The buyer's journey: The gap between today's reality and future plans is what the sales centre must fill

The sales and marketing centre which is usually associated with any project is a key step in the buyer’s journey and while market conditions will always vary this is an exacting area and one that needs a major investment of time and money. To appreciate why, I want to outline what I see as the buyer’s perspective when they explore any sales centre.

A great opportunity and challenge

The importance of that ‘first impression’ a buyer experiences within a sales centre is great and there are, as might be expected things that need to be avoided.  A poor standard of presentation that is a misfit with the target, can and does lose potential sales and if unchecked will be a problem.

The buyer’s expectations today is that a visit to a display home, or apartment and sales centre will be as good as the best retail experience, or a gallery or even a good restaurant experience because they are all areas where emotions are at their highest.

It is difficult to over-stress how vital the on-site sales office and display centre is. A well-designed and importantly well-managed facility will always help to drive sales during the entire life of the project. And so in looking at the buyer’s experience we find that here is a real challenge and fantastic opportunity.

Planning is one of the most exciting and important tasks. At the start of a new apartment project or land estate we have a blank canvas and the eventual design and presentation of the sales centre will for the buyer represent the starting point for the branding of the project that is being thought-out.

For potential buyers any site is a complete mystery and almost no amount of imagination will easily bridge the gap between today’s reality and future plans, that’s the gap the sales centre must fill. For the buyer the experience has a touch of romance and a lot of emotion involved. There is an opportunity to help concentrate in the mind of the market, the thousands of hours of work that will be undertaken to deliver the project they are possibly buying into.

Reaching out to the buyer under these circumstances is the key role of the sales centre, and in many ways is the heart of the marketing effort. The centre sets the character of any project and given that the facility will be a major investment this is a big topic and an area which is always getting better.

It is important that the facility also reflects the local environment, and while a basic template can be a sensible starting point, it is essential to reflect location and to use the display to amplify the core offer of the project. By linking the display with the area’s resources the design will help build the projects brand values and awareness with potential buyers. The facility is a key three-dimensional and physical connection to the project, it is something that buyers experience, usually many times and hopefully remember. The core idea is create the experience so that it is a ‘hi-touch’ and ‘hi-tug’ environment. In very basic terms the centre needs to display as much about the project as possible that buyers can ‘touch’. The display apartment or home will always be the touch spot however, as we will explore this is simply not a matter of creating a replica, there are a number of subtle points that also need to be addressed.

The ‘hi-tug’ concentrates on the creation of an environment that will tug, as it were, at the heart of the buyers, making them want to connect with the project. Both areas are key tools to help sway a highly emotional connection to the project like a well-planned retail experience. By taking this combination approach it can be possible to trigger and leverage the key benefits and features of any project that will help make a sale.

Both elements are now well represented in design and layout options. The balance between the two will always be dictated by the location and under varied conditions the emphasis on each element may well vary. There are no rules as such, other than having constant reference to the location and the key elements of the project itself and how buyers will experience the centre, as a key point in their sales journey, be it a long or short journey.

As I have highlighted the sales and marketing centre is a big part of the buyer’s journey and possibly in today’s market where so much contact is via email, even more so.

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Be flexible

While there is a great deal of product knowledge in this area there are, to my way of thinking, no rules as such because it is important to always consider the individual market and value feedback from people who visit the facility.

And while I do accept that some aspects may be more important than others, planning should reflect individual circumstances and flexibility is always desirable. Display homes and apartments are a key touch point and we all need to consider that when planning interiors to always consider the aspirations of the target market. Do not base ideas only on your own personal considerations, and ensure that any consultants employed also work to the target, not to this or that particular trend. It is important to reflect how the display experience works to enhance the sales path, this is the core reason for the display.

The sales path interaction is important but should not be made overly complex, sometimes a bit of creative spark will make a big impression. The other big impression needs to be made by the sales team to fully engage each person, no matter how busy or how much demand there is for a project. Every buyer has taken an important step to visit and to learn more about the project.

No matter why consumers visit or what has promoted this first step it is the focus of the marketing and should not be wasted. After all they may never return, and I have seen this happen where hurried or a less than interest response can turn people away.

Key factors to engage buyers

Whenever possible the display facilities are best located at the entrance to an estate or in immediate proximity to an apartment project. While remote facilities are used they will always have some disadvantages, be somewhat of a letdown for buyers.

In some land estates, the facility can be placed in the centre of a project, so buyers get a more universal view of the estate and so making it easier to present the land options. However as the estate is developed access to the sales centre through the estate itself may not always be easy for someone who is not familiar with the location and visitors might encounter construction movement and could annoy residents.

There is also the reality that not all estates will give the most positive impression while development is taking place and homes are being built.  The place can appear a mess and so deflate expectations, there are several examples of this in Sydney where a bunch of smaller estates lack the impression that one large community will make.

It is difficult to over-state the major aim for any centre is to control in a positive way how buyers are exposed to a project. The sales centre is the key point of impact with buyers, the project’s shop front. The centre may not be the single reason for the success or otherwise of a project, but it is a big issue, a central factor and apart from the actual location and actual product itself is the most important element in project marketing.

Having talked about this topic in some detail, is it ever possible to spend too much money, is it possible to make the display too expensive and complex so that consumers do not engage the facility. In any market I think the answer is no, as long as the planning is detailed and when you consider how much good work has been done in this area and the quality involved, we should be able ‘to get it right’ every time.

The starting point will be a complete understanding of the target market and the brand values for the project that will best reach that market, if that’s on target the buyer will always react well.

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Content and delivery

Any experienced project marketing team will know what content is required to manage the sales path and to clearly and easily communicate the project to the consumer. The content like the built structure itself is now a highly developed area and in many ways it has been the buyers who have encouraged this.

However from experience to fully engage buyers the content must be easy to read, the content of the display will always need to include some key items, and this includes the use for example of hardworking pointers such as aerial photographs and easy to read plans.

Never forget the buyer

Generally the standard of display material presentation and content is very important, there is a need to present material, in a logical and easy to understand way, where the project remains the hero. Potential buyers can be taken along a logical sales path that gives them the best impression and understanding of the project. Remember this is not, even in Sydney’s hot market, something buyers do every day.

One easy way to test this would be to consider if a buyer visited the space alone, and then walked away, would they have both a good experience but would they also feel they have all of the details that they need?

The sales role (a logical sales path) must remain central, it must help the interaction with the consumer, and the potential buyer’s journey needs to be enhanced. A well planned and presented space will enhance the sales role; it will make it easier and quicker for the sales team to get sales. The sales team will use the space as a tool that they enjoy and so it needs to also add deep value to how sales are managed.

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How to use (and not use) the marketing suite

As possibly the single biggest item of investment and the one element that has the potential for the biggest impact on buyers, how the marketing suite is used is as important if not more so than how the actual space is designed and built.

The sales and marketing display can be the core item around which the sales path is built and managed. It can be the anchor and should be a fantastic tool for the sales team, appealing and exciting.

The display experience should be used to motivate buyers, ignite and then build upon their interest. In combination the sales path (well managed) and a good display centre are solid and well-regarded marketing essentials.

However even an award winning presentation can be undone if the space is badly managed or poorly operated. The possible leverage can be lost, (and this does happen) but with the right sales management this will not happen. Things that go wrong are usually simple, not structure problems, but areas that breakdown sometimes because of complacency. Because the sales and buyer ‘chemistry’ does not work.

The display suite is not a staff room or kitchen and the sight of a sales team member eating lunch in the middle of a display will always have a negative impact on buyers, or simply being unattended. They will either be embarrassed to have interrupted someone’s lunch or they will simply view the entire place a second rate. Either outcome is uncomfortable for all involved. If a sales person is on the telephone, when another person enters the display, deal with both the caller and visitor right away. Apologise to the caller and acknowledge the visitor quickly.

A skilled and professional sales person, even if alone in a sales environment will pick up on these events and prevent either party being relegated to second place. While this is a skill it also entails a degree of common sense and everyday manners, it’s part of the skill set associated with recruiting the right team.

When the display space is being planned it is also important that the project delivery team respects and understands the function, the entrepreneurial role and negotiating skills of the sales team.

This is their tool and the involvement of the sales team is of value. The display suite will never replace or diminish the role of the sales team, this is not as already stated a self-serve environment no matter how well designed. It is also important to be ready to make changes to a display if some area is not working or if materials supplied need to change or they become out of date.

Just like the sales person eating lunch in a display suite, make-shift changes to display material send the wrong message; they say this project is poorly managed. Out of date plans and images send the wrong message, as do scrappy signs or hand written notes. The shop-front for the development must always be 100%.

Every aspect of the display needs to be carefully maintained and presented and constructed so that it works in hand with the sales path and is for buyers a big positive experience that they enjoy and one that adds true value.


Peter Chittenden is managing director for residential of Colliers International.

 


Peter Chittenden

Peter Chittenden

Peter Chittenden is managing director for residential of Colliers International.

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