My interview with Builder Radio

May 17, 2010 by Shirleen Von Hoffmann Leave a reply »

My interview with Builder Radio (click here for Audio)


By Shirleen Von Hoffmann

Through secret shopping I get to see all kinds of things that builders only see on camera.  A lot of managers will only see what they see at a sales meeting, but they don’t see their agents in action out in the field.  In this market, when traffic is so slow, you would expect to see a lot of selling skills being used, but they’re just really not.

For example, when we do our secret shops, we’re finding that on only two out of 35 shops the agents will actually walk us through the models.  There was a study done a year and a half ago in San Diego where shoppers went through 50 model home communities and out of 50, only 2 agents walked through the models.  So, not much has changed in a year and a half except the market.

The problem is that a lot of agents are still using the same skills as when we had people lined up 20 and 30 out the door and they didn’t need to walk people through models because they were too busy writing contracts.  We need to get back to the basics of – the basics of a good meet and greet, the basics of a model walk where you develop rapport with somebody.

Rapport and trust  are 75 percent of the sale.

If you develop rapport with somebody and trust, you can ask them to do anything.  But if you don’t have it, everything is hard.  Negotiations are hard.  The follow up after a transaction is hard.  Everything is hard so I try and teach the agents to develop rapport first and foremost, and I like them to do it on the model walk.  That’s where you can listen to comments people are making.  You can  answer questions and talk about your products.  But mostly I like them to ask a lot of questions and develop rapport.  That’s the time.  You’re never going to spend 20 minutes with that client if you hand them a brochure and send them to models alone.

So the primary purpose of the model walk isn’t so much the demonstration, the goal is to develop that relationship with the customer and deepen that rapport.

If I go through a model walk with you and I have some questions about the granite, I’m going to ask you and you’re going to answer me.  You don’t really need to be Vanna White.  Now, if there’s no conversation going up, sure, you want to bring up things that your builder has done.  We teach agents how to do a proper model walk, but the primary purpose of the model walk is to develop rapport, ask good questions, and find out all about that buyer.

And you should be taking notes.  I believe that an agent should be carrying a pad around.  I call it a probe sheet, but it’s a sheet that’s pre-filled out that tells you everything about that person – if they’ve got dogs, cats, children; how old are they; what they like to do; what they do for a living.  You name it, it’s on that sheet, and they just make notes.  Either they do it while they’re there or they do it quickly after they leave.  And that way, when they market and follow up with those folks, they can remember key elements about them and market smart to them and it lets the client know ‘hey, they’ve remembered me.’

The typical thing for an agent to do is write the notes that they remember about a client on the back of the registration card and that’s just not good enough, not when you’re going to be marketing through email and mail and doing some of the things we train.  They need to know a lot about that client, and the only way you find out and get to know people’s needs is by asking questions.  You can’t sell them the right home if you don’t know what their needs are!

Get Personal

If you treat a person as if they’re the only thing that matters when they walk in the door and give them your undivided attention, those folks are going to remember you and you’re going to develop relationships with them.

To follow up properly and make sure that you’re including little things to that client that matter to them.  For instance, if they like to golf, you could follow up with all the golf courses in the area etc.  If their children like to play soccer, you can show them all the community soccer fields… Whatever they like, you should be following up with them with those things.  You should find reasons to follow up with them and make it personal.

But none of that’s being done from what we see out in the field.  When we go on these shops, 1 out of 30 agents will actually follow up and that means with a phone call, a thank you card, anything – only 1 out of 30!

That’s why I developed my training to start with the basics.  I start with a hello, a handshake, a name exchange, a welcome.  Because when you walk in a new home community, how many people say, “How did you find us?” as their first response as you’re walking in the door or “Is this your first time here?” That is the normal greeting.  As a client, that means nothing to me.

So I start at the very basics and go forward all the way through marketing in their down time and doing things that agents are not used to doing but should be doing.

When we go through some of these communities, 1 out of 20 will as,  “What are you looking for?  What didn’t you like in your previous home?  What’s important to you?  Tell me about the things in your previous home that you didn’t like?”  Typically, we don’t get any of that.  So, if only 2 percent of your competition is doing this, don’t you think you should be doing it?

Is this due to a lack of training or a lack of motivation?  Really, both, because you have different people at different places in their lives.   I’ll give you an example:

I was training a team of brand-new agents for a builder.  So I have one agent who’s been doing it for 25 years and makes it very well known to me when I appear that she is good at what she does and doesn’t really need any training.  Then I have another agent who’s been doing it six months, so she’s eager and hungry and she’s feeding off of the knowledge of the other agent.  I just had them do a meet and greet for me and watched them both.

The younger agent had the better meet and greet with the basics in it.  The older agent didn’t introduce herself or get the client’s name.  The first question out of her mouth was, “How’d you find us today?”  And then she went right into her sales spiel of what products she had and pointing at the topo board, and never even asked the client one question to find out their needs.  The younger agent actually had a more relaxed approach and introduced herself and shook hands with the client and got his name and asked what kind of home he was looking for.

When I film them, they can see it.  I love to film agents and sit down with them and say, “I want you to look at this film and I want to tell me what you think you did really well, and also tell me where you think you need improvement.”  I learn a lot from doing that; that’s coaching.

When I’m training older experienced salespeople, I give them their due because they do have a lot of experience.  The salesperson I mentioned above may be very good at closing or she may be very good at writing a contract and making sure the escrow closes on time.  What I want to do is tweak her and make her better at what she does and get her out of bad habits she’s developed and doesn’t even know it. I think anybody’s who’s been in the business 25 years, you get into bad habits, and so it’s just a matter of having the right attitude.  Then, you can change the habit pretty easily.

Sales Agents… Or Marketing Agents?

Most top-producing salespeople work a plan.  They have a list a mile long that they need to attack every day when they come in the office, and that list usually includes marketing.  Marketing is a huge part of your job as a salesperson, but in new home sales, that’s too often left strictly up to the builder.  I want the agent to be more responsible for marketing and to go out and actually bring in prospects on his or her own in addition to what the builder’s bringing in through advertising.  That’s a big step in a different direction that sometimes I get a lot of pushback on, but it is making the agent more involved in being a salesperson versus an order-taker.

Get everyone thinking from a marketing perspective.  Instead of opening at 10:00 and closing at 5:00, I would be open 8:00 to 5:00, and I would have my people marketing from 8:00 – 11:00.  Have a little lunch and come in and open your product at 11:30.  They could be out marketing to employers in the area, to businesses, or to previous homebuyers in the community.

Also, market to communities that your builder has built in the past.  If they built something seven or eight years ago and those folks are ready to move up, that’s a warm call right there because they already know this builder.  Or, target communities that are close by that might be wanting to move up.

That’s a lot of work, but it’s meaningful work that brings buyers in the door.  So while salespeople are in the office they should working and marketing.  And the builder has to set all those expectations; it starts with the builder and it moves throughout his whole organization.  If he doesn’t set the expectations, it’s not going to happen.

The Cost of a Lead

If I were a builder, everybody in my company would know how much it cost me to walk one prospect in the door.  Whether that price tag is $2000 or $10,000, every agent, superintendent, manager – everybody in the company would know how much that prospect cost, especially that sales agent.  When they see that person walk in the door, I want them see $10,000 walking in the door, because that’s what it cost me to get that prospect in.  If you let agents know that, they’re not going to let them walk away without getting their name and number quite so fast.

If you were the one writing that check, would you let them walk away so easily?  Would you not ask questions or get their names?

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Shirleen Von Hoffman is president of Home Builder’s AdvantEdge, a National Company that specializes in Sales Agent Secret Shopping, Sales Coaching, Seminars, and One-on-One onsite training for New Home Builders.

Order Shirleen’s new book, Top Producer Secrets – A New Way of Selling for New Home Sales Professionals

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2 Responses

  1. Del Barbary says:

    “Excellent points, Shirleen You did a fantastic job with this topic. Thank you It’s a pleasure to know you

  2. Thank You Del, glad you enjoyed the show!

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