New Home Sales

A Comprehensive ...

A Comprehensive Guide to Creating an Online Sales Team for Home Builders 

By Tyler Stevens 11 min read

Online Sales Concierge, Inside Sales Representative, or Internet Sales Consultant — with any experience in the new home sales industry, you’ve likely heard these terms countless times. In fact, the role of online sales as a bridge between web traffic and model home traffic has been around for decades. That said, from landlines and three-ring binders to robust CRM systems and mobile customer engagement applications, the role and criticality of an online sales force has solidified as one of the most rapidly evolving facets of new home sales throughout the 21st century. The evolution of online sales has been fueled by many factors; leading this charge has been fundamental changes to customer psychology and widespread pivots in the industry. 

  1. In 2020, 97% of homebuyers used the internet in their new home search.1
  2. In 2020, 48% of New Home Star’s online sales clients attributed their sales to our online sales team.
  3. 63% of buyers in 2020 made an offer on a home they never saw in person.2
  4. The first company to respond to leads wins 35-50% of sales.3
  5. Calling after 30 minutes is 21 times less effective. Calls received within five minutes are more likely to lead to real conversations.3
  6. 82% of consumers expect responses within ten minutes.3

With an understanding of why online sales are now more important than ever regarding their function within our industry, it is crucial to develop cognizance of the role itself, what it entails, and some widespread myths that must be debunked.

What an Online Sales Team Is and What It Isn't 

A must in today’s industry, not an optional department.

A common misconception surrounding the online sales concierge (OSC) function of new home sales is that it is optional and that a new home builder can still reach optimal levels of success without it. Given what we’ve come to understand about today’s buyers, online sales departments have become one of the most important pieces of today’s new home sales success puzzle. This is largely due to the speed at which buyers expect and demand to receive information and the propensity to utilize online avenues to fulfill an increasingly substantial portion of the new home search.

Because the first builder to respond captures on average 35-50% of sales, the new home builder without an online sales function equipped to respond rapidly to customer inquiries is going to often beat out by the new home builder who integrates online sales as a primary focus in their business. The bottom line is that builders without an online sales department are losing customers before they even visit the sales center. 

A critical sales function, not an answering service.

Although rapid response is one of the key benefits that separates a builder with an online sales function from one without, it is important not to over-simplify online sales as an answering service. While answering inquiries quickly generates higher traffic levels, even more substantial value is created when online sales professionals step into the sales aspect of their position, thus enhancing the quality of the incremental traffic being generated. 

Online sales professionals not only answer inquiries quickly; they promote value for their builder partner, develop an understanding of customer needs and motivations, pair this understanding with their knowledge of their builder’s product offering and, ultimately, schedule a highly qualified on-site appointment that has a greater chance of converting to a sale due to the OSC’s expert knowledge and salesmanship. There is much more to the role of an OSC than simply answering the phones. 

The customer’s first impression, not just another step in the sales process. 

It is true that the online sales interaction is a step in the overall sales process; however, viewing it as just that clouds the importance that online sales plays in the development of customers’ resonance with brand identity and builder story. A customer left unattended on a new home builder’s website will read the site’s print, look at the images, and watch any videos that may be offered while developing their own emotional understanding of what that builder values and stands for. By establishing an online sales presence, builders are able to meet the customer where they are starting their process and influence the opinions and thoughts that are being formed from the beginning. 

That said, it isn’t sufficient to have just any online sales presence. It is vital for online sales professionals to be well-versed in the builder’s story, values, and product offering, thus equipping them to be able to speak to these pieces in a way that resonates with the customer’s key priorities, motivators, and personality type. A builder that succeeds with their online sales efforts will be a builder that recruits the right individual for the position and purposefully takes action to align this individual with their vision, purpose, and core set of values. 

An extension of the builder’s sales team, not a siloed business function. 

Too often, online sales forces are regarded as siloed business functions that are alone on an island fulfilling their role with little to no connection to the remainder of the new home builder’s team. While it is possible for an online sales team to operate in this regard, speaking with customers and conducting handoffs to the on-site team with no feedback loop is not optimal and will lead to a lack of success for both the online and on-site sales teams. The fact of the matter is that there is a lot of knowledge and wisdom that can be learned and shared between these two teams if they are properly connected.    

By integrating online sales efforts into the scope of overall sales efforts, the customer gains an overall better experience and, therefore, will be more likely to convert. While a disjointed online sales team may have outdated or inaccurate information that leads to improper expectations being set and an overall poor customer experience, an integrated online sales team will create personal relationships between online and on-site sales representatives leading to regular communication, more accurate information, and an excellent customer experience. Similarly, if the communication loop is intact, there is a great deal of valuable information that can be gathered by the online sales team and shared with the on-site sales team. The online sales team will be equipped to better understand who the target consumer for the community is, if this target group aligns with the customers inquiring about the community and if there are any common objections that are brought up during the online sales process. All of this information can be shared, and unified action can be taken to enhance the overall sales process. 

A tool for added efficiency, not an unnecessary cost. 

The conversation surrounding whether or not to implement an online sales function within a builder’s overall sales effort often boils down to the same argument, “If my sales associates are the experts on my communities, shouldn’t I just direct all online traffic on-site so that they can meet with our local representatives? Isn’t online sales just an unnecessary cost?” While it is true that an online sales department is likely to add some hefty costs, it is important to keep in mind the added efficiencies that are associated and the increased revenue derived from those efficiencies. 

Take, for example, a sales associate who receives ten units of walk-in traffic each week and spends, on average, an hour and a half with each prospective homebuyer. They are spending 15 hours in meetings with what may turn out to be only two serious prospects. Now, imagine that the same sales associate has an OSC working for them with the primary focus of building value, qualifying prospects, and scheduling quality appointments. If that OSC used their expertise to qualify the prospective homebuyers and realized that 50% of the would-be walk-in traffic units were not viable candidates due to either pricing, timing, or product offering, an extra seven-and-a-half hours of work would be created for the on-site sales associate to spend on revenue-driving activities. This added efficiency, combined with the additional prospects that are generated due to a favorable experience with the builder’s online sales team, would create a competitive advantage that propels the builder above their competition. 

The Roles of an Online Sales Concierge

Upon making the decision to establish an online sales department, the first step in successfully doing so is to fully understand the five different roles that an OSC will play: 

Nurturer of Leads - The first role that an OSC will play is that of lead nurturer. Lead nurturing refers to the period of time between receiving an inquiry and establishing two-way communication with the prospective customer. While some prospective homebuyers will respond to the initial call/email sent after the reception of the inquiry, there are many that will not. It is the duty of the OSC to not only send out the initial correspondence but to follow up until the customer is ready to respond and discuss their new home search. As a best practice, we suggest that an established follow-up process is created that entails at least four attempts in the first 14 days through various communication means (i.e., phone calls, video emails, and text messages). 

Qualifier of Prospects - Once two-way communication is established between the OSC and the prospective homeowner, the OSC’s role turns into that of building value and qualifying the prospect. The OSC will walk the customer through the builder’s story and value proposition, skillfully ask questions to understand the customer’s needs and motivations, and pair those needs and motivations with an understanding of the community’s product offering to determine if the community is a viable fit for the customer. 

Appointment Setter - Once it has been determined that the community and product offering is a potential fit for the prospective customer, the OSC will work to reaffirm the value proposition for the community with the customer and create a sense of excitement for an on-site appointment with the builder’s sales representative. The OSC will schedule this appointment and create a smooth hand-off to the on-site representative. 

Liaison for On-Site Sales Teams - While nurturing, qualifying, and scheduling appointments with prospective homebuyers creates tremendous value by its very nature, the peak of value is created when the OSC pairs these things with being an effective liaison between the customer and the on-site representative. It is important for the OSC to go above and beyond when establishing a relationship with their on-site counterparts, and taking valuable notes during the online sales process so that they are teed up for the appointment is one of the most effective ways to do so. The OSC must remember that they are there to help the customer, the company, and their on-site partners. 

Representative of Their Builder Partner - Perhaps the most important role that an OSC will play for their builder partner is the role that they play throughout the entire online sales process. They are often the first person that a customer will have contact with from the builder. That first impression is key as the customer will begin to craft their opinion of the builder based on that interaction. That said, they must represent their builder well and create a favorable thought process for the customer that results in a great first impression. 

Online Sales Management Tips

One of the most important aspects of running a prosperous online sales department is providing proper managerial oversight of the online sales representatives. Here are some of the top tips to ensure success in doing so: 

Select Solid Candidates and Focus Heavily on Training - While excellent training and proper management can help a good online sales representative become great, it all starts with recruiting and selecting the right talent for the position. The most successful OSCs have many common characteristics that set them apart from the rest; included in these are a self-starter mentality, solid multitasking and time management skills, technological literacy, and a detailed customer-centric mindset. 

Once an online sales team has been recruited and selected, it is critical to have a detailed and comprehensive training program that brings the team member up to speed on all things pertaining to online sales. Included in this training program should be segments dedicated to builder knowledge, lead nurturing follow-up, qualification of prospective homebuyers, and appointment setting. 

Integrate the Online Sales Team Into All Aspects of the Business - In order for an online team to be operating at its optimal state, it is imperative that it is fully integrated into many facets of the business. Specifically, the online sales team should be an extension of the sales and marketing teams. By having consistent two-way communication between these business functions, a lot of valuable information can be shared. 

Two-way communication between online sales and on-site sales helps to align both sides on the community’s targeted consumer group, inquiring consumer groups, objections that are vocalized by prospective customers, and updates on changes happening in the community. Similarly, two-way communication between online sales and marketing facilitates beneficial conversations about the quality of online traffic, potential changes to the community website, and any upcoming events/promotions that may be intriguing to potential customers. 

Review, Train, and Role-Play - As is the case with any business function, it is important for online sales teams to engage in constant and never-ending improvement. One of the most effective ways for an online sales manager to ensure that this is happening is to regularly review their employee’s processes. There are many tools available that enable managers to do so. 

One of the most effective of these tools is call recording. If using a call platform that allows phone calls to be recorded, managers should use this as an instrument for learning. By pulling call recordings, listening to them with their online sales representatives, identifying both strengths and areas for improvement, and then role-playing certain scenarios, the manager can help craft the perfect online sales process by reinforcing strengths and strengthening areas of weakness. 

Identify Key Metrics and Hold Accountability - Sales is a number game, and that does not change for online sales. Builder partners and OSCs alike will want to understand how their performance stacks up to goals and previous periods of performance. To help the OSC stay on track with their performance, it is important for their manager to identify and hold accountability over metrics that are important to the business. Below are some examples of key metrics that we suggest to be measured:

  • Inbound total leads - Measures the total number of leads that an OSC has handled for a set period of time. All builder scenarios are different but, as a rule of thumb, online sales representatives should be able to successfully handle somewhere between 200-250 inbound leads each month.
  • Online sales response time - Response time measures the amount of time between receiving the online inquiry and the first contact attempt that the online sales representatives make. The online sales manager should set expectations for response time and hold their employees accountable to expectations.
  • Lead-to-scheduled conversion percentage - Lead-to-scheduled conversion helps the online sales management to understand how successful the online sales representative is at identifying qualified prospects and scheduling an appointment between the customer and their on-site counterpart. The typical goal for lead-to-scheduled conversion for online sales falls anywhere between 20%-30%.
  • Percentage of appointments kept - Scheduling an appointment is only half of the battle; the prospective homebuyer also has to show up to the community for their appointment. By measuring the percentage of appointments that are kept, online sales managers can gain insight into the effectiveness of an online sales representative at creating excitement for the appointment as well as the smoothness of their handoff to the on-site representative.
  • Lead-to-sale conversion percentage - Lead-to-sale conversion is a comprehensive measure of the entire online sales process. It gives insight into how efficient an online sales representative is at scheduling appointments that keep and making sure that the appointments scheduled were with qualified prospects that are solid fits for the community.
  • Co-op percentage - While the goal for online sales is never to cut a real estate agent out of the sale, co-op percentage can give a lot of meaningful insight into online sales management. It is a solid representation of how well the OSC is taking care of the customer’s needs and a reaffirmation of the value they are creating in the on-site sales representative. 

Showcase Value Added to the Builder Partner - Most new home builder executives look to on-site sales reporting to understand how performance is stacking up for their business against established goals and local competition. As such, it is likely that they will not have as much attention directed to their online sales team’s performance. It is the job of the online sales manager to ensure that success and the value created are recognized by the builder’s executive team. 

To do so, it is important for the online sales manager to develop and deliver weekly reporting bundles highlighting performance in terms of key metrics, facilitate quarterly business plan reviews for online sales performance and potential enhancements, and do everything else in their power to ensure that their team is receiving the recognition that is deserved.

If you’re interested in partnering to create or expand your online sales team, please contact us today. 

1Real Estate in a Digital Age
2Redfin: Two-thirds of home buyers in 2020 made offer sight unseen
3These 9 Stats About Lead Response Times Will Surprise You

Originally published Sep 14, 2022 3:27:23 PM under New Home Sales, updated September 14, 2022

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