Friday, March 09, 2007

Getting Bang Out of Your Marketing Bucks

Are you looking at tighter marketing budgets in 2007? Faced with tougher markets, more aggressive competition, and apathetic consumers we all have to get smarter about how we spend marketing dollars. To get smarter you have to do two things: First you need assess the performance of each dollar you spend. Second, you have to reallocate your spending to wherever your company gets its best results.

Sounds easy, but it's not. It's not easy because attributing performance is murky. You want a consistent approach that works across all your prospects and buyers. Your staff also has to be consistent without being overly burdened. Let me share with you some of the best practices developed by HotOn!® Homes clients and some of my previous consulting clients who had effective tracking methods. Learn these secrets and use them. We all will be better off.

Recognize that there are two key things you can track: (1) leads who contact you prior to visiting (e.g., Internet leads), and (2) shoppers who simply show up as physical traffic in response to your marketing. 80% of Internet-driven physical traffic NEVER registers on builder or third party (i.e.,,, websites. So, for every lead converted to physical traffic, there are 4 shoppers who simply show up as physical traffic.

Secrets of Tracking Internet Leads to Sales

First, let's talk about tracking leads. First, you need to identify leads from sources you pay for. There are two lead types builders should track to get an accurate picture of third party distribution channel performance. First, there are direct leads from HotOn! or other third parties. No problem identifying these leads. You receive a list. Perhaps you even receive this list as a datafeed directly into your CRM. Second, there are leads from your own website where the source of the website visitor was a third party. This is more difficult. The builder needs to implement "referrer" tracking. Your IT guys may already do this for Google or Overture paid placement traffic. On every link from a third party to your website you should have a source tag that will show up in your Web logs.

Rather than a simple link of, your vendor can append a source tag. For example, Then in what are called extended logs, the builder can see this referral source on the logs for hits to the registration page and the thank you page. Store this tag as a session variable. Your IT staff can then match this source to the lead in your reporting. Now, you know which leads gathered on your own website were sourced from which vendors.

Combining both the third party and builder website leads sourced from third parties, you can identify all the leads driven by any third party. Once these leads are aggregated, the next step is to look for conversions. If the builder has an online sales counselor (OSC), we recommend them using this resource to track conversions since they will have a vested interest in finding "sales."

To find sales you need to compare sales records (Legal names, previous addresses, previous phone numbers, email addresses) to the same information you may have available for a lead sourced from HotOn! Homes or your own website. It is semi-manual. You can put the information into Access or a spreadsheet, but it takes a person to compare matches to find your sales driven by you website or Hot On!® Homes.

If you do this, you will have a fairly accurate picture of the Internet leads that have converted into sales. However, as you recall, there is still the 80% of the Internet-related traffic into your communities that you are not able to track. That is where your on-site sales agent training comes into place.

Secrets of Getting Useful Registration Card Information

Your onsite agents can start tracking Internet-related, newspapers, and other sources of traffic much more effectively. I spoke with S. Robert August, President of S. Robert August & Company about their approach to getting on-site reps to gather good data. "Most sales reps take the path of least resistance and ask prospects to fill out a card before providing information about any product or services offered by the builder," says August.

The key to tracking traffic accurately is earning the right to ask once rapport has been established. How do you react when upon entering a clothing store you are accosted be a salesperson immediately asking, "How may I help you?", you probably say, "I'm just looking." However, if rapport is built first, we might get an answer other than "I saw your sign."

"How they found out about you should be asked at the end of the conversation. The buyer will offer more information [and better information] at the end of a conversation than at the beginning." , says August.

What's your #1 driver of traffic? Most builders site drive-by's at 40%. "Remove drive-by and signage from the registration card." recommends August. "We are lucky to get one reason [for coming] for every person that comes through the door."

This will get you a more accurate picture of your traffic sources, but it will still be lacking because on-site agents will perform at different levels. Some will be very good at getting a clear picture of traffic and others will only scratch the surface. As always it comes down to quality, recurrent training.

The Best Method for Identifying Sources of Sales

Is there a better way to get an accurate picture? I think there is. Several past clients of mine have used a post contract-survey marketing survey. The great thing about this survey is that nearly all customers will fill it out. Second, and more importantly, these are your buyers. It answers the question, "How did my buyers find out about me?"

The post contract survey may be the most accurate and easy method of finding out which marketing vehicles are most effective. You can ask many questions, but you must ask these two: (1) "What single source of information was most influential in helping you decide to visit us on your first visit?", and (2) "Which sources of information did you use to help decide which communities to visit?" Everything else is nice to know, but if you can answer these two questions with a measure of accuracy, you can focus you marketing mix toward what works for selling your homes in your market.

I hope this helps focus your marketing dollars where your company gets the most bang.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

How to Grow Your Volume by 10% without Competing on Price

If you are like most builders I work with, sales are off a bit. In a down market, we always struggle for ideas to improve our marketing. To maintain your volume and profits, you have to grow your market share. Unfortunately, other builders may have the very same goal. What if the pie were larger?

The new home sale market represented 22% of all homes sold in 2005 according to the 2006 National Association of Realtors® Profile of Home Buyers and Sellers. So, your largest competitor is the resale market. Could this share of 22% grow? Since 1999, the NAR survey showed new home sale share ranging from 21% to as high as 28%. A 2% share shift would mean a nearly 10% increase in volume for the new home market. But why would consumers shift their preference toward new homes?

The Relative Value Proposition Has Changed

New homes represent a better value than they did a mere five years ago, but most homebuilders pay little attention to this fact. Significant improvements in products, technology, and customer satisfaction leaves resale housing in the dust (see Your #1 Competitor is on the Ropes). Many advanced items in new housing can't easily be put into resale homes (e.g., house wraps, structured wiring).

We spoke with Sam Rashkin, Director of the E.P.A.'s Energy Star for Homes program, about some the benefits of new housing. "We have to really work on the marketing side to make sure this other great story [is told] about the persistence of value, long-term greater resale potential because homes are very hard to retrofit to this level of performance." said Rashkin. New products are shifting the balance of value and we need to communicate this better to consumers.

What if every sales agent communicates the same message to every prospect? What if that message were not only true, but was also obvious? Would most consumers accept the message? Well, this already happens today. What home shopper does not hear and accept that they are likely to have lower maintenance exposure in a new home relative to a resale home?

We can change the world, or at least affect the relative demand of new vs. resale housing, but only through a concerted industry-wide effort.

How You Can Communicate the Change

Of the 10 largest builders in the U.S., just 3 have any information that can readily be found on their websites about why buying new housing is better than the alternative. Centex talks well about energy efficiency, Lennar tells us mostly about their product attributes, and Ryland has a paragraph about energy efficiency. We sell ourselves way too short.

It is time to start communicating the superior value of new housing.

Perhaps these can give you some inspiration for things you can do on your website. For further inspiration, > let me share with you two video segments that will be seen by literally millions of new home shoppers who watch our HotOn!® Homes television program. Here they are:

View Green Building Video

View Old vs. New Housing Video