me.”  If a builder is spending a fair amount of money on direct mail or radio or print advertising, I suggest that during the course of the presentation that the salesperson ask them, “By the way, do you recall ever having seen any of our print advertisements?  Do you recall ever hearing any of our radio commercials?”  It’s helpful to have that follow up question asked and not just take whatever the person might have checked off, whichever box they might have checked off on their form when they first came into the sales office.  The tracking is there.

Once again, it has to be done continuously; you analyze it, you find out and then you adjust your messages and new media mix accordingly so that in the future, especially if you’re in a multiple year project, your money is being spent much more wisely and you really can find out the real cost per visit and cost per sale in your marketing campaign.

There are a number of database programs out there that can simplify the process and make it more manageable.  When we do email blasts for clients, we will track very closely not only how many people viewed the email blast, but also how many people clicked through to actually view the website or view a special promotion or maybe a micro site that might have been developed for special promotions.

The bottom line that salespeople need to understand the importance of building the relationships, sustaining the relationship, and establishing a closer and a better relationship than your competition is because a lot of people don’t take the time to do what they should be doing to really establish that bond.

Nowadays, it’s so simple just to go online to get all the factual information.  But the human touch is so important.  That’s why I like to get everyone in the company involved with the sales training so that they become more customer and consumer friendly, so that the people are having this wonderful positive onsite experience.  I have this illustration where I show this process as a continuous cycle where one step leads to the other.  It’s an ongoing thing.  Once you get to step 4 with the tracking an evaluation, you still need to continue doing the market research which then leads to the communications, which then leads to sales training – they’re all tied together. You will see a difference, I think, in your sales performance if they follow that religiously.

listen to the audio interview with Rich Carlson as he talks about: "Four Steps to Home Sales Recovery"

Comments (2)

Margo Currie
Exit 1 Stop Realty - Saint Augustine Beach, FL

Thank you for an outstanding post... one I would definitely recommend to my AR friends.

Jun 14, 2010 01:26 AM
Sam White
College Station, TX
Integrated Marketing - Bryan College Station,

Those are all good steps to recovery. Thanks, and have a great day in Terryville.

Jun 14, 2010 01:26 AM