The Housing Chronicles Blog: Most new home sales agents fail at follow-up

Monday, April 7, 2008

Most new home sales agents fail at follow-up

Having started my career on the residential side of the building industry as a field analyst who visited new home sales office, it's not hard to recall those sales agents who were deliberately lazy, surly or simply uninformed. From the woman who was waving her hands through the air to dry her nails to the pathological liar who claimed to be the builder's wife, when a builder is lucky enough to hire a great agent, they stand out. And they're also largely responsible for a project's success -- in fact, during my travels to the best-selling projects to discuss at building seminars, the one common thread they shared -- even more than location, price or design -- was a great team of agents.

So I'd imagine that an article by Builder magazine's Pat Curry entitled "Report: Most Builder Sales Agents Don't Follow Up with Prospects" is certain to put the heat on the aforementioned lazy, surly or uninformed agents:

At a time when builders need to make the most of every prospective buyer who walks through the door, a study of 50 new-home communities in Denver found that only about half the sales agents asked if they could follow up, 36 percent actually did it, and only 14 percent sent anything relevant to what the buyers said was important to them.

Even more shocking was this statistic: On 16 percent of the visits, no one even spoke to the shoppers, even though they stood in the sales center or model and clearly demonstrated interest-and even when they were the only visitor in the sales center. In 74 percent of the visits, the shopper was the only person in the sales center; in another 20 percent, there was one other shopper there...

Lest builders outside of Denver think the results don't apply to them, Dallas-based sales training consultant Bob Hafer says the lack of follow-up is a nationwide issue in home building.

"We take for granted that people will return. The process the buyer goes through is a process of elimination. They're really not in process of buying. They're in the process of elimination. .... If the sales agent doesn't participate at that moment, by default they get eliminated."...

One piece of information from the white paper that did surprise Hafer was the percentage of follow-up e-mail that the marketers reported as getting caught in spam filters, Hafer says. Lacking a personalized message tailored to the recipient, Red Tree estimated that 75 percent of the e-mails sent to them were caught in their spam filters.

They recommended following up by phone and personalized thank-you notes, as well as e-mail, and asking customers to clear the builders' e-mail address for delivery with their Internet provider. If the customer doesn't respond via e-mail early in the process, builders should abandon it for long-term communication.

Hafer says follow-up should start with a 10- to 15-second phone call immediately after a prospect leaves the office to thank them for coming in and to promise to be in touch within 24 hours to answer any questions they might have.

"When I ask most people, 'When do you follow up?' they say 'Three or four days, a week,'" Hafer says. "That's too late. Out of sight, out of mind. If people come into a sales center, they're serious. When they leave, they're negotiating with each other about whether it was close to what they wanted. ... If you don't follow up immediately, something else could attract their attention."

If a sales agent isn't sure what to say in a personalized follow-up phone call or e-mail, Miller recommends having the builder's marketing director prepare templates that sales agents can easily adapt to individual buyers' specific interests and questions.

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