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Home Builder Digital Marketing Podcast Digital Marketing Podcast Hosted by Greg Bray and Kevin Weitzel

206 Integrating New Home Builder Technology - Melissa Morman

This week on The Home Builder Digital Marketing Podcast, Melissa Morman of Built4f joins Greg and Kevin to discuss how home builders can successfully integrate new technology into their businesses.

The home building industry often lags behind other industries when it comes to technology adoption, but home buyers and other factors have a huge impact on when digital integrations must occur. Melissa says, “…there's a whole new slew of technologies coming at us and forces coming at us…sometimes we tend to think we'll decide where we're going to get to that. We'll decide when we're going to implement that technology, kind of being blind to the fact that our timing and our pace are going to be determined by the customer and by competing forces and available technologies. So, I worry a little bit about our pace and how fast we're going.”

Incorporation of new technology requires some trial and error, so home builders should be ready and willing to embrace a little bit of failure as part of a company’s attitude. Melissa explains, “First, not everybody can control the culture that they work in, but I think it is important to have a culture where we all understand that if we're going to move forward, we will fail. We don't know which experiment will fail. We don't know which thing we try will fail. Hopefully, there's a culture of understanding that failure is a part of that process.”

The risk of failure when deciding how and when to try new technology can sometimes be paralyzing for home builders, but it must not prevent action. Melissa says, “In this crazy world of shifting technologies, some things will pan out, some things won't. If you wait, though, if you wait until it's so tried and true and every other builder has implemented it, you'll be out of business. You don't always have to be on the bleeding edge, but there is a point where no action actually is a decision.”

Listen to this week’s episode to learn more about how home builders can make the right decisions about adopting new technology.

About the Guest:

Melissa Morman is an accomplished executive whose career has spanned multiple industries. From executive roles in Fortune 500 companies to foundational roles in start-ups, Melissa has distinguished herself through her capacity to lead in highly dynamic environments. Melissa has held a broad set of executive responsibilities--from general management to launching new divisions, to directing global business development/sales, leading marketing/sales/account management, as well as launching new products. The one constant in her success has been her unwavering advocacy of the customer experience, both B2B and B2C.

Melissa was a founding executive team member of the home building industry’s technology consortium, BHI/BDX. BHI/BDX was the market leader in digital customer acquisition and experience, serving over 1,300 builders building over 60% of the homes in the U.S. For 22 years, Melissa served as the CXO (Chief Experience Officer), with responsibility for revenue as well as client experience. In her role as CXO, Melissa holistically managed the entire customer experience lifecycle—starting with marketing messaging, continuing through the sales process, and culminating with ongoing relationship management. Melissa also held responsibility for executive collaboration within the consortium and led the launch of several BHI/BDX products, including the vision/funding/launch of Envision, the industry’s online options product/program. Melissa is a sought-after speaker, and consultant, and is an active member on several boards.


Greg Bray: [00:00:00] Hello everyone, 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 to the show Melissa Morman. Melissa is the Principal and Digital Evangelist at Built4f. Welcome, Melissa. Thanks so much for being with us today.

Melissa Morman: Oh, thank you for having me. I feel like a big celebrity given all of the home building celebrities that you have on. So, I appreciate you having me.

Greg Bray: Well, you fit right in the celebrity status. You've been in this industry [00:01:00] for a couple of years and helping a lot of builders along the way. But for those who don't know you, why don't we start off by getting a quick introduction and a little bit of background?

Melissa Morman: Sure. So, first of all, I am based in Austin, Texas. I am probably one of one of original Austinites of my age. Austin used to be a very, very, very tiny little town in the middle of Texas. So, am native, lived everywhere, all over, but came back about 22, 23 years ago. I've had a 40-year career spanning digital, technology, marketing, and sales, and customer experience.

I have a great husband I met in high school. He's the nice one. And we have two grown boys and a daughter-in-law. We spend a lot of time with them. I love road biking, skiing, hiking. I wouldn't say I was good at them, but really enjoy being outdoors. And then in my spare time, I chair a non-profit in the western [00:02:00] mountains of New Mexico called Vallectios, which is a meditation center completely off grid. So, I do that kind of in my off time.

Kevin Weitzel: Niacito?

Melissa Morman: ValIectios. V A L L E C T I O S. Yes.

Kevin Weitzel: I think that's something I need in my life. Okay. So, do me a favor and all our listeners, we all know a lot of your history, where you come from, but can you do me a favor and let everybody know, that's listening, something very, very personal about yourself that nobody knows that they'll learn about on this podcast alone, that has nothing to do with work or the home building industry.

Melissa Morman: Okay. All right. This is kind of like that game two lies and a truth. I will just stick with one truth. This is my one thing probably no one knows. My Aunt Jean was a juror on the Charles Manson trial.

Kevin Weitzel: Whoa.

Melissa Morman: It's fascinating because as a [00:03:00] preteen/teen, I had this like obsession and fascination with Charles Manson and read the books. Clearly inappropriate for that age, but whatever, my parents weren't paying attention. And then I realized my Aunt Jean was on the jury, but she lived in California, we lived in Texas. That was like two different continents.

She was kind of estranged from the family, so we didn't know her. And my adult self now, really wishes I had talked to her about that experience because apparently, it was brutal. I mean, it was months and months and months and months, and I guess he just stared at them really, really coldly the whole time. So, that's my one thing.

Greg Bray: I can imagine that being in a room with that guy for a long time would be a little traumatic.

Melissa Morman: I don't think I just want to be on his radar at all.

Greg Bray: And that was back probably before jurors got into big book deals and everything too, right? Where they could take that and turn it into something.

Melissa Morman: Right. Exactly. Exactly. It was tough. And some of them lost their jobs. It wasn't a pleasant [00:04:00] experience.

Greg Bray: Well, Melissa, let's learn a little more about how you came to be in home building. What kind of got you into this industry and your start in this journey of helping builders?

Melissa Morman: Okay. So, it was really an accident in a way. Up until this point, it was about the year 2000, I had spent my career in digital, technology, sales, working with large companies like Microsoft and Compaq Computer at the time, if you remember them. And I had two small children. We had moved for my jobs. It was all really exciting, but I kind of said, you know, I need to get back to Austin, be near my family, let my kids know my family, the good, the bad, the ugly. I will just see if there are opportunities in Austin, and if one comes up, great, if not, I'm happy where I'm at, and life is good.

But it just happened to be the internet bubble at that time, and there were bazillions of startups with tons of funding. So, lots of opportunities popped up right away, and I came in and I [00:05:00] interviewed. Most of these companies had hundreds of millions of funding. They'd pick you up in a limo, they'd wine and dine you, it was just really super heady, you know, super fun.

And then I interviewed with what would become BHI, or as most people know BDX. That was a different experience. I stayed with my sister. They asked if I really needed a rental car. Yeah, bring your lunch, you know, that kind of experience. But I will tell you, out of all the startups, that one spoke to me because BHI was funded by the builders to create solutions for the builders. So, the funders would-be users of the products, and I thought, well, this startup actually might make it.

And to me, it wasn't just about creating a company that you would flip or creating a company that would go public. This is a company with a real mission. And what was fascinating to me was my role would be to bring all of these builders together and [00:06:00] collaborate and work together and that was exciting. You know, normally, you spend a lot of time trying to make sure your clients don't talk to each other. You know, it's challenging.

Whereas this is raw and exposed. You're in a room with all of them talking about products and what they need, what's working, what's not. I was super excited about that. And I will tell you the whole 22ish years that I was there, it really was a perpetual startup in terms of as technology evolves and digital evolves. And you two know this just as well as I do, you have to constantly be breaking products, breaking your own products, launching products. Super fun ride the whole time.

Greg Bray: Well, and BHI/BDX at that time was really on the cutting edge of brand new. I mean, this is 2000, 2001. Builders were just figuring out that the Internet was a thing that they needed to pay attention to and you guys were there really trying to lead the charge and say, Hey, this can help.

Melissa Morman: To your point, builders were just awakening to the internet. There [00:07:00] were no XML file feeds back then. All the manual data collection, all of that, we had to figure out how to leverage this new technology and create data schemas otherwise we couldn't have done it. We didn't have the funding and the manpower to actually do it the traditional way. So, sometimes technology forces you or market dynamics, it can enable you and force you to really do something different.

Greg Bray: I think, Melissa, that most people who are listening associate your name with BDX, but that's not where you are anymore. So, tell us a little bit more about Built4f and what you are doing there with this new adventure and what kinds of things you offer and who you're working with.

Melissa Morman: Oh, great. All right. Well, so when we finished up at BDX, and when I say we, it was Tim Costello who was our CEO and also one of the founders, we decided we weren't done with our mission. So, now we're still continuing that whole pushing digital transformation, helping builders, manufacturers, and a lot of times [00:08:00] the service providers in the industry. We're really doing our same mission, we just aren't encumbered by a thousand employees globally and hundreds of products and a thousand customers.

When you have all of that your days are just filled with super fun challenges. Something's always out of kilter. So, what we're doing is working with builders, manufacturers, service providers. We do a lot of public speaking, we write content, publish articles, all kinds of good stuff. I think we took the funnest parts of our job and kind of left the less fun parts.

Greg Bray: Your heart is still in helping builders do a better job, especially you've always been focused on that customer experience piece of it has been my experience in the things that I've seen you publish and speak about. Why is that such a strong focus for you, Melissa? Why is customer experience so important to you?

Melissa Morman: At different points in my career, you know, how you kind of move into different roles and things, I found that if I wasn't tied to the customer on the front lines, I [00:09:00] got really bored really fast. The customer is the source of a company. Without a customer you have no revenue. It's the most important part of our business.

Greg Bray: So then, because of the experiences you've had, we just talked about, gosh, early 2000, trying to awaken builders to the opportunities with digital. How's this industry doing? Give us a grade. How do home builders do with their digital experiences kind of across the board?

Melissa Morman: I am super proud of the industry and how far they have come, and I also look at how much more we have to do. On one hand, I'm super optimistic. On the other hand, I see the things that we have not implemented yet and we've not gotten to. And I'm fresh off the Consumer Electronic Show where there's a whole new slew of technologies coming at us and forces coming at us.

And I think sometimes we tend to [00:10:00] think we'll decide where we're going to get to that. We'll decide when we're going to implement that technology, kind of being blind to the fact that our timing and our pace are going to be determined by the customer and by competing forces and available technologies. So, I worry a little bit about our pace and how fast we're going.

Kevin Weitzel: Let me come out of left field with a question because you went to the Consumer Electronics Show. I have kind of a weird conspiracy theory in my brain that happens from time to time. And it is that some of the technology is being crammed down builders' throats that they don't necessarily even need. They are just being sold a bill of sale that they want it when they don't even know that they completely function without it.

So, how much of the industry is being driven by Silicon Valley wanting to just say we're going to take over this industry and take over all the activity in the industry versus what [00:11:00] truly is wholesome and helping builders develop their craft and sell their wares?

Melissa Morman: So, you probably should see someone about that conspiracy theorist issue that you have. But we'll talk about that offline. Yes, we have a lot of companies that come into our industry, and sometimes I chuckle because they come in all super shiny and they're going to solve the world's problems. Home builders are pretty savvy about sifting through those products and solutions.

The harm that it could do is that it can cloud your view of what's really important. The savvy homebuilders pull back from the noise and the fray and the solutions and they actually go back to the core, and they study their customer experience. They study their business and decide what do I need and what do I want that optimal experience to be. Then they go look for solutions that will help support them on their vision.

So, I think if you kind of just stick to [00:12:00] your knitting in a way of what's really important and what's that experience you're trying to design, then you go look at the solutions. And I think it's good to look at solutions all the time. I take everybody's call because you can sit through a hundred of them and there's a gem or there's a feature or an idea or a thought that one of them has that is relevant that we could use.

Kevin Weitzel: A lot of builders come back from IBS with what I call IBSitis. And what they do is they say, you know, Oh, I saw this shiny thing. I saw this. I saw that. And what they want to do is they want to find out, can I implement that? But when they only build 20 homes a year. Twenty homes is a respectable number of homes for a startup builder or a small custom builder. How much revenue can they extract from those 20 homes to be able to afford, let's say a full VR suite for their entire ensemble or an Envision platform? They can't afford it with only 20 homes a year.

So, tell me what you think about this is that builders shouldn't lose sight of the fundamentals, the fundamentals of just running their business and operating their business in keeping an eye on their mission statement versus [00:13:00] trying to implement every digital aspect that they can.

Melissa Morman: I think it goes back to what are you trying to achieve, what do you need to provide, and then what solutions are available? And you always look at the ROI, right? Which sometimes can be quantifiable in dollars, sometimes not. Sometimes you do things, not because it improves the bottom line, but because you just really have to have these tools.

But I think you're right, you can come back from IBS with your head spinning and in the flu and COVID and everything else, but. Let's just block off that next week because I never just kind of go, let's plan on something, come back with something. But I do think it's great and it is a good infusion, but I think to your point, Kevin, you really have to kind of study what's right for you, what's right for your business.

Greg Bray: What I'm hearing you say, Melissa, is that it's about business first and technology second, and [00:14:00] sometimes we flip that. And it's like, Oh, this is cool. How do we find a reason to have it? Isn't there a risk though that if we take that to the extreme, that we never implement anything? Because it's all like, oh, that's going to be too hard. That's not the way we do business. We've done it this way forever. There's no reason to change. How do you kind of balance that out with the idea that you need to keep evolving a bit?

Melissa Morman: I like what you said. It's very succinct. It's the business results first, the customer results first and technology enables or supports that. I think if you look at the business results and you actually study what your customers are looking for, that will keep you pretty honest. In fact, I did a webinar this week around the myths of online design centers. It really is about why do we get stuck. We don't get stuck for the reasons we think we do. It's really because we can create so many excuses for why we can't get started.

You know, when you do a demo of a particular product and they're [00:15:00] like, oh, this is so cool. It's so sexy. This is how I do everything in my life. I've got to have this. I got to have this. I'll do this someday. And I'm like, you know, that's code for never. Once you say, yeah, we got to do that someday. I'm like, done. So, I think we have to stop inventing reasons for why we can't get started. Because we feel better, we actually feel super smart. You know, we'll say things like, we've got to have all of our systems integrate in a real-time fashion and, you know, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, backup data before we start. You know what? You've never had that before.

Kevin Weitzel: Have you been listening to my conversations with builders?

Melissa Morman: Kevin, I forgot to say that I also do therapy. It was kind of funny. I was on a panel, and we all were looking at each other. We used to sell competing products, and now, you know, I don't, but it was like the same battle scars. Like, we really do need some therapy. But we do try to strive for perfection, and those are not bad things to strive for, but if we set that as the bar, we have to [00:16:00] have all these things in place before we start, we will never get started. And there is a crawl, walk, run, go where you want to go, but break it down. Break it down into chunks that makes sense for you and don't let the tail wag the dog.

Kevin Weitzel: When you brought up one of the excuses is, you know, cost. They're like, oh, we can't afford to do this. And the harsh reality is that that's BS because the carry costs just on the dirt on one model home, just the dirt, not even building the model home, carrying that dirt for one year can cover the VR for every model you have in that entire community. That's a moot point.

Two, when you have a VR, people are like, Oh, we can't afford VRs. Again, you can pay for every VR with just the carry cost of that dirt. Digital sales centers, what you would pay in insurance, in electricity, you know, just keeping the lights on in a physical digital sales center, you can easily fund a virtual sales center that could feed every division that you have.

Melissa Morman: Enough said. I don't know. [00:17:00] Drop the mic. I think you got it. I think builders struggle with those justifications. And in some cases let's say you could justify a virtual design center if you shut down your physical design center, but they're not going to do that. That may not be part of their strategy.

In fact, one of my kind of recent areas I'm poking around on in my mantras is the concept that we call adaptive retail. That is that your experience isn't one experience over here online and a different experience over here physically. That's one experience. The consumers are coming in and out of at unpredictable points and going back and forth and that whole experience has to tie together. So, whether a builder wants to have a big physical retail design center or they do it in the garage of the model home or they don't have it at all, whatever they do, that all has to fit together.

And by the way, you just buy virtual design center if you didn't have a physical design center. [00:18:00] What we have data on is that the virtual design center actually has a return all by itself. So, we know there's 30 percent more option upgrade sales when you do a virtual design center. So, it is about that ROI. I'm not focusing on the costs of things, but what's their ROI? More importantly, what's that contemporary customer experience that your customers are coming at you with pitchforks for?

I mean, they're appalled when we put them through an experience where we go, Okay, just put a down payment on this house is great. We'll see in about four weeks for a five-hour lovely design center appointment and hang on to your wallet. It's not contemporary. We don't buy tennis shoes that way. Customers are starting to really pull and help us in that journey and that awakening.

Greg Bray: So, Melissa, cost of course is always an issue for people. I haven't yet run into that builder with the unlimited budget. There's a few big ones that have [00:19:00] seemingly close to that but most of them don't. But we're saying, Okay, you can't let the cost get in the way because it's supposed to generate something positive on the other side.

So, how then do we get past the fear that it won't? The fear that, well, what you're telling me is great, Mr. Software salesperson or technology salesperson. But what if I make a mistake and I spend all this money and I do all this training and I get all these tools, whatever it might be, and then I don't get that return? I feel a little vulnerable trying to make that decision. How do you help builders kind of with that part of the process?

Melissa Morman: First, not everybody can control the culture that they work in, but I think it is important to have a culture where we all understand that if we're going to move forward, we will fail. We don't know which experiment will fail. We don't know which thing we try will fail. Hopefully, there's a culture of understanding that failure is a part of that process. Now, if you're going to go [00:20:00] spend 10 million dollars and fail, that's a pretty big fail, right? So, I think it's about taking measured experiments and measured steps. You know, you don't invest the farm and hope that everything will work out.

In this crazy world of shifting technologies, some things will pan out, some things won't. If you wait, though, if you wait until it's so tried and true and every other builder has implemented it, you'll be out of business. You don't always have to be on the bleeding edge, but there is a point where no action actually is a decision.

Greg Bray: You know, when you talk about 10 million dollars. I see builders struggle to spend 20,000 dollars on a website, not 10 million dollars on some crazy thing. And they wait a whole year, and I just think, gosh, if you had just sold one more home over that year because you had something that was more up-to-date, you would have far exceeded the cost of all of that. But still, somehow they can't quite connect the technology to the sale as easily [00:21:00] as maybe we would all like to. Do you see other places where that attribution of connecting the technology to the sales kind of gets in the way or helps either way?

Melissa Morman: I feel for marketing folks and our home builder folks, they have to go in and fight for money and fight for the budget and all of that. But I think the more you can tie it to results, the easier that process will be. And I'm totally with you, Greg. I think we have the value of having seen so many. You have worked with so many builders on their websites and you see the before and the after and you just know. You know this is the right thing to do.

But I think for a home builder, Oh, they'll buy a new website once every five years, or this may be their first time in this role that they're going to do this. They can get pretty seized by fear. You're right time is money in terms of what you lose in that waiting process.

Greg Bray: I love your comment earlier that inaction is a decision. It's not [00:22:00] the absence of a decision. It is a decision. That's awesome. Well, Melissa, you said we don't need to be on the bleeding edge, but what is on the bleeding edge? What's coming and now that you are doing some of this research and looking ahead that builders may want to start paying attention to?

Melissa Morman: I would say AI is probably the biggest shift that I see coming at us. It's such a mixed bag. And in fact, when I was at CES, I actually delved more into the ethics, the morality, the legality of AI because I don't worry so much about the technology. It's going to be what it is and we'll figure out how to use it and all of that. But I wanted to hear from companies who have kind of gone ahead of us and what do they struggle with.

And the good news is, there's amazing opportunities in terms of labor efficiencies with AI and how much we can get done and the resources, especially for marketing. It's incredible. On the flip side, there's some real [00:23:00] challenges if we don't tread somewhat carefully in terms of we could inadvertently step in fair housing because we're using an AI tool and generating copy or working leads or whatever it is that we're doing.

And so, what was interesting to me, whether it was McDonald's or Google or Walmart or whomever, in every meeting, there's a lawyer. Which, that doesn't sound very fun to me. I have some lawyer friends, but you guys are not the funnest to hang out. And when you're in the meeting, it's not usually because it's party time. We have to be really careful, but there are some cool things, lots of really good opportunities. But the dark side is you could really get yourself in some hot water. And so, I think it's this balance.

I think the most fascinating thing, and maybe it's just the background I come from, is I look at Google Bard and how people may search as they go forward. That could be an incredible opportunity for homebuilders. A little bit [00:24:00] scary, I think, you know, in the listing aggregator world, but that's really interesting.

But are we ready? Because I think in order to be ready for that, if we want to be found, we've got to have the right content and we've got to understand all of that. I think the home builders are going to need a lot of help from guys like you as to where I'm going to be preparing for that, and how do we balance that? So, super exciting, but also could really upset some of the apples in the apple cart.

Greg Bray: Those are some great insights. And yeah, it's the Wild West still a little bit with this AI. There's some great things happening. There's a lot of fuzzy questions around the edges of what's okay, what's not.

Melissa Morman: The consumer sentiment around AI is super optimistic, but also super frightened and scared and thinks the government should take control. And so, there's a lot of that. I loved this one guy. He was in the music business. He came forward and he said, well, let's just remember, AI would never have predicted the Beatle's success [00:25:00] because it was just this freak combination of outlying happenings coming together. And so he said, AI is great, we cannot lose our humanness in the process.

Greg Bray: No, great thought, great thought. Well, Melissa, what's one last piece of advice that you would leave builders, especially those who are trying to make technology decisions since we've spent a lot of time on that topic today?

Melissa Morman: Actually, I'll sneak in like three little ones. I would say one, don't be paralyzed by the fear of failing. And it's kind of what we talked about before, you are going to fail, but just be measured in that, and be confident in that, but get going.

Number two is waiting for perfection means you will perish because it will never happen. There is no perfection. There will be no perfect moment when you can pull the trigger on things. The last one and I've just kind of started to play and study this a little bit more is that Gen Zers years are here. They are now homebuyers.

And we thought [00:26:00] millennials were ridiculous. Gen Zers are like, totally out there. I have one and they're adorable, actually. They're purists, right? My 24-year-old will not wear a logo on any of his clothes. I mean, I bought him a Columbia rain jacket, and he's like, I can wear a trash bag. Okay, good. Yeah, a sign of good motherhood. I call them kids, but these, young adults, they've grown up digitally. So, their expectations less as customers will be even more demanding than what we have today.

And so, I think we've got a one, we know we're already behind today and meeting our consumers and what they want in terms of the technology. So, whether it's VR, design center platforms, apps, or portals, whatever that might be, we're behind. Gen Zers are going to apply even more pressure.

In our organizations, the other thing we have to think about is that our employees are Gen Z too. So, how are we going to create an environment for them that [00:27:00] speaks to that? They're not going to be happy with some of the systems that we have and how we communicate and how we work. So, you know, it's just going to be an exciting frontier.

Greg Bray: Well, Melissa, thanks again so much for sharing your thoughts and time with us today. If somebody wants to reach out and connect with you, what's the best way for them to get in touch?

Melissa Morman: They can simply type melissa.morman@ gmail. com. Would love to chat.

Greg Bray: All right. Well, thanks again, Melissa. And thank 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. [00:28:00]

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