Commentary by Robert Cowes – CoFounder of SmartTouch Interactive
Last December, as we set the stage to launch SmartTouch Interactive, we decided to join The Austin Home Builder Association – which as an added value benefit, got us membership with the Texas and National Building Associations. We have been actively participating in our local association, attending multiple chapter meetings a month and joining the Sales & Marketing council. As a result of our participation we get weekly ezines and e-mails. It was a great delight and surprise to see the first article on Marketing Automation for builders and developers generated from the association. It is a sign of what is coming.
March 8, 2010 NBnews.com (National Building News Online)
Market Effectively, Efficiently With Automated Marketing
Tougher market conditions and tighter budgets have forced many companies to get innovative in order to do more with less. Now, as the industry slowly begins to return to health, these same innovations can help position builders, not just for survival, but for rapid growth as markets rebound.
The marketing landscape has changed dramatically in recent years. Traditional marketing channels, such as print advertising, have been supplanted by a range of different online marketing outlets — from social media to pay-per-click ads. Many companies have struggled to keep up with these changes.
Even those who have moved more of their marketing efforts online may not be taking full advantage of the opportunities to reduce costs and track performance, increasing — and monitoring — the return on investment (ROI) of their efforts.
Furthermore, taking advantage of the full potential of online channels and enabling technologies is not just about marketing online, it’s also about leveraging electronic tools to streamline the generation and management of both online and offline leads.
It is not surprising, then, that there has been a recent surge of interest among home builders in marketing automation.
Marketing Automation in Broad Brush
Basically, marketing automation is all about doing more with less — conducting more marketing campaigns, reaching more prospects and collecting more leads while minimizing costs.
To accomplish that, marketing automation encompasses a variety of different kinds of technology solutions all designed to facilitate the planning, execution, management and tracking of marketing activities — from traditional print advertising to direct mail, e-mail, sales events and promotions.
For example, marketing automation can encompass event management solutions, e-mail and direct-mail applications, planning tools, marketing-analysis programs and more.
Ultimately, marketing automation is about incorporating a new set of tools to sell more homes faster — at a lower cost of sale.
Take Advantage of an Inexpensive Channel
Good marketing automation systems help builders and marketers manage and analyze the totality of their marketing initiatives, whether these include advertisements in print newspapers, glossy brochures sent by mail or in-person sales center events.
But one of the greatest advantages of automated marketing systems is that they enable builders to maximize the potential of the lowest-cost marketing channel — the Internet.
The Internet rapidly skyrocketed in its importance to the industry in just a few short years to the point where home builders today aren’t just using the Internet for marketing because it’s cost-effective, they’re using it because the Internet is where the home buyers are.
Studies conducted for NAHB’s Institute of Residential Marketing found that, not only did Internet-using consumers value online resources highly in their home buying search, they found them the most useful, most important resources they were most likely to use in future home searches.
When considered along with statistics from a study by the National Association of Realtors® indicating that 77% of home buyers use the Web when looking for a home, the picture is clear — builders who neglect or insufficiently utilize online channels are passing up an obvious and relatively inexpensive approach for reaching the majority of potential buyers in their market.
Nor is this push toward greater use of online channels driven purely by consumers; builders have reported that their best-quality leads find them on the Web.
Reaching More Home Buyers and Learning More About Them
The linchpin of marketing automation is e-mail marketing — a communication channel that allows builders to reach almost limitless numbers of potential customers without increasing costs.
With automated marketing systems, builders can create compelling, rich-media e-mail communications and customize them to reflect the recipient’s name, location and interests. Plus, with a small investment in creating content tailored to specific preferences and conditions, home builders can design highly personalized campaigns that really connect with the buyer, increasing e-mail open rates and sales conversions.
This can be accomplished by installing simple forms on the builder’s Web site or on kiosks at sales centers that allow for fast, easy collection of initial information about interested home buyers. Follow-up e-mails to the prospects who fill out the forms provide a perfect opportunity to gather further qualifying information in exchange for incentives and marketing collateral.
By using each touch-point as a chance to collect more detailed information about leads, home builders can avoid overwhelming prospective home buyers with a barrage of intrusive questions all at once — while also slowly building an ongoing relationship and valuable two-way exchange.
As builders learn more about buyer preferences and interests, they can use this information in tandem with marketing automation technology to further personalize communications.
For example, if a prospect has young children, the system can send useful information about the quality of neighborhood schools. Or, if a prospect is an avid golfer, the system can automatically send tantalizing descriptions of area golf courses.
As more in-depth information about prospects is gathered, increasingly sophisticated database segmentation can be performed, allowing for precise targeting of marketing initiatives.
Managing Leads More Effectively
During the housing boom, few builders complained about ineffectiveness of their marketing efforts. Instead, most builders were overwhelmed by a massive influx of leads from the Web and other sources, to the point where they had had trouble effectively assembling, assessing and managing the leads.
In a hot market, builders may be able to get away with ineffective lead management, but in cooler times, mishandled leads can translate directly into lost sales. The fact is that, whatever the market condition, builders need reliable systems to help them prioritize and manage their leads.
The secret to cementing marketing’s importance in home sales is to create a fluid process that integrates marketing directly with the sales team. Builders can close the loop between marketing and sales — and ensure consistent lead follow-up — by implementing marketing automation systems that include robust lead management functionality.
With marketing automation systems, home builders can define criteria, such as readiness to buy and financial preparedness, that can be used to automatically qualify and classify leads as they come in. If further information is required to qualify the lead, follow-up e-mails can be automatically triggered to complete the lead classification.
Once the leads are classified, they can be immediately funneled into an appropriate chain of activity — with hot leads assigned directly to the appropriate home sales consultants according to territory, specialization or other parameters the builder establishes, and longer-term leads assigned to automated communications based on their particular classification and attributes.
This process ensures the most efficient use of every sales consultant’s time, while also guaranteeing that, rather than ignoring cooler leads, builders can nurture them by placing them on an appropriate path of communication until they are ready to make a purchase.
With marketing automation, the often labor-intensive and error-prone steps of lead qualification, distribution and nurturing is now a thing of the past as it makes way for work-free, automated processes that advance consistency and free up your sales consultants’ time to focus on the best leads.
Measuring Marketing Success
An essential part of closing the loop between marketing and sales is to be able to accurately track the results of marketing initiatives. Marketing automation systems typically allow builders to track a range of useful metrics about campaigns — open rates, response rates, sales conversions and more.
Sophisticated systems not only enable builders to track projected and actual campaign costs, but also to assign a persistent lead source designation to an individual, allowing builders to reliably trace customers back to marketing activities and to track the lifetime revenues associated with them. This provides the information required to accurately report on success rates and ROI.
There’s No Time Like the Present
Marketers generally don’t begin to think seriously about ROI and efficiency until budgets are slashed. Marketing automation can be invaluable to help marketers do more with less when times are tough.
But as markets pick up, marketing automation tools are indispensable in helping builders manage volume, streamline operations and measure performance, alleviating a lot of manual processes and freeing marketers to think more creatively.
Strategic-thinking builders invest in solutions that will help them realize immediate returns while also equipping them to more effectively deal with future market changes — whether good or bad.
As builders consider areas for greater efficiency and cost-cutting and look to market smarter, marketing automation and lead management systems offer an attractive area for exploration.