Marketing is vital but don’t forget it’s the salesperson who closes the deal
Driving home one day, you hear a radio ad for a new housing development. You’ve been thinking of getting into the housing market, and this project sounds great – good location, innovative design, spacious lots and competitive prices. At a stoplight, you notice an ad for the same development on the side of a bus. At home, you find a flyer from the development in your mailbox, and in your daily paper, lo and behold, an ad for the same place. The builder has done such a great job of catching your eye – and interest – that you decide to drop by.
At the sales office the following day, the first thing you notice is confusion at the entrance: hundreds of prospective homebuyers, but no receptionist or salesperson. In fact, the only employees you see are builders working on the lot next door. Prospective purchasers are walking through the sales office picking up materials – but no one is there to determine their needs or interest, or to answer questions.
You spot a large sign: “If you want to buy one of these houses, just write your name beside the lot number and leave a cheque for the purchase price.” Most people just walk out; one or two sign the list and leave cheques.
Sound ridiculous? Implausible? Perhaps so, but many in the retirement housing industry are doing the equivalent by investing heavily in the marketing of their residence but next to nothing in the sales process. So when prospects arrive at the door, they are treated to a substandard tour by a person who only does marketing as part of their larger function and simply does not have the time or skills to do the best job. The belief that it is all a numbers game – get sufficient prospects in the door and you’ll get sufficient residents – is only necessitated by how poor a job we do at sales in this industry.
The key to success is to have a focused marketing program – be in the right places with the right message – to bring in qualified prospects. Then, when they do inquire, do an exceptional job at uncovering their needs and demonstrating how your product can meet them. It’s not all about quantity of traffic. I remember a Victoria residence that had amazing traffic but did not seem to be moving ahead in occupancy. The very sophisticated salesperson lamented to me, “Don’t bring me any more traffic. I’m inundated. I can’t find time to deal properly with the traffic I’ve got.” She meant she did not have time to do the thorough rapport-building and discovery necessary to really sell to the client. She did not have hours enough in her day to take the leisurely, relaxed pace necessary for a good tour. And she did not have sufficient time to follow up with each visitor, appealing to individual needs and overcoming objections. In short, she was a victim of the success of the marketing program.
People in this industry shy away from the idea of sales, thinking, no doubt, of the stereotypical image of the slick, pushy used-car salesperson who talks you into a bad deal. Successful salespeople just aren’t like that. They are personable, knowledgeable individuals who love to solve problems. They listen to what the prospect needs, and if they feel the fit is right, they share the benefits of a product they are passionate about – and demonstrate how that product meets the client’s needs.
Often the people who say to me “Oh, I could never be a salesperson” make the very best salespeople because of their passion and integrity. In sales training, I frequently start by saying, “Sales is not a four-letter word,” acknowledging the dread participants feel at the idea we might be trying to make them do something they are uncomfortable with, something that is not in the client’s best interest. As I point out, the prospective residents are bringing you their problem. It is simply your job to understand the problem and help solve it. Substitute “problem solver” for “salesperson” and you will understand the most successful approach to sales.
Let’s face it, no matter how pretty the package, you have a product that most people do not want to buy. They are coming to see you because they have a need – a need that they would rather not acknowledge. As the saying goes, “People won’t change until the pain of staying the same becomes greater than the pain of changing.” They want to find fault with the residence so that they can convince themselves – and their families – that they are better off the way they are. You need a “problem solver” whom they will like and trust, someone who will make them understand that this new lifestyle is a better alternative. Can the hurried, overworked 22-year-old recreation assistant whose mind is on the upcoming birthday party do that?
The sales function is of equal importance to the marketing program, maybe even more important. It needs to be seen as a professional management position. If you have the basics – a good operation, a decent location, pleasant staff and an attractive product – you will not need a non-stop parade of prospects.
After all, what’s better: spending $50,000 on advertising that generates 100 leads and results in 5 deals after tours by an overworked administrator? or spending $25,000 on advertising that generates 50 leads that an experienced salesperson can turn into 10 deals? Clearly, the latter. A 20 per cent closing ratio of tours to deals should be the minimum goal. Of all the actions you could take to improve your marketing program, none is so likely to succeed as simply doing a better job with your current clients (your “birds in hand”). Investing in the right salesperson and the right training is a long-term strategy that pays off – and will give you a distinct advantage over competitors who still believe that the half hour a day their administrators spend on marketing will do the job.