Social networks have changed the way people connect and share information on and offline. In the early part of the decade homebuilders argued that they were gaining incremental sales because of their Internet presence. Those days are long gone. A website and online marketing is a necessity to maintain market share. Today’s incremental sales online are made through social networks.
There was a time when it was regularly professed that a salesperson should be self-generating 20% of their sales center traffic. Common networking tools were expected to be used – requesting referrals, partnerships with local businesses, friends and family, community parties, among others.
Decreasing marketing budgets and decreasing sales volume need to bring about a renewed focus onto self-generated traffic. Undoubtedly, any salesperson will admit they have more available time than they had 3 years ago (when everyone had too much traffic to bother self-prospecting for more). Now is the time for focus on this “lost art.”
So how does one self-prospect today? I touched on a few of the old-stand-by’s above. All of these methods still work, and most work very well. However, I’d like to focus on a newer form of self-prospecting – one that can be done from the sales center – self-prospecting through social networking websites.
First, social media and social networking have not replaced traditional networking or self-prospecting. They are merely new tools and methods – sometimes more or less efficient than the traditional approaches. For some, the term “social networking” still conjures up images of poorly designed personal web pages full of teenage rants and inappropriate photo collections. While there’s still a good percentage of that going on, social networks are growing up. MySpace, Facebook, and LinkedIn are the most well known. Did you know that according to MySpace, more than half of their visitors are over the age of 35? Facebook started in 2004 and originally limited their membership to college students. Guess what? Those college students grew up, graduated, and got a job, but they didn’t stop using Facebook. Facebook is now open to anyone with an email address and a good percentage of young professionals continue to use it to keep in touch.
Today, I would recommend sticking to Facebook or LinkedIn for the new home business. MySpace, while the average age of the visitor is increasing, is not really much of a place for business, unless you’re selling a pop-culture product like music, skateboards, or cola.
So how does all of this relate to new home sales and self-prospecting? I’ll share one example here and follow-up with more applications in a later post.
You’re the Community Sales Counselor for a first-time buyer community. You’re not too much older than your buyer, so maybe you’re already a Facebook user. If you’re not, it’s easy and free to setup a profile regardless of your age. There’s a good chance that about half of your current buyers maintain some sort of online profile.
You create a Facebook profile describing your profession and your community. It also includes a friendly photo of you, your community, your sales center, your model, and a few photos of you with homeowners. It includes links back to the community page on your company website. These things give all visitors to your profile an accurate but positive view of both you and your community. The links make it easy for visitors to find more about your community, and your profile allows all visitors to contact you via email, or call the phone number you’ve listed to answer additional questions.
You speak to all of your current homeowners, asking them if they already participate on Facebook. For those who do, you connect your profiles online by “friending” them. You invite those who’re interested to sign up also and become your Facebook “friend.” You create a Facebook group to let all community homeowners join and easily connect with one another online. You update the group page every couple days with a steady stream of community progress updates and photos. The group page allows each person to broadcast communication to the other members using photos, videos, and messages about the community and whatever else they think the other members will appreciate. Members can comment or reply to these ‘posts’ as the conversation occurs online for everyone to see.
So how does this bring you new prospects? The power of online social networks comes with the exponential considerations. Wouldn’t you love it if you could guarantee that all of your buyers told all of their friends that they bought a new home from a helpful salesperson in this great new community? When they’re connected through a social network, they do this automatically as soon as you’re connected. Everyone connected with each of your new friends and group members will receive a notification of their new link with you and their membership in the new “Shady Acres Homeowners” group. Each of these new “2nd tier” connections is now a click away from all of this activity surrounding your community and two clicks away from your contact information.
While it’s not an acceptable practice to directly solicit your connections’ connections, you can easily remind your new friends and group members to invite their friends to join the group, attend the community party, or visit the models.
Your best possible outcome for an approach like this is the influx of numerous referral sales. Your worst case scenario is no new sales, but you’ve solidified your backlog by connecting them all. It’s much harder for a buyer to cancel when they’ve already made friends with their new neighbors!
The possibilities are truly tremendous. If you’re not familiar with Facebook, take your time and learn the site first. Spend some time looking at other profiles and groups to learn about acceptable behaviors, listen to what people are talking about, etc. Like most spaces in the online world, expect that you will have to ‘give’ before you ‘receive’.
In a future post I’ll share a couple other examples of how social networks could relate to specific community applications. Until then, I’d love to hear comments from anyone who’s experienced success with this type of self-prospecting approach.