FloorPop -  Internet Marketing that Works, January 7, 2004

Vol. 3, Issue 10 - Do a colleague a favor and forward them this newsletter. Subscribe to this newsletter

Copyright (C) 2003 Blair Kuhnen.  All rights reserved. May be reproduced in any medium for non commercial purposes as long as attribution is given.

Working With Online Builder Portals

Builder portals are an important source of online leads. They let buyers go online to see listings, floor plans, and neighborhood information for multiple builders in a given market. The leaders in this field are HomeBuilder.com ( www.homebuilder.com), NewHomeSource (www.newhomesource.com), and American Home Guides (www.americanhomeguides.com), and as a general rule, I believe that all three should be part of your online marketing strategy. HomeBuilder alone claims more than 2,800 builder customers and 7,000 neighborhoods. And besides, you wouldn't advertise in one newspaper in a two-paper town.

Conditions

As with all general rules, there are conditions and exceptions. When does it make sense to do business with a portal? When your increased sales can justify the $100 to $300 they charge per neighborhood per month. That means you have to be able to track your leads and follow up on them.

Measuring Internet-related sales can be easier said than done. For one thing, not all website visitors become leads. Portals are trying to address this. Tim Costello, CEO, the BuilderHomesite Consortium, which owns NewHomeSource, says that his company helps solve this by providing a monthly reporting of their cost per contact [map views, phone calls as well as leads] for each neighborhood.

But how do you track home shoppers who come to your website from a portal then visit or call the community without filling out the online form? The answer is to talk with your buyers. "Builders will get a better handle on where their sales are coming from if they ask the buyer [where they found the builder] at the time of contact signing," says Barry Lynn, President of American Home Guides

As for follow-up, if you have read my prior work, you know that I am an advocate of centralized lead management. Top managers at builder portals agree. According to John Nethero, HomeBuilder's VP of Sales, "We have seen a trend toward centralization [of leads] with the larger builders, and we are recommending it to regional and local builders as well." Lynn is more direct, "We pray that all builders quickly evolve to a single lead management person or department."

Of course, no portal will make sense in every market all the time -- home building is still a local business. Does the portal have enough participating builders in a particular market to be useful to buyers? (Try it, and ask yourself whether you would use it to find a home.) Maybe your offline promotions bring more than enough buyers to your website already. Or you may be in hot market like southern California, with more buyers than you can handle lined up for a shot at your priority list for each release.

Comparing the Portals

HomeBuilder has the most builder customers and is in the most markets. Although they once held a near-monopoly, competition from the other portals has made them more responsive to customer needs. "We have consolidated all our customer service under one roof to speed up the process of providing answers." Said Nethero. (A new product release is scheduled for release soon, but the company declined to give details at this time.)

From a feature and customer experience standpoint, I believe that NewHomeSource has an edge. One example is their map search capability: Home shoppers need only click on a market area to get a listing of neighborhoods from different builders. NewHomeSource tends to be strongest in the top homebuilding markets, but weaker in smaller ones. That's because its parent company, the BuilderHomesite Consortium (BHI), is owned by a group of more than 30 homebuilders, most of them large production builders. "We only have one master, and it's builders," says Costello. "So our sole purpose is to reduce the Builders cost per sale."

American Home Guides has the smallest customer base of the three. They also have a low price for participation and can be very accommodating. "We do whatever is necessary to ensure that the builder gets more homebuyers to their website than from any other service," says Lynn. Because leads from their New Home Finder search go out to multiple builders, you need to quickly following up if you want to produce results.

Getting Your Money's Worth

Whatever portals you choose, here are some tips for getting the most from your investment.
  1. Create a lead and sales tracking system. When building or re-designing your website, your developer should include a way for you to identify leads and track them all the way to the sale, if they become a buyer. Don't just track the leads from portals, track what happens to website visitors clicking through to your website from these portals. Do they become leads and sales?
  2. Put a process in place for turning online leads into sales. One approach that has worked for many builders is centralizing leads to an Online Sales Counselor. If you will be at the International Builders' Show in Las Vegas this month, make sure to attend my presentation, The Online Sales Counselor: Turning Internet Leads into Sales, on January 20 from 1:00 PM - 1:45 PM, at the Las Vegas Convention Center.
  3. Ask the portals how to get better results. Most will tell you what types of advertising works best on their site. They want you to be successful and will work with you to improve your results.
  4. Hold them accountable for reducing your cost per sale. "We will often provide an estimate to builders about not only lead volume, but the amount of homebuyer traffic we can deliver to their website," says Lynn. "And we live up to it."
Recent "Best Read" Internet Marketing Articles for Builders

The Lux Solutions website now contains expanded articles for builders. Here are a few recent articles:

- The Online Sales Counselor Comes of Age (pdf 109k)
- Managing "Coming Soon" Interest Lists Online
- 9 Ways to Drive Internet Leads and Sales
- The User-Centered Web Site (pdf 127k)
- Drive Leads with Permission Marketing

View all articles...

FloorPop is published on the first Wednesday of each month.  We welcome your comments, thoughts, and questions.  Please send them to blair@luxsolutions.com.

Blair Kuhnen owns Lux Solutions, an independent consultancy serving the homebuilding industry by providing Internet related sales and marketing solutions.  He can be reached for private consultation at 866-923-4026 or via e-mail at blair@luxsolutions.com.