In a strong market, the sales process is almost surreal. The conversation is heavily lop-sided; the salesperson does the talking and makes the decisions while the customer just goes with the flow. Sales counselors can seemingly do no wrong. They are in a zone, and they are in control. In fact, when a market is white-hot, customers might purchase homes that do not truly meet their needs just so they do not get left behind. In these cases, sales counselors can sell a home to a customer without really understanding that customer’s needs, wants, and desires.
In tough markets, salespeople have a new demand placed on them – they must truly and deeply understand their individual customers. In this more challenging environment, sales professionals cannot get away with making assumptions; they must really get to know and understand the prospect, and they must do so quickly. In a tough market, customers have less patience; their fears affect many aspects of the sale, including their own attention spans.
Most salespeople simply do not question in a strategic way. They have not sat down and planned the questions that they intend to ask during the sales presentation. If they did, the same questions wouldn’t come up in every sales conversation. These “same” questions tend to be checklist-type questions that cover bedroom count, price range, qualification ability, and so on. The answers to these questions are important to know, but if salespeople stop here, they are ill-equipped to advance the sale because they do not have a deep understanding of their prospects.
The problem with this kind of “just-the-facts” approach is that these questions don’t yield particularly productive answers. They are typically close-ended questions that generate one-word responses. If a salesperson asks ten close-ended questions about bedrooms, price range, etc, he or she is only going to receive ten isolated pieces of information. However, the salesperson that asks questions that are strategic and open-ended might find that the answers yield a much deeper understanding of the customer.
For example, a sales counselor might ask, “How many bedrooms are you looking for?” This is important information to ascertain, but the question is closed and brings about a one-word answer: “Four.” However, if the question is posed as, “Tell me what’s most important to you in a new home. I want to be able to point you in the right direction,” the answer will be something like this: “We’re looking for a one-story because I have a bum knee. We need at least three bedrooms but preferably four, so I can have a home office. We’d love to have a big kitchen that opens to a family room. And a three-car garage would be wonderful if we can get it.”
Note that the open-ended question elicited seven significant pieces of information. That’s the beauty of it. We learn so much more when we do not limit the prospect to a one-word response.
What does all this have to do with selling in a tough market? Plenty. As sales counselors, we need every advantage we can get in order to stand out and not be eliminated from contention. When we know our customers at a deeper level than our competitors do, we will discover why our homes and our location meet their very specific needs while the competitor does not. Then, if we get caught in an incentive battle with a different community, we have the upper hand. If customers take the competitor’s incentive, they also have to take the competitor’s inferior offering!