This will be the first post in a 5 part series outlining the position of the Online Sales Counselor. For many – this is still a fairly new concept so I wanted to review the best practices for setting up this postition.

The Online Sales Counselor (OSC) – a.k.a. Internet Concierge, Online Community Specialist, New Home Consultant, etc. – is the person who ties the whole Online Sales Program together. This position is a new breed of sales agent; one who uses technology, e-mail and phone skills to qualify leads, set appointments and communicate the builder’s message. Without a dedicated individual, your leads will go stale and eventually find their way to your competitors.

Most sales managers ask, “Why do I need a dedicated person to handle the leads from our website? We have salespeople who are paid to do that.” Primarily, it’s because most onsite sales agents are too busy with the walk-in traffic and current deals to be concerned with qualifying a lead and doing persistent follow-up with “potential” buyers. Just think of the laundry list of responsibilities onsite agents have for each home they sell. And these responsibilities are necessary to hold the deal together so they can get paid. They feel like they must spend their time concentrating on the buyers at their doorstep. Responding to and following up with leads ranks low on the priority list. This attitude (good or bad) is understandable.

Instead of fighting an uphill battle to change how an onsite agent thinks, you need to concentrate one individual’s energy on qualifying and converting all the leads for all your communities and pay them a bonus on their success.

Key Benefits of an OSC

There are four key benefits to implementing a dedicated person to handle your leads:

  • Immediate response will increase your conversion rate
  • Unbiased qualification speeds up home search
  • Continual follow-up builds trust before initial appointment
  • A focus on setting appointments accelerates the sales process

Immediate Response

This is the number one factor that will increase the number of conversions from a lead to a sale. Online shoppers expect immediate follow-up. An OSC has the time to meet or exceed these expectations and almost every time will do a better job than the traditional agent.

Unbiased Qualification

An OSC is only concerned about qualifying customers and setting appointments at the community that best fits their needs. This style of informational selling puts the customer at ease and is seen as a true benefit. One thing that slows down the buying process is when leads inevitably go to a neighborhood that does not meet their needs. When this happens, most onsite sales agents are not concerned about finding them the right home or community if they can’t sell it to them. An OSC can be sure to set qualified appointments at the perfect community based on each customer’s needs.

Consistent Follow-up

By responding quickly, sending customized e-mails and establishing a line of communication based on permission, customers become familiar with the builder and the builder’s main selling features. By the time they do visit the sales agent at the community, they feel like old friends. In fact, most customers have had 5 to 7 encounters – including e-mails, phone calls and website visits – before they step foot onsite. This build up of trust increases the likelihood of a sale. Leads handled by an OSC are three times more likely to write a contract than walk-in traffic. They also have a higher tendency to write on the first visit.

Focus on Setting Appointments

As Myers Barnes states, “New home sales is all about the acceleration business.” An intense focus on setting the appointment speeds up the sales process and will take the buyer “out of the market.” One of the biggest challenges when working with online shoppers is getting them out from behind the safety of their computer and into your model home. By starting a one-to-one communication and using well-crafted e-mails and scripts, an OSC will motivate them to visit the onsite agent in the model. They can sell without “selling,” the whole time weaving a message of uniqueness, urgency and value into their communications.

I hope that by now you see the value of having a dedicated OSC. For those of you who still need proof, just look at what all the national builders are doing. They have implemented online sales programs to capture the leads and they have a team of OSCs handling these leads. It is obviously working for them. In fact, as the market becomes more competitive, builders are starting to take notice and implement these programs to convert more browsers into buyers.

Up Next – Part 2: OSC Qualifications and Characteristics

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