As the critically important spring selling season looms on the horizon, builders are feeling even more pressure to nail the sale. Some are responding with an increased emphasis on empowering their best and brightest salespeople—whether that's by ramping up training or by engaging in internal mentoring initiatives. To incorporate what they see as an added aid, The Athena Group turned to Sonoma Partners for information technology services designed to enhance sales and customer relationship management.

As a developer of residential real estate with active projects in the metro areas of New York, Boston, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, and Washington, D.C., Athena historically managed each project independently and admits that, prior to last spring, few centralized controls were in place. “From a management perspective, we felt there was a lot of risk in that regard,” says Harold Willig, senior controller. “We looked for a way that we could control the pricing, control the increases, and manage the incentives.”

SALES SUPPORT: Harold Willig, senior controller of The Athena Group, trains Alexandra Engler, project manager, on how to use customer relationship management software designed for home builders and condo developers. Courtesy the Athena Group At the same time, Athena recognized the need to add organization and structure to their sales systems. “It's been said that an organized salesperson won't sell and that a successful salesperson won't be organized,” says Willig. But that didn't keep Athena from seeking the best of both worlds.

Looking for an opportunity to manage leads, manage the sales flow, and track what happens to the potential customer, they integrated Chicago-based Sonoma Partners' CRM Elements for Real Estate, a “custom off-the-shelf” software system. CRM Elements is built on top of the Microsoft Dynamics CRM platform and is accessible from Microsoft Outlook and the Internet so builders can quickly get up and running without a lot of end-user training, according to Mike Snyder, principal of Sonoma Partners.

“Nearly 90 percent of the [companies] I speak with rely on either Excel or Outlook to keep track of sales leads and monitor the sales process,” Snyder says. “These programs help organize data, but they don't necessarily help you analyze it.”

Willig spent the latter months of 2006 training Athena's project teams for the application and says the company's systems are already benefiting from the implementation.

In effect, the customized system they integrated, became an “electronic filing cabinet” of information that brings everyone from the sales agent to the settlement coordinator to the same page—increasing productivity and customer responsiveness. “Even with something like the contract, we scan it in and it's there. It's stored within the system. If anyone needs to see it, we have it. We generate the contract from there. It eliminates the manual process of trying to generate the contract.”

Managers and sales agents alike are benefiting from their newfound ability to track inventory, track productivity, and then to analyze consumer trends as a result of the flexibility in real-time reporting.

In addition, sales managers are able to closely track and guide the productivity of salespeople by establishing specific tasks and parameters. “One example is, if someone logs on to our Web site, a task automatically pops up for the appropriate salesperson to follow up with that potential buyer,” says Willig. Most importantly, during a time when every potential lead is critical, managers can see, in real time, what the open leads are and who is responding to them.

“It's not going to replace sales training, but it's already supporting the way a sales manager wants salespeople to do their jobs,” Willig says.

Learn more about markets featured in this article: Houston, TX.