Last August Robert Bowman looked at Charter Homes and Neighborhoods’ sales figures and knew that something new had to be done or the company’s sales would slip behind its 2010 numbers.

“As we rounded the corner [of the year] and headed toward the finish line we asked ourselves, ‘What is it going to take to change the game?’” Bowman, Charter’s president, remembered.

He had faith in the company’s products; it had been tweaking and perfecting those for years. And lowering home prices wasn’t the solution either.

“Buyers are just not motivated by that now,” he said. Customers weren’t responding to advertisements booming about deals of the century. They had heard that already from other builders, and it wasn’t helping.

“So the only other opportunity that we had left to rethink was how we motivate and work with sales people to get more sales,” Bowman said.

So the company launched a new sales effort to motivate its agents; mined its extensive customer database for the most likely buyers, targeting them for follow-up calls; and changed the sales atmosphere from doom and gloom to one of fun and optimism.

As a result, the Central Pennsylvania builder sold 30 homes in 30 days from mid-October to mid-November, and the accelerated pace has continued. The company’s closings are expected to be up nearly 19% in 2011 versus 2010, with 160 closings versus 135 last year.

“This was just remembering how great organizations sell their products,” said Bowman. “It took, and takes,  consistent daily effort to do the things we need to do, making positive impressions [on buyers], asking for the sale, following up, having compelling stories to tell [about products and the market] that aren’t built around discounts.”

Some specific ways Charter turned its sales around include:

  • It started a competition among the sales agents, dividing them into two teams to encourage teamwork among them.

  • It tapped into a customer database that its agents actively manage. The database includes specific information on every potential customer, including what they say they need, what they are looking for, why they are moving, when they think they are going to move, and a suggestion on what Charter’s next step should be in contacting them. The system allowed Charter to create an A list of prospects to target those who didn’t have a house to sell and were ready to move right away.

  • Next it set up three nights of telephone blitzes to the prospects. Agents didn’t talk about home price discounts; rather they shared news about new models, new floor plans, and community events. “We got appointments, and those appointments turned into sales. And that got us some momentum,” Bowman says.

  • There was a focused effort on making all contacts with potential buyers both on the phone and at sales centers a positive experience that offered a solution to any buying barriers customers might be worrying about. For example, Charter has mortgage experts either available at sales centers or on-call at all times to overcome worries potential buyers might have that they can’t get a mortgage. If a mortgage agent isn’t around right away, sales agents make sure that the prospect is contacted by one soon, rather than leaving it up to the customer to make that call. “It’s a whole different experience now when you enter our model homes,” says Bowman. “Our sales people know what needs to be done.”

  • It made sure that the rest of the organization worked to support the sales team in any way they could. “We really said to the whole team, ‘We are all in sales,’” Bowman said. “There is so much positive energy inside the organization now."

Teresa Burney is a senior editor for Builder magazine. 

Learn more about markets featured in this article: Harrisburg, PA.