For the last few years, the home improvement industry’s gone back and forth on the issue of selling in the home vs. selling online. Diehards—that would be 95 percent of contractors—maintain they need to be at the kitchen table to close. Online sellers argue that an educated consumer is perfectly capable of pulling the trigger from the other side of a computer screen.
Things may have continued slowly evolving except for the COVID-19 virus. Right now, 80 percent of people in the U.S. live in states with a stay-at-home order in place. Our business is in a suburban NYC location, one of the most densely populated areas of the country. For the last three weeks we’ve had people calling and cancelling sales appointments. When we ask why, they say they don’t want someone coming to their house because of the chance of infection.
Fortunately, a few years ago our company incorporated an electronic selling capability. At that time, the idea of electronic selling was simple. Implementing it was not. Contractor and homeowner had to juggle seven to nine different pieces of software. That included screen sharing, design software, estimating software, contract signing software, etc. To sell online involved stepping the homeowner through these programs, one at a time. All this to accomplish what would typically happen in a one-hour in-home visit.
Two factors are at work here:
So when people call and say they want to cancel their sales appointment, we can say: We understand your apprehension about that but we can easily have a conversation about your project online, at your convenience.
A homeowner signed online for a $49,000 window and roofing project last week, for instance.
Our projects are exterior remodels, typically combination jobs with an average ticket of $60,000. Up to now, even with our online selling capability, only one in five homeowners chose to buy that way. For others, an online meeting to present price and contract might follow an initial in-person estimating visit. Typically a sale involved three or four interactions, either electronic or face-to-face. That’s going to change, because it has to.
When people call on the phone, we explain that we can conduct the sales visit on the phone via computer screen and that it will not be any different than if we did it in the home. We then send them a link. No one from our company needs to be physically present to sell an exterior remodeling job.
I’ve been around long enough to remember not just the Great Recession of 2008/2009, but two or three before that. What was true every time is that homeowners get anxious about spending large chunks of money on anything they don’t have to. Leads become a big challenge.
Leads, as we all know, are the lifeblood of the home improvement business. Fewer leads makes electronic selling that much more important. Say your lead cost goes way up. Do you really want to hit a wall, or hand the sale to a competitor, because your prospect fears contagion?
Even if the COVID-19 virus situation is brought under control relatively soon, we’re still going to be left with a lot of economic fallout. If you were in business a dozen years ago, when this industry got slammed by the recession, you know that there’s another big challenge besides lead generation. That is, retaining crews. If companies go without work long enough, installers start to fold their tents and find other things to do. If this goes on long enough, both production and lead generation will prove difficult. These three problems—selling, marketing and production—will tax the skills of every company owner. For one of them, at least, there’s a solution readily available.