My latest Builder Radio interview “Giving away the store!”

January 17, 2011 by Shirleen Von Hoffmann Leave a reply »

We speak with Shirleen Von Hoffman, Home Builders Advantage


Great salespeople don’t begin negotiating price until they know that they have a real buyer and what they buyer really wants.  So, why is it that so many new home salespeople want to lead with price or incentives?  As we’re about to learn, that will only get you into trouble – everytime.

Shirleen Von Hoffman is a sales coach that bases her individualized training on what she learns by mystery shopping her trainees… And she’s tired of seeing salespeople give away the store before they ever learn what the buyer wants.

Listen to our interview with Shirleen (aka The Queen of Sales) or read the notes from our conversation below:


My latest mission is helping salespeople become better at what they do.  Sales really is an art and there are many steps that take perfection. Negotiations, for example, is probably one of the biggest traits that a sales person needs to learn.

My sales training is a direct result of the mystery shops that I do.  What we’re seeing in these shops is sales people giving away all their sales tools before they even know what the client wants. They’re giving away the prices as soon as the client walks in the door. I saw it as recently as yesterday; the client walked in the door, a price sheet is handed to her, that says that the home is listed for $350,000 and the salesperson immediately says, “but we’re running a special and I can get it for you today for $300,000.”

What happens is that they’ve entered negotiations before they even know if the client is interested in that home.  When you do that the client is going start negotiating from the discounted price. The agent should be holding those prices close to their chest so that they can use them when it comes time to negotiate. You don’t want to be throwing all your tools out as bait. Figure out what the buyer needs and give them what they need.

I see this at all different levels. If the builder is paying $10,000 towards closing costs, the agents are  throwing that out there up front.  Don’t do that.  That client may not need help with closing costs. Their hot button may be tile floors or back yard. You want to know what you have to work with. If they want tile floors then you have that $10,000 to use to give them tile.

Every incentive that a builder makes available an agent is a valuable tool. So if you give it all away you give away your value. You give your power away as a negotiator.  It won’t take long before the builder is going to realize that you are the type of sales person that just gives things away.

The Art of Negotiation
When it comes to price, do not put your specials on the price sheet. A lot of sales people hold that back so they can first get to know the client. Then, when they ask what you can do, deliver some of the answer not all of it. Don’t just say “we help with the closing costs” unless they ask. Then you can say, “Let’s sit down and see what the closing costs will be.” Those closing costs could only be $5,000, giving you another $5,000 give that to them tile or whatever is of value to them.

Holding those cards close to your chest instead of giving it all up as soon as they walk through the door is the biggest tip that I can give to anyone.

The second thing that we’re seeing has to do with the options they’re giving away. They’ll say that the builder is including granite, a back yard, tile floors and other things without attaching any real value to those options. The client isn’t the professional, the agent is. They should be assigning retail value to these options. If the granite is going to cost $10,000 to put it in the house, then that’s what you need to tell them.  Start putting price tags on the things that you’re giving away so that the client is adding those numbers up in their head and seeing that they’re getting a good deal.

I worked with an agent who would hand the price sheet over to the client and tell them that they were having great deals and that she could get them $25,000 off of any of the homes. Then she would let them walk the homes by themselves. That’s all wrong!

Instead, I would hand out my price sheet, but not put my specials on it. I would let my sales people know what they have to work with and I would make it mandatory that the sales people keep those cards close to their chest until they know what the client wants. If you give a client what they want, then you’ll close them. But, if you give it all up , then you have to go back to the builder and say that now they want tile and the builder is now in the hole because they’re always going to start with the price that you gave them when you started the conversation.

I had a builder that had some standing inventory that they were trying to move, so they loaded the houses up. They put in granite, backyards, stainless steel and were loaded like a model, but not decorated. They were having trouble selling the homes so I had the agents walk me through the homes. They made several statements like “these homes are ready to go,”  “we have them ready for you;” a lot of statements that were assumptions. They never told me as a client what was included. If I had been looking through a lot of homes, I might assume that I would have to pay for all these options. You have to tell me; I’m the client, not the specialist. The agents were not telling me the value of the granite or the appliances that were included.  All of those things added together cam to $50,000, and I want to know that as a client because it makes me feel like I’m getting a really good deal.

That’s how you create urgency. We aren’t going to have this house tomorrow. It’s going to sell. People will see value when you attach a dollar amount to all these goodies that the builder threw in.

One way I try to convey that to sales people is by telling them to pretend that this is their money and their home. Pretend that you added all these extra things. You would walk through that home with pride and show off those things that you added, explaining the prices and the effort you put into them. If it was a resale home and you were showing it you would tell people how much you paid to put all that in there, because it gives it value over the guy next door or the homes where they are not getting any of those things.

We’re in a buyers market. The folks are coming in and looking for the best deal. A lot of them are walking through and asking, ‘What are you giving away.”  The best response to that is to tell them that your builder will work with them in a lot of different ways. Take them to find what they want or need, whether it needs to be built or it’s standing. Tell them you’ll make them a deal that’ll make them happy. But put that off until you first discover what it is that they are looking for. Because once you find the house, then you’ll find their hot buttons, whether it be closing costs, financing, a backyard, or something else.

Mystery Shopping
You have millions of dollars of product that you’re asking this person to sell for you. How are they handling what you’re giving them?  If you’re paying millions of dollars to drive prospects through, then you get to see how they’re being handled.  That’s what mystery shopping can tell you.

The full value of mystery shopping is reached when you can get the sales person to weigh in on it. I’m one of the few people that does coaching with the mystery shop.  A lot of people ask me to coach that agent privately on the shop. When I do that the manager isn’t the one that sees the shop, only the agent and I do. You get a different reaction from the agent when they know that they aren’t going to get fired. They embrace the shop and the video and the learning that can take place from it. We make some real changes in their routine to make them better. I later send a report back to the manager about the agent and what they learned from shop.

If you use those shops to make your people better, it’s much cheaper than getting rid of them. That’s the key to a mystery shop and why you do it. You have to use it to make them better and not to scare them. Because when you coach somebody and they don’t have that fear, they open up and the changes occur. It’s really great to see.

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