Death of a Salesman… And the Impact of Denial

death of a salesman underwood

This article isn’t about a play written by Arthur Miller in 1948, about the life and failures of a salesman by the name of Willy Loman. While the play revolves around success, failures, delusions of grandeur, I will focus on his perpetual cycle of denial and draw some parallels between this character and a reality in which so many sales professionals find themselves cemented in, usually totally unaware.

More and more major purchases are made by the consumers without the assistance or interference of a “salesperson”. One only has to look at the auto industry, conventional site builders, and the evolution of online representatives to see evidence of this shift.

In the factory-built housing industry, the profession of selling, as we know it, is a dying profession. If one chooses to ignore changes in technology, changes in marketing, changes in how people think, shop, and buy, this profession has no significant future, and for many of you, this will be a hard pill to swallow, but no less accurate. Knowing that you are becoming obsolete is never good news.

Manufacturers have discovered that sales organizations, independent or not, have always been the weakest link in the distribution chain. Poorly hired, trained, and managed sales organizations providing an underwhelming customer experience have been a primary culprit in our inability to take our rightful place in the affordable housing space.

For years, manufacturers have been trying to address this shortcoming and the evolution of technology has given manufacturers the hope that they need not be so critically linked to this weak link in their distribution. I know this to be a fact as I was one of the people that was called upon to see if we could make a difference.

Technology is continuing to make it easier and easier for consumers to do most of their research, product selection and design, all from the comfort of their living room.

Before most prospective buyers ever pull out of their driveway, they will have already, in a broad sense, determined what product(s) they’re looking for, what such homes should cost and what options they are interested in.

Furthermore, they will have a shortlist of places they would like to visit, view product, and narrow down the field to whom they would consider buying their home from. If you’re not on that list, the likelihood of you seeing that prospect is minimal at best. All of this is a process of elimination. They eliminate the rest until they’re left with what they feel is the best.

Here is where we circle back to Arthur Miller’s play. Willy Loman was in perpetual denial as are so many salespeople in our industry still trying to make a living in their dying profession.

Is this to suggest that all salespeople will become obsolete in the years to come? Yes, if we’re talking about salespeople who sit and wait for walk-in traffic. Yes, if we’re referring to salespeople who are of the belief that leads generated by internet marketing campaigns are worthless. Yes, if we’re talking about salespeople that IF they respond to leads, they do so after a few days and then only once. Yes, simply because those salespeople serve no meaningful purpose.

My own statistics collected over the last 10 years clearly show that 75% of all website-generated inquiries are never responded to, save perhaps an autoresponder sent out by a CRM. My own statistics show that less than 44% of all inbound sales calls go to voicemail. When you can’t even manage to answer the phone when prospective buyers call, why would we then wonder why manufactured housing still represents 9% of all new housing starts, a few points less if you take out community sales.

What Can the Sales Team Do to Thrive?

Let’s talk about the three primary skills that are absolutely critical if you wish to succeed in the immediate future.

First, you need to recognize that the sales process starts when a lead is generated, not when someone shows up on your location.

Second, you need to have a fundamental understanding of how digital marketing works and the role that immediacy and frequency play in your success. Immediacy is the speed at which you respond to a lead, measured in minutes, not days or weeks, and frequency is how often you try to reach out to a prospective buyer. Most studies confirm that you must respond to leads within the first 14 minutes, and you have to do so at least 8+ times in the first 72 hours if you want to increase sales.

Third, you need to have the ability to build a personal relationship with your prospective buyer over the phone. Literally intercepting that prospect as early in their buying process as possible and be willing to work with that individual until they recognize the importance of coming to see you in person. In short, you must be able to convert leads into conversations, conversations into visits and visits into commitments.

That is the only way you will survive and thrive. Or, like Willy Loman, you can continue to live in denial that the world around you has changed, unwilling to adapt to a technology-driven world, and your remains will be found on the mountains of bleached bones from those who waited by the front door for their next “up”.