If you're like most builders, the answer is probably "not very well!" Such shortcomings are costing you business and hurting your bottom line.
According to the National Association of Realtors (NAR), there are now at least 606 million people online regularly. Together, they share information — equivalent to the entire content of the Library of Congress — more than 64,000 times every day. NAR also reports that in 2003, 71 percent of home buyers used the Internet to research their home purchases.
Builders working in this marketing medium find they are improving leads and sales to customers by several hundred percent — a staggering improvement that leaves builders both dumbfounded as well as delighted.
Three areas of focus seem to lead builders on the cutting edge to these extraordinary returns:
Your Web site needs to be part of an overall marketing plan that may include radio, TV, direct mail, print advertising, outdoor advertising, public relations and promotional events. To generate higher sales velocities, lower marketing costs and build momentum in every community, you should integrate your Web site with all of these other activities.
Every ad, no matter where it appears, should prominently feature your Web site address. That site is the hub of your interactive marketing strategy. Use every means possible to drive traffic to it. In the same way, the Web site should reference and reinforce the other elements of your marketing campaigns. Ads that appear on billboards or in TV campaigns for specific communities should also appear on the Web site to link electronic traffic to that portion of the site featuring the advertised project.
Your Web site must be more than an online brochure rack of community information and house plans. If done properly, it will generate more, higher quality leads, than any other source. When your Web site is part of a larger marketing system, it will integrate upstream, to reinforce all your other advertising, and downstream, to make sales people in the model homes far more productive.
Make sure all your external marketing encourages use of the Web site and funnels those prospects directly into an automated system for follow-up contacts. Does this mean every ad should be an ad for the Web site? No, but what it does mean is that every time you plan a campaign on your own or with your ad agency, consider how home shoppers can learn more when they are not yet ready to visit your site or pick up the phone. The Web site is a soft tickle for prospects not yet ready for the hook.
Your Web content should also cater to prospects from third party sites you may use for electronic advertising (such as www.homebuilder.com , www.newhomesource.com , www.americanhomeguides.com  and local media Web sites). In most markets, these third party sites generate awareness and leads at very favorable costs compared to print media.
Several savvy national builders, aggressively promote their Web sites in all offline media and provide external partners (such as www.NewHomeSource.com ) with a data feed of their Web content.
Reinforce your print and other advertising media buys (such as Web, TV and radio ads) by featuring them on your Web site. Consumers need to easily find the details of a promotion or featured community on the Web site. On a Web site, you have more space and time to deepen a buyer's interest than a 30-second TV ad can provide. Reinforcing offline promotions and advertising on your site will drive immediate improvement in leads generated.
Downstream integration is where the rubber really meets the road — feeding leads into your automated systems for follow-up contacts. Many large, public builders have become masters at downstream integration. They generate leads on their Web sites or from third parties and have automated systems for importing these leads into sophisticated follow-up systems, and even further — into point of sale applications.
Even if you don't yet have a fully automated system for following up on leads, you can still put a process in place to handle Web-generated leads. Genesis Residential Group, a small suburban infill builder in the Tampa market, does this with just a Web site and an inexpensive follow-up tool. The firm still has manual handoffs, but it has a systematic approach for managing its database of leads to make sure every lead is treated well.
When redesigning your Web site, consult the following practices to ensure extraordinary results:
Each of these best practices is fairly inexpensive. For the price of one good ad in a major newspaper, a builder can have a first-class Web presence that sells 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
The key to converting all of your Web leads into physical traffic in the models, is the combination of people, processes and tools that smooth the transition from browser to buyer.
Designate — or hire — a staff member to be responsible for handling incoming Web leads. Since sales people don't always rely on Web-generated leads, it is important to have someone handling Web-generated sales leads.
Having a sales force that does not utilize Web-generated leads often degenerates into slow and inadequate responses that do not meet online home shoppers expectations. Hiring a specialist in online lead generation, follow-up and selling can cure this problem.
The consequences of poor lead follow-up are profound. Each time a prospective buyer asks for help and the plea goes unanswered or is poorly answered, the builder's brand is damaged. It reduces trust and the effectiveness of all sales and marketing efforts.
Bad word of mouth spreads like wildfire, and that's what you're launching whenever you disappoint home shoppers online.
Builders often hire on-site sales people for their closing skills. However, the sales people sometimes lack good prospecting skills or any interest in dealing effectively with leads generated on the Internet.
Centex Homes has developed one of the most effective online sales counselor programs in the housing industry. In many of its strong markets, Centex is now able to generate more than a dozen sales each month directly from contacts initiated on its Web site.
Putting someone in charge of Web-leads makes good business sense. Whether you plan to hire someone, or search from within, the person in this position should have the following traits:
After you have the right person in place, you need a method for processing all those leads your Web site will generate.
Start with a close look at your processes and tasks to help determine your needs. Look at the work now being done and what you can hope to migrate toward. If your organization and the lead volume you are now generating from your Web site are relatively small, you may be effective with less sophisticated systems than the largest builders require.
To determine the right tools for your company, ask these questions:
The bottom line is that you need to put tools in place to support your methodology, or what you will generate will be chaos, not sales. When you shop for these tools, boil your needs down to a few simple requirements, and then ask the prospective vendors to show you how their systems will work to accomplish these specific requirements.
|Blair Kuhnen is a partner and marketing system developer for Realty InfoLinks in Dallas, Texas. He can be reached at 972-661-1975 or via e-mail at email@example.com .|