Roy Scott

Sales consultants advising home building CEOs about their salesforces have a buzzworthy catch phrase, “You were born with two ears and one mouth, and you should use them in that proportion.”

Harsh? Maybe. But to sell in today’s housing market, salespeople need to start conversations with clients, learn about them, build relationships, and by doing all of that, sell the right house to the right buyer, home building sales consultants say.

Customers don’t want to feel hustled, says Jon Fogg, former vice president of sales for Centex Corp. and now a partner at consulting firm The Berke Group in Atlanta.

“Customers have told us they are offended by this process and would like [salespeople] to spend time learning about them and their problems, not dump a bunch of features and benefits on them,” Fogg says.

Potential buyers also don’t want to hear about the builder’s brand, says Berke Group founder and CEO Martin Freedland.

“They don’t give a damn; it’s the nicest way I can say it,” Freedland says.

While sales traffic is down from the boom years of 2003 to 2005, there are still people walking model homes and checking out communities. And it’s not just for their health. People still have to move and are still buying homes, though clearly not in the same numbers as a few years ago.

The trick, says Mike Benshoof, a partner at home building consultancy SMA Consulting in Orlando, Fla., is to find out why people are shopping and sell to that. Each buyer has his or her reason for buying a house. And the only way to find out why a person is walking model homes is to talk to them. More to the point, to listen to them talk and let them tell you why they want to buy a home, says Benshoof, former director of analysis for the NAHB Economics Group.

“Find out what the real need is for somebody to buy something,” he says. “That’s how you overcome objections and indifference. Most of the salespeople out there right now have no clue how to overcome indifference.”

Sounds relatively simple. But a study by The Berke Group, published in March 2007, found that 50 percent to 70 percent of builder on-site salesforces lacked “the personality and talent requirements to sell in a competitive environment,” Freedland says.

Selling homes with a system that worked wonders during the boom years, by greeting prospective clients, qualifying them, and constantly trying to close during initial conversations is now a doomed strategy, Freedland says.

“You can go through that crack system with them and they’ll say, ‘Thank you very much,’ and head down the road to see what kind of deal they can get there,” he says.

The Berke Group’s assessment, for which it collected data from 49 home builders, found that four ­personality traits are consistently and highly predictive of sales ­success.

Good salespeople scored high on sociability, rapid-fire problem solving, and idea productivity, one’s natural ability to produce ideas and brainstorm. The best salespeople also scored in the mid-range in assertiveness. They must be aggressive enough to follow-up with clients, but not to the point of being pushy and poor listeners, the study states.

Learn more about markets featured in this article: Atlanta, GA.