It seems like yesterday that we were talking about the need for online sales consultants in the homebuilding industry. That was over ten years ago and so much has changed. Most homebuilding companies have added online sales teams to their sales efforts, but consumers continue to evolve in the way they engage with companies. It seems that buyers’ expectations are changing faster than we are.
When we added online sales consultants to our sales strategies, we simply inserted them into the linear process that we’d been using for decades. If a customer wanted to engage with us online, we now had an online sales consultant that could answer questions, send information, and set appointments using SMS, email, online chat, or by phone, depending on how the customer wanted to communicate. Our goal was still to get the buyer to visit our onsite sales team. Afterall, home buyers only buy onsite, right?
Our online sales teams weren’t expected to actually sell anything, even though we called them the online sales team. Their job was to get the buyer to agree to visit the onsite salesperson at the community. Once the online sales consultant could get the buyer to set and keep an onsite appointment, his or her job was complete. This linear process now moved to the “hand-off” phase. Once the buyer met the onsite salesperson, the hand-off was complete, and the online sales consultant was no longer involved with the buyer. This process worked for a long time. In fact, this is how many companies in our industry still operate. Afterall, It does makes sense to have a special effort for converting online leads into actual visits for the onsite sales team.
Let’s go back to the evolution of how customers engage with companies. This linear approach may no longer work for the majority of consumers. Today, buyers engage with a company online, then they may choose to visit onsite, and oftentimes, they are then back online again. We can relate because we’re all consumers and we’ve grown accustomed to doing business when it’s convenient for us, even if that’s outside of traditional business hours.
It’s no longer sufficient to offer multiple channels in a linear approach to customer service. In other words, the customer doesn’t want to be told that they can’t engage with the online sales consultant because they’ve already visited the onsite salesperson at the community. After the customer visits the community, he or she may have more questions or more decisions to make and they expect the same level of engagement and attention as they received prior to their in-person visit.
The challenge for most companies is that their onsite sales team isn’t set up for real time engagement over multiple channels. They often don’t respond instantly to SMS, email, online chat, or calls on their phones, the same way as the online sales consultant. Afterall, they’re busy meeting with people face-to-face onsite which is why we created online sales teams in the first place. Once the customer has been handed-off to the onsite sales team, they are forced to engage when the salesperson is able to respond, if at all.
As you can see, there is a disconnect between our online sales efforts and our onsite sales efforts, and it’s rooted in the way we set up the two different teams. We don’t usually give any responsibility or authority to the online sales team for sales. Remember, they are here just to convert online leads into appointments. We expect them to schedule appointments and that’s the way we compensate them. Some online salespeople are paid a bonus if the appointment leads to a contract, but that’s to ensure a more qualified lead is being scheduled for appointments. They’re not being compensated for sales. Once the “hand-off” of a customer occurs, the online salesperson is expected to go back to well of prospects and to set more appointments. After all, this is their core responsibility. They are here to convert leads into appointments for the sales team. The onsite salesperson has the responsibility to convert the lead to a sale and is compensated for it. Many times, the onsite salesperson doesn’t want anyone else communicating with “their” prospect because they don’t want anyone else to interfere with their chance of making the sale. In this type of dichotomy, the online team is tasked with setting appointments only and the actual sales effort is left exclusively to the onsite sales team.
In this world, the customer can no longer communicate with the online sales team because the online sales consultant’s work is done. They have “handed-off” the prospect to the onsite sales agent who now has all responsibility and authority over the prospect. Once the customer crosses the threshold of the sales center, they now “belong” to the onsite sales team. If they reach out again to the online salesperson, they are usually given the name and email address for their onsite agent. They don’t have anyone online to help them any longer.
This isn’t the omnichannel approach that today’s buyer expects.
I spoke to a friend recently who was relocating to a different state. She found a homebuilder in the city where she was moving who offered an online “buy now” option. After completing their search, her family decided to purchase the home online. Later, she chose to visit the community and told the onsite agent of her plans to purchase online. My friend told me the onsite agent talked her out of buying online, even though she was buying the exact same home, in the exact same community, from the exact same homebuilder. She told me that she didn’t understand why the onsite sales agent talked her out of buying her home online.
I have an opinion about why this happened: I believe it probably has something to do with the way that homebuilder compensates their salespeople. I believe that particular onsite salesperson is probably paid a higher commission if the sale originated onsite but would probably receive a reduced commission or no commission, if the purchase was made through a “buy-now” mechanism with the online sales team. This isn’t the onsite salesperson’s fault. They are just working within the confines of the current processes.
The problem with this is that it penalizes the buyer and forces them to choose between doing business online or onsite. Today, we should have systems in place that allow our customers to engage in a non-linear way. We should be able to offer an outstanding customer experience to those buyers who want to engage with us online, even after they have visited us onsite. I don’t think we can continue to look at our online sales efforts as just a way to convert online leads for our onsite sales teams.
Buyers are indeed changing the way they buy. The companies that create processes that blend their sales efforts between online sales and onsite sales will begin to see an increase in their customer satisfaction surveys and will begin to capture more margin and more market share as they exceed their customers’ expectations.
If you’re interested in creating processes and training your sales teams on blended sales efforts that will exceed your customers’ expectations, please reach out to us today at SalesUncomplicated.com.