Now, it's all on you.

We've been talking to home building company leaders, and their focus is clear, unequivocal, and relentlessly determined.

  1. Sales
  2. Execution
  3. Precise product mix
  4. Cunning land positioning

We'll laser in on these urgent priorities--and how strategic leaders can empower their teams to excel under pressure--in our timely Housing Leadership Summit, "2020 Foresight: How Leaders Shape What's Next." You can register now for HLS here.

Each of these four imperatives connects with all of the others, inseparably. Still, each gets its own intensified priority focus as a still robust stream of constructive, favorable fundamental conditions and variables mentioned above sits atop a roiling array of uncertainties--and with them, the certainty of "headline risk"--that cloud the weeks, months, and year or two ahead.

For home building leaders, the moment characterizes itself as one that eliminates anything fancy, anything that's not crystal clear, anything that is not about aligning all systems--with practically no tolerance for failure or margin of error--on outcomes.

Selling season, for companies who aim to live to tell the tale of surviving and thriving through what's setting up to be another bruising test of both their model and their mettle, needs to be exactly that. Selling.

One trusted advisor to many of the builders for many years puts it this way.

"This is not what [many home building execs] are used to, but some are really good at," she says. "Things are not terrible, and they're not great. It's a grueling, grind-it-out time, and they're going to have to work with that."

At the high-level of home building strategic leadership, they use a highly technical term to describe the blend of tactics, strategy, and character they'll draw on. "Back to basics."

This boils down to a few important principles for leaders right now, on the eve of a 90-day dash that--for at least a number of smaller and medium-sized, tightly capitalized firms that may have gotten a little aggressive with their land commitments heading into the beginning of 2018--can make or break their ability to shape what's next for themselves and their teams.

One principle, particularly for medium and smaller volume builders, concerns margins. The operational capacity to lower price, shrink gross margins, and chase pace and volume to drive cash flow--is not a game everybody can, nor should, play. Others who do it in your submarkets, and succeed with that plan, will affect you, and exert pressure, especially where product lines overlap. Still, that's not a reason to go toe-to-toe in that way. The opportunity, for at least some players who are well-capitalized and disciplined, will be to counter-punch the pace-for-margins tactic, and dial up focus on customer care, satisfaction and experience.

When it comes to synchronizing sales, operational excellence, compelling product and community mix, and a smooth balance of lot pipeline and inventory turns, another principle may be helpful.

Everybody is a customer. Everybody is a stakeholder. Your home buying customer, certainly and obviously. Your team members, perhaps less evidently. Your trade partners. Your points of sales contact. Your mortgage finance teams. Your boards of directors, of investors. Your land sellers.

Each of them--with respect to you and your interests, skills, values, and style as leaders--is on a journey. With you, or in the Spring 2019, with your competition--resales, single-family rental communities.

For each of them, you must--to borrow from John Maeda's rules of simplicity--eliminate the obvious, friction, and add the meaningful, delight.

This is why, for true north guidance for home building's strategic leaders on this notion of how to affect the linkages around you to give you control to "shape what's next" we're honored to have with us as an HLS keynote and advisor, Joseph Michelli.

Now, before we dive further into Joseph's credentials, let me share with you, verbatim, what one regional home building CEO told us about HLS and its focus on customer care and home builders' imperative to create a positive and memorable, i.e. "legendary" customer experience in the journey, from dreaming, to exploring, to purchasing, through to the close, and move-in.

"I don't want to hear about the customer journey from a business strategist who's figured out how to funnel a consumer 15 minutes ahead of their purchase of a cup of coffee," he says. "Our customer journey starts [seven or more] months and months ahead of the actual sale, and during that time, we experience personnel changes, operational shifts, mortgage finance ups and downs, materials price volatility, and other changes. We need to hear from someone who understands a home building leader's world when it comes to the customer journey."

Now, let me tell you a little about Joseph Michelli.

Yes, he's a best-selling author, and his client list includes Ritz Carlton, Starbucks, Zappos, Mercedes, and other blue-chip enterprises who've distinguished themselves as leaders in seizing on discipline and leadership to create legendary customer experience by focusing on human beings' journey across need, desire, aspiration, and self-fulfillment. <

More important, for purposes of a Housing Leadership Summit experience we want to make "legendary" for home building's strategic leaders, Joseph Michelli has been living, breathing, sleeping, and eating the world that's in such sharp focus for home builders right now: the home buyer's journey."

Within the past few weeks, Joseph has been on the ground with one of the Pacific Northwest's leading private home builders, working with the leadership team, conducting focus-groups, listening, learning, and applying principles he's seen work before to sync up an enterprise's discrete ecosystem of stakeholders into a coherent force whose focus is each home buying customer's year-plus long journey, from inkling through ownership.

"So many builders sell, sell, sell, and once they complete the transaction part and get the order, many wash their hands of the relationship, and move on to the next deal," Michelli tells us as we discuss how the journey map for home buying differs so dramatically from other consumer purchases, not least of which in its timeline. "It's after the order, after the deposit that so much of a home buyer's pain occurs, during the building process, or during the financing process. Many builders miss both the opportunity and the expectations people have regarding the relationship they want with their builder."

For several years, Michelli has been working with Clayton Homes, with special focus on the operational linkage between a buyer's journey and the sprawling enterprise's team members--at the factories, at the distribution nodes, at the delivery point, throughout the stream of value creation.

"We've realized that to reach our goal of creating a world-class customer experience, we have to create an equally world-class team member experience," Keith Holdbrooks, president of manufacturing at Clayton Homes home building operations in Knoxville, Tenn., and a client for several years of Joseph Michelli. Michelli writes here:

Right after reading Driven to Delight, these Clayton leaders approached me to help them on their tireless journey to customer experience excellence. Although I’d heard of Clayton, I really didn’t know much about them when they first contacted me. I knew they were primarily in the manufactured housing sector and that they were a Berkshire Hathaway Company. Having worked for International Dairy Queen (another Berkshire Hathaway Company), I reached out to leaders at Dairy Queen and sought as much input as possible in advance of a meeting with leaders at Clayton.

After several calls where Clayton leaders exuded a passion for people, I decided to head to their corporate headquarters and a manufacturing plant to conduct due diligence before agreeing to consult on their behalf.

The Journey
It’s been a couple of years since those early meetings. I reflect back on my journey with Clayton and marvel at how much they have accomplished from the perspective of:

  • A powerful customer experience vision map
  • An inspiring customer experience mantra
  • Specialized customer journey maps
  • Outstanding Net Promoter Score™ results
  • Cutting-edge customer experience training tools

For housing's leaders, have a look at how Mercedes-Benz USA CEO Steve Cannon attests to the value Joseph Michelli has brought to an organization focused on a "legendary" customer experience at a time both macro conditions and micro competitive dynamics have become ever more challenging:

One person who took note early on was Joseph Michelli, who approached me about capturing our quest to put our customers first in all that we do. We had enlisted him to help us benchmark "best of the best" customer experience providers, and he believed that learning about our journey could help other business leaders who wanted to move their product-centered brands in that direction of customer-centric experiences. Joseph has a strong track record when it comes to helping brands and leaders discover how to deliver and make sense of the challenges those leaders face when they aspire to deliver exceptional customer experiences."

At a moment where selling amounts to just about everything for home builders large and small, we're honored to enlist the assistance of a person who's made it his life's work and passion to be helpful.

Register here now for HLS, May 13-15, Ritz Carlton, Laguna Niguel, Calif.