A recap of online contributions to new home sales in 2020 and what to expect in 2021
Needless to say, 2020 caught the world off guard. While many industries suffered losses that may take years to recover from, there was one bright spot in the economy – home building. New home pending sales increased 45% year-over-year in November, according to Zonda. While there were many social and work-related factors driving that growth, there’s one role that was critical to facilitating it – the online sales specialist.
Online traffic to home builder websites peaked in May and June, increasing more than 70 percent year-over-year.* The only person both qualified and experienced in handling online traffic of this volume was the online sales specialist. While there were challenges in terms of scaling online sales programs in a matter of weeks, online sales specialists kept prospective buyers moving smoothly through the funnel, resulting in a record-breaking sales year.
As a result of increased lead conversions, online sales specialists enjoyed a year of higher compensation. Another benefit, in many cases, was that company leadership gained a clear understanding of what the role is and its potential to significantly impact the bottom line. Which brings us to the next point…
For the first time, online sales programs contributed over 50 percent of total sales volume for home builders in 2020! This is a 20 percent increase from the last benchmark set in 2018. With increased support for online sales, it will be interesting to see how that number changes in 2021.
For the first time, online sales specialists contributed over 50 percent of total sales volume for home builders in 2020.
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If 2020 was a roller coaster, online sales specialists were on for the wild ride. They hung on for dear life, ditching some of the important elements of the typical sales process in order to keep leads moving forward. While it was messy at times, it was survival mode. As we move into 2021; however, and our “new normal” takes shape, it will be necessary to revisit the foundational skills and training of online sales that constitute a successful follow-up program:
Unfortunately, there was no switch that turned 2020 off and 2021 on, so we’re still dealing with some of the same challenges (such as hesitation with in-person appointments, needing a new home asap, etc), and will continue to do so for a while. The key will be to re-introduce these foundational practices slowly, analyzing which will have the biggest impact on online sales and making them a priority. Our recommendation is to audit your program once every two weeks and make necessary adjustments.
Due to increased demand, decreased supply, and continuing health concerns, online sales specialists will need to make adjustments for selling in 2021. Think about your plan for the following:
Process – It used to be that one, non-responsive follow-up process worked for most leads. Not anymore. Follow-up processes will need to be as granular as your lead sources and community statuses. It will be critical to know what’s going on at each community on a daily basis, as well as which marketing campaigns are running. Things will change quickly so communication between departments is key.
Build Times – With new home starts pushed out to 2022 in some cases, it will be necessary to set expectations for build times. Work with other departments to develop new language so that everyone is on the same page when it comes to communicating when new homes will be ready. We don’t want the first human interaction with a customer to be one of disappointment. Work with marketing to communicate and set expectations for your future homeowners.
Staffing – Last year, many builders found themselves needing additional online sales support to handle lead volume. If you were a solo online sales specialist, you may find yourself in the position of trainer and coach for a new hire. If you talk the talk, walk the walk. Now is the time to brush up on those basic skills we discussed earlier and set the right example. Think about what your company can accomplish with two (or three!) of you practicing fundamentally solid online sales. (If you need a refresher, read Mike Lyon’s Browsers to Buyers: Proven Strategies for Selling New Homes Online.)
Lead Generation – We predict that lead volume may not be as frenetic, but it will definitely still be high through the spring of 2021. If your organization has not already hired additional online sales support, you will likely need to do that asap or shift the existing online sales specialist’s secondary responsibilities to other departments (like website or MLS management, social media, etc). The key to staying ahead of the curve over the next few months will be efficiencies in process on every level.
Management – 2021 will be the year for the online sales department to have a seat at the table along with onsite sales, marketing and operations. While many sales managers have congratulated themselves on having online sales program in place in 2020, it’s now time to give online sales specialists the consideration and support they need and deserve. Many in this role experienced extreme burnout last year, and leadership didn’t realize it. To managers – make sure the lines of communications are open beyond expecting weekly reports. Give online sales specialists the support they need to do their jobs well – including tools, technology and people. With 51 percent total sales contribution, they’ve proven themselves.
Speaking of 51 percent, where do we go from here? While leadership may expect that number to only increase in 2021, a more realistic perspective may be to look at the trajectory of 2019 and the lingering effects of 2020 and base this year’s goals off of an average of the two. While we don’t want to completely cast off 2020’s numbers as outliers, we must understand that corona conversions were not normal. The key to goal-setting in 2021 will be to re-evaluate the market every 90 days and adjust accordingly (keeping leadership in the loop!)
The key to online sales goal-setting in 2021 will be to re-evaluate the market every 90 days and adjust accordingly. #newhomesales
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Also, keep in mind that quality appointments become more valuable in high-demand situations. Quality over quantity!
By all predictions, 2021 will be another stellar year for new home sales, and for online sales specialists. The spotlight is on you, and as long as you remain nimble, focused on your top priorities, and speak up when you need support, you’ll come out on top.
*According to data from more than 50 Do You Convert builder partners
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