One developer has improved their customer experience and increased sales after implementing digital tools to virtually sell new homes during the pandemic. Now that restrictions are being lifted, we discuss if virtual selling will last and why it should.
More About This Episode
The Smarter Building Materials Marketing podcast helps industry professionals find better ways to grow leads, sales and outperform the competition. It’s designed to give insights on how to create a results-driven digital marketing strategy for companies of any size.
This week, Zach talks with Kris Maher, an architect who is also Vice President of Design at Rancho Mission Viejo, about how transitioning to selling virtually drove home sales. They also discuss how building materials manufacturers can reach more developers and builders, plus why you should consider B2C and not just B2B marketing.
Planning Today’s Communities
Kris Maher has seen a few different sides of the construction industry.
“I am an architect. I started my career off working for architects, and as I moved up in the profession, I've found myself more on the business side versus the design side,” says Kris. She enjoyed working with builders throughout her career, and in 2014 was hired to work in community development at Rancho Mission Viejo in California.
“So my role at Rancho Mission Viejo is community design,” says Kris. “I work on the front end with planning what goes where, where do the churches go, where do the homes go, where do the streets go.”
She’s been doing that for the last 17 years, and like everyone in the housing industry, had to pivot in her role at Rancho Mission Viejo during the coronavirus crisis.
“It was so curious when the pandemic hit,” she says.
Traditionally the sales experience in her business was in-person, where “you go to a model home and you walk through the home and you engage with the salesperson,” Kris explains. “[I]t's a variety of meetings and reactions that take place. So ultimately all of a sudden everything is shut down. How do you possibly sell a home now?”
Virtual Selling During the Pandemic
The sales team at Rancho Mission Viejo had to change their strategy, but Kris says they handled it smoothly. “I was so impressed with our home builders’ ability to shift gears on a dime and switch to remote selling,” she says.
That meant migrating part of the sales process to the virtual world, “and adding tools like Matterport so they could show their model homes online,” she explains, “and they would set up a remote access to the home so people could go after hours, walk through the home, then the salesperson could follow up with them.”
Even with those changes, sales continued to soar for Rancho Mission Viejo. “And our sales during the pandemic actually were really, really strong. We were so surprised, but people still wanted homes, and they really wanted new homes,” says Kris. “The whole idea of having something that was new as opposed to a resale home was so important to people, and it was so refreshing.”
People were also willing to buy those homes without walking through them. “I don't know that I could buy a home without seeing it first, but a lot of people were willing to do that, which is remarkable,” says Kris.
But virtual technology has allowed for sales processes to continue, even if home buyers aren’t able to view a model home. “So if home builders could stick with these tools that they have, I think that the customer service experience for their prospects would be so much stronger. And I'm really hoping that the industry can keep that going,” says Kris.
According to Stephen Diorio with Forbes, many sales leaders have used the pandemic as “an opportunity to redefine the customer experience in digital and virtual channels.”
In fact, “82% of growth leaders are increasing their investment in sales and marketing content to adapt to the pandemic-induced recession and shifts to remote selling according to Wharton research,” writes Stephen. Sales teams who are willing to go digital will stay ahead of the competition.
How To Work With Home Builders in the Digital Age
For manufacturers who want to sell to these developers and home builders, meeting them (and their partners) online will be key. For Kris Maher and her team at Rancho Mission Viejo, having a strong online presence goes a long way.
“We hire a lot of architects, landscape architects, interior designers,” says Kris. “So we have some great consultants that work for us and they keep us on the cutting edge with some stuff.”
She offers a few ideas for manufacturers who want to reach those professionals:
Set expectations about product availability:
“We have to pick materials and supplies that are readily available and will always be available, because in 10 years when they need to replace a bench or something, it needs to be with a company that has a long history and has a similar product still available,” says Kris.
Know what your customer needs:
For manufacturers who want to appeal to developers, consider the end-user of your product. Kris explains that for her designs, “We always have to look at things to our future residents’ eyes to see, what are they really going to put value in? What's important to them? And a lot of the times it's going to be function versus material,” she says.
Her home buyers aren’t necessarily going to care about how the product is made or installed, but they’ll care about how useful it is and where it fits into their lifestyle.
Consider B2C (not just B2B) marketing:
Kris is also a homeowner, and points out how important a user-friendly website is for product manufacturers “to reach out to the consumer, to have a website that is consumer-friendly that can maybe even provide how-to videos,” suggests Kris.
“I think people are willing to take on those projects to see how they can improve their homes. I think home improvement is huge right now. And so if there's a way to reach the consumer and maybe not necessarily always the B2B model, I think that would be really helpful,” suggests Kris.
Want Even More Insight?
The sales process in construction doesn’t look like it did 20 (or even 10) years ago. But we’ve all had to make changes and adapt. Building materials manufacturers can’t just focus on selling their product but have to consider how the end-user experiences that product.
To find out more about how Rancho Mission Viejo succeeds in today’s digital age, listen to the whole episode.
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