Special eBook Coming Soon!

 Presale Without Fail

I’m very excited to announce that my first eBook will be launching on September 29th, 2011!

It is titled Presale Without Fail: The Secret to Launching New Communities & Phases with Maximum Results. Inside is a step-by-step guide to success that is backed by years of trial and error – and decades of scientific research into the mind of the consumer. I have used it to sell anywhere from 6 to 28 homes in a single day! If you keep your eyes open at some very important people’s websites (ie: Myers Barnes, Mike Lyon, etc.) in the coming days you’ll find a special code that will both give you exclusive early access to the eBook AND enter you to win on hour of Skype time with me to answer any questions you may have.

The download is available by clicking here.

I hope you enjoy it!

A Builder’s Online Strategy: Elicit a Response

Elicit a response from your websiteQuick review – the 7 E’s are:

1. EARN Google’s trust
2. ENTICE people to visit your site
3. ENGAGE those “just browsing”
4. EMPHASIZE your differences
5. ENSURE you’re part of the short list
6. ELICIT a response – generate a lead and convert it
7. EMPLOY your happy home owners to earn more trust

The goal of any marketing activity – online included – is to create a lead. Never forget that your website is part of your sales funnel. Yes, it’s also your pretty online model home with lots of great content, photos, etc – but those things are what draw your prospects in, and now you need to get them to take action. The first thing is that taking action must be as easy as possible:
E – Eliminate all requirements except for email address
A – Allow multiple ways for the prospect to take action
S – Sell the benefit of taking the action
Y – “Y” not – don’t make it seem like a commitment

Eliminate requirements

Once someone begins to attempt to contact you, don’t screw things up by requiring too much information up front from your prospect – an email is all you should require. The dating analogy always works well in sales and marketing. Suppose someone of the opposite sex says hello to you – do you require them to show you a clean verified background check and clean testing before you continue your conversation? After all, some will complain, “I don’t want to waste my time if they aren’t good.” This is 2011 – your problem is NOT to weed out all the tire kicker prospects so you have time to work with the “serious” buyers. I’ve already talked to this in other posts, but any traffic (walk-ins, phone calls, emails, referrals) you get in today’s world should be considered “serious.” Any.

Allow multiple ways for the prospect take action

I’m not so much talking about the medium they use (contact form, email, phone, etc…), but I’m talking about the total number of ways to get to connect to your online sales councilor or your on site sales team. On the Heartland Homes main site there are 10 (I may have even missed one or two) different ways to contact our sales team. Wherever the prospect is when they decide they want to respond – we’re ready.

Sell the benefit

Don’t be rude. Asking someone to fill out a form or email without telling them why they should is just plain rude. Make sure it is easy for your prospect to understand why they should take the next step. Common benefits are more specific information about a house type or community than is currently listed, a helpful service, or a free needs analysis to get tailored advice on what will best suit their needs.

“Y” Not

Don’t make it seem like a commitment – that’s why you don’t often see a big BUY NOW button as the conversion method for home builders. Let them know they’re going to be interacting with someone who is “not in sales” – of course they WILL be, but the prospect should never catch a hint of commission breath.

After you make sure you’ve made it easy – then consider ways to elicit a response that are a little more subtle yet effective. One particularly effective way is to listen up and pay attention. Here are a few quick examples of what I mean:

1. On the Heartland Homes site when you view a particular home, the site tracks it without you needing to log in (easy). So that when you visit another community, the homes you’ve already spent the most time viewing will show as a featured home.Listen Up! Featured Homes that change as you browse

2. When you select a particular home type, and then select a community that offers that home – the site displays a brightly colored box announcing the match you’ve created and an offer to customize it for you.Listen up! Selected home / community match

3. If your site has a search box, make sure you are monitoring what things are being searched for. It’s free market research. Take action on the most used search terms by creating relevant content or improving existing content.

Don’t be “that site” that treats everyone the same and doesn’t listen or pay attention. That’s not going to help you stand out – or generate more leads.

So how do you try and elecit a response from your prospects? What has worked the best for you or your company?

A Builder’s Online Strategy: Ensure You’re Part of the Short List

Ensure You're Part of the Short ListQuick review – the 7 E’s are:

1. EARN Google’s trust
2. ENTICE people to visit your site
3. ENGAGE those “just browsing”
4. EMPHASIZE your differences
5. ENSURE you’re part of the short list
6. ELICIT a response – generate a lead and convert it
7. EMPLOY your happy home owners to earn more trust

Ensuring you’re part of the short list is a very similar concept to the number one rule for professional quarterbacks – do no harm! Their number one job is to protect the football, and not cause a turnover… to keep their team in the best position to win. Consumers today use the internet to narrow down the list of homebuilders or locations they want to visit in person. It’s shopping by elimination, and you can get tossed real fast – in fact they are looking for reasons to cross you off! Here are some of the most common and harmful errors I see on real estate websites:

Information Overload

Your mother always told you that too much of a good thing was still too much, and she’s right. Builders who give detailed pricing information (beyond the base house) or option lists can quickly find themselves getting scratched off the list. Even in a custom building environment, no one likes large lists – especially with prices attached to them. This information is best presented on-site by your sales team – who can sell the benefits, not just list the features – in a compelling and personal presentation.

I especially cringe at the (thankfully) few sites out there that let you build and price your home similar to how car dealers do it. Are you kidding me? This is as dangerous as if you let people walk through your model home unattended with big stickers on every upgrade showing the cost. Yikes! Determining what information is helpful and necessary is a balancing act, but one that deserves your full attention.

Comprehensive Standard Feature Lists

Similar to how some class that every Realtor must take tells them to use a photo that looks nothing like them on their advertising… there is some mysterious class that tells every home builder that they must have a standard feature list that has, at minimum, 200 to 300 bullet points on it. It should detail everything from the door bell and mailbox to the hinges on the doors – because the builder with the biggest list wins, right? No way. This is one I often find myself at odds with even my own sales team… inevitably every new hire will ask where we keep our comprehensive list (they’ve seen it from competitors – so we must have one?).

What’s the better option? Create a list of impactful features that tell your unique story. Impactful means things people actually care about or wouldn’t expect to be included (ie: not door bells).  You will of course get customers who will ask for your standard features list – a perfect opportunity for you to explain that you are different from the rest, and tell them your story!

Skimping on the Area / Location

The number one rule in real estate is location, location, location – and yet far too many builders treat location as simply a dot on the map, and skip right on into the floor plans. That’s a big mistake – especially if your location isn’t the obvious A+ choice. Always remember people shop from the outside in, and if you don’t spend any time selling your area / location then it’s an easy way to get written off the list before they spend much time looking at your house types.

No Third Party Verification

If your site doesn’t have testimonials or third party endorsements prominently features than you run the risk of not being trusted. We know one of the rules of sales is to build trust – and your website is no exception. Also make sure you’re regularly monitoring what is happening with your brand outside your own website. Make sure to take quick action and influence the conversations.

Lack of Follow Up

If a customer takes the time to request additional information and you don’t respond – forget about it. As Nicki Joy says – follow up is your first customer service test. Make sure you have a bullet proof online follow up process in place. If you don’t know where to start – then feel free to ask or visit Mike Lyon’s blog.

If you avoid these pitfalls and include enough visual appeal (photos / videos) to wet your prospects appetite then you’ll stand a fantastic shot at ensuring you make the short list of communities or builders to visit on-site because they want to learn more, verify what they saw online was correct, and ultimately buy from you.

A Builder’s Online Strategy: Emphasize Your Differences

Emphasize Your Differences - Home Builder Web Strategy

Quick review – the 7 E’s are:

1. EARN Google’s trust
2. ENTICE people to visit your site
3. ENGAGE those “just browsing”
4. EMPHASIZE your differences
5. ENSURE you’re part of the short list
6. ELICIT a response – generate a lead and convert it
7. EMPLOY your happy home owners to earn more trust

So now that a customer is on your site and devouring your relevant and helpful content, what bigger picture message are you sending them? When you follow up later (you’re going to follow… right??!), what key points about you do you want them to remember? Don’t spend time telling them “yes, we do that to.” You want to stand out and you want to be memorable… maybe even remarkable. You’re only going to accomplish this by highlighting your unique and honest differences.

Focus on no more than 2 or 3 main points so they can be easily remembered and repeated to other influencers in the decision making process.

Back up each point with 2 or 3 extremely specific examples.

This specificity does two things. The first is that it proves you aren’t lying or over generalizing. The second is that because it’s so specific, your prospects minds automatically will fill in the other gaps in information with the assumption that your company must address those things with a similar level of care.

Below are a few of the pitfalls I see builders fall into in their attempt to emphasize their differences. Unfortunately, they try to hang their hat on one of these four danger areas:

“Quality” is not a difference that’s believable a lot of the time

As a home builder, you are assumed to have good quality unless proven otherwise… because you’re a home builder. I’m not saying it’s right, I’m just saying that’s the way it is. We often do the same with doctors or dentists and do little background work on them because we assume they got the degree, so they must be good. Especially to uneducated buyers – the level of perceived quality difference will be extremely small unless heavily educated by a sales person they genuinely like and trust.

“Green” is not a difference that more than 14% of the population cares about.

I’ve done two separate surveys of over 800 consumers in my local area over the last two years. Only 10-14% say that a home being “green” would be a key part of their decision to purchase. Nearly two thirds said energy savings above and beyond other homes would be. A far distant second was indoor air quality. The generic term “green” doesn’t tell them “what’s in it for me.”

“Service” is something often promised and usually ignored in all forms of business.

Today’s consumer is jaded. Everyone tells them how much they care and will be there for them, and then they are disappointed time and time again. So even if this is a true point of differentiation – don’t say it yourself. You must use third party testimonials or awards to back it up.

“Affordability” is a difference, but one that raises questions as well – be careful with this one.

There are a lot of home builders out there – especially today – that have their prices set too low. Yep, I said it… too low. You don’t need to be $40,000 – $100,000 less than the competition on your base house. That just raises the question of how much you’ve cut out (it’s the fastest way to make an uneducated buyer doubt your quality… see above!). Small differences in price really matter. When my wife and I bought our first semi-custom home we ended up choosing the lot based on a $500 price difference on a $275,000 purchase. Not too rational, but then again your buyers aren’t rational either.

Go Ahead – Add Your Own Egg

The inside truth about personalization and customizationIn the 1940s a fabulous new invention hit the shelves of kitchens around the country – the ready mix. That’s right; you no longer had to make pie crusts, biscuits, or cakes from scratch. They were almost an instant hit, almost. The  cake mixes sold at an alarmingly low rate in comparison to everything else. This was a mystery for the modern day marketer to solve… why? The answer will help you sell more homes.

Ernest Dichter, known as “the father of motivational research,” and the individual to coin the term “focus group” found out why. It wasn’t because the ratio of ingredients in the cake mixes weren’t as good, or the packaging wasn’t as engaging. It wasn’t that the wrong flavors were being offered. It wasn’t the cost of the item either. Turns out, it was just all too easy. The house wife of the 1940s couldn’t in good conscience make a dessert for a special occasion by just adding water or oil and stirring it up in a bowl! It was too much like cheating.

You see, when cake mixes were first rolled out they all included dried eggs in the mix. In Dichter’s book The Strategy of Desire he says “the industry recognized this feeling of guilt and said, ‘All right, if you feel that bad about it, add your own eggs.’ Now the housewife felt very happy because she could use the cake mix and still express her individuality.” Yep, the secret to making cake mixes sell was to take ingredients OUT so that the customer felt like they were more involved in the creation of the final product – it made them happier. In Dan Ariely’s book The Upside of Irrationality he shows that Sandra Lee actually went on to patent an equation for the perfect mix of pre-made and personalization known as the “70/30 Semi-Homemade® Philosophy.”

So how can this apply to new home sales and new home marketing? People love the idea a fully custom home, but not the work involved in designing and building one. What’s more, we should act in our customer’s best interest and try to curb their custom changes of an existing to design to no more than 10-15% of the original design. Beyond that, and their expectations of absolute perfection will almost surely be met with disappointment or frustration. After all, they aren’t professional designers. However, it’s also in your best interest to make sure they do personalize their home beyond just the color of the carpeting or countertop. This will make them like the end product more, defend their decision to purchase, and ultimately make them happier and more invested. Done correctly, you can leverage this more intense connection to get you more referrals.

One last example. I used to always be amazed when a sales person would tell me that their last home made marketing tactic was a huge success. Often when I would hear their strategy, see how the executed it with Microsoft Paint, or read the cleverly misspelled copy – I just couldn’t understand how it could have succeeded (the numbers usually don’t add up to the emotion of how well it went either – one or two phone calls becomes a “great result”). Now, however, I know that it’s simply because we always over value our own creations – and rarely, if ever, do we realize it. Whether the thing we create is a painting, a child, a home, or a marketing plan – if we feel we are involved in its creation, we think its better.

Now, I make sure that they work within my “ready made marketing mix” and allow them to add their own egg… somehow – the results are always better than when the marketing department does it on its own.