By Isaac Heimbinder. The home builder's search for a legitimate fit with the Internet has felt like the endless search for the Holy Grail. Along with other businesses, the home builder sought the dream of riches and the "customer for life," with improved profits generated from a continuous flow of sales of goods and services through the Internet. Many of us are now painfully aware of the flaw in this approach: Establishing customers for life takes time--possibly even as much as a decade--to accomplish and can't be handled merely by jumping blindly onto the Internet.
What the Web can do is dramatically improve traffic to sales centers, increase conversion rates, and improve customer satisfaction by enabling builders to stay connected with their customers through the entire homeownership cycle. That cycle includes searching for a home, buying a home, and then living well in that home. Each positive experience re-inforces the ties that bind. And the Web does it cheaper and better.
There are many Internet applications that promise improved processes and increased profitability for a builder by reducing mistakes, and improving purchasing efficiencies and cycle times. But most builders won't travel that road just yet for many reasons, not the least of which is the sophistication of the technology and the lack of compatibility with other builder systems. The good news is that builders don't need to be super techies to understand how Internet applications can improve customer satisfaction.
No builder should make a commitment to an Internet strategy without understanding the payoff. Here are some questions you should ask. Your answers will establish benchmarks in determining when and how to move forward to develop your Internet strategy:
It is very apparent from these results that Internet users represent a large segment of new-home buyers. These customers begin and reinforce their new-home search on the Internet. The majority of new-home buyers appear to be getting to your sales centers through real estate agents, who use computers and e-mail, and have Web sites. The data suggests that we need to reach both buyers and real estate agents to maximize our sales effort.
Builders can more effectively communicate with both by developing their Web sites based on the information needs of these groups and creating cost-effective e-mail follow-up programs. The Web user you are reaching also visits Internet news, information, and shopping sites. They expect any site they visit and hang around to be informative, efficient, and easy to use. Your home page is your "facade" on the Internet. Home buyers doing Internet research can't resist drilling down into an attractive site but will skip to another, more attractive site, just as a drive-by visitor will pass a visually unattractive model center.
With all the extensive capabilities of the Internet, builders have an opportunity to make a visitor's experience that of visiting with a virtual sales consultant rather than just reading a regurgitated sales brochure. Your Web site will tell your story effectively if you differentiate your company from the competition. Your company's unique qualities of dealing with your customers and the services you provide should set you apart.