I am often asked what I look for in a new home salesperson and my answer is two specific qualities – first empathy, the ability to put yourself in the position of the customer and care about that individual and, second, great communication skills. I do not believe that you can teach or train someone to be empathetic – they either care or they do not. So I would hope that whoever is doing the hiring of new home salespeople is screening for empathy.
Proper communication skill is equally essential and can be learned. It is apparently no longer taught in our school system, at home or elsewhere in society so it is the responsibility of whoever performs the sales management function in any homebuilding company to search for that quality in all new hires and, when necessary, become teachers and coaches to make certain that their salespeople, their sole representatives to their prospective customers, learn and practice the necessary forms of proper communication. If our sales representatives cannot communicate effectively they cannot and will not make the sale!
After working around the house last week my wife and I took a break for dinner and, as we were dressed casually, ended up at the local Outback Steakhouse. The food was decent, nothing special, but the evening will be forever etched in my memory because of our server. He was young, mid 20’s, and very personable and enthusiastic, selling very hard to have us upgrade our entrees by adding a crab cake or lobster tail and later to have dessert and coffee. And as I am always appreciative of any decent attempt at a sale, and his presentation was pretty good, he was well on the road to earning an extra generous gratuity.
When he returned with the bill having run my credit card his parting comment was “Thank you very much Dan, have a wonderful evening”. Now “Mike F.” (name taken from my receipt) may be an excellent server, a wonderful person, a heck of a nice guy, perhaps even a true renaissance man. But simply by serving our dinner once he had not become a personal friend, nor had he earned the right to call me by my first name, especially the familiar nickname (which he had taken the liberty of shortening from the “Daniel” that he apparently gleaned off my credit card receipt). And as I am at least 30+ years his senior, I found the familiarity inappropriate, and it was reflected in his gratuity (which still was decent but no longer “extra generous”.) A simple misstatement resulted in a net overall negative impact. Mike lost a couple of dollars and we will still eat at Outback when we are in a hurry and not dressed for a more upscale venue.
At dinner a few nights later I overheard the server at the next table introduce himself and then add “I am going to be working with you this evening.” My first thought was that if this had been said to me my immediate response would have been “Please start with cleaning our hurricane shutters as they are very dirty”. Thereafter, as this poorly chosen “canned” introduction had set the tone of future interaction, it would have been difficult to take seriously anything this person later said, even a legitimate “thank you”.
In both cases these errors in proper communication can be attributed to lack of or improper training and/or lack of or improper sales management and supervision – perhaps tolerable in restaurants but, when trying selling a new home, the same does not hold true as any improper or incorrect communication can result in losing the sale, costing hundreds of thousands of dollars for the builder and thousands of dollars for the salesperson. Communication is the process of transferring information between a sender and a receiver through various methods which can include the more obvious – spoken words or written words and, just as important, nonverbal signals which include:
- Facial Expressions
- Eye Contact
- Body language
Communication skills can be practiced every day in almost every setting and, as with any skill, require time to refine and improve. Here are my ten basic skills for effective communication for new home salespeople:
- Be sincere and think before you speak. Avoid scripted monologues which are recognized as such and therefore dismissed as a “sales pitch”. Refrain from the utilization of catch phrases and slang which may have different meanings for your audience then you intend.
- Enunciate your words. Speak clearly and distinctly. Try to minimize strong accents so that comprehension is not impaired.
- Pronounce and use words correctly. Your audience (i.e. the prospective home buyer) may well judge your intelligence and competency through your utilization of vocabulary. If you are not certain of the correct pronunciation of a word, find an alternative. The same is true for the meaning of a word – if you’re not certain of what a word means, check the dictionary or don’t use that word.
- Animate your voice, use appropriate volume and vary the pace of your speech. Avoid a monotonous tone by raising and lowering your pitch, using a volume that is appropriate both for the setting and the message. A softer voice (within reason) can often force the listener to concentrate on what you are saying. Although new home salespeople are rightfully enthusiastic about what they are selling, the natural impulse of talking too fast to convey all of the necessary wonderful information may well give the listener the impression that the speaker is nervous, is providing a “canned” presentation or does not care what the listener thinks.
- Verbal communication skills are also essential when speaking on the phone. Train yourself to speak on the phone just as you would speak in person utilizing animation and variation in pace. One great training tool for phone communication, attributed as I recall to the telephone company, is to look into a mirror when speaking on the phone.
- Develop effective listening skills. Not only should one be able to speak effectively, one must listen to the other person’s words and respect what the other person is saying. Avoid the impulse to interrupt the other person or blurt out what you think is the correct answer while the other person is speaking. Always be courteous and respectful of the customer’s opinions and concerns. Remember the adage, we each have two ears and only one mouth so we should listen twice as often as we speak.
- Touch. I will possibly get some blowback here but I believe that touch is an essential part of proper communication as it has the potential to create and reinforce physical bonding. Beginning with a correct handshake and, thereafter, as appropriate and as opportunity presents itself, touch can personalize and reinforce verbal messages.
- Appropriate attire is important. In our society today, casual business attire is usually acceptable for new home sales as is themed attire reflecting the specifics of the community (such as logo polo shirts). In all cases, attire should also reflect the expectations of the target market and mirror their dress. My worst experience with a salesperson’s choice of attire was when I was greeted one morning in a community new home sales office by a mature woman in a housecoat who had a half-eaten muffin in her hand. After that initial visual impression it was simply impossible to take her or the community seriously.
- Be aware of what your body and facial expressions are saying. Body language and posture can say much more than just words. An open stance with arms relaxed at your sides conveys the message that you are approachable and that you welcome what they have to say; arms crossed or shoulders hunched suggest a closed mind and disinterest in conversation or discomfort in or unwillingness to communicate. A sincere smile says “welcome” while a frown suggests disapproval. Be aware of your posture and stance and the formality or informality that you are expressing. Utilize gestures and animate your face to make you whole body “speak” to reinforce the verbal message and make certain that your words, tone of voice, facial expression, stance or posture and gestures are all in agreement and sending the same consistent, positive message.
- Make and maintain eye contact. Whether you are speaking or listening, looking into the eyes of the person or persons with whom you are conversing conveys your interest and encourages interest in you in return. This practice is often contrary to the customs of some foreign-born individuals and may require special training and reinforcement.
Great communication skills will produce more new home sales and practicing will refine and improve these skills. But that’s just my opinion.
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