I’d rather be lucky.

I have been disturbed for the past few months after receiving a phone call from a very good friend’s wife that she had put her husband into hospice and my distress was only amplified after visiting my friend the next day and seeing him in a terminal condition.  As there was nothing I could do to prevent the outcome, I began to write this blog to vent my anger and frustration.  In the middle of this task I received a phone call that he had passed away.

I first met Joel and his family shortly after moving to Florida thirty-two years ago and our families have been close ever since, in part because we are very similar.  We are the same age, born one month apart, we were both raised in Chicago and married at about the same time, had two sons of close to the same ages and shared similar lifestyles.  Our children grew up together and we socialized frequently over the past few decades.  When their children and ours were grown we became empty nesters together, rejoicing in each other’s children’s weddings and we became regular dinner companions and enjoyed traveling together on several vacations.  

Joel had been in poor health for several years, suffering from a wide variety of ailments, maladies and illnesses.  He probably spent more time in than out of hospitals in the past five years and we often joked that he was the sickest human being we knew that was still alive.  But in the past he always managed to pull through, albeit with an increasing number of surgical scars and missing pieces.

Prior to the past few years Joel had enjoyed what I believe would be considered by most people to be a good life.  He was a good person, honest, caring and giving with a unique sense of humor.  He had a loving and dedicated family which now included two grandchildren, had assembled a very large group of good friends, achieved substantial success in several businesses and reached a modicum of financial comfort but serious illness seemed to plague not only him but also his entire family.

Thinking about this made me remember and appreciate two basic truths in life:

1.     It is essential that we always live in the moment, cherishing each and every second of our lives and making certain that we remember what is really important and act so that there are no regrets;  I wrote about that subject in a prior blog – http://www.residentialmarketingblog.com/2011/10/what%E2%80%99s-really-important/

2.     There is no substitute for good luck. 

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What we do not see

The homebuilding industry, at least for many of the larger builders, has become far more sophisticated in recent years thanks in part to the almost limitless amount of data that we have available to analyze.  New economic facts including employment data, balance of trade, inflation, CPI movement, consumer sentiment and all kinds of interest rates are published almost daily.  Building permit and construction start reports are updated monthly as are the MLS statistics.  Hard data on population changes is available annually and projections often are published on a more frequent basis.  We are able to see the “macro” housing industry trends if we take the time to look and, if our marketing team is doing their job, we should be receiving updated competitive reports at least quarterly to provide us with a fairly good “micro” view.

Our own internal operational data should be equally accessible.  Determining the actual number of sales we have achieved is easy and, with a little analysis, we can determine which communities, which models and which features are selling best. We tend to receive fairly accurate counts of the traffic that comes into our sales office and, if we have a decent analytics program we can determine the traffic that visits our web site, reads our blogs and visits our Facebook, Twitter and other social media pages.  Validating our marketing efforts in terms of number of sales, traffic generation, cost per sale, media usage, etc. should also be simple.  We can compare our performance to our original pro-formas and make the necessary adjustments that are indicated.

It is my belief that the homebuilding industry is reasonably adept at analyzing at least some of the available quantitative data, when they do it, but generally lacking in understanding and analyzing qualitative data.  Do we really know the reasons why:

–       People who are interested in buying a new home never find us on the web?

–       Visitors locate our community on a search engine or referral site but never visit our web site?

–       Prospects visit our web site but never come out to our homes?

–       Potential customers come out to see us but never register in the sales office or interact with a live salesperson?

–       And most important, why buyers come into the sales office, interact with our sales team and do not buy? Continue reading

Got sales?

When sales do not appear in the numbers anticipated and budgeted in a new home community, the prevailing solution among homebuilders is often to first blame and then change the sales staff.  If sales still do not materialize then it is time to blame and then change sales management.  And if sales still do not appear then it is time to change the advertising and promotion and then change the ad agency.

Many years ago I interviewed for a position as regional sales manager with a national homebuilder.  The position was located in their largest region which had 32 operating communities.  As part of the decision process I was invited to attend one of their regional sales meetings which were held on a quarterly basis and led by the person who would have been my predecessor in that position.  The meeting was an elaborate affair, held in the ballroom of an upscale local hotel as there were over sixty sales people in attendance and a very nice breakfast was served.

The current sales manager opened the meeting by welcoming the attendees and then said “I hope that everyone enjoyed the breakfast as for some of you it may well be your last meal”.  This company had what I believe to be the unique philosophy of terminating the two lowest performing (per budgeted sales) sale people every three months and, in what they apparently believed to be a motivating experience for the remaining sales personnel, did so at these breakfasts.

I declined the sales manager’s position when it was offered to me.  I did not disagree with the belief that there are certainly times when the sales staff should be changed nor that weak sales people should be replaced. In fact, I am an advocate of a “power line” in sales situations where applicable.  And I did not necessarily disagree that a pro-active course of action is usually far more effective than a reactive one.  But I did not (and still do not) believe that terminations should be public affairs, similar to the use of the guillotine in France during the revolution, nor that proper and positive motivation can ever be derived from fear.  More importantly, I did not believe then and continue not to believe today that the sales staff, sales management nor the advertising agency is necessarily responsible for poor sales performance. Continue reading