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173 Keeping Home Buyers Off the Rollercoaster - Eric Ziegler

This week on The Home Builder Digital Marketing Podcast, Eric Ziegler of Landmark Homes joins Greg and Kevin to discuss how digital marketing and sales teams can keep customers off the home construction rollercoaster.

The drastic highs and lows of the home buying experience are often an emotional rollercoaster. Eric explains, “For those of you who don't know the construction rollercoaster...it's the peak of excitement of making the decision to sign the contract, getting to design the house, and getting everything where it needs to be. And then it's a long pause to get the lot and loan settlement. Then it's the high when the house goes vertical and you get it all framed up and wow, we're almost done. But you're not, right? You got all the messy logistics and the HVAC and the plumbing and the paint and the trim and the details, and you're like, what is going on? Are we there yet? And then you finally get to settlement, which is another high point.”

Home builder digital marketing and sales teams can help soften the extreme ups and downs by measuring home buyers’ happiness levels throughout their journey. Eric says, “...we just looked at different elements of that, and we used some different tools to survey through the process of the construction rollercoaster to understand, are the customers happy?”

Understanding customer expectations and consistent communication are key to a positive home buyer experience. Eric says, “We try to stay pretty close to them and understand what their wants and needs are…we just try to walk with them in the journey and make sure that we're all on the same page.”

Listen to this week’s episode to learn more about how to soften the home buying construction rollercoaster.

About the Guest:

Eric Ziegler is the Executive Vice President at Landmark Homes, a family-owned home builder serving Central Pennsylvania for over 25 years.  Eric graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in Mechanical Engineering from Penn State University and later pursued his MBA from Lebanon Valley College.  He has a passion for solving challenges and leading the team to design, develop and build dream homes for their customers.  He is focused on creating an amazing team and culture to better serve customers.

When Eric isn’t building homes, he enjoys spending time with his wife and three children on their farm where they sell pick-your-own flowers. 


Episode #173: Eric Ziegler

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 Zonda Livable.

Greg Bray: And we are excited today to welcome to the show, Eric Ziegler. Eric is the Executive Vice President at Landmark Homes. Welcome, Eric. Thanks for being with us today.

Eric Ziegler: Greg, Kevin, appreciate the opportunity. It's great to meet you guys and spend a little bit of time together this afternoon.

Greg Bray: Well, Eric, let's start off and just let you introduce yourself briefly and help folks get to know you a little bit.

Eric Ziegler: Yeah, so I'm executive Vice President here at Landmark Homes in [00:01:00] central PA, kind of a family-owned builder serving the area for the last 25 years. So, it's just been a lot of fun with the organization. So, kinda my background is a little bit of mechanical engineering from Penn State. Did my MBA and just fell in love here with Landmark and just the opportunity to serve the local community, building different homes for our customers. Kind of Focused on our team and our culture and just what we can do to serve them.

Kevin Weitzel: So, that's the business side of you. We need to know a personal tidbit about you that people will learn on this podcast that has nothing to do with the home building industry.

Eric Ziegler: Yeah, no, Kevin, great question. You know, I really enjoy business. Business is a lot of fun. I like the challenge, the opportunity it brings. Not too long ago, before I actually came in the home building industry, we have a 200-cow dairy that's kind of been my wife's family. So, we operate that kind of gives us busy.

And then over COVID, my wife just loves animals and flowers and she had this idea for this flower farm and pick your own. So, we kind of launched that through the whole COVID process. It's just been a lot of fun to see people come out and enjoy that.[00:02:00] It has continued to grow. You know, hopefully, our kids kind of step in and help operate that. No, just love being outside. You know, we have a whitewater rafting trip to West Virginia planned this weekend with a bunch of guys. So, it will just be good to get outside and disconnect and come back recharged and ready to go.

Greg Bray: Two hundred cows. That's a lot of milk. And you have time to have another job? I don't understand.

Eric Ziegler: I don't like to get bored, so maybe that's my own problem. But no, so it quantifies like 14,000 pounds of milk a day. So, if you think of one of those tractor-trailers that goes down the road every two days, we fill half of it. It's kind of a good partnership between my wife and my father-in-law. They run a lot of it. We have some labor we bring in and there's some seasonal crunch around a harvest time for the forage for the cows. But it's something different. Just a different challenge, different opportunity, and something we started and just enjoy keeping in the family. So, it's good.

Greg Bray: That's definitely one we have not had before.

Eric Ziegler: There you go. A home builder and a farmer all in the same.

Greg Bray: Well, Eric, tell us how you [00:03:00] decided to get into the home building business as far as your choice and path and what attracted you to this industry.

Eric Ziegler: Yeah, I kind of fell into real estate I guess post bubble in 2008. It was just me and a friend kind of looking for a side hustle, and we got into rehabbing properties. I remember walking down the street and looking at a bunch of different properties and seeing how we can add value back to the community and, you know, make a few dollars on the side. So, we started flipping properties together. That really kind of taught me kind of housing and the business and what people were looking for and what worked and what didn't work.

Soon after that, I got into the farming deal, got outta my MBA and I just enjoyed engineering and it gave me an analytical background, but fell in love with business and, you know, what could that do? Sometime shortly after that, the owners of Landmark approached me and said, Hey, would you be interested? And I said, Hey, it sounds like a lot of fun. So, I joined the company in 2019 and shortly after then, we came into COVID.

So, there always seems to be something exciting. That's taught us a ton. Me, especially just coming through that opportunity. It's [00:04:00] hard to believe, you know, it's coming on four and a half years that I've been with Landmark. It's just been a blur and an absolute blast to work with customers.

You know, whether it's designing new product, launching new communities, you know, working with operations, and now you know, more so on the marketing side. Through COVID you didn't have to work so hard, but I think now that's where we spend a lot of our opportunities in sales and marketing to figure out how to get in front of customers and educate them on why now is a good time to buy a new home.

Greg Bray: So, tell us just a little bit more about Landmark and the types of homes you guys are building and the buyer's demographic that you're trying to serve.

Eric Ziegler: Yeah, we're here in central Pennsylvania, so the six surrounding counties. We build single-family residences, you know, duplexes, townhomes. We do multi-family apartments for ourselves mainly. We're probably sized around 250 a year. COVID took us bigger than that. So, depending on what the market brings. Anything from move-up to estate homes, you know, on two or three-acre lots.

We do some build on your own home site. So, if a [00:05:00] customer comes to us and wants a custom build, we'll do all the land development between the stormwater and the septic and the well. Yeah, it's a private family-owned business. Just a lot of fun. You know, I get to know all the employees really well. Plan to grow and continue our influence as long as customers will support us in our journey.

Greg Bray: So, you mentioned just a moment ago, kind of the change between COVID and post-COVID from a sales and marketing perspective. Walk us through a little bit more detail of what you guys have been having to do differently the last year or so, you know, as we've come out of COVID and the buyer activity has changed.

Eric Ziegler: Yeah. I think the biggest driver for that, Greg, was interest rates. I think coming through COVID you had, I don't know if it's fair, but I'm gonna call it free money. Money you might not see again. With rates being that low and coming out of COVID the rates, the Fed started doing their thing to control inflation and the economy, and as they raised that it started at some point to give [00:06:00] people pause.

Different people quantified at different times, whether it was June or July of next year. But definitely, by the fall, I think a lot of people were feeling it. There was just definitely an education factor. You're reading all the news, they call it the golden handcuffs where people who bought a really low rate, I'm never moving, I'm staying.

Well, everybody has life events that happens. And we know, historically the average was seven years that someone lived in a property or a home. They say that's getting longer now because of the golden handcuffs with that. But everyone faces something, you know, whether, hey, I ran out of space, or, hey, I have a different job opportunity or something happens with family.

We just had to spend a lot more time messaging and looking at different tools in the economy that we can use with banks and buy-downs and discounts and promotions. And then just different marketing channels to get in front of customers. Explain now's still a good time to buy a home, and here's how we can get you in there. Let's have a conversation. So, I think there was a lot of time around the education and the tools and how they worked.

Kevin Weitzel: You know, [00:07:00] Eric, I have a pair of those golden handcuffs. You will have to pry my two-and-a-half percent interest rate from my cold dead hands.

Eric Ziegler: Maybe we should take it offline and have a conversation and talk about some opportunities here to get you in a new home.

Kevin Weitzel: Totally.

Greg Bray: It is a real thing for a certain part of the buying public, but you can't say that it's everybody. Just like you were saying, folks have different individual personal situations and it's all about trying to be in front of them at the right place in the right time when they start that process. How do you guys decide where you wanna be in your messaging? What is it that helps you guide some of those decisions?

Eric Ziegler: Yeah. So, sometimes I have to take the engineer back out of me because I wanted the one size fits all. Like, I wanted to structure a program that, hey, when a customer comes to us, this is what's gonna work for them. Let's run 'em through that. We have a network of preferred lenders that we use in the region and we structure different deals specific to our relationships and it's [00:08:00] advantageous to our customers. It's synergistic that it helps both us, the lender, and our customer.

I tried to go down that route and the longer I had a conversation with more of 'em, it depend. You know, Greg, you're gonna have a different situation than Kevin is and you know where you're at and what your goals are and where you want to be, and how close to retirement you are. You know, if you're just moving up in your job and your long-term plan.

So, we talked a lot about it and we just had to come up with different opportunities for different people and then just really refer 'em to our lenders and rely on our lenders to walk 'em through those situations, and what that would look like. So, I had to give up on my one size fits all, like magic pill because it didn't exist. And I couldn't get that lucky.

But I think we structured around, you know, you really had to understand who your customer was. Is it the first-time home buyer? Which we do very few of. Just because of what we saw on the market. Was it a move-up? Was it a right sizing or was it one of our 55-plus communities? Even within that segment, they had different needs and wants. I think just really [00:09:00] educating our team on that and then referring it out to our trusted partners to have that conversation with them and find the right tool or opportunity that worked for them.

Greg Bray: Tell us a little bit more, Eric, about how you've decided to structure your team internally from a sales and marketing standpoint, and which skills you want in-house, and which things you use partners to help support you with.

Eric Ziegler: Since I've been here, our team has been in-house. I think going back when the company was first started, or in the early days we used a lot of outsourced, but as we grew, I think a lot of the focus became around controlling who Landmark is, controlling the customer experience, controlling the brand. And a lot of it came in-house because of that. And that was the big advantage. We could move quickly. For today, that's still one of our key advantages is that we can control the process.

Our sales team is all in-house. All of our marketing for the most part is in-house. We use third parties for new projects or to consult or advise when we make a shift. Our brokerage is in-house. We have title outside, but everything [00:10:00] else is in-house. And start to finish, we can take it. We can adapt quickly, we can build new things, we can pivot. It gives us more of a custom approach. Whereas sometimes you go outside it's limited resources or kind of the one size fits all. I'm not saying it's right for everybody, but that's what works for us.

Greg Bray: Oh, there's always more than one way to do it. Absolutely. That's one reason why we love finding out how everybody does it, so we could get, oh, I never thought of doing it that way. That's great. Eric, talk to us a little bit about that buyer experience. You mentioned wanting to have more control over that. What are some of the top priorities for you guys in improving your buyer experience?

Eric Ziegler: I think it's paramount because we wanna drive referrals, we want people to have a positive experience. I don't know how familiar you guys are with the construction rollercoaster, but when I stepped into the new home construction business, our VP of Sales explained it to me. I said, wait, I gotta see this in a picture format. And it was very early on, you know, every now and then you get yourself in a challenge or you miss an expectation, and then you had [00:11:00] to pull out this construction rollercoaster. And more often than not, you know, they were in one of those segments, which was a low point.

For those of you who don't know the construction rollercoaster, you know, it's the peak of excitement of making the decision to sign the contract, getting to design the house, and getting everything where it needs to be. And then it's long pause to get the lot and loan settlement. Then it's the high when the house goes vertical and you get it all framed up and wow, we're almost done. But you're not, right?

You got all the messy logistics and the HVAC and the plumbing and the paint and the trim and the details, and you're like, what is going on? Are we there yet? And then you finally get to settlement, which is another high point. So, I think we just looked at different elements of that, and we used some different tools to survey through the process of the construction rollercoaster to understand, you know, are the customers happy.

The other nice thing about keeping employees in-house, the same salesperson can get engaged start to finish and have that relationship and kind of set those expectations. So, a lot of feedback through that. A big part of customer satisfaction is Landmark holding their commitments and their promise. So, [00:12:00] some of that for everybody got challenging through COVID, but we look at different areas of that.

Greg Bray: Hey everybody, this is Greg from Blue Tangerine and I just wanted to take a quick break to make sure you know about the upcoming Home Builder Digital Marketing Summit that Blue Tangerine is hosting together with OutHouse, October 18th and 19th in Denver, Colorado.

This is gonna be an amazing event full of digital marketing insights, knowledge, best practices, and most importantly, some fun. So, be sure that you get registered today and come hang out with us, an amazing team of speakers and presenters that are gonna be together. Again, that's October 18th and 19th in Denver, and you can learn more and get registered at buildermarketingsummit.com. We'll see you there.

Kevin Weitzel: Now this question may be asking you to open the kimono too much and if that's the case, just say so. In your specific market, cuz every market across the country is different. Is it Ephrata? Ephrata, Pennsylvania?

Eric Ziegler: We say Ephrata.

Kevin Weitzel: So, Ephrata. In Ephrata, are you experiencing in your market the affordability issues that a lot of the other countries having? Number one, and the second part of that, do you still have a steady flow of your ideal or optimal customer or client?

Eric Ziegler: So, Kevin, can you just define affordability a little bit further for me so I understand where you're coming with your questions?

Kevin Weitzel: Well, affordability varies from region to region, but I would say that as far as designing and selling a product that the mean income could afford to purchase.

Eric Ziegler: I think part of central PA is kind of insulated a little bit more from the highs and the lows. Like, I think some of your coastal cities and stuff see market demand and market crashes more than we do.[00:13:00] That's a little bit separate than your question. I think a lot of the affordability is driven specifically to PA, we're in the Chesapeake Bay watershed and there's like a lot of stormwater implications, and the development costs are just significant.

So, the other thing we deal with is preserve farmland. It's land that no one can touch forever that's just going to be held for ag. I'm not here to say that's right or wrong, but it is just a challenge that we deal with. A lot of the cost going into it is getting the land ready for it and they don't have the density quite set up to make it affordable. It is definitely a challenge that's gonna take, you know, a bigger government effort to fix.

I'm not sure that a lot of it's actually the sticks and bricks in home building and vertical construction. So, I think if you're looking at affordability, it's probably more on the land development side, land use, land regulation that needs to shift to get the density to bring the affordability back down. If you're gonna tackle it, I think that's where you need to start.

Greg Bray: Eric, as you look to improve that customer [00:14:00] experience, what are some of the ways you guys have embraced digital technologies to help with communication and supporting that customer journey?

Eric Ziegler: There was a tool called BombBomb we used for a while that got really popular. It was just a way to get video interaction with customers. We'll actually do a pre-con meeting with the customer on-site before construction starts and walk them through that. They have electric walkthrough where they are just different touch points throughout the process where we bring the customer in and just touch base with them.

Before that, in the design of the home, we have design gallery open houses. They can come, touch, feel our product. They get a design consultant where we sit down and make selections. So, we're pretty hands-on with the customer all the way through to final settlement. We survey after design gallery and then we survey post-settlement. And then, you know, we have the one-year follow-up when we do the warranty closeout.

So, we try to stay pretty close to them and understand what their wants and needs are. And, you know, they always have access to our salespeople if they have any questions along the way. So, we just [00:15:00] try to walk with them in the journey and make sure that we're all on the same page.

Greg Bray: Are you having any issues or challenges with pushback from the sales team as you try to implement new technologies and try to recognize that buyers come more and more educated than ever before? You know, where they're worried about being replaced by online buying or any of those types of trends?

Eric Ziegler: It's probably split. You have some that are early adopters in the sales team that are a little bit more exciting, charismatic, and they're like, oh, let's try something new. And then like it fizzles out, right? You don't get 'em to continue with it. And then you have the others that are like, I'm not gonna get on video. Like, you know, they're really nervous of that, you know, when we implemented BombBomb.

I think a lot of times we try to vet the technology and make sure like it has a purpose and kind of what the goal is and sell the why. You know, walk them through it, and then that helps with adoption. I think it's like anything else, it's the change management. Why are we using it? What's the benefit? And you can sell that, so.

Recently we're working on a new ERP adoption [00:16:00] and that's our software platform that we're on. That's been a little bit of a challenge. Not saying that the software is good or bad, but it's a change, and just trying to get everyone to change to that just has been a lot of fun.

Greg Bray: A lot of fun. That's what he said, Kevin. He said a lot of fun. Okay.

Kevin Weitzel: He said fun to ERP implementation.

Eric Ziegler: I didn't say it was easy. I didn't say it was easy.

Kevin Weitzel: Oh, but you also did say it was a lot of fun.

Eric Ziegler: Well, Kevin, you gotta remember like when you look back in life, right? You always look at and tell your buddies and your friends about the challenging things and like how you conquered and how you overcome. You don't remember the days that you showed up and, it was easy. So, that's what I remind the team and hey, you gotta stay optimistic. And, you know, as the leader, I think it's our job to take the charge and sell the why and the purpose. That's why I say it's a lot of fun.

Kevin Weitzel: It's funny you bring that up cause I love the graphic that shows somebody, you know, with a victory stance on a podium and it talks about how we celebrate that victory, but we don't celebrate the 5:00 AM wake ups, the hours and hours of [00:17:00] training and yada yada. I mean, you get the gist, but you're saying basically exactly that, which is true.

Eric Ziegler: I'm not gonna endorse this specific podcast, but I was actually listening to a podcast yesterday. It's a leadership podcast. It's probably in the top 10. It's pretty well followed. And he said that he doesn't often look at stats, but they pulled up the stats for his podcast, and the average person or the most traffic for the podcast was at 5:00 AM. Which is pretty incredible. So, that's a lot of discipline individuals that are doing that. So, Kevin, to your point, yeah, nobody wants to get up at 5:00 AM and listen to a podcast. But again, it's the hard things that we remember and that really move the needle.

Kevin Weitzel: When you say nobody, you're not including that in that nobody, the thousands and thousands of people that get up to listen to The Home Builder Digital Marketing Podcast at 5:00 AM cause there's plenty of marketing people that do.

Eric Ziegler: That's awesome.

Greg Bray: If you're listening to this at 5:00 AM Kevin's got a special gift for you. Well, Eric, we appreciate the insights, the time. Just a couple more questions here. As you guys are [00:18:00] experiencing and experimenting with social media, what are some of the things that you find work well with social media and some of the things that maybe aren't quite hitting the ideals that you might have hoped for?

Eric Ziegler: We don't experiment too much. You know, every now and then we dabble with something. We talked a lot about TikTok and we never actually pulled the trigger with it. Again, I don't know if that's right or wrong. Facebook is probably where we spend a lot of our time and we see a lot of results from that, and they start to implement reels and some of the videos that almost like mimic TikTok in a way.

So, I think the biggest thing is when you're experimenting, don't be afraid to try it. I think a lot of times you're worried about, well, how's my brand gonna perceive this? You know, it's gonna be a big investment. So, find a small way to try it and just push the needle and get it in front of some people and see if it makes sense.

The other thing I've learned is always try to AB test. Sometimes it's the really small thing that makes the big pivot. It's just amazing. It's not a big change but it really moves the needle. If you're not trying something new, you're not gonna find it. And if you're [00:19:00] not calculating the results, you're not gonna find it.

And the other thing is start with the end in mind, right? So if we're gonna do this, how long are we gonna do it? And what's the goal? What do we want from it? Cuz otherwise, you're gonna try it for a while and then you're just gonna forget about it. So gotta schedule a plan and just stick with it and then review it, and did it make sense or didn't it?

Greg Bray: Those are some great tips for sure. Eric, where do you go for kind of inspiration and new ideas? What are some of your resources you look to?

Eric Ziegler: I probably spend too much time reading the news. We have a couple of different consultants that we meet with. We talked about some of 'em. We have the marketing team in-house, so the younger generation always seems no way more about social media than I do. Stay in tune with them. They're not always your customer, but that's probably the next wave. Think about Facebook started with the younger generation, and the younger generation has exited and then the older generation kind of is the adopter.

We watch other industries. So, think about with home building in a way your retail. So look at the other retail segments. [00:20:00] What are they doing with it? The QR code, that's a really interesting story. QR code came out and it had big things promised for it, and it fell flat. It disappeared for, I don't know what you call it, seven, seven, or eight years, and then all of a sudden it's everywhere again. So like, don't give up.

 Part of the Builder 20 Club through NAHB. So, I always trying to pick each other's brain with that, but. Wall Street Journal recently ran a lot of articles on ai, so that's probably my new latest passion is just following that and watching that. So, there's a lot of good content and video out there. Not them specifically, but I've seen a lot of good stuff through that. So just curious to see where that goes as chatGPT and all this stuff gets integrated with the different business platforms.

Greg Bray: Man, you read a lot. That's what I'm hearing. That's what I'm hearing. Right?

Eric Ziegler: Well, you know, if you wanna stay informed, I think it helps.

Greg Bray: For sure. Well, Eric, as we wrap up, what one big takeaway or last piece of advice would you like to leave with our listeners today?

Eric Ziegler: One thing recently that stuck with me in marketing is I was given a [00:21:00] fake a hundred thousand dollars bill and the challenge that came with it is, Eric, if I gave you a hundred thousand dollars today, how would you spend it on marketing? Being blunt or honest, I didn't have an answer. Like I didn't know. I think it was a good challenge, right? So, our companies, we're in retail. We spend a lot of budget money on marketing and getting in front of customers, so I think a lot of us push it to the side. But it's important and it's important now more than ever. So, I think make sure that you have a good plan and a strategy and you're taking time to think about it. Because I think if you do it right, it does return.

Kevin Weitzel: Eric, that's music to my ears. If that a hundred thousand is still available, I can help you over at Zonda. I promise you I can help you.

Eric Ziegler: Kevin, believe it or not, that money is sitting on my desk. It's not real, but if you wanna come and collect it, I'd be happy to give you that fake a hundred thousand dollars bill and we can have a conversation.

Kevin Weitzel: Sounds good.

Greg Bray: Well, Eric, if people wanted to, uh, connect with you and reach out, what's the best way for them to get in touch?

Eric Ziegler: I'm on LinkedIn Eric Ziegler and just look me up at Landmark Homes. Probably the best way is you can go to our [00:22:00] website, ownalandmark.com. Again, there's a lot of Landmarks out there, but we're here in central PA, so I'd be happy to have a conversation if anybody has any questions.

Greg Bray: Well, thank you again, Eric, for joining us, 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 Zonda Livabl.

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