Virtual Selling: No Turning Back Now

Technology for selling is necessary for the future

By Dennis O’Neil

The COVID-19 pandemic, the resulting quarantines, no-work orders, and social distancing requirements continue to impact every American and global citizen.

I think the building industry should feel incredibly fortunate that with the exception of five states, construction was allowed to continue with just a few new rules. We all owe thanks to the National Association of Home Builders and the countless local affiliate building industry associations for their lobbying efforts on behalf of us all. Dues well spent.

While construction continued with relatively minor challenges, the rules for sales operations were different. In most markets, model homes were not allowed to be open for walk-in traffic. Even without the executive order, much of the public was simply uncomfortable with the in-person requirements of the traditional home shopping experience. Despite these new boundaries, new home sales kept pace for many builders, and even accelerated for some others.

I am incredibly proud of how quickly the sales and marketing community reacted. Seemingly overnight, salespeople adapted to offer Facetime model home tours, creating DocuSign accounts to deliver contracts, and attending virtual sales meetings. Everyone got over their resistance to video calls with remarkable speed. Suddenly, I wasn’t the only person with their camera on.

With most states in some phase of re-opening, I urge you to not let your sales teams lose these newfound skills. The late Lee Thayer, an c-suite executive coach, wrote that “Leaders make what needs to be done both possible and necessary.” It’s an astonishingly simple, but profound message about the responsibility of leadership.

Sales leaders must make it necessary that these virtual selling skills are not only retained, but that they flourish. They must make it possible by ensuring virtual skills are practiced and trained. I haven’t heard anyone suggesting that model home hours are a thing of the past, or that they will stop training for the traditional onsite sales process. These new virtual selling skills are additive, and those who forget everything they were forced to learn are setting themselves up for a tough future.

While the industry feels like we just won the gold medal in an event we never trained for, consumers are shocked we had never competed before now.

Nearly every other consumer purchase experience has been vastly improved by technology and consumers have understandably grown to expect the simple conveniences they enjoy elsewhere. I feel confident in saying that more builders have added online appointment scheduling to their website in the past four months than the total of builders offering it before 2020. When a consumer can schedule an appointment online for a $25 haircut, it’s reasonable for them to expect that option when purchasing a home. I’m thrilled we’re racing forward as an industry, but as compared to other consumer experiences, we need to admit that we’ve just begun to catch up.

Opposing opinions will argue that technology removes necessary emotion from the deeply personal decision of buying a home. This argument has always been based on a theory of human behavior rather than actual evidence. I, too, believe that buying a home is an emotional decision. I spent my first five years in the industry selling from a model home. Being able to tune into shoppers’ emotional needs was essential to presenting the right solution. However, the last four months provide undeniable evidence. Emotion aside, technology allows consumers to get enough of what they need to make a decision, and salespeople are capable of adapting to provide it.

I think the anti-technology pessimists actually fear losing control of the sales process, and ultimately losing sales as a result. It’s a reasonable fear, and I understand it, but countless other industries have demonstrated the opposite is true—well-executed technology increases sales. Technology makes it easier, not harder, for consumers to buy. Salespeople who embrace the new opportunities technology provides them, also sell more. We’ve proven that better experiences are possible. Consumers are going to make better experiences necessary. They’re not going to allow us to go backward, and I don’t think they should.

Now is the time to gather everything your sales team learned so it becomes the foundation of your training moving forward. Document these virtual sales skills, identify the best practices, identify the most successful patterns, and start building your manual. Conduct virtual mystery shops to measure. Make it required training for existing staff and especially for new hires.

Resist falling back into that old comfortable rut of habit. This is both possible and necessary for your future. There’s no turning back now.

Dennis O’Neil is the President of ONeil Interactive. He is a leading Internet sales and marketing thinker, doer, speaker, and author with 20 years of building industry experience.

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