Then, after you hire them, train them. Conduct sales meetings in which you teach the art and philosophy of sales techniques. The purpose of these sales meetings is to educate and motivate your sales personnel, so don’t muddle the meetings with policy and procedure.
Evaluate Your Salespeople to Make Them — and Your Product — More Effective
Salespeople are on site with minimal supervision throughout the day. Therefore, it is essential to have meetings, training sessions, one-on-one visits by sales managers and several phone calls per day from the sales manager to the sales personnel to review prospective buyers, actual buyers, specifications, inventory, financing, incentives, etc.
Additionally, it is also necessary to evaluate the performance of the sales personnel through consumer surveys in order to determine how to improve the product, the company and, of course, the sales personnel.
It is also advisable to evaluate the performance of the sales personnel by "mystery shopping." This form of evaluation is most helpful; but, you must also realize that one analysis does not always provide a true picture of how an individual is performing.
Everyone has good days and bad days — hopefully, more good than bad. If an evaluation report is not good, then review the information with your salesperson and "shop" them again within two weeks in order to see if there is improvement.
Every salesperson should be evaluated a minimum of two times per year. Remember, the "mystery shop" is not to be used to fire employees, but to help educate and train them to sell and serve each buyer more efficiently.
The Critical Path: Greet Customers With a Welcoming Environment and Attitude
Customer service begins prior to the prospective purchaser walking through the door. Salespersons are responsible for making sure that they are prepared to greet and meet everyone.
It is also important for salespersons to establish a positive selling environment. Sales centers should be neat and clean, and salespersons should be fully aware of their product — from every price and home specification to every policy and procedure — in order to ensure customer satisfaction.
Every customer who visits your sales center is a buyer — if not today, then tomorrow.
Upon greeting customers, make sure they feel comfortable and welcome. Customers determine whether they will consider purchasing a product from you within the first four minutes of meeting you; so, it is important to give each customer your undivided attention. Yes, this is where you begin to put yourself into true customer service.
Be Attentive and Show Interest in Your Customer
Be attentive to the customer’s needs by asking the questions of who, what, why, where, when and how. Each of these questions will provide you with answers about customers to better qualify them to purchase your new home.
Take plenty of notes. Use a pen and pad vigorously — it will demonstrate and reinforce your interest in the customer.
Everyone wants attention and consideration. Make eye contact with your customers when they are speaking or when you are speaking.
Don’t Forget to Involve the Children in Your Presentation
If there is more than one prospective purchaser present, make sure to pay attention to all of the concerned parties. It is best to involve children in the presentation. They are the parents’ greatest asset. By asking the children questions, they will provide you with unbiased and clear-cut answers. Also, the children will not try to distract you or their parents if you are involving them in the presentation.
The next step in the service process is to present and demonstrate your product. Many salespeople believe that customers should determine what they want on their own and that the salesperson is around to sell a home when the customer is ready. Wrong!
Be Animated When You Present and Demonstrate Your Product
This is the time to become more animated. Explain your product using the exhibits in your sales center. Then, after you have both determined which product best suit your customer’s needs, demonstrate it. It is best to show the amenities, the land, the speculative built inventory and then the model homes from least expensive to most expensive.
As you demonstrate the product, it is essential that you listen to what the customer is saying. If you do not know the answer to a question, tell the customer that you will research the information and get back to them with an answer.
Make sure you do so, because each time you make good on your promise, you further ingratiate yourself with your customers. You are demonstrating that you care enough to want their business.
Of course, as you handle each objection positively and reinforce the customer’s decision to purchase a home, it is important to ensure that the customer is comfortable with you and the product you are selling.
Ask for the order; and, if you have earned the sale, then you will receive it. It is better to have asked for the order and know the customer’s current thinking than never to have asked for it at all.
Before customers leave your sales environment, make sure that they areleaving with as much information as necessary in order to feel comfortable with you and your product.
The Follow Up: Use It to Demonstrate That You Want Your Customer’s Business
Prospective buyers are waiting to be sold. It is up to you to guide the customer in a positive direction.
Several hours after customers have left, call and provide them with any additional information they may need, or simply thank them for visiting. Ask a few more questions, answer questions or leave at least one question unanswered so you can call them back and continue building trust and credibility.
Within 24 hours of the visit, send them a letter that includes information and your thanks. If you should want the customer to meet a specific mortgage broker, Realtor®, subcontractor or even the builder — arrange the appointment and be there with all of the concerned parties. Demonstrate to your customers that you want their business.
It may take several visits before the customer purchases a new home. Industry statistics indicate that it may take as many as eight visits and meetings before a customer makes the final decision to buy a new home. With so many choices to consider and decisions to make, it is important to follow-up with the customer on a periodic basis to stay in touch and provide your customer with a "helpful hand" and "gentle shove" in your direction.
A Realtor® may also be responsible for introducing a prospective customer to your community. Treat that Realtor® with as much respect as possible. Every time you follow-up with a customer, let the Realtor® know about your conversation. Invite Realtors® to meetings. Correspond with them. Copy them with your customer correspondence. The more service you provide Realtors®, the more business Realtors® will provide you.
The biggest fear a Realtor® has in any transaction is how payment of commission is earned. The more contact you have, the more you are reinforcing the idea that you will honor your commitment to the Realtor® and the Realtor's® real estate brokerage company.
Be Sure to Continually Explain the Home Buying Process
Throughout the follow-up process, it is essential to explain the home buying process. You need to explain each step in the buying process thoroughly so that everyone understands it. Just because you know the real estate industry doesn’t mean that everyone else does.
The steps in the process include:
- Home site selection
- Home selection
- Production schedules
- Construction substitutions
- Optional changes
- Decorator changes
- Closing procedures
Each must be explained thoroughly prior to and after the signing of the agreement.
Do your best to keep your customer advised of the building process. All customers, at one point or another, will tell you that they can purchase a product less expensively than you may be charging them. Answer them by explaining the process so that they understand the value of your process. For example:
"Yes, you can probably purchase products here and there, but are they the same quality? And who would install these products for you? In addition to the purchasing aspect of the individual parts, ‘Mr. Customer,’ we are not selling you individual parts. We are selling you a completed and finished home that is assembled with the agreed upon specifications in accordance with the construction standards of the local municipality."
By explaining these points in advance, you will further enhance your positive relationship with the customer and he will quickly appreciate the value of his investment.
What About Site Visits?
Due to safety standards, it is advisable to never let your customer visit the home site or home without you or a representative of your company present to answer questions and explain the construction process. You may also include a paragraph in your agreement emphasizing this point.
You should also have your construction management team advise all subcontractors to only talk about the "weather" or some insignificant aspect of life if a customer should visit the site. Subcontractors can do verbal damage by talking to the customer about construction techniques and scheduling matters, especially when they are not informed about the entire process.
It is recommended to have various sales/construction meetings with the customer prior to the purchase of the home to explain to the customer what is actually purchasing being purchased. Prior to or at the signing of the agreement, it is further important to provide the customer with a general schedule of construction events including:
- Rough-in of all mechanical equipment
- Finish trim
Several weeks prior to finalizing each of these phases, you may give your customer an opportunity to make changes. If you do, have the customer attend a scheduled visit with you and the responsible construction management person so you can explain how the home is being built to specification and if certain changes can be accomplished.
Many companies do not give their customers the opportunity to make any changes at all, but if you can develop a positive change order system, then you can create additional profits for your company.
It is not recommended to make more changes after a phase has been completed and reviewed because changes would be more costly to make at that time.
If a problem arises, try to handle the situation in person rather than through the mail or with a telephone call. This will further enhance the customer’s trust in you.
Prior to Closing
Your construction management team should have actually completed the home one week prior to closing. At this time, you should schedule an appointment with the customer to walk through the home with you and a construction management representative to determine what needs to be completed prior to the formal closing of the home.
Take notes. Make sure all of the customer’s questions are answered properly. If the customer does not understand a point, review it again. Explain the final completion process.
It is advisable to meet again two days prior to the actual formal closing to review the completed process and so the customer can learn how to operate all of the equipment in the home.
At the time of the closing, deliver a warranty manual and an operational manual for the home to the home buyer and review these materials.
The day after the customer has moved into the home, make sure a construction management team member visits the home to ensure customer satisfaction. You may have construction management personnel visit the first two or three days after move-in when the customer may need more assistance.
Customer Relations Post Closing
Customer service is extremely critical during the first three months after the customer has moved into a new home. This is the time period when most problems will arise.
You and your construction management team need to be responsive, reliable, reassuring, honest, sensitive, empathetic — and helpful.
Successful Customer Relations Breeds More Success
There is no better measure of success for you and your company than happy and satisfied customers. And a happy customer base generates more referral leads. Earn your customer’s respect and you will earn more business.
S. Robert August, MIRM, is president and founder of S.Robert August & Company, Inc., a national marketing and public relations firm based in Denver that specializes in providing home builders, developers, Realtors®, manufacturers and lenders marketing/management consultation and sales training. August is an owner of Colorado-based RealtyWorks, Inc. and is the principal owner of Adaré Homes. He is also past chairman of NAHB’s National Sales and Marketing Council. For more information, contact August by phone at 303-220-8480 or via e-mail.
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The Institute of Residential Marketing Offers Courses and Designation Programs for Sales & Marketing Professionals
The Institute of Residential Marketing (IRM) offers four designation programs for sales and marketing professionals:
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