June 19 2009

The Consequences Of I Don't Know

“I don’t know”.  “There’s nothing I can do”.  Does anything make you more frustrated as a consumer, than when you have a problem with a company and they respond with “I don’t know” or “There’s nothing I can do”?

I was recently couldn’t check in on one of my Southwest Airlines flights.  I had no idea why.  I asked the attendant at the counter. “I don’t know why” was the reply.  I called the 800 number; again, “I don’t know why” was the reply.  I asked to speak with a supervisor.  Their reply was not only “I don’t know”, it also included “there is nothing I can do”.  I spoke with two supervisors – same answers.  I politely pressed them into giving me a non-published customer care number.  I did finally get someone who found out that I was on the Southwest Airlines terrorist watch list. I’m off now.

How backwards is that? I spend thousands of dollars on Southwest airfare each year, and they’re response is “there’s nothing I can do to solve your problem”?  I was ready to change carriers.

We’ve all been there - companies making it hard for us to give them our money.  Are you kidding me?

As consumers, we hear this all too often - so often that we’ve gotten used to it.  Those two phrases have quietly infiltrated our society and have become an acceptable standard that is slowly ebbing away our standards, our brands, and our profits. We’re so numb to it, we often times don’t even know it has permeated our souls.

If you’re in new home sales, “I don’t know” and “there’s nothing I can do” will put you on your company’s ‘Next To Be Let Go’ list.  

If you don’t know, you can’t help; if you don’t know, you can’t meet the need; if you don’t know, you can’t solve the problem; if you don’t know, you can’t relieve the pain; if you don’t know, you can’t produce.

The essence of selling is meshing solution with need.  The art of selling is getting to the need.  

What is that consumer really looking for?  Why are they there?

Everyone visiting a physical sales office today has already seen your homes online.  They are already familiar with your product.  But why did they take the time, get into their car, spent $10+ in gas, and visit you?

Are they really just looking?  Or are they looking for a home with a garage in a safe neighborhood because where they live now, their midnight blue ’69 Camero keeps getting broken into?

Are they really just looking?  Or are they looking to be as close as possible to their parents suffering from Alzheimer’s disease?

So often a consumer walks into our sales office and the first thing out of our mouth is “let me know if there is anything I can help you with”.  Another popular sales technique is to immediately barrage the consumer with all the fantastic features of the new home and the new home community.  

The goal of each new home sales person is to find out why that consumer is in that particular sales office.  This is called qualifying the consumer.  We’ve been spoiled.  For the past several years, qualifying the consumer meant “can they qualify for the loan?”  That’s not selling.  That’s riding the wave of insane consumer demand.  That may have been acceptable then, but it’s not now.

Consumers today have serious and legitimate needs.  With the housing market being as competitive as it is, we’ve got to find out what they are REALLY looking for - what’s most important to them.  

When a consumer walks into a sales office, how are they qualifying that home?  If you know that, you’re in.

But if we don’t ask, it’s impossible to know.  That’s the bottom line.

The number one trait in a successful sales agent today is asking the right questions in order to get to the core of why that consumer is in that sales office.

Sure, energy is important; sure a professional appearance is important; sure knowledge about the product and services are important.  But if you don’t get to the crux of why that consumer is in that model home, you will not know where they are in the sales cycle and you will not know how best to meet their needs.

As sales people, let’s surgically remove the lackluster standards of “I don’t know” and “there’s nothing I can do” from our lives.  

Consumers want their needs met.  They’re willing to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars for it.  Don’t fool yourself.  They want to tell you.  Be a great sales person and make it easy for them to tell you.  Let’s say to ourselves, “I don’t know now, but I will politely inquire until I do know”.

Tip: a simple opening question.

"So what has you out shopping for a new home?", or even more simply, "Why are you thinking about buying a new home?" (Questions compliments of Jeff Shore)

If they say, “I’m just looking”, like many do, it’s time to get creative and keep asking.  They are not just looking.

Politely inquire until you know.

Jim Adams – CEO
New Homes Directory.com

June 18 2009

What Facebook Means To Homebuilders

As of May 2009, Facebook is the most popular US social networking site.  According to comScore, Facebook’s May 2009 unique visitors totaled 70,278,000.  This is up 97% from last year at this time. Surprisingly MySpace visitors shrank 5% over the same timeframe, slipping to 70,255,000 unique visitors.

Debra Aho Williamson, senior analyst for eMarketer said “Facebook is becoming the go-to social networking site for marketers. While MySpace still has a huge quantity of visitors, they are becoming less relevant for advertisers.”

What this means for new home builders is that Facebook can’t be ignored.  People love being connected and Facebook is delivering the platform for which to do it.  With such a massive increase in usage, Facebook is now the number one way to connect and converse.

Reaching new home buyers today is not about advertising to them, it’s about connecting and engaging.

In the home building industry, the best use of today's marketing dollars is not one-way interruption advertising - it's connecting with consumers where and when they want to be connected with.

Jim Adams - CEO
New Homes Directory.com

June 17 2009

My Experience On The Southwest Airlines Terrorist Watch List

When it comes to checking in for a boarding pass, I'm obsessive.  I purchased Apple's iPhone so I could get my boarding pass when I'm mobile.  I set my alarm and jump to it at the 24 hour prior mark.  So on May 29th, at 12:30p, sitting in Cakebread Winery in Napa, my alarm went off and I began my obsessive ritual - being first.  I went to Southwest.com and tried checking in.  I received a message saying I could not get my boarding pass due to Southwest rules and policies.  My wife successfully obtained her boarding pass.  Resistant to the idea that Southwest would not let me get my boarding pass, I exhausted the better part of my battery, pelting the boarding pass page over and over again.  After 20 minutes I gave up.

Upon entering the Oakland Airport, I tried to login at the kiosk - same error message.  So I proceeded to stand in the 15 minute line only to ask the counter attendant why I couldn't login.  The woman said 'I don't know what the problem is'.  Pressed for time, I accepted the answer, believing this was a temporary glitch.

However, when I tried to check in for my PCBC trip from San Diego to San Francisco, I got the same error.  So I called 800-IFly-SWA.  My first attempt was met with the same 'I don't know', and 'there's nothing we can do'.  So I hung up and called back hoping to get a person more interested in solving my problem.  My second attempt, a woman took this dilemma up to her supervisor.  She said they found the problem in the system and I should be able to check in now.  After waiting 20 minutes with no success, I called back a third time.  This time I was resolved to find answers.  I really didn't want to change carriers.  My third attempt was similar to the first two.  'I don't know' and 'there's nothing we can do here' continued resonating.  I asked to speak with the supervisor.  Same answers.  I told the supervisor there must be someone in the organization who knows what the problem is.

After 15 minutes of politely pressing, she relinquished the customer care number.  Fearing the transfer, transfer, transfer routine, I asked if they would in fact be able to help me.  The supervisor said 'I don't know'.  She gave me the number 214-792-4223.  I called that number and of course got a busy signal.  Are you kidding me, I thought.  So I Googled the Southwest customer care number.  Not on the Southwest.com website, but some obscure website I can't even remember I got the number 214-792-4000.  

So I called.  I told the woman answering the phone my problem and she said I should find out if I'm on the terrorist watch list.  She transferred me to another line and of course, I got the voice mail of a woman named Caroline. You know how the story goes right?

Much to my surprise, I received a call back from Caroline within ninety minutes.  Asking the pointed questions, she told me I was in fact on the terrorist watch list.  I had left a significant amount of information on the voicemail about myself.  She apologized and said she was shocked, given my history and frequency of travel with Southwest.  Apparently there is someone in America with my name that is suspect.  

She fixed the problem, checked me in herself, and said to call her directly if any issues arise in the future.  She quickly and happily solved my problem - I love that.  So now I'm off the watch list:)

If you find yourself in this predicament, call 214-792-4000.

This experience has led me to look deeper at the consequences of I don't know.  I don't have time to post it now but stay tuned. (Updated: June 19th, 2009 - I got the time.)

Jim Adams - CEO
New Homes Directory.com

June 13 2009

Real Estate Of The Digital World

Last night at 9:00p and one second, PST, the Facebook land rush was on.  My pre-Facebook party consisted of Lisa Redmond from RedRocketLA, Mike Lyon, Ed Doss (NHD), and Ruth Kincaid (NHD).  We were all eagerly anticipating the NASA type of countdown and launch to get our Facebook domain.

Once the rush began, I immediately saw that jim.adams was available.  I elected to pass and search for the slightly better jimadams.  The search for jimadams was unsuccessful so I immediately tried to go back to the second best domain, jim.adams.  My heart sank as I saw jim.adams was taken.  Knowing domains were going fast, I quickly chose the far lesser of the two, jimadams1.

As I shut my computer and went back to watching Grand Torino with my wife, I was completely depressed.  I thought it would be a passing depression that would ultimately be just an evaporating disappointment.

I was wrong.  I woke up this morning still depressed.  Growing more and more introspective as to why I still felt depressed, it dawned on me.  It’s not that someone won’t be able to find me at jim.adams1 or that jim.adams1 will be THAT much harder to remember.  

It’s about the real estate. I was depressed because I got the lesser of the pieces of real estate.  Instead of getting the authoritative beachfront property, I got the small lot on the corner with only a partial view of the ocean – and all for the same price as the beachfront real estate.

It’s similar to getting the .NET domain extension instead of the .COM.  

The bottom line is, in the digital world, real estate is about the domain.  The domain conveys authority – or a lack of.  Domain affects consumer perception.  

Real estate becomes important when there are a lot of people in the same space.  Today, real estate is important on Google, Yahoo!, Bing, YouTube, MySpace, Twitter, and now Facebook.

I side stepped the desired jim.adams and lost it.  I now must settle for a second-rate domain.

No, it’s not the end of the world for me that my Facebook domain is second-rate.  I still have my most important domain JimAdams.me, which has links to all my social profiles.  But my lingering depression made me realize that if you delay in the digital world, the consequences can be enormous and irreversible.  

Speed is king, not cash.

The idea of getting the most prized real estate should resonate the loudest with Homebuilders.  The same concept holds true in the digital world.  Unlike the physical world where the best real estate comes at a premium price, premium real estate in the digital world costs very little, and is given to the quickest decision makers.  Speed is king, not cash.  The spoils of digital real estate go to the quick.  The quick also happen to be the leading visionaries in the digital world.

The Internet is expanding at almost a ‘big bang’ rate.  Much of the talk I hear today is about how to monetize social media.  The bigger and more pressing issue is getting the digital piece of land.  Get the land and figure out later how to monetize it.  Homebuilders can’t wait until everyone knows how to monetize it.  It will be too late.  I know everyone has less money and fewer personnel.  A marketing person that knows the digital world is a homebuilder’s greatest asset to selling homes in the year 2009.

Jim Adams - CEO
New Homes Directory.com

June 7 2009

NHD Buzz - May Upgrades And Stats

NHD Buzz just got better. We just added an RSS feed link to each NHD Buzz user account.  This means that all Buzz stories posted by a unique user can now be fed into any RSS feed reader (i.e. iGoogle). RSS feeds are becoming an increasingly important way to filter out noise on the Internet and have the content YOU want, delivered direct.  You will now see an RSS billboard logo on the right of each user page.  To view an example, active adult communities by Epcon Communities now has its own RSS feed.

RSS feeds can also be fed from one site into another for display purposes. So if your company won't let you blog, you can use NHD Buzz as the blog and you can stream the RSS feed into your website as a way for your consumers to view updates on your new home communities.

NHD Buzz has evolved from soley a search engine optimized PR site, into a blogging platform also.  If you're a new home sales or marketing professional and your company is not yet comfortable with you maintaining a company blog, you can use your NHD Buzz account as a blogging tool.

Stay tuned.  You will soon be able to update your Twitter and Facebook account when you post a Buzz story!  Because Twitter and Facebook are becoming critical tools to reach out and connect with our consumers, I felt like this was the next critical development to NHD Buzz.

I'll keep you posted on its development.

NHD Buzz continues to permeate the Internet with relevant home building news that consumers are looking for.  Stats for May 2009 show almost 6,000 visits, from 3,032 search terms.  Here is the May 2009 search term list NHDBuzzStatsMay2009.xlsx (29.41 kb)

Some notable searches include:

ryland model homes
ryland homes in rochester ny
hovnanian homes
luxury penthouses
tustin cottages
henley on hudson
edgebrook glen
roosevelt collection

and all of our favorite - penthouse model

Jim Adams - CEO
New Homes Directory.com

June 1 2009

Are We Missing Out By Not Text Marketing?

eMarketer.com today reported mobile activities for mobile phone users.  We all know that pretty much everyone has a mobile phone so the following report is important to homebuilders because it reveals opportunities to connect with new home buyers.  

Why does email marketing work?  Because everyone has and uses email.  So what about mobile texting?

The top two mobile phone activities for all generations is 1. taking still photos, and 2., text messaging.  The graph below shows that 86% of Gen Y'ers text on a regular basis, and that 75% of Gen X'ers text on a regular basis.

Yet at the same time, when marketing tactics were evaluated for U.S. marketers, email marketing topped marketing tactics at 73%, while text marketing was deployed a mere 19.6%.  What this all boils down to is that marketers are not meeting consumers where they want to be met.

Only a few short years ago, when it was obvious everyone was either online or getting online, homebuilders were still spending the bulk of the marketing dollars on print.  Over the last couple years, marketing dollars have been shifted and an increasing percentage of those dollars are now focused online. It's common knowledge now that online is the place to spend the dollars and print is NOT.

Everybody has a mobile phone and everybody is texting.  Our texting behaviors are largely why Twitter has become so popular and Twitter is the perfect tool for new home builders to connect and communicate (market) with home shoppers and buyers.  As marketers, we need to begin shifting dollars to more effectively connect with those text lovers. It's my guess that spending dollars on text marketing will be common knowledge by late 2010.  That leaves a year and a half for the homebuilder marketing leaders to exploit the indecision of their competitors.

If we're not attempting to market through texting, we're not participating in the number one mobile phone activity of our consumers.  It would be like not employing an email marketing strategy, or not marketing on the Internet.

Just like the Internet advertising revolution of the last several years, those who adapted early, like Ryland Homes, now CalAtlantic Homes, reaped the benefit when others were paralyzed with indecision. CalAtlantic Homes may have been the first builder to commit to organic SEO while others didn't even know what SEO was.

Today the text revolution has begun.  Those who jump in and begin figuring it out will also reap the benefits and stand out amongst the competition while many others will choose the route of indecision.

Jim Adams - CEO
New Homes Directory.com



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