“YOU DO HAVE TO PROVIDE TRAINING, but it's going to have the biggest impact on the top quartile of salespeople.” —Jon Fogg, The Berke Group (Shown here, far right). Others include Bill Becker, William E. Becker Organization and other sales and marketing breakout session attendees. Photo: Jamie Windon The first indication of how much work builders have to do in sales and marketing came swiftly. Roughly 300 builder executives gathered in a General Session led by Jerry Shrair, CEO of Boiling Point. When the discussion turned to sales and marketing, Shrair asked: How many of you feel you know your customer?

One lonely hand went up.

During the Sales and Marketing sessions, more than 40 professionals got down into the weeds of where the discipline is missing the mark, leaving sales, savings, or both on the table. They sought solutions that both fattened the top and bottom lines, generating more sales while minimizing costs.

Suggestions touched on topics as diverse as brand strategy, point-of-view marketing, and buyer research and segmentation. The group then narrowed its focus to areas where they felt the greatest strides toward improved profitability could be had.

TOUGH LOVE FOR TALENT Session participants overwhelmingly considered builders' sales training programs to be inadequate, if not entirely absent. Several said they knew of builders who only hired so-called experienced salespeople and, therefore, made no investment in a structured training program.

Participants said a good training program would serve as continuing education. Follow-up training could include on-site meetings with sales managers, a mentoring program, or collaboration with vendors to better inform salespeople about the competitive advantages of the products in the homes they sell.

This gave rise to the idea of a certification system. Participants said that certification would provide accountability, something they felt was sorely missing. One suggestion for helping salespeople take more ownership was to incorporate an element of business training into the program.

However, a vocal part of the audience believed such discussion was a moot point if builders had the wrong people in place. “You do have to provide training,” explained Jon Fogg, a partner with The Berke Group and a Big Builder '08 Program Director. “But it's going to have the biggest impact on the top quartile of salespeople.”

Fogg argued that the 80-20 rule applied to most home builders in that 20 percent of a sales staff is responsible for 80 percent of sales and vice versa. According to Fogg, builders are better off cultivating top performers and saying to heck with the rest.

Some in the audience disagreed; they saw challenged performers as lacking the proper tools to deal with the market conditions. To that objection, Fogg directed attendees to proprietary research his colleagues had conducted (see sidebar).

Several participants suggested that performance goals, as well as behavior and talent targets, should be outlined in detail, helping hiring managers better evaluate candidates against a set of expectations.

BANG FOR THE BUCK The group saw an opportunity to move the needle on SG&A by reducing marketing and advertising expenditures. The consensus was that print advertising is dead, which left the Web as the go-to resource. They were aware of the growing importance of blogs, social networking sites such as Facebook and MySpace, and instant messaging. Yet no one offered insight into using these tools to drive business.