The Future of Selling Home Improvements

To ensure the future of selling home improvements, you may need to embrace online consultation but is it the complete answer?

 

The future of selling home improvement sales is uncertain. Online consultation is not the complete answer?

To thrive in the future it will be necessary to do more to captivate and delight your customers. It’s more difficult to do that online. It’s a necessary skill to add to your armoury. However, it can never be the complete solution unless you want to sell on price.

Customers have more choices than ever. If you rely on online consultations you may find yourself doing a lot of work with no result.

Online design is not the future of selling home improvements.

At the start of the Corona Virus lockdown, we had no idea that a few weeks off work could turn into months.  During which time, business owners would wrack their brains to come up with new ways to try to maintain an income and save their business.

Companies concerned about the future of selling home improvements in the traditional way rushed to put a facility in place to design online and consult by video.  If you missed that boat, don’t worry about it. It was barely more than a rubber dinghy that sank for most companies anyway.  Even the big companies didn’t manage it well. Before anyone had an online facility up and running, the general public had decided to hold onto their money for a while. Enquiries dried up overnight.

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Even some of the bigger companies decided it wasn’t worth the effort to keep admin staff on just to support commission-only salespeople. Their sales process does not convert to selling online.

There has been speculation that the future of selling home improvements will be entirely based on online consultation. I don’t believe it is and here are just a few of the reasons why I think that.

For a good online design facility to work, both parties would have to be fully comfortable with being online. The salesperson would need to be far more of an entertainer. You need to be able to engage your audience. The customer needs to be invested enough to stay glued to the computer for long enough.

What happened when we tried it?

We tested 12 companies that offered an online design service. 6 in products that didn’t require a CAD system – windows, doors, and roofline. 6 who did. 2 each of conservatories, kitchens, and bedrooms. This only resulted in 5 quotes. In all cases, they were unable to appeal to any of the emotions involved in buying. They were reduced to sending an email with a price. The only one who tried to share their Articad on Zoom took too long to set up. He was unable to maintain a conversation while designing. He wasn’t able to hide his irritation either. This resulted in him abandoning the call with a promise to send a design through with a quote. That hasn’t materialised yet and it’s been a week at the time of writing.

The 5 quotes we did receive were all from the first group. Presumably, because they are easier and do not require a design element. Although the websites promised an online quote, all followed the same process. This required photos and measurements to be sent or uploaded. All phoned quite quickly to ask questions and clarify but were then slow to send a quotation. Even though the requirements were simple. The two national company representatives were quite strong in their assertions that the buyer had to watch videos about the products. I remember how difficult it was to get customers to watch videos when I worked for Everest and Thomas Sanderson, even when I was with the customer. I cannot see that they will do so voluntarily online.

Further Potential Problems.

The fact that out of 12 enquiries, we have only so far received 5 quotes throws up signs of another potential problem. Procrastination or just plain too busy to get quotes done. If you’re trying to run your own business as well as providing the quotes, your to-do tray will pile up along with the invoices you already spend your weekend catching up with. If you use online quoting, it has to be because it makes life easier. When it becomes more work and reduces your profit you have to ask if that is the business you want to be in. My feeling is that online buying will attract customers who buy on price.

Online consultations are another way of providing a mediocre customer experience.

It has always been possible to survive on the ‘low hanging fruit’ in home improvements by providing a mediocre service. That applies to the salespeople for the nationals and the smaller companies. Without trying, you can service the 30% of buyers who don’t have time to look or have basic needs that are easily met. Those customers will equally be able to be serviced online. If you are operating at a low level – just providing a quote without giving a great customer service – yes, you may just as well be a poor salesperson online as take the time to visit.

Online quoting has always been available but generally, the consumer doesn’t take advantage of it.

Home improvement purchases are expensive. Making a mistake can be financially and emotionally devastating. There is a large online kitchen company that supplies the same quality as Wren Kitchens. Customers can send the quote to them and they will price it much lower than Wren. They are a good reliable company. Of course, there are a few buyers who will shop around until they find the cheapest. Mostly they don’t. They buy from the company who gives them the best experience assuming all needs are met at a price that they are comfortable with.

Whatever we may think of Wren Kitchens, there is no doubt that the customer can have a great experience. The showrooms are fabulous. The design system is superb, and customers are made comfortable with bench seating that fits the whole family while they see their kitchen come to life on a big screen. They can then view a 360 of their kitchen through a virtual headset.

While the customer is on a high, they are offered an array of incentives that encourage the customer to buy or lose out. They fall for it, often forgetting their vow to get 3 quotes and forsaking some of the ideals they had set for their kitchen.

Can you compete with that by providing an online service?  Of course not, the only way to ensure your future in selling home improvements – to survive – and thrive –  is to raise your game, not lower it.

Customers pay more for perceived value. That perception comes from the experience that the salesperson gives them. It’s more than the words spoken. It also relies on rapport and trust. Not many salespeople do this well face to face so they won’t manage it on video where it is much more difficult.

If you try to run your business online, you will work twice as hard and reduce your profit.

I believe that designing with a customer is essential for top converting sales designers.  At the very least, you must be able to take a really good brief, design 90% of it and then do the finishing touches with the customer. I predict that without full engagement and rapport with the customer, you will go back and forth on the design many more times than if you sit with them. I despair when I see kitchen designers post 6 versions of a kitchen on Linked in boasting about the designs they’re showing a customer. It tells me one thing – they have no idea how to connect with a customer and ask the right questions to determine the practical and emotional drivers.

The large nationals will not change.

The home improvement industry is dominated by the large nationals who use commission-only salespeople. They haven’t changed since the 70s. They won’t change now. The appointment makers are trained to get the salesperson in quickly. Already while the small companies faff around, not wanting to be salesy and refusing to close the order, the reps from the big companies are swooping in to take the order from under your nose and that will be easier for them if you are doing even less to impress the customer.

Is there a place for online design?

As part of providing excellent customer experience, every company would benefit from improving their skills and that includes computer design, both face-to-face and online. It will be handy in the future, once rapport is established, to hop on to a zoom call to refresh or make changes to a design. It is an additional skill, not a replacement.

You may even consider using it for customers who you judge to be not worth visiting but I can almost guarantee that the ‘worthy line’ will move constantly. The top salespeople in the industry do not prejudge customers. They go to everything and give it their best because they know that you cannot judge a customer by the enquiry. They don’t care that 25% of visits are a waste of time because they earn enough from the remaining 75%.

If someone called me to ask me to quote online in normal circumstances, would I aim to compete with the online quotes that they already have?

No! I would tell them all the reasons why online quoting causes problems, assure them that it’s no problem for me to pop out to see them where I can see the space and advise them properly. No obligation of course.

‘It’s an important decision that costs more than money when you make a mistake Mrs Customer, how about Thursday evening or would you prefer the weekend?’

Chances are that they would be a lot more impressed by the face to face consultation and the effort I would put in. They will already have a couple of quotes for comparison and as long as I satisfy them on the three points at a price that works for them, I’m likely to take the order even if my product is not as good or as cheap as the others.

Customers do not buy the cheapest or the best. They buy the product that is communicated to them in the way that makes the most sense to them.
By all means, embrace online selling and learn to do it well, but if you want to ensure success in the future of selling home improvements, be customer-led and do what they want.

 

Customers do not buy the cheapest or the best. They buy the product that is communicated in the way that makes most sense to them. 

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