A Home Builder's Creative Salesmanship

January 7, 2008
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We are in the process of building a home that can accommodate my mother when she moves from Phoenix. After looking at about 200 homes and finding five that were the “perfect house” - at least according to my wife and daughter-in-law - we did come up with a final plan of the perfect house.

My wife and daughter-in-law were out looking at model homes, and just when they were about to leave, the rain and hail hit. The realtor had the foresight to say, “Why don’t you sit down and let’s talk about what you are looking for.”

This was a creative idea. Instead of sitting there worried about the weather, he engaged them. In short, he built a relationship. They told him what they were looking for and he said, “I know of a house down the street that is for sale that might just be what you are looking for and we could build it on one of our lots.”

When the rain slowed, they went to look, thinking it would be a total waste of time. However, the guy seemed to genuinely understand what they were wanting. In the end, the basic design was exactly what they had been trying to find for the last three months. He then contacted the builder, who decided to let him handle the negotiations, since he had been the one to actually get my wife involved with them.

Via e-mail, we received a rough floor plan and we were to start making our changes. We then presented our ideas to the realtor.

So far, so good.

OPEN MOUTH, INSERT FOOT

After looking over our ideas, the realtor said he did not like my wife’s idea of putting an outside door in the master bathroom. It could be a deal breaker on the future sale of the home, he explained.

Bad move.

There are two problems with his offering. First, we are not building the home to resell. Second, that is what my wife wanted. (I have been married over 30 years this August, and when she says that is what she wants, you can bet she means it.)

You guessed it. After the meeting, we called the builder and cancelled the project. He wanted to know what had happened. After all, we were all excited about the new home on Monday and by that evening we were crushed.

When I finished telling him the reason, he was aghast, frustrated, and embarrassed. He offered an apology and asked if anything could be done to solve the problem. I said, “No,” as it was now emotional. (We tend to make decisions emotionally, and justify it later logically.)

Hard to believe, but the same realtor who had listened so carefully the first time and made the sale, was the one who actually stopped listening and broke the sale.

TRY, TRY AGAIN

About three days go by, and a package arrives on our doorstep. The builder sent over the blueprints and a gift package that included all the necessary tools to put in our changes. It was great stuff like tracing paper, red marking pens, drawing pencils, erasers, and even a nifty stencil used to draw in household fixtures. The clincher was a letter included that said, “Home constructed by builder, home designed by Hinshaws.”

My wife was at first curious, then enthused. By the next day, we had the whole family involved in designing our new home.

So my question is: What is a door worth? The answer, in this case: It was worth the price of a new house. (As the commercial says, it was “priceless.”)

LEARN FROM BUILDER

Now pretend that you are in a very tight market and it is hard to sell against the competition. (Sound familiar?) Then you have a qualified customer come along and he wants a large project done at just the right time - meaning, you have nothing going on for the next few weeks so it will fill the pipeline - and with just the right crew. Something happens - maybe out of your control, maybe not - and the customer says forget the project. What would you do?

My answer? I would do everything I could to save the package.

Now, I want to be clear. The builder did not lower his price. That is our industry standard, and what usually happens. But, don’t do it. Instead, get creative.

I guess the builder could have sent flowers, or a gift certificate for a meal, but he did something better. He gave us a way to get back the decision-making power for our new home.

When the customer wants something that is not in the customer’s best interest, the best answer is, “That is interesting. Can you share with me why that is of importance to you?” In other words, find out by asking questions. Don’t just jump in with your vast pool of knowledge that may, in fact, offend them. We can come off arrogant, even if we are 100 percent correct, and lose the chance to get the order.

PRACTICE, PRACTICE, AND MORE PRACTICE

Here is one of the ways to avoid this sort of problem. Give your employees clear instructions on what to say and what not to say. Then practice that on a weekly basis. Yes, practice, as in role-play.

This is not the favorite activity of the average employee, but one that is essential. When we try out the phrases and words that could keep us out of trouble, those concepts become new behaviors. They become reflex. So even if we run into a tough situation, we have responses ready that will not put a hole in the boat. 

So do something different when an obstacle stops progress. Get creative and work with the client who is already pre-qualified and pre-sold. You’ve spent the time and effort in bonding with them, building an emotional bank account. So, cash that check. That relationship has the best chance for success.

You have never really lost the order until the other system is installed and paid for, so do all you can to keep the sale moving in your direction. The competition will give up and go home, but don’t you do that. Remember, it is an emotional decision. The customer has to feel good about the relationship. When the client has a request that may not be what you would want, give the prospect your full attention and don’t talk down. Share with clients why they may want to re-visit that decision.

Just remember: It is their home and they are paying for it. So help customers with what may be the third largest purchase they make: a total comfort system for their home that meets their wants and needs.

Publication date: 01/07/2008

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