The home building industry is always competitive, but when sales results slow down marketers need to think more inventively, measure their efforts more accurately, and invest their resources even more carefully. After coaching and training over 100 new-home marketers over the years, I've identified five common challenges marketers face that prevent them from reaching their full potential. When impacted by one (or more) of these, it hinders results not only for the individual but also the entire sales and marketing effort.
No one is perfect (especially your author), and none of these fall under the "set it and forget it" category of thinking. They require continual refinement and efforts at growth. If they are ignored, they will slowly succumb to atrophy just as an unused limb would. As I go through each, I will also offer some potential solutions that have helped others who find an area particularly challenging, but the constraints of a single article don't allow me to be fully exhaustive of every opportunity.
Pitfall No. 1: A lack of understanding of their current marketplace and the opportunity available within it.
For any marketer to be successful, they need to truly understand their customers. Who are they, and what do they care about? Knowing your competition is also key; how do you differentiate yourselves from them? A strong understanding of what you uniquely offer your buyers and what it takes to connect with them are the foundation of an effective marketing strategy.
One way to gain this knowledge is by conducting customer surveys and focus groups with both existing and potential customers. This will give you insights into their shopping processes, motivations, preferences, fears, and frustrations. At the very least, spend several days each month in model homes listening to customers interact with your sales team. You can then use these insights to tailor your messaging so that it addresses your audiences’ needs more effectively. I used to require any new hire to shadow one of our home buyers through their entire journey after they signed a purchase agreement so they would have an intimate firsthand understanding of the experience. It's the next best thing after building a new home for yourself.
You must also have an in-depth understanding of local market forces (demand and supply of homes at all price points and geographies) in order to know if your efforts are likely to be rewarded. Are there too many competing communities nearby that serve a similar customer? Is the market about to become saturated and oversupplied by finished inventory? Or, perhaps there is a missed opportunity to serve an underrepresented part of the market. Too often a marketer blindly accepts a new community handed to them at face value and assumes that if they advertise it well, that it will exceed its sales goal.
Performing a regular in-depth competitive market analysis (CMA) is key but can also be incredibly time intensive—even for those who know exactly what they are doing. I highly recommend connecting with a company that can quickly provide comprehensive real estate data intelligence to help expedite your efforts.
Pitfall No. 2: They misunderstand the marketing data generated within their own organization, what the metrics mean, and how they apply to the business of getting homes sold.
There is no shortage of jargon and terminology today in digital marketing—from your CRM (customer relationship management tool), your website, and the individual ad platforms—but there is no avoiding them. Too often marketers put off committing them to memory, let alone understanding them enough to clearly articulate how they impact results to others.
To become a proficient marketer in this industry, you need to understand the differences between “clicks” and “conversions” and “impressions” and “engagement rates.” You should strive to become comfortable with terms like cost per click (CPC), cost per acquisition (CPA), return on ad spend (ROAS), click-through rate (CTR), etc. Furthermore, it is important to remember that each platform has its own metrics, and all of them need regular attention and optimization. Also, don’t forget about the metrics that are not monitored within each platform but instead serve as indicators of success, such as the number of new leads from a certain campaign and the return on those leads in terms of appointments or sales.
Unlike when I started in 2003, there are now countless websites and resources that offer both free and paid opportunities for industry-specific training on it all. There are also great industry events where you can network and absorb knowledge from those with experience. Listening to podcasts also can provide learning opportunities. You can't learn a foreign language without starting with vocabulary words, and marketing is in many ways a foreign language. Don't avoid learning—and improving—your vocabulary and definitions.
Pitfall No. 3: They struggle to analyze the data in context to see how it works together to generate sales results—the full customer journey.
Even after they understand the individual metrics, marketers are too often unaware of the deep insights that data can yield and overestimate their own ability to interpret insights based on the data they have. While it is necessary to understand the basics of collecting and organizing your data, without an understanding of how to draw out its meaning you will struggle to gain momentum and traction from your efforts.
Data can easily inundate or even paralyze you. To help get around this, I recommend charting out the customer journey or funnel into very basic categories: traffic, lead, appointment, and sale. Of course, you can get as granular as you like, but I find that I rarely need to when I analyze a struggling builder or community.
Once you have your categories laid out, you can look at each one to find opportunities for improvement. For example, if traffic is low but the conversion rate from visitor to lead is high (over 1.5%), then it may be a case of simply needing more people in the top of the funnel or more effective advertising methods if your budget is healthy. Another common situation is for lead levels to be very high, but appointments scheduled from those leads are abysmal (under 10%). In this situation, you must determine if lead quality or the efforts of your sales team is to blame.
Here's a quick but powerful tip when performing this analysis: Start at the top of the funnel and work down. As soon as you hit an area where your metrics are off from industry benchmarks, or your company's historical averages, stop. Don't get distracted by any data points further down the funnel as solving the root issue may also correct those as well.
Pitfall No. 4: They have difficulty communicating and getting support from their manager, company ownership, or other department leaders.
Having a solid understanding of your data, as well as a clear plan for success, is only half the battle. Being able to communicate—and defend—your choices in terms that make sense to ownership or leadership is just as important.
First and foremost, I recommend building relationships and proving your value in big or small areas with those who have decision-making authority. I call this developing your "street cred" within the organization. Once they know who you are and what you do, it's much easier to get buy-in on decisions when they understand how the strategy will lead to increased sales results. Second, be sure that all objectives, suggestions, recommendations, etc., come with data to back it up so there isn't room for misunderstanding or skepticism. Tell a story with the data to make even complex ideas come across clearly to your audience.
Always include a price tag—the financial impact, positive or negative, that your idea may impact—if you want to be taken seriously by ownership or the CEO. It can be scary to put your neck on the line by setting revenue targets from your projects, but that's what it takes to get attention from the top. Know your data, be confident in your decisions, and watch your influence on the organization grow over time.
A great way to improve in this area is to network with other marketers and leaders you respect from other organizations. Practice your pitches and how you would address likely objections in a safe environment. Ask the tough questions: What would you do if you were in my shoes, and how would you handle pushback?
Pitfall No. 5: They can't seem to get a high volume of work done in a timely manner with an acceptable level of quality.
Working smarter, rather than harder, is often the key to success in this situation (to be fair, I have met some people who simply refuse to put in the effort required). First and foremost is organization—creating systems and processes so that everything you need to do on a daily basis is streamlined and automated as much as possible. This will give you the margin to begin working on bigger and longer projects that keep getting put on the back burner. It also helps to set clear goals and timeline expectations with yourself as well as any other stakeholders involved in the project. That way, everyone is on the same page and there's no question when it comes to what needs to be accomplished by when.
Second is prioritization—focus your attention on the things that will have the most impact on results at any given time. Third is delegation—determine what tasks can be done by other team members or even outsource them if it makes sense for your budget and isn't a key differentiator for your builder. And finally, practice self-discipline—hold yourself or your team accountable for getting the work done when you set out to do it. This includes taking breaks and rewarding yourself for meeting your goals, too!
I highly recommend a publicly visible (to the right people in your company, not to everyone) project/task list that has quick notes and updates connected to it. This allows others to understand the volume of work you or your department are tackling, as well as the current priorities. If you don't let that other vice president know about the 29 tasks to be completed by tomorrow, why shouldn't they be surprised when you give them "that look" when requesting a few extra hours of your time this afternoon? Let them gain an understanding of how much actual work goes into your role without using it as a hill to die on. Again, I know this can be scary, but the accountability of it being public often helps individuals to stay on track.
Did one of these five pitfalls sound familiar to you? You can absolutely turn that weakness into an opportunity for strength and increased success. With the right level of focus, organization, and willingness to learn with humility you can develop strategies to overcome these common pitfalls and increase sales results for your business. Don't be afraid to ask for help, as every successful marketer has been in a similar situation before and understands the struggle. We've got your back and are here to support you as we head into what is likely going to be a very challenging year—you just have to reach out.