This week on The Home Builder Digital Marketing Podcast, Steve Bradford of Sales Solve Everything joins Greg and Kevin to discuss balancing sales and marketing initiatives in the ebb and flow of the home building market.
During adjustments in the home building market, an emphasis on the fundamentals is imperative. Steve explains, “Obviously, getting back to the basics right now, as far as every aspect of our business, building a home well, providing an excellent customer experience, having a well-trained sales team, and a dialed-in marketing team. All of those are crucial regardless of whether the market is up or whether the market is down. Basically, doing your job and doing it well.”
As home builders focus on the basics, both the sales teams and marketing teams need equal attention. Steve says, “Each department needs to feel served and serviced, and oftentimes one feels left out when one manager skews to one side.”
Shifts in the home building market are a given, and they require home builders to modify and expand sales and marketing best practices. Steve says, “I've got to provide a different experience. It's got to change. It's got to be different. You know what's the only constant? Is change and things are always changing, and so I wish I knew what it's going to look like this time next year, but what I can tell you is all of the fundamentals stay the same, but we've got to provide a great experience, a great product, and a great atmosphere for buyers to flourish in. So much so that they want to refer us to their friends and family, et cetera.”
Listen to this week’s episode to learn more about improving sales and marketing programs in the ever-changing home building industry.
About the Guest:
Steve brings over two decades of experience in the home building industry and has excelled in multiple positions, including, on-site sales, sales manager, sales trainer, land acquisition, and VP of sales and marketing. He combines a blend of dynamic sales training and motivation with a deep understanding of the industry. These skills allow him to not only drive sales and customer satisfaction, but also profitability. Steve is passionate about helping sales teams perform at their highest level, creating engaged happy homeowners, and helping homebuilding companies grow.
With the ability to drill down quickly to the needs of the team, Steve can craft a training approach to best serve the needs of whomever he is working with. Motivation is key as well as addressing attitude and mindset; but first and foremost, sales and marketing teams need the foundational skills and techniques to perform at a top level in any market. Steve’s years of experience allow him to present those skills in a fun and engaging manner. His mantra is always “Help the team understand WHY they are doing something, and they will do the WHAT without question.”
Greg Bray: [00:00:00] Hello everybody and welcome to today's episode of The Home Builder Digital Marketing Podcast. I'm Greg Bray with Blue Tangerine.
Kevin Weitzel: And I'm Kevin Weitzel with OutHouse.
Greg Bray: And we are excited today to welcome Steve Bradford. Steve is a sales trainer, coach, and consultant at Sales Solve Everything. Welcome, Steve. Thanks for joining us.
Steve Bradford: Oh, thanks for having me.
Greg Bray: Well, Well Steve, let's start off tell us a little bit about yourself.
Steve Bradford: I am a sales trainer like you said, and coach and consultant. I live in Boise, Idaho. Recently transplanted here a couple of years ago from Portland, Oregon.[00:01:00] I've been in the home industry for, I can almost say 25 years, and I am excited to talk to you guys about home building and marketing.
Kevin Weitzel: So, before we get into your pathway and how you got really into home building, could you tell us just a personal tidbit about yourself that people will learn exclusively on our podcast?
Steve Bradford: I'm an oversharer in life in general. When I've been asked this before, I try to come up with something unique. When I was a kid we had a worm farm. My family did. So, we farmed worms for fishing and stuff like that. So that's kind of unique, but other than that, I'm a fluent Portuguese speaker. That's kind of unusual.
Kevin Weitzel: That is unusual. Well, unless you're in Brazil then it's like commonplace.
Steve Bradford: You know how many people in South America speak Portuguese?
Kevin Weitzel: Couple million.
Steve Bradford: Brazilians.
Kevin Weitzel: Yeah. Brazilians. Exactly.
Steve Bradford: Terrible joke.
Greg Bray: Well, Steve, I gotta dig into the worm farm thing. Dig in. That was bad. Tell us, I mean, how big is a worm farm? Is that like a 10 by 10-foot square or is that an [00:02:00] acre or what? What's a worm farm look like?
Steve Bradford: You basically have to have a structure in which to put beds that look kinda like bunk beds and you put soil in it and you have worms that grow in those beds, and you don't need too much space. We had a barn, and in the barn, we had beds for worms. Yeah, we were in the Pacific Northwest, so close to the river. So, lots of access to people that wanted to go fishing with night crawlers.
Kevin Weitzel: You know, no stop the death of worms protestors in that industry, or no?
Steve Bradford: No, not so much. You know, it's funny, the whole save the worms culture is not uh.
Kevin Weitzel: Reached his peak yet.
Steve Bradford: I guess not.
Greg Bray: There is something about just impaling this live thing on a hook and then throwing it in to feed something else. It is just a little barbaric on some level, right? It's just...
Steve Bradford: Well, and you know, to be economical, you'd put 'em in half before you put 'em on the hook, which is even grosser.
Greg Bray: All right. Well, anyway. So Steve, back to home building. Tell us a little bit more about how you got into the industry and kind of what you've been doing for your career.
Steve Bradford: So, I started in new home sales in the late nineties. I came from the retail [00:03:00] background. I sold men's clothing. I've been in sales, or some variation of it my whole life. Had a good friend, his name was Mike Getis, and he told me that I should come sell homes. I initially said no, but the idea kind of planted in my head, and eventually I said, Yeah, I think that's something I'd wanna do, and I started selling new homes for Centex Homes in Eugene, Oregon.
The first day I went to the model and started selling and I fell in love with the industry. I knew the day that I started, I would be in this for the rest of my life. I have just absolutely loved new home sales and sold homes for many years. Took a role at Centex as a land acquisition guy. So, I did land acquisition for a few years, which is the reverse of sales. You know, ultimately you're selling your company, selling yourself, et cetera.
I did land acquisition for quite some time, and then, I don't know if you guys heard about it, 07, 08, the market took a little bit of a dive. Not only was I selling homes and had sold homes previously, but I [00:04:00] was really a student to the craft and took it very seriously. So, I actually took the role as a sales trainer for Centex as we were going into the downturn, and so spent a lot of time training teams, reteaching them, you know, as we'd come out of a really good market, and we were going into a bad market.
So, I was teaching salespeople how to do their job better, and reteaching the foundational skills of new home sales. I did that for a while until the company I was with pulled up stakes. So, I went to work for another builder. That was a smaller regional builder and we did on your lot sales and also community sales. Did that for some time. Then was a sales manager, then VP of sales and marketing, and then eventually decided to move here to Idaho and took on this role as a national sales trainer.
Greg Bray: So Steve, I love the name, Sales Solve Everything. That's great because I've also heard, you know, sales cover a lot of sins. I've heard that phrase too.
Steve Bradford: For sure. I mean, sales make people look really smart too.
Greg Bray: So, but just [00:05:00] tell us briefly what Sales Solve Everything is all about, what you guys offer, and who you're trying to serve.
Steve Bradford: You bet. In and that name, Sales Solve Everything, we understand that obviously, sales don't solve everything, but when homes are selling, definitely things are generally going better. You know, first and foremost, we are a trainer. So, we do a lot of schools and training. We do individualized training with builders where we go out to them on-site and train their sales teams. But we also do comprehensive schools where it's for the fundamentals and the basics. We do pro schools and master classes on how to sell new homes the right way.
Then we also do management. We have management clients where we actually work with builders who maybe they want to go from an outside sales team to an in-house sales team, and we help them with that transition, bring a sales team on board. We also do coaching and consulting with builders. I definitely skew towards the marketing side. I work with a lot of builders and help them kind of fine-tune their marketing or even help them [00:06:00] hire marketing coordinators or online sales consultants, things like that.
Greg Bray: So, as you already mentioned, you went through that 2007 to 2009 roller coaster, we'll call it, and so there's a lot of people that are drawing comparisons to now to some of that period a little bit. It's not exactly the same, other than things are changing, but what are your thoughts on how now compares to what you saw during that period?
Steve Bradford: That wasn't my first experience in a downturn. There was a downturn at the beginning of my career, and then we had the tech bubble thing, and every downturn or every shift in the market is unique as far as cause and how we react as builders. But I mean, I think the similarities between that one and this one is just how quickly it's occurred, how quickly things have slowed. I think that's the closest comparison I have, but I think the difference is the why. I think because of that, it doesn't feel as dire, and it doesn't feel [00:07:00] like it's gonna be as long-term.
Greg Bray: So, as you are talking to builders out there that are trying to react to this right because it does, I do think the idea that it just happened. Okay, we knew that the heyday of, you know, lotteries and big wait lists and all these kinds of things wasn't normal and it wasn't gonna last forever, but I don't think we really expected it to change like in a week. We thought it might kind of gradually just slow down a bit. So, when you see people reacting to this sudden change and you're talking to these builders, what are things you see them do that you would say, Gosh, this is the wrong way to react versus kind of the right way to react?
Steve Bradford: I kind of look at the start of the pandemic. We'll talk about that real briefly. Which is we saw some builders react really dramatically when the pandemic started in the form of letting people go, and basically kind of getting into hunkering down mode looking to weather the storm. Then, you know, three months later they're like, Oh, geez, we reacted too harshly, and now they're trying to hire in a market that was difficult to hire within, you know.
[00:08:00] Now what I see is like a race to the bottom sometimes with pricing and going nuts with incentives and all that sort of stuff. It feels drastic. If I were to give advice, my advice is, slow your roll, go evaluate what the market conditions are, really look at what you need to do or have to do, not necessarily what you think you should do. So, use the data that's there and try to adjust appropriately.
You know, there's some people that are doing pricing and some people are doing incentives and all of these different things, but really it's a combination and I wouldn't want it to be too heavily price driven just because you're going to generate some negative PR with your existing buyers, you know, some people that are like, Holy crap, I bought a home that is $50,000 less now. Then you look at appraisals and all of the other things that go with it. One of the things I heard many times and I use myself is shovel while the piles are small. Do little shifts, little changes, but don't be too [00:09:00] drastic because, you know, you can't undo it. You can't unring that bell if you drop pricing too dramatically or if you go too crazy with incentives.
Kevin Weitzel: So, you know, Steve, you bring up a good point about the whole reactionary aspect of the home building industry as a whole. Why is it that this industry has this disease of the wind changes direction just a little tiny bit, and they go, Oh, my goodness, the sky's falling? It's almost like they're Kermit the Frog with his arms flailing about. You know, wondering why everything is just going crazy. Cause I come from the auto industry, nowhere near as reactionary. Now granted, they all follow pricing trends, but they're pricing trends that are based off of analytical data that is flowing through and pricing history. You know, so prices will ebb and flow with that data. Why is the home building industry so upside down with that?
Steve Bradford: Actually, I think it's you have two extremes in our industry. You have the people who don't react, who wait too long, and then they have to react more dramatically, and then you have the people that go crazy right out of the gate. I think it has to do with the company. I think it has to do with [00:10:00] who they are, what's their money situation, how expensive was their money, and how quickly do they have to recoup it. There's a lot of variables into why people react so quickly.
I think one of the challenges is that the builders I work with are generally small to mid-size builders and their ability to react as dramatically as maybe some of the bigger builders, that's the bigger challenge, is how to stay competitive in a market when the big guys can do more when it comes to that.
Greg Bray: So Steve, when you look at some of the sales and marketing teams out there, especially the folks you talk to, there's some builders where the people they have, have only been doing this for the last three years. They've seen nothing different than what happened over the last three years, right? That's the only market they know, and on top of that, they were like turning off marketing 'cause we have too many leads. Stop. We don't wanna have more people on this waiting list, and so they don't even know how to market, and yet now, they want to cut expenses because they're not selling as much. So, they get in this they already cut because they had too [00:11:00] much, now they want to cut again. What are some of your thoughts and reactions and ideas for that builder who's trying to find that new normal with their marketing and sales activities?
Steve Bradford: Well, I think they have to research and figure out what the best practices are in our industry. Go look at the people that are doing well in spite of market conditions. What are they doing? Hopefully, they were being told, Hey, this isn't normal, and that they were honing the skills that they are putting into place now. Now is that the case? Not necessarily.
So, learning from people who know how to do it well. I think seeking out resources that are gonna help them. I make a lot of my decisions for the clients that I work with based on data. So, we establish, is this a marketing issue, and does the marketing team need to be trained up to meet whatever it is. And maybe it's not a marketing issue. Maybe it's a sales issue that our sales team needs to be fine-tuned. Or maybe it's a product [00:12:00] and a price issue. I mean, there's so many variables.
But as far as the people that have not experienced this read a book. Listen to some podcasts. Talk to some people who have been through it and figure out new and better practices. I know that sounds, you know, overly simple, but it is what it is.
Greg Bray: So, you mentioned data, Steve, when you walk into a new builder, what are some of those top two or three metrics that you wanna look at first as you're trying to understand the lay of the land?
Steve Bradford: Well, I wanna see how many leads they're getting and how they're getting those leads, and how they're being funneled out to the sales team, and then what is the sales team doing with them? So, as far as from marketing metrics. So, if we're looking at websites and Google Analytics and all that stuff, I wanna see engagement. I wanna see how long people are spending on the website and how many pages they're clicking through, and what percentage of those unique visitors are converting to either registrants or click-to calls.
Those numbers are quickly gonna tell me if it's a marketing issue. If it's not a compelling website or if whatever they're offering isn't [00:13:00] being well received by the consumer. If those numbers look good, then I'm gonna look at, are those leads converting to appointments and getting out into the communities. Maybe there's a breakdown there. It could be as simple as people not answering their phone or people not answering their emails, and then once they're getting there, what percentage of those are converting to sales?
And if we see a high level of traffic through appointments and walk in and all the other stuff, if those aren't converting at a reasonable rate, then we go, maybe we need more sales training. Maybe we need to look at that, and then we also look at the offering and if it's in line with what the market needs.
Greg Bray: So, you have seen, you know, in your career, this transition from everything being in the sales office to more and more online interactions. What has been your thought of how sales teams need to evolve as they look at more of this online version of the interaction with the buyers, not just waiting for them to come to the sales office?
Steve Bradford: I think it's evolve or die. I mean, I [00:14:00] really think you have to evolve to a digital world or you're not going to be successful in this industry. You know, a lot of my clients they're dealing with buyers from outta state. So, they've gotta figure out how to do a quality Zoom appointment and walk through a home with somebody. Whether it be through Matterport or interactive floor plans or whatever and be able to help that plan come alive digitally to get them excited enough to maybe make a buying decision or narrow it down to come see them when they do come into the marketplace for that visit.
So, that's one thing is being able to meet with the clients, but then there's builders that do an amazing amount of volume or have done an amazing amount of volume and still don't have online sales consultants. Getting them to buy into that, having this one individual, this sort of main source to take all of your digital leads through, and then guess what happens? You guys probably already know this, but when you get an OSC, the team starts to stomp their feet.
They go, I want the leads to come directly to me because I'm the person who can handle them the best, but we all know that that's really not the case because they're busy selling homes. [00:15:00] So, it's getting them to believe that this is to their benefit. Then once they understand that, whether it be Matterport, whether it be an OSC, whether it be utilizing Zoom or any of the other digital mediums that we can utilize, get them to believe in it and understand that this is going to make their life better.
If I can get them to understand the why we're doing this, then they'll do it. But if they don't believe, if they can't understand how this is going to benefit them, just like everybody, just like customers, what's in it for me? That's how you get them to believe and that's how you get them to do it. I think the next thing is teaching them how to do it. We gotta teach them, what's a good handoff process between an OSC and a sales consultant look like. What's an example, and we've recorded videos of our salespeople that we work with doing a good online appointment.
Greg Bray: Where do you see the role of the OSC evolving? You know, they kind of started, for many years a lot of people at least put them in this category of appointment setters. As the website has continued to grow in its importance, and I see buyers going back and [00:16:00] forth. It's not just a make an appointment, go, and now I never look at the website again, right? They're back and forth and re-engaging. How do you envision the ideal OSC role, you know, today versus maybe where it's been?
Steve Bradford: Some people do it really well. Yeah, it's a great question.
Kevin Weitzel: Let me refocus the question because I actually have a really strong opinion on this. In today's day and age where a lot of home builders are utilizing OSCs as appointment setters, we've seen the flip side of that in the auto industry where the OSC used to be an appointment setter then evolved into doing the softline sales online. And then now it's even turning into where they're actually turning into full-fledged sales professionals.
Steve Bradford: I know.
Kevin Weitzel: And to the sales professionals chagrin on the sales floor, it's turning them into the self-checkout to where they don't need to be part of the process. Do home builders' sales professionals need to worry about that in their future?
Steve Bradford: I don't think so. I think that there's a place for both. The ideal OSC is somebody who's informed enough to give enough answers to successfully vet and [00:17:00] generate a qualified lead to the sales professional. There's gotta be a really good conduit from the marketing department to the OSC and vice versa because they have their finger on the pulse of marketing better than anybody else. They know which campaigns are working if they're asking the right questions, and they know which campaigns aren't working.
So, one is that they're providing the marketing team with the correct data to be as successful as possible. On the flip side, they're generating really high-quality appointments that the salespeople believe in, and they realize that those leads that are coming to them are gold. Now, do they turn into full-fledged salespeople? That's hard just because in the form of an OSC, you've gotta know multiple communities oftentimes, and being the expert on the geography, and the area, and neighborhood itself. That would be a challenge. Then you'd just go to internet sales teams like they do in the auto industry, which is a different animal altogether.
And I've hired internet salespeople from the auto industry into new home sales, and they transition quite well. High-level follow-up, [00:18:00] understanding product, all that great stuff. I just think that the OSC is such a great resource on both ends that that to me is a good OSC program. Because I'm working with an OSC right now who doesn't attend marketing meetings. I'm confounded as to why they would not ask for their opinion in this stuff, but they've done all these silos at this builder where they just don't communicate.
Salespeople have a distinct responsibility to the OSC too, which is saying, Hey, that lead sucked, or that lead was amazing, and here's why. So, that the OSC can perform their job better by understanding what's a good lead and what's not a good lead, and then there's the whole balance of over-qualifying. There's a lot of stuff that goes into OSCs and making sure that they're doing their job well.
I remember we had OSC at Pacific Lifestyle Homes when I was in Vancouver, and he comes into my office and he's like, Can we do a daylight basement on the following plan, and if so, how much would it be? And I'm like, you're getting [00:19:00] way into the weeds with this buyer. You know, you need to back off and do the handover and get them into the salesperson's hands, in that instance. I mean, unless you wanna teach them that and have the OSC do that.
Greg Bray: It is interesting that the OSC is still trying to find their place in certain organizations, right? Am I part of marketing? Am I part of sales? Am I this weird bridge in the middle? But I have to report to somebody, right? Who's responsible for my success, my training, and if there is a VP of sales that's separate from a VP of marketing, right? Cause sometimes that role's combined, sometimes that role's split. Where I report can often drive what kind of training I get or what kind of view of the world I'm shown, and such there. So, I think it's gonna be interesting to watch how that role continues to evolve here over the next couple years.
Steve Bradford: I agree.
Greg Bray: 'Cause I think it still is evolving dramatically.
Steve Bradford: I 100% agree, and I think you hit on a point that's interesting. You know, I was a VP of sales and marketing. I understood sales backwards and forwards, but I had to really effort [00:20:00] towards becoming I wouldn't say expert, becoming very knowledgeable on marketing because they are very different roles. They are very different skill sets to manage marketing versus managing sales.
Greg Bray: It is interesting how, based on our past, we kind of skew one way or the other. We tend to go where we're more comfortable sometimes and takes a little more push to get us into the uncomfortable side.
Steve Bradford: Each department needs to feel served and serviced, and oftentimes one feels left out when one manager skews to one side.
Greg Bray: Yeah. Well, Steve, as you look ahead in the sales and marketing world, what are some of the things that you see coming in the future that you think builders should be watching out for and preparing for?
Steve Bradford: You know, when I was in sales, I used to have a crystal ball that I kept on my desk and I had a little scarf over it. When somebody would say, What do you think's gonna happen with interest rates? I'd pull the scarf off with the flourish and go, Let me see. You know, kind of jokingly. Obviously, getting back to the basics right now, as far as every aspect of our business, building a [00:21:00] home well, providing an excellent customer experience, having a well-trained sales team, and a dialed-in marketing team. All of those are crucial regardless of the whether the market is up or whether the market is down. Basically, doing your job and doing it well.
We know that buyers are looking for an experience more now than they ever have. So I think, this trend towards experiential marketing, you know, is what's this journey look like for the consumer, continues to be a lot of what we want to focus on. I think just like in 08, 09, I think the cream's going to rise to the crop. I think that there are some people that are going to, potentially not even be in business a few years from now because of what's going on. I don't think that this is, like I said, the long-term market softening that we experienced back then, but we've got another year, year and a half of discomfort. Hopefully, this is the time when we make our teams the very best they can be.
Kevin Weitzel: Greg and I are both friends with Bob Schultz. He's got this saying that I absolutely love. I will quote it until [00:22:00] I'm dead. If you are still doing business today, the way you did business 10 years ago, you will not be relevant or even in business 10 years from now.
Steve Bradford: Yeah. It's so true. I, Bob Schultz was my guy. He was my guru to how to sell homes. If I tried to take a customer through the experience that I took them through 20-some years ago, now I'm going to tell you about our floor plans. They've already pre-qualified all that stuff on our website. They've already done all this stuff. I've got to provided different experience.
It's got to change. It's got to be different. You know what's the only constant? Is change and things are always changing, and so I wish I knew what it's going to look like this time next year, but what I can tell you is all of the fundamentals stay the same, but we've got to provide a great experience, a great product, and a great atmosphere for buyers to flourish in. So much so that they want to refer us to their friends and family, et cetera.
Greg Bray: Steve, any last pieces of advice here as we wrap up that you wanted to share with our listeners today to help them keep moving forward?
Steve Bradford: As we look at where we are right now, [00:23:00] and we think, five, six years ago I was successful at this business. If you were, what was I doing then that I'm not doing now, and what do I need to start doing again? You know, what are those tools or what are those skills that I had that maybe I haven't been working on?
So, one is I think, sharpen your saw or sharpen your tools so that you are as sharp as you can be because you have to be in this industry right now, and the other thing is the sky is not falling. You can sell a home with a 7% interest rate, just like you could sell a home with a 2.5 % interest rate, and maybe there's not as many people that can qualify. I don't know which limb I would've given for the rates that we've had for the past few years, you know, back when I first started, but it would've been some limb, and now welcome to the real world. This is where we are, and sink or swim. I don't wanna sound negative, but...
Greg Bray: The sky is not falling, but sink or swim. There we go. So, all right.
Steve Bradford: Yes. I mean, isn't that, isn't that really the case? Survival of the fittest, and what does fittest look like to you? It's well-trained, highly skilled professionals doing the work that [00:24:00] needs to be done to be successful.
Greg Bray: Awesome. Awesome. Well, thanks, Steve. We appreciate your thoughts and expertise today. If somebody wants to connect with you and learn more, what's the best way for them to reach out?
Steve Bradford: You could reach out to me on my email address. That's email@example.com. I know that's pretty complicated. It's a long one and there's some combined letters that aren't that fun. So, it's just firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also go to salessolveeverything.com and see what we do there, and I'm on LinkedIn.
I'll be presenting or speaking at IBS if you wanna come see me at IBS. That is one thing I do recommend going to things like IBS and listening to these podcasts to get as much information as you can. It's funny because the last few years, once again, people said, Hey, I don't wanna go to IBS, because they didn't feel like they needed to. You might wanna go to that. Or go to other marketing summits, or go to all sorts of things to get better at what we do.
Greg Bray: Well, we definitely look forward to seeing you there, Steve, and it's not that far away.
Steve Bradford: I know. It's like three months away.
Greg Bray: Coming up soon. Well, thank you again Steve, and thank [00:25:00] you everybody for listening today to The Home Builder Digital Marketing Podcast. I'm Greg Bray with Blue Tangerine.
Kevin Weitzel: And I'm Kevin Weitzel with OutHouse. Thank you.