THE “CUBAN” SANDWICH GENERATION IN HOMEBUILDING?

Over the years, the philosophy of professional new home sales has evolved from the “Critical Path” to “Interview Selling” and then to “Relationship Selling”.  Simply put, this natural maturation of the process addressed first the need to present information in a logical and orderly sequence, then to understand the needs and desires of the buyers, and finally to create a very personal relationship with the prospective purchaser that fostered trust. 

And until the last building boom, it looked as if we were getting it right, providing professionalism at the point of sale and thereby maximizing the sales that we made.  But then the “good times” came and it appears that we forgot all that we learned in the midst of the frenetic order taking. 

One of my good friends, “Bill Becker”, the “dean” of new home sales and marketing consultants, recently posed a question on the NSMC Board on Linked In: “Are you prepared when this market turns around or are you still selling and marketing like you did four years ago?” 

I responded that I was amazed as I travel around the country to see how many salespeople are still using the “wait for them to come and buy” philosophy that they were utilizing three years ago when it was a seller’s market.  I went on to say that the marketing people are often no better, failing to maximize their “reach” to the market with meaningful reasons to buy and to create an immediate call to action. Many of the smaller builders who have affordable housing products have failed to actively promote the tax credit and have not even trained their sales people on how to qualify a customer and use the tax credit to sell.

I would suggest that we did little, if any, marketing and sales four years ago, we appeared not to need to, and now that the market has regained its sanity, we no longer know how to do it correctly. So, if you are still selling and marketing like you did four years ago, you are getting it totally wrong. But let’s concentrate here, for the moment, on sales.

Case in point, I was providing a sales seminar at one of my client’s offices last month and the sales staff and I we were discussing how to create urgency for the move-up market.  One of the salespeople suggested that it was impossible to create that urgency as all of the prospects had existing homes which they could not sell and many were now members of the “sandwich generation” and therefore could not move due to their unplanned-for new obligations.   

Now “absolutes” are a wonderful thing.  Having made an absolute statement there is no discussion possible as the facts speak for themselves.  I am not a fan of labeling people as I believe it to be a useless and counter-productive effort to “homogenize” what is, in fact, a very diverse and individualistic population.  For salespeople, it creates a prejudice in their ability to deal with their customers as individuals.  So in response to the salesperson’s statement, I took a deep breath, waited for the hairs on the back of my neck to lie down, and asked two questions:

First, “How do you know that they can’t sell their home?  And second, “what exactly do you mean by ‘sandwich generation’ and how does that impact their ability to move?” 

The salesperson’s responses to my questions were as expected – “no homes are selling now.  The resale market is flooded with foreclosures and no one is willing to accept what their homes are now worth.”  And for the “sandwich generation”, “well, if they now have the financial obligation for their parents in addition to their kids, they obviously do not have the money to buy a new home”.  The salesperson did not bother to take the time to find out who the visitors really were.  They were categorized, deemed unworthy, and discarded. 

No attempt was made to find out if the existing home was currently on the market.  No effort was made to speak with the listing agent to determine if it is listed at the market price?  The MLS statistics were not examined to see what the competition was nor was any attempt made to see if that specific listing was being properly promoted.  And, of course, the salesperson never inspected the existing residence and offered to introduce them to a company that does “staging” to see if they could create a better showing.     

As I live in South Florida, home to a large Hispanic population of which the most visible component is Cuban, and my wife and I and care for three senior female relatives, I asked the salesperson if I should be categorized as a member of the “Cuban Sandwich Generation?  

cuban sandwichNow a sandwich is merely two or more slices of bread with a filling such as meat or cheese placed between them.  On the other hand, a “Cuban” sandwich is very specific.  It starts with Cuban bread, the loaf is sliced into lengths of 8-12 inches, the crust is lightly buttered, the bread is cut in half horizontally, a coat of yellow mustard is spread on the bread, roast pork, glazed ham, Swiss cheese, and thinly-sliced dill pickles are added in layers and the sandwich is toasted in a sandwich press called a “plancha”.  The toasting in the plancha is the important part for it both heats and squeezes (compresses) the sandwich until the bread is crispy and the cheese is melted.  By the way, my personal preference is for a slight variation on the Cuban sandwich known as a “media noche”. 

It is the heating and compressing that gives the sandwich its unique character.  And it could be argued that it is the stress (“heat”) and tension (“compression”) of the simultaneous responsibility for multiple children, grandchildren, mothers, mothers-in-law and aunts that would create the unique Cuban Sandwich Generation.  But from my observations of friends in the Cuban community that maintain multi-generational homes, they appear to have neither unusual stress nor tension. They often grew up in multi-generational households with their abuela and abuelo with them.  They respect their older relatives and now that they are the householders, would not dream of placing their relatives in a “facility” but rather welcome them into their homes not out of obligation but because of love and the opportunities for their own children to spend more time with and learn from their own grandparents.   

And, in fact, there has been a historically strong move-up market in the Hispanic community for families needing larger homes when their parents moved back in.  One of my clients several years ago specialized in houses designed for this market and did very well as the homes offered an optional second separate entrance leading to a “mother-in-law” suite which included a full second kitchen.  So from my personal history, I see an opportunity in the “sandwich generation”, not a deterrent to sales.  But the salesperson again did not bother to make friends of these prospects and find out anything about them once a label was applied.    

There was no “relationship” created.  The “interview” was obviously limited if it occurred at all.  And the “critical path” was shortened to minimize the “greeting” and eliminate the “qualification”. 

Now in all fairness, the overall economic downturn combined with the challenging housing market has had severe economic repercussions on the industry and especially on the sales and marketing professionals.  Many of the professionals have left the business and there are a lot of new faces in the industry.  And I certainly cannot blame these “newbies” for their ignorance.  But I have to ask, “Why were these new bodies not properly trained before they were put on the sales floor?”  

Where was the sales training?  Without proper sales training (and ongoing coaching, mentoring and guidance) from a professional sales management team we are doomed to failure. I wrote an article four years ago for Sales and Marketing Ideas in response to a question on the best way to train salespeople – http://www.nbnnews.com/NBN/issues/2005-11-21/Sales/index.html. Although that article would benefit now from expansion and updating to cover such specific areas as social media, blogging, email and web use, it is still a valid checklist for what we need to do to make our sales people prepared and productive for when the market returns.  And as that is already occurring in many markets, those who are unprepared are losing sales.

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