Sales success doesn’t come easy, but it also isn’t happenstance … especially during tough market conditions

By Bob Schultz, Contributing Editor | July 29, 2020




Market conditions can change quickly and dramatically. COVID-19 is the definitive example of that dynamic. 

It’s been said that luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.

In April, I presented the story of Ryan Cantrell, founder of Trendsetter Homes, in Springfield, Mo., who, in less than six months, transformed his business to become a significant force in his market.

But what if Ryan had been faced with COVID-19 in March a year ago, when what was then K.R. Cantrell Homes was building about 45 homes annually with no model or sales office or dedicated sales staff?

So, I asked Ryan, hypothetically, what he likely would have thought and done in March of 2019 if suddenly faced with a global pandemic and its effects.

His answer: “I would have scrambled to do everything possible to keep selling as many homes as my competitors, and I might have gotten lucky and succeeded.”

Redefining Sales Success

For decades I’ve proclaimed that the success of home builder sales operations shouldn’t be gauged solely on accomplishments during great market conditions, but rather on the competence of the sales team’s ability to perform effectively under adverse market conditions.

Having been actively involved in four previous housing recessions, I know market conditions can change rapidly and dramatically, and COVID-19 is the definitive example of that dynamic.

In my first meeting with Ryan, he told me he wanted to grow his company into something of significance, so I asked a few fundamental but important questions that I have been asking builders for decades:

  • Doing what you are doing, the way it’s currently being done, how many sales—and, as a result, how much revenue and profit—are you missing?
  • Why are you missing them?
  • What actions must be taken to generate those sales?

To Increase Home Sales: Start the Breathing

Then we discussed an important mindset: a mission to increase sales revenue while decreasing unnecessary costs, the first step being to quickly “start the breathing” and “stop the bleeding.”

“Start the breathing” means to immediately increase sales. Because the sales team recruited for the new-look Trendsetter Homes was brand new to on-site new-home sales, they had no preconceived idea of how things should be done.

Implementing my 10-step recruiting system, they all arrived highly coachable and open to learning, practicing, and developing extraordinary interactive sales conversations with customers.

Here’s how my recruiting process works: Interested applicants are ranked by their responses to a pre-interview questionnaire, and those who meet the criteria are sent a sales script to video record and return—the first test of their coachability.

Next, candidates selected for a 90-day probationary period are immediately immersed in The Official New Home Sales Development System—Essential Level Series Part 1, an intense education and training that is the only home builder–specific curriculum available online.

A significant part of this series, which I present through interactive video conferences, involves the practice, drill, and rehearsing of scripts and demonstrating competence through scoring and critique.

This coaching and practice provided the bench strength required to quickly double Ryan’s sales team from one community manager to two full-time community managers and three full-time sales associates.

One of the most important statistics coming out of this training regimen is that “brand new salespeople” within their first 90 days on site were accomplishing sales on the customer’s first visit and getting reservation deposits that converted within a few days.

In addition to increasing the monthly sales pace from four sales per month to 10 sales a month, the big payoff came during the height of the coronavirus shutdown in April and May of this year, where the average was 14 sales per month! With that, Trendsetter opened a second model home and sales gallery in Hickory Valley in the midst of the pandemic.

I guarantee you that success was not the result of Ryan “getting lucky.”

Retail vs. Real Estate

In addition to sales team training, Ryan developed and implemented a customer-friendly Seamless Path to New-Home Ownership including TV displays in the sales gallery to present and enable interactive floor plans, virtual walkthroughs, and home-site maps.

Trendsetter Homes is now in the retail business, not the real estate business. It was the only builder in Springfield with a fully merchandised model home and a warm, inviting sales gallery open seven days a week with dedicated Trendsetter Homes sales representatives.

Trendsetter's sales office | Courtesy Trendsetter Homes

Digital screens and an inviting space for personal presentations in the sales office were also used for the virtual presentations.

As this sales culture and operation were being developed, providing both competence and confidence, this new sales team was perfectly poised to proactively and quickly adapt to the COVID-19 disruption, namely to immediately interact with potential homebuyers through live virtual previews.

Using scripts from The Official New Home Sales Development System, the team created a live, interactive virtual preview that mimics the presentation they would normally give a prospective buyer in the model home, and used virtual reality walkthroughs and photorealistic renderings to showcase the 11 models available in their Chelsee Collection. These tools delivered a more comprehensive and in-depth look at Trendsetter Homes and helped the salespeople perfect their presentations.

As the pandemic essentially shut down local real estate agents from showing and selling resales or other builders’ new homes, Trendsetter also created an email campaign designed for Realtors and agents announcing its live, interactive virtual previews for their use to schedule previews for their clients in the market for a home, supplementing the efforts of the in-house sales team.

The challenge created by COVID-19 is proof positive that, with best practices diligently implemented, the Trendsetter Homes team will continue to improve their processes and systems to increase their presence and market share in Springfield and beyond.