Converting Online Leads into Sales
by Rich Binsacca
Contrary to popular hype, a web site for your home
building business won't guarantee more sales. It can, however, improve
the effectiveness of your sales efforts and help you and your sales
force do a better job of attracting, qualifying and most
important, converting leads into home sales.
That's because the technology allows web-savvy builders to
cost-effectively tell their story, solicit feedback and show their
products to a wider range of potential homebuyers and then use that
information to tailor sales pitches to particular prospects. "You can
get leads from just about anywhere," says Cathy Baum, executive vice
president at Stanley Martin Companies, a Washington, D.C.area
homebuilder, and a pioneer in online sales efforts, " but to convert
those leads, you either follow-up or not."
It should be no surprise that the basic truisms of good
salesmanship, such as prompt follow-up, extend to online sales efforts.
The technology, however, enhances the effectiveness of those skills
provided they are already part of your sales vernacular.
That's because the Internet, and specifically e-mail,
has shortened response time to minutes instead of days. With that,
e-mail also allows for a more thoughtful response to an inquiry or lead,
providing sales associates with an opportunity to tailor their response
to the specific needs or intentions of a home buying prospect [see
sidebar, "The E-mail Letter,"]
Case in point: Even with a boost in leads since joining
American Builders Network in 1998, Las Vegas custom builder Bob Thomas
of Crosswhite Construction hasn't changed his basic approach to
following up with prospective buyers. He still sends a personal letter
within a day or less of receiving a lead, albeit now, by e-mail instead
of the post office. "Responding quickly sends a message [to prospects]
that you're interested and want their business," he says. "If you wait,
it makes a bad impression."
Using e-mail with prospects also opens a valuable
dialogue, with Thomas able to respond quickly and comprehensively to
specific buyer requests regarding available lots, the firm's design
capabilities, building costs and upcoming visits. The result is not
only a progressive track toward securing a sales contract, but, perhaps
more important, earning a buyer's trust in the process.
To date, Thomas is in touch (mostly via e-mail) with up
to 60 potential homebuyers in various stages of commitment, which
translates to more than two years of custom home projects for Crosswhite
Construction should they all decide to build. His next two projects, in
fact, are a direct result of leads generated through his American
Builders Network interactive ad.
While arguably the most effective communications tool in
your sales shed, e-mail is just the tip of the Internet iceberg. In
fact, e-mail is useless without an attractive, compelling and convenient
way to attract inquiries and leads in the first place, either through
Internet search and referral services, a proprietary web site, or a
combination of those options.
Opinions differ, but Baum's twelve-year Internet
initiative with Stanley Martin Companies, the last nine including a
company web site and participation in several referral directories such
as American Builders Network, have given her insight into what attracts
prospective buyers. "We try to give them as much information as
possible on our web site," she says, though in the simplest and most
convenient way available. "It may not be flashy, but our web site gets
people to come back and contact us."
Providing a comprehensive marketing package to web site
visitors allows them to navigate your company information at their own
pace and to their own interests, whether it be viewing renderings and
floor plans, considering available lots, or mapping out a tour of your
Fact is, studies show that prospective homebuyers use
the Internet extensively to narrow their choices of potential home sites
and communities. Once averaging up to 20 or more model home visits
before purchasing, today's web-surfing buyers may actually drive around
to only six or so, having "prequalified" those via builders' web sites.
The E-mail Letter
For those who do
it every day, sending e-mail has become a preferred method
of both professional and personal communication. But
some folks are intimidated by e-mail, perhaps simply because
they are more comfortable talking than writing (i.e., most
sales people?), or maybe even just poor or slow typists.
A solution to both problems is the template letter. Among others who
use e-mail to communicate with prospective home buyers, Las Vegas custom
builder Bob Thomas employs a prewritten follow-up letter that he can
easily personalize and quickly alter to address specific buyer
questions, then paste into an e-mail window.
Creating such a template accomplishes several goals: First, it gives
your company a consistent voice with prospective home buyers, relieving
individual sales people from having to remember what information, and in
what tone, they need to include in an initial e-mail follow-up. With
that, it allows a salesperson to respond even faster to an inquiry or
sales lead, respecting his or her time to focus on sales, not
letter-writing. Finally, a template follow-up letter provides a comfort
zone for lesser-skilled writers and typists.
For these reasons, consider creating a prewritten or template letter, or
perhaps a series of letters that address different types of leads or
inquiries, from folks who are "just looking" to serious home buying
Getting More Leads
Certainly, an attractive and informative web site will
compel interested buyers to contact you, often via an e-mail link or
through an online feedback form or survey, thus prompting the start of
the sales process.
That said, not all buyers should be expected to use
e-mail to express their interest. Some prefer to make a phone call, or
perhaps an in-person visit. To that end, an effective web site requires
easy-to-find (and perhaps toll-free) phone and fax numbers, as well as
the company's mailing address for your office or models.
A more interactive, and potentially more valuable,
device is to post an online feedback or survey form, as well. Though it
should be kept simple, a survey can be used to gather more detailed
information about a prospective buyer's intentions, needs, and
circumstances (read: a more qualified lead). With that information in
hand, follow-up efforts can be even more targeted and effective.
Understand the Technology
Regardless of the extent of your Internet strategy,
whether it be a full-blown web site or simply participating in a search
and referral service, the real key to successfully using the technology
is understanding it.
Both Baum and Thomas, for instance, had personal experience with the
Internet before deciding it needed to be part of their respective sales
efforts. "I've been on the 'net since 1990," says Baum. "There was no
question [the company] had to get on it when I arrived here twelve years
Understanding the technology can be as simple as surfing the web sites
of other builders, suppliers and lumber dealers. You may even want to
dip your toe into e-commerce by participating in an online auction, such
as e-bay, or purchasing a CD or book from Amazon.com, among other
Any level of online participation, in fact, will help you gain a better
understanding of the technology and provide insight into how it fits
with your existing sales efforts.
Binsacca is a freelance writer living in Boise, Idaho.
He writes technology articles for BUILDER,
iHousing and ProSales magazines. He co-wrote "About Your
House with Bob Yapp," a companion book to the syndicated
PBS television series. He is a regular contributor to
several national real estate, business, and architecture
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