Jason Forrest

New-home salespeople are in the middle of a perfect storm. The majority of builders are unsure of what to do when the tax credit expires April 30. They are focused on outside circumstances like getting the tax credit extended and reducing training budgets at a time when they most need an elite sales team. It's no wonder the feeling in the industry is so gloomy.

Selling on circumstances like incentives and tax credits is a recipe for high cancellation rates; buyers easily will be swayed when a better deal comes along. However, it'll be a lot harder for a client to walk away from the home that best suits their emotional and circumstantial needs. The desire to improve a person's life has more influence over the buying decision than any other factor. If you are the best at identifying and solving a customer's problem on an emotional and logical level, then you will be at the top, regardless of market conditions.

According to Stephen Brooks, CEO of Grand Homes, “builders are either going to have to decrease prices by $8,000 to compensate for the absence of the tax credit, or they're going to have to learn to sell emotionally—the way they should.”

While there is no substitute for extensive training, here are a few tips on selling emotionally, solving a client's problems, and creating urgency:

Selling emotionally. Your customer will likely argue if you talk about increasing interest rates, but they'll have a much harder time if you let them chew on the desires that are most important to them. For example, that they said they wanted to be settled in before their children start school. People remember emotions, not facts and figures. Focus on creating images of family game nights and playing with the children in the back yard.

Problem solving. Sometimes salespeople can get lost in the mix of a customer's home search because they present a solution before they really understand what the customer needs and why they need it. So ask questions to uncover what's wrong with the client's current home and community, why they need a change, and what you have that will improve their lives. Finally, solve the customer's mission to improve their life—addressing both the whats and the whys behind it.

*estimated Source: U.S. Census Bureau

Creating urgency. See everyone as a buyer—even those who come in saying they just want decorating ideas. Get them talking about their current home and the others they're “just looking” at. Get them to open up.

According to my research, 65 percent to 70 percent of all traffic units are “just looking,” and the majority of reported sales come from the remaining 30 percent to 35 percent who were already planning to buy. So when the circumstances driving them, such as the tax credit, go away, then you need to be able to convert the buyers who didn't come in with their pocketbooks open. These are the ones who will eventually buy when the reward of the new home outweighs the consequences of staying put.

Commission sales is about converting the “just looking” buyers, not just facilitating contracts with the ones who already want to buy.

It's tough out there, but relying on any circumstance to sell for you is a shaky strategy. Focus instead on mastering the sales process, and strive to find out the customer's problems to sell the solution emotionally. Then after, and only after, you've demonstrated why you have the solution, be the best at holding the customer accountable to achieving their mission. If you're not the best, then invest in the training that will get you there. This is what can separate the market-controlled salespeople from the sales professionals.

Jason Forrest is president of Shore Forrest Sales Strategies and former national director of sales development for MDC Holdings/Richmond American Homes. He can be reached at jason@shoreforrest.com.