On this week’s episode of The Home Builder Digital Marketing Podcast, Dana Spencer of K. Hovnanian Homes joins Greg and Kevin to discuss why home building is much more than just about selling homes, it’s about emotionally connecting with the home buyer and helping them find the right home for the right reasons.
Dana Spencer’s leadership is centered on continuous improvement, coaching with grit and grace, and a deep gratitude for the home building industry. She has been in the real estate and new home building industry for nearly two decades. She was the 2016 and 2017 Sales Manager of the Year with the Home Builders Association of Central Arizona. In 2018 she was recruited by K. Hovnanian Homes, a national home builder, to serve as the Vice President of Sales with the Arizona Division. Six months later, she was promoted to her current role as the National Vice President of Sales where she leads the corporate sales efforts, initiatives, and strategies on a national level.
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: We are excited today to welcome to the show Dana Spencer. Dana is The National Vice President of Sales at K. Hovnanian Homes. Welcome Dana. Thanks for joining us today.
Dana Spencer: Thanks for having me. I'm excited to be here.
Greg Bray: Why don't we start off with a quick introduction, help people get to know you a little bit better and tell us a little bit about yourself.
Dana Spencer: Well, I have been at K. Hovnanian for right around four years. Started in the home [00:01:00] building industry in 2003 back in Las Vegas, Nevada.
As you all know, the market in 2003 started to creep on up. So I've been in sales for almost 20 years, which is crazy to me. It's gone so fast. Entered leadership around 2011 and very quickly I was offered a position, recruited over to K. Hovnanian Homes at the division level, and six months into my new role there, I was approached by the CEO and said, hey, we've created this national department and congratulations, you've been promoted to The National VP of Sales and I've been doing that, actually tomorrow will be my third anniversary.
Greg Bray: Oh, happy anniversary.
Dana Spencer: Thank you.
Kevin Weitzel: Now that's a lot of business talk right there. I need, and this is just something for our regular listeners, I need something personal. I need to know something about you that people will learn on this podcast.
Dana Spencer: Okay. Well, I have a blended family, so we have a family of four and I am the grandmother of five grand babies, and my sixth grand baby is due in [00:02:00] November. I don't feel old enough to say I'm the grandmother of five nonetheless, that it's soon to be six. If you want to know something that not a lot of people know about me, as a teenager, I spent a lot of time in Saudi Arabia.
My father worked for Saudi Arabia airlines, and I was introduced to that culture around the age of 15 and spent many a summer, many a holiday. It was a crazy time to be able to enjoy that part of the world.
Greg Bray: Interesting. I bet that's a whole other conversation we could have.
Well, Dana, tell us why you decided you wanted to be in home building. What was it that got you started way back in kindergarten, I think is when you said you started. What was it that interested you in this particular industry?
Dana Spencer: Well, my journey into home building kind of found me. I didn't find home building. Truth be told, I was a single mom and I lived in Washington state. I was an event planner for a window manufacturer, and part of my job was to create events. I had created events in Las Vegas, Nevada at The Home Builders [00:03:00] Show, and we're having an event and I was going around being the hostess.
That was part of my role. I happened to speak to the Division President of Pulte Homes, and we were having a conversation and he looked over at me and said, have you ever thought about going in sales? I put my hands up and said, I am not a salesperson. He said to me, how much do you make?
I said proudly, I make $38,000 a year. This was in 2002. Again, single mom. I was in debt every single month. I got on the plane to go back home and it planted a seed because what he said to me, was you could make three, four, and five times that much. So I went home, got on my computer.
Didn't do a lot of research about home building, mostly about real estate. Started taking classes from Washington State. When I finished my classes, I emailed Steve and I said, hey, I just finished my classes. He said, I would like you to come out for an interview, and he offered me a job.
Kevin Weitzel: A little side note there, somewhere in this planet, Chris Hartley is sitting there with a cup of coffee and literally just spit it out. When you limited yourself to only three, four or five [00:04:00] times that amount, he's like, what Dana, why would you say to limit yourself to only 3, 4, 5 times?
Dana Spencer: I know. If only, I knew then what I know now.
Greg Bray: Hopefully Chris didn't make too big a mess.
Well, Dana, when you look at Pulte, you started at the bottom of the building ladder as far as size goes. Now you're at this other tiny builder called K. Hovnanian. I'm being facetious just in case people can't tell that in my voice. For those who aren't very familiar with K. Hovnanian Homes and where you guys are located and kind of your target. Tell us a little bit more about the company and what you guys are selling and who you're selling it to.
Dana Spencer: So, K. Hovnanian is one of the top fifteen home builders in the United States with home building revenues and home deliveries. We're in fourteen different markets. We have been in business 62 years. A great story about Mr. Kovork Hovnanian and how he started this company, and now being run by Ara Hovnanian. We've delivered over a hundred 350ish thousand homes since we started our company. We have a very [00:05:00] diversified mix of housing products that we serve.
We serve everywhere from entry-level, move up, luxury, attached town homes, mid-rise, high-rise, and active lifestyle communities.
Greg Bray: Dana, do you differentiate that a lot by market? Is that how you decide which homes you're going to go for or is it kind of the same everywhere of what you're doing?
Dana Spencer: There are some that do more I would say to mid-rise, high-rise than others, but we really are trying to diversify right now to serve the markets and just to serve all home buyers. The market where it's at right now, costs are up and pricing is up, so that entry level point is really important.
We found through the pandemic, we haven't had to shift a lot, but we have seen some changes happening with the way people view their homes. So we try not to box ourselves in to a market and look more towards what could help serve the market, grow market share.
Kevin Weitzel: When you're talking about product, and by the way, this is a [00:06:00] compliment because I'm in the Arizona market myself, and I've seen like Skye and some of the other attached townhomes you guys make, and they are the bees knees. If you are ever in the Phoenix market, and you want to see how you should be building townhomes, you need to stop by K. Hovnanian Project. How do you differentiate yourself with all the other me too companies that basically come and they're trying to copy what you guys do?
Dana Spencer: I think there's a few things. I think it's the way that you approach the interiors, the way people are living in their homes.
We've got things that we try and do that help people remember K. Hovnanian. In the end, we all sell a box and we have to create a vision inside that box. I will go back to where my heart is, my sales soul I call it. I believe that what we're trying to do is have a great product, have great land position.
From the minute somebody walks into one of our sales offices, they experience one of our sales consultants, somebody who is helping them and advising [00:07:00] them on what the next steps are. Let's create a relationship that's based on why are you looking to improve your home? It's not about just selling a home.
It's about buying the right home too, that fits the home buyers, and I think that's a big part of that. That's a differentiator. There's a lot of great salespeople out there, but if you can create an experience and help somebody in the journey of buying a home, making it an emotional one, as well as financial and advise them on all aspects of that, I think that can help differentiate.
Greg Bray: Dana, you mentioned that when you got your current position, that it was new. They said we've created this new national, what was it that led them to decide, we need a more national corporate type oversight, I guess, maybe that's the wrong word, but of what's going on, and how has that evolved from a structure and organization standpoint?
Dana Spencer: The creation of the department came from a couple of different things. It was a lot of conversation with the board and obviously our COO, our [00:08:00] CEO, or CFO on what's next for K. Hovananian, how do we continue to scale and grow?
One of the areas that we wanted to have a more streamlined focus was in the sales processes. How do you do that? You do that by creating a department and having somebody who can help to drive that from the sales consultants perspective, sales and leadership perspective. Then the other part of that was they wanted to nationalize our call center. Every division had what we called a CIS. They had their own. Everybody did it all differently.
They said, we need to centralize this. We need to be focused on serving the buyers that are coming to us, the website traffic, right? Think about this, we started this process three years ago and who would have known a year and a half in a pandemic would have hit.
CIS has been critical in maintaining a lot of our success right now because we've been able to drive appointments and drive traffic through digital means. It's just been incredible to [00:09:00] think that the timing of that couldn't have been more perfect. So what we found is by being able to streamline we're all selling from the same place.
We have what we call our Hov Strong. We have our Hov Strong process. Yes, you may have to adapt it to your market. We've all adopted the Hov Strong process rowing in the same direction. Same thing for sales leadership, which really it starts there because if sales leadership believes in what we're doing and we're all focused and centered on what's important, that then goes down into our stream of sales consultants who are critical to our success. They are our brand embassadors.
Greg Bray: So Dana, these standardized and kind of overarching processes, how much of those are from a sales standpoint, but also kind of in the marketing piece, is the messaging the same across divisions as well? Where does that kind of now have to diverge a little bit because the product may be a little bit different or the competitive landscape is a little bit different, and how do you kind of manage those?
Dana Spencer: As we train and teach our sales [00:10:00] consultants, the process is the same, but you adjusted it to what you're selling. For example, the process of selling a house, how we categorize our buyers, how we look to get them to yes or no, yes or no, because we're going to get no's, is the same, but the way you speak to a move up buyer versus a entry-level, your language needs to be the same.
So if we create scripts, that is, you have to say this, that's where it becomes very difficult. We do not create scripts for our sales consultants.
We create dialogues and they take that dialogue and they put it in their voice for their market. That has helped tremendously. We get a lot of feedback that by not saying you have to say it exactly this way, but we're just going to give you the dialogue and now I call it Danafy, you have the Danafy it,
I don't do scripts. If I wanted a script, I would be a movie star because you've got a script. You don't vary off that. People need to be their authentic selves and that's how you allow them to be [00:11:00] their authentic selves, by allowing them to adopt it to the market, the product they're selling the community and the buyer profile.
Kevin Weitzel: I have a question. How do you intertwine with marketing? I know K Hov, you have a marketing team, you have a sales team, with your posture in the company, how much influence do you have over the activities and the actions that the marketing team and the campaigns that they put forth?
Dana Spencer: I am so grateful to be able to partner with marketing.
I have a great relationship with our CMO. His name is Ron Nelson. He's amazing, and we have formed a very strong relationship. We both acknowledge the influence that he has on my team that I have on his team. Immediately, he wanted sales training. I have a director of sales training at falls under my department as well, and he wanted to bring his marketing team and be trained by my director of training. We took them through how our salespeople sell the houses. Here's the thing that was incredible, they realized that we weren't [00:12:00] talking the same language, that the way our sales consultants talk and the way marketing is putting marketing out there, they were not aligned.
In fact, when they would have their divisional meetings, they would have somebody come and say, we need to have a campaign for our Cat 1 buyers, which is not ready, they're not in the market even, and for QMI's, and when we aligned the two, now the conversation is, wait a minute, you're saying you want to sell a QMI, but we're talking about a category of buyer that isn't even in the market yet. Somebody who's not in the market, why would they even consider a QMI? We need to talk about why would they get into the market right now? Our marketing strategy has absolutely changed in the last two years.
They bring me in and let me be part of those collaboration meetings, so that my sales expertise, when they've got an idea, collaboration is the best gift in any corporation. When you can collaborate, just your success can be off the charts.
I'm thankful for that because I know that many times everybody can get into their box and say, stay out of my sandbox, [00:13:00] you're not in marketing, you're in sales, they don't mix. It has changed everything. We quarterly meet and we talk about what's happening in the market. What are our sales consultants seeing? How is the buyer profile changing? It's exciting to watch this end product and this message is so vital and important right now.
It's just been incredible, but it takes egos being checked at the door and everybody working and rowing in the same direction. I'm grateful that I have that partnership.
Greg Bray: Do you think Dana, that that's unique and that most people haven't figured that out yet? Or do you think that's something that is becoming more common at other companies as well, this ability to kind of check those egos and work together better?
Dana Spencer: I think that it's a constant struggle. You have to have the right leadership in place to make sure that you're both aligned. Although you have a department you're responsible for, when we see each other's value. In being able to achieve the goals that you want to achieve, it changes everything.
[00:14:00] I think that some companies do it well. I think some do not. I think some just are we'll figure out the campaigns, you just go sell houses. I'm very happy that at K. Hovnanian, we do not believe that. It's not just about our sales consultants aren't just salespeople who sell houses, they do much more.
Greg Bray: I love the way you actually put the marketing team through the sales training to help them see the other side. That's an idea I don't know that I've heard lots of people doing, cause sometimes there are some personality differences in those two groups, for sure.
Dana Spencer: Yeah, they loved it. It was really neat to watch their eyes open. We took them through an exercise around the six human needs and why do people buy homes? Just planting that knowledge with them when you're trying to create marketing campaigns, and you're thinking about the six human needs, you could watch their faces, and it was really exciting to see.
We did the same thing with our mortgage company because our mortgage company is talking to our buyers. If our mortgage company is talking to our buyers with the same languages that sales consultants are talking about, you have this synergy that again, just makes it easier on our [00:15:00] home buyers.
It's tough buying a house. It's not easy, and we have to make it as easy on them emotionally as we can.
Kevin Weitzel: Well, these are the things that you learn just by doing what you do for years being excellent at what you do and these life lessons, what would you take from what you know now and teach your 20-year-old self that's just getting in the home building industry?
Dana Spencer: I would say focus on the emotional side of why somebody is trying to improve their life.
Why somebody needs to get into the market. What would home ownership mean to them? Sometimes we get focused on all the reasons why you should buy from K. Hovnanian. Why you should buy this home, this area, this community, but if there's not an emotional tie to why they're doing that, sometimes you lose your buyers.
I wasn't immediately successful. I realized that it wasn't about feature dumping and people want to connect and they want to follow somebody that they trust, they have rapport with. They don't have to like me. It's not like I need more friends, but if they respect my [00:16:00] knowledge and they respect what I'm trying to accomplish for them, it makes all the difference in the world.
Greg Bray: So Dana, as you talk about connecting with buyers and the things that they're looking for, what are you seeing changing from what buyers are expecting not just from the product, but also from the process and the experience. How has that changed, especially over the last couple of years with the COVID challenges?
Dana Spencer: So very interesting how this whole thing has happened. I can say this cause I've been in the home building industry for a lot of years. We typically fall behind with digital things. We just do. We're not as fast as other companies out there getting into the digital age.
What I've loved is that this fast tracked it. Most of the home builders had to catch on very quickly, how to have zoom meetings, how to sell houses over FaceTime, all of those things. So in the expectation of the of a home buyer, they expect us to be able to digitally help them quickly from floor plans to picking out [00:17:00] options and all of those things. They want to do it online.
I still think they need the emotional connection to a human that helps them see those decisions, and that's in conjunction with the digital aspect. That's from that standpoint. From the house perspective, the home, I think that what we've seen is the way people live in their homes, and how they look at their homes, and what is functional space and what is not functional space.
We've all been working from home. I've been working from home and we just built our house and moved in a couple of years ago, and I said to my husband, we need a second office. I love our home, but you look at it differently.
I think that's what we're seeing people are saying, okay, if I'm going to have to homeschool, if I'm going to be working from home, how does this space work versus what used to work? I believe there is much more critique to wasted space.
Greg Bray: Builders in general and maybe specifically with your company [00:18:00] as well, are you trying to address some of those questions earlier in the process? Like in the way you describe homes on the website and some of the ways that you maybe highlight, even if you didn't change the floor plan, but can you change the label to office two instead of extra bedroom or whatever is an option? Are you seeing that type of messaging evolve as well, or is it just more once they're their visiting the model that that the salesperson is talking to them about those options?
Dana Spencer: I think it's both, but it's definitely starting from the moment they visit our website, even in our campaigns about thinking about a space differently. How people were using their living rooms as yoga rooms, right?
How do you then move forward and push that into, okay, see this house differently, right? Whether it's a den, can the den be a classroom, right? There's so many more uses. So, depending on market, we look at ways that we can take that one room, and now, how can we reach more. Instead of calling it a den, do you have a name that's [00:19:00] associated so that people can see it's more than a den.
Greg Bray: I think that's a great insight that I hadn't really thought a lot about, the homeschool classroom version two with extra plugs for laptops. Right? So Dana, as you've been working on improving these processes and this messaging and everything, what are some of the challenges you've had to overcome to kind of help your team move forward and get better?
Dana Spencer: We quickly had to pivot. I'll go to the sales piece first. We closed our offices down. We were by appointment only, no walk in traffic. There were those that were not comfortable going into a sales office, and how do keep selling houses?
We have a business plan that we need to hit, and so we need to maximize every opportunity that we have with somebody that says they're interested with us. I will tell you, I'm so proud of the way that the team has pivoted because essentially one of the biggest objections that we get a lot in home selling is the absentee buyer.
I need to go home and talk to my husband about [00:20:00] this. He couldn't make it out today. We've wiped that away because somebody says my husband's not here. Great. Let's FaceTime them. Let's take them on a digital tour. There is no out anymore.
The ability to sell a house without somebody ever stepping foot is real cause we did it. We've done it a lot. With somebody who feels comfortable, the way that our sales consultants are able to visually paint the picture for them, and that is an incredible opportunity for us. From the marketing perspective, from the home buyer perspective, we needed to do some changes on our website.
We are still integrating things that we know we need to do. Let's let them look at the options online and get a real look at what that home would look like with their choices in it, not our model choices, right? Those things take time. Everybody has projects on their plate when you're going to change a process like that, you sometimes can't get there as fast as you want, so you have to have a whole lot of patience.
Greg Bray: What are you [00:21:00] looking at in the future that you guys are getting ready for now? What do you think is coming that we haven't quite seen the full impact of yet?
Dana Spencer: I think what's coming is we are not going to go backwards and yes, we may open up our sales offices and yes, we will always have some walk-in traffic, but what's changing is people are comfortable buying a home online and how can we make that easier for them?
Do we let them pick their home site, pick their home and go to contract right from the website. There are builders that are doing that right now. There are those that are comfortable doing that and recognizing and respecting that people can do that.
It is not saying that sales consultants are not important because they are, but there are some buyers depending on where they are in their life, that have bought and built enough homes, they are comfortable with that process and to take that away just because the landscape changes, right?
This pandemic goes away and we don't need that anymore, I think would be a big mistake. We need to look at the successes that we had, the adoptions that we've [00:22:00] needed to do and the pivoting that we've needed to do, and not just forget it. Look at the success with that, and how can you then enhance that moving forward?
What are we trying to do with a home buyer that says, hey, I'm looking for a new home. You want to make it as simplistic as you can, so that they don't just put their hands up and say I'm just going to stay in my home because it's too much.
Greg Bray: That is a challenge because it is a big process, right? There's a lot of moving parts. There's a lot of details , and it is overwhelming, and there are people that don't handle that as well, so for sure, trying to find ways to simplify it.
I completely agree with you that the sales consultant is not going to go away, regardless of how much selling we do online. It's not going to go away, but I do think their job is going to change a little bit. Do you agree with that, that their role in the process maybe where they come into the process will be different than maybe it is today as more of that is online, and what they'll need to be able to do and handle maybe a little bit different than it is today?
Dana Spencer: I do. I think that absolutely we need [00:23:00] to start preparing for that. We've already started to prepare for the way that our sales consultants view their jobs. An example of that would be we talk a lot about that we view our communities as a franchise of the brand of K. Hovnanian, and when you are managing a franchise, it's not just about selling homes. It's about managing the asset, the land, right? It's about managing your buyers. It's about managing your traffic and managing your marketing piece on that, and partnering with the people that we have to help get there.
The idea around how do you take on a prospect who has expressed interest in and is down the path? What's that handoff look like? If you press in and start selling, selling, selling them when they've already been sold, there's a disconnect here. We call it a singing a Christmas Carol at Halloween.
It just doesn't make sense. There's a disconnect and people want to run away from people that are not [00:24:00] speaking their language and so you got to prepare for it now. Our home buyers have learned something about themselves and what they will and can accept and how that home buying journey looks, and we as sales consultants need to be prepared to move along with them.
Greg Bray: I love that analogy of singing Christmas carols at Halloween. Kevin, maybe we should do a Halloween special where we sing Christmas carols.
Well. Dana, we really appreciate how much time you spent with us today and the thoughts you've shared. Just as we kind of wrap up, we just want to give you a chance, is there any little piece of advice that you didn't get a chance to share today that you think would help the folks out there improve their sales processes, or just their lives in general that you want to want to share with the world?
Dana Spencer: Gosh, I would say that anybody who's a sales consultant right now, don't reach your ceiling. If you're getting close to say, I am really successful, I've done really well, make sure you push those boundaries because if you want to continually evolve in this business, you can never reach that ceiling.
When you do, you might as well retire, because the market is going to shift on a dime [00:25:00] and you won't be ready and you'll get left behind. As sales leadership, I would say I believe, and I operate from a perspective of empowerment, I believe the gift of empowerment is one that is not easily given. We tend to be, in leadership, control freaks, and yet when you empower your people, it's giving them trust. Many times you can see the growth in them faster, just because of that gift of empowerment.
Then overall, I would just say, I have learned in my life to have a lot of gratitude. I would tell you that little tiny seed that Steve planted about going into homes, and from a girl who is making $38,000 a year, to being able to pay for college and do things that I never thought would be possible. I have so much gratitude. The journey how I have gotten more than that has not been an easy one, but I have still embraced that journey because, and have so much gratitude for it because getting into home building, absolutely changed my life.
Greg Bray: Wow. That's great advice, [00:26:00] especially the gratitude. I think we can all use a little more gratitude in our lives for sure. Well, Dana, we are grateful for you being here today with us. Thank you so much. If somebody wants to connect with you and learn a little bit more, what's the best way for them to get in touch?
Dana Spencer: email@example.com is my email.
Greg Bray: Terrific. Well, thank you Dana again, 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..