If you’re a builder who wants to sell home technology options, you should be looking at some online options tools that can be accessed by homebuyers via their computers, tablets or smartphones.
Some of these tools are already in common usage and are enhancing the selling process of homes, while making options categories more profitable.
TecHome Builder recently had the opportunity to see several online options management systems in action and talk to the principals involved. Tools from Studio Chateau, BDX’s (Builders Digital Experience) Envision, and Salez Toolz can all bring in product information from vendors and display various SKUs and packages, as well as provide back-end reporting on sales figures. They can also be customized for builders and other contractors.
Truth be told, the amount of home tech options for homebuilders available through these systems is currently light, at best. And therein lies a huge opportunity for manufacturers and homebuilders alike.
BDX’s own research indicates that when selling new home options without the use of online options, only about 50 percent of the options available are presented. This of course is due to time constraints at design centers and the arduous nature of the homebuying process. And of that 50 percent, BDX found that the information presented around many of those products was incorrect.
Homebuyers Sell Themselves
Think about what salespeople at design centers need to know about flooring, cabinets, countertops, appliances and other popular options, and you quickly see the problem. What’s left in the short time remaining, in the options allowances, and in the homebuyer’s endurance after covering the essentials? And where does that leave home technology options like home automation and connectivity that can make homeowners’ lives so much easier for years to come? You guessed it: many times these options are never presented.
Builders who use Envision sell 30 percent to 40 percent more in options than without it.
“Designers don't want to know all the technology. They’re not into it. And we don't need to force them into be all-knowing,” says Susan Jones Sipe, president of Salez Toolz.
Online options tools can help designers present the home tech options, and in a way that creates a no-pressure situation for the homebuyer.
According to BDX, builders who use Envision sell 30 percent to 40 percent more in options than without it. And by offering an options portal that homebuyers can peruse at their leisure while at home or in a design center, “they basically have selected and self-assisted themselves on being sold,” says Melissa Morman, senior vice president of Client Experiences for BDX parent BHI (Builder Homsite Inc).
Now, instead of just selling the big options like flooring, countertops, lighting, appliances, plumbing fixtures and stairs, Envision users are seeing more fireplaces, media rooms, HVAC options and other higher-tech add-ons being sold.
“It streamlines the entire process,” says Michael Chihal, program manager on Envision. “Users can say ‘Here’s the list of what I may want, now and later on.’”
Homebuyers typically get access to online options tools after the purchase and sale agreement, but Envision, for example, can also be embedded in a homebuilder’s website to allow prospective buyers to view the kinds of options available to them. Because people do so much research online, these presale modes act as lead generation tools once users register on the sites, and result in a 16 percent conversion rate of homebuyers, according to BHI.
Envision has been around for almost a decade and was funded by several homebuilders and manufacturers.
“Builders are emerging from the malaise of the last few years and are really hungry for this,” says Morman. “They are waking up and realizing they need it. They also don't want to go out and build hugely expensive design centers.”
It’s the Package That Counts
Not that online options tools need to replace design centers. In many instances they cannot, as few would want to purchase floors and countertops without seeing or touching them first.
Software like Studio Chateau, says vice president of Options Management Carolyn Little, is meant to enhance the design center experience. Homebuyers who use the tool now arrive at a design center with much more of an idea of what they want. “Buyers come in educated and ready to make decisions,” she says.
Studio Chateau also streamlines the buying process with reminders for deadlines to buy options such as structural room options, electrical, and high-tech systems—and as a result keep the home construction process moving along. Once those deadlines pass, the options are no longer available for viewing. And like other systems, it integrates with back-end accounting software.
Though the demo TecHome Builder saw of Studio Chateau featured some tech options under “Low Voltage,” Little admits that more home tech options need to be presented within software tools like Studio Chateau. “Some of the technology options are probably the ones builders need to offer more of, but builders are not terribly comfortable with a lot of that, and the technology changes so quickly.”
Meaning builders, the software company, or vendors have to stay current on updating the content—and with ever-changing technologies that can be a daunting task.
Little, for one, promotes selling technology as packages. “You don't want to leave it up to designer or homebuyer to understand each of the products, but if you can sell a package…”
Content Management is Key
In our Salez Toolz demo, a lifestyle photo of a room is used to display a multiroom audio package offering, as an example. Salez Toolz is new to the homebuilder market, but claims 4,000 users including many home technology integration companies and other home systems contractors from electricians to HVAC specialists.
Home tech pros can use Salez Toolz to craft quick proposals and contracts, get signatures and prompt for deposits, says Sipe.
Customers can also see what they’ve selected, and “it’s not uncommon for a dealer to hand off the iPad, and they sell themselves.”
A new Apex version of Salez Toolz will launch next year and features room drawings to locate outlets and other features, systems break-outs by room or location and costs by room or system. Sipe says it will also be capable of saving voice-to-text comments and allow annotations on pictures taken with an iPad, for instance.
Sipe and her partner, husband Mark Sipe, believe the content and data management in online options tools will be critical to making them work, especially for technology options. Salez Toolz plans a manufacturers' web portal to collect information and says it can automate price changes.
Rich Media, Rich Profits
If you think home technology is moving fast, what about the technology used to sell technology in these online options portals?
If we can get 30 percent more upgrades with static images, think what we could do with rich media.”
Envision is playing around with rich media, including video, and we’ll start seeing more virtual displays that not only show the kitchen with the floor, cabinets and countertops of choice but also the technology options and what they can do.
“If we can get 30 percent more upgrades with static images, think what we could do with rich media,” says Morman.
Rich media, virtual media, whatever media will be key to educating homebuyers on their technology options in a non-rushed, non-intimidating, no-pressure way—as well as give salespeople and designers a new and better way to sell those options.