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NAHB's 2018 Online Sales Counselor of the Year

Earlier this month at The Nationals 2018 awards gala in Orlando, FL, Laura Ellis with HHHunt Homes won Gold for NAHB’s Online Sales Counselor of the Year.

Laura has 15 years of new home sales experience in the Richmond, VA market. Prior to joining HHHunt to implement and lead their online sales program, she was a Division Sales Manager for a Top 5 National Home Builder.

Within eight months of launching HHHunt’s OSC program, 13 percent of overall company sales originated with an online lead. Laura’s goal for 2018 is to increase that number by 10 percent.

We spoke with Laura about her experience building a new online sales program, her biggest challenges and solutions, and how she plans on achieving her goals this year.

Congratulations on winning OSC of the Year! How does it feel?

I am incredibly honored and extremely thankful, both to the Nationals committee of judges for selecting me and for HHHunt for giving me the opportunity to implement our collaborative vision of such an important program. I am still in shock, not only that I won the award, but that the program was as successful as it was and our results were as strong as they were in just 8 months. Winning OSC of the Year was not something I thought to be possible in my first year as an OSC, so I am truly on cloud nine. OSCs from around the country have reached out to collaborate and brainstorm with me, as a result of seeing that I won the award. We have been exchanging great ideas and I certainly feel empowered to make our OSC program even greater in 2018.

What prompted HHHunt Homes to hire an OSC?

HHHunt Homes has grown over forty percent in the last few years; which was the result of new leadership, sales talent, and the creation of a strong sales training program. The obvious next step was the creation of an Online Sales Program. The Online Sales Counselor is crucial to today’s new home sales experience. It was clear to management that before the Online Sales Program, the online leads and calls to the sales centers were not being answered in a timely manner by onsite sales teams. In addition, the onsite teams were not specially trained for selling the face-to-face appointment via email or phone.  HHHunt is committed to being customer focused and the decision to hire a skilled Online Sales Counselor vastly improves the customer experience while increasing qualified appointments and more sales.

Laura Ellis OSC of the Year

Laura Ellis accepting her award at The Nationals, alongside the HHHunt Homes team.

How many communities and sales agents do you support?

Throughout 2017, I supported communities and sales agents in all 3 divisions of HHHunt Homes: Richmond, Virginia, Hampton Roads & Williamsburg, Virginia, and Raleigh, North Carolina. I currently support 35 communities and 30 sales agents.

How many online leads do you manage monthly?

Since the inception of the program in May 2017, I managed 2204 leads, so on average, 275 per month.

How does an OSC help the onsite sales teams?

Besides the obvious answer of scheduling incremental appointments which result in more sales, the OSC can help the onsite sales teams in many other ways. We are often the third party that prospects will share information with that they don’t always share with the onsite sales person. I can follow up with prospects after their appointments or if they stop interacting with the sales person, they will often open up to me so that I can brainstorm as to how to reengage them or convert them into a sale. I am also an extra set of eyes on the entire website.

I provide feedback to our onsite sales teams as to what I hear from prospects regarding what they are seeing and interpreting from our website. I can suggest modifications to everything from verbiage to directions to photography. Along the same lines, I can share what I am hearing from prospects in the way of feedback, both positive and objections. During our sales meetings, I can share what is working for me in terms of email marketing and follow-up, so that the onsite sales team can incorporate that into their own marketing and follow-up.

At HHHunt, I instituted our Community Launch Program for Coming Soon communities. This program provides the onsite sales reps with educated, excited, and qualified leads when we open new communities or new sections of communities. On average, they will open the community with 20+ scheduled appointments with these nurtured prospects during our VIP Preview Event.

How have you seen online home sales change in the last few years?

I have been in the new home sales industry for over 15 years and I have seen online home sales evolve from a very minor role in our business to the internet being a predominant source of leads. Many builders did not have Online Sales Counselors until the past 5-8 years and have expanded from solo operations to teams of OSCs. I have read that the average prospect visits a home builder’s website 12 times prior to ever visiting the community in person. No longer are prospects simply driving by a community and stopping in with little to no knowledge of what you are selling.

Today, prospects contact me with a wealth of knowledge, often having narrowed down to their favorite floorplans and homesite. They have done their homework and with my help, are able to meet with our New Home Advisors, several steps farther along in the process than in the past.

How do you see your role/or the OSC role evolving over the next few years?

As more and more people come to rely on the internet for their research and our leads continue to grow, I see the OSC role expanding at HHHunt to a team of OSCs. We are in the process of revamping our entire website and with that, I expect our leads to grow. We are also implementing LiveChat and by doing so, offering yet another means of communication for our prospects. I see OSCs needing to become even more creative with digital marketing and savvy with social media. They will need to incorporate more inventive and creative ways to follow up with prospects and grab their attention. I see this being especially important in selling to millennials who are purchasing their first and eventually second homes from us in the coming years.

As our culture continues to evolve to where everyone expects immediate gratification and relies even more heavily on the internet for all purchases, I see OSC teams needing to be even more available for prospects and able to provide immediate responses. I also see the amount of information that they provide, expanding versus what it is today and that prospects will be delivered to onsite sales teams much farther along in their buying process than they are today.

What’s the most challenging aspect of your job? What do you do to overcome that challenge?

The most challenging aspect of my job is making sure that I am 100% up to date on everything that is happening in all 35 (and growing) of my communities. I want to be the expert on each community and make sure I am delivering the best and most accurate information to our prospects. I also want to make sure I am sharing exciting information with an urgency that converts them into an appointment as quickly as possible.

In order to overcome this challenge, I have implemented monthly email updates from each onsite sales team and starting in 2018, scheduling monthly phone conversations with each sales agent. I have also implemented quarterly visits to every community. Nothing beats seeing the community for yourself, the progress since your last visit, and the face time with the sales agents. These visits are also a great opportunity to create Bomb Bomb videos onsite and capture new photos to share with leads.

 How does your CRM system help you organize your leads?

Without Lasso, I can’t imagine how I would efficiently and effectively follow up with my leads. Lasso is the primary tool I use in my day-to-day work. I use it to organize my leads by their community of interest and to rank them as to where they are in the buying process. I use Lasso for all of my follow-up, both documentation and reminders. With the help of Lasso’s templates, I created emails for my initial contact with prospects based on their community of interest, as well as all of my follow-up emails as I continue to work to engage them. From the first point of contact with a lead, I assign my follow-up tasks based on their ranking so that I never miss following up with a prospect. As I interact with a prospect, I can modify the follow-up to best fit where we are in the process.

What advice would you give to a builder who is still unsure about hiring a full-time OSC?

Don’t wait any longer in hiring a full-time OSC! The investment you will make in an OSC will be repaid multiple times over with the sales that will come from their leads. OCSs are an excellent one-stop-shop for feedback from prospects on all of your communities. An OSC is the only way to ensure that all prospects receive immediate attention, as the OSC is receiving online and phone leads even when the models are closed and/or onsite sales teams are busy. An OSC can brainstorm to find the right community for a prospect, even when the initial community of inquiry doesn’t quite fit their needs, and most onsite sales people do not have the time or desire to do this 100% of the time.

The OSC’s main responsibility is to schedule appointments with leads, so therefore, no prospects get lost in the system in terms of follow-up, like they sometimes can if this task is left solely to onsite sales teams. An OSC is simply the best way to nurture leads over time for both coming soon and existing communities, thus resulting in more overall sales.

Congratulations, Laura – well deserved! To connect with Laura, find her on LinkedIn.


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