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In the past three days, two great experiences with sales and service people have offered renewed optimism that some organizations are “getting it” when it comes to technology and sales. The first was a fairly straightforward presentation from the Owens Corning company. We invited them to our house to propose a plan for finishing our basement. Owens Corning has this really cool system that essentially “snaps together” like Leggos. It’s completely organic free – so it can’t mold or mildew – and you can have your entire basement finished in days, not months, that traditional drywall and multiple contractors (electric, construction, etc) would require. Last Saturday they sent a salesman to our home and we had a really impressive experience. He walked in, shook our hands, took out his laptop, sat at our kitchen table and showed us some pictures of “before and after” from similar renovations. He then played a video featuring Bob Vila which should the entire process of hanging the walls and explained its technical features. And he brought some actual samples for us to try and feel. Then a few measurements and he completed an estimate for us. Altogether, it was a fairly good combination of technical presentation, solid needs analysis through conversation and exact-cost quoting (no fuzziness). Oh, and he was definitely a Baby Boomer. Imagine that – he even knew how to use the touchpad on his laptop!

Today, an even more exciting presentation occurred. This time, it was during a very high-tech experience: Flying from Des Moines to New York City. Usually, pilots come on the speakers, tell you to sit back, enjoy the ride and that’s it. This time, however, our pilot did something different: He explained America as we flew over it. As we headed over the center of the country, he pointed out train stations, nuclear power plants, lakes and dams, major cities and other points of interest. He saw these items every day, but for most of us on the plane, we wouldn’t have really understood anythign more than it was a clear day for flying. To the pilot, it wasn’t just a good flying day, either; it was a fine time for some tour-guiding.

And then it hit me: The pilot is doing a flying open house! He’s figured out that most people don’t know what they’re looking at when they fly over America. So he took the time to point out items that we’d otherwise have simply labeled “building” or “railroad” or “ugly brown patch on the ground.”He knew these things were “historical train stations that Presidents used to launch their campaigns from in days gone by” or “high tech power plants on Lake Erie that fuel America’s future” and so on. He even alerted us to a super-cool fly-by of a military jet that otherwise would have whizzed by unnoticed (or scared the pants off of someone). His “open house” approach was to educator people to what was essentially “right in front of them.” Were we “savvy flyers?” Yes, we know how to buckle the seatbelt and use the oxygen masks. But did we know what we were seeing out the window? Not before he told us.

How cool a lesson this could be, I thought, for every REALTOR to take this flight. It teaches us so much about what we “take for granted” when it comes to buyers and open houses. We think that because today’s buyers are “tech savvy” that they are somehow “real estate savvy.” We assume their use of the internet helps them spot water troubles in basements, eyeball hardwood floor types and pick out heating system advantages by simply “looking in the windows,” (which is essentially what happens at an open house). Most agents assume that the buyers “don’t want to be sold” because, well, most agents don’t even like to refer to themselves as “salespeople” (preferring neutered professions such as advisor or consultant). So we mostly ignore buyers at open houses, and we lose the opportunity to create a rapport by talking to people. It’s not about being “talkative” but about being a normal person. Except in mansion tours of dead people, most strangers do not get to walk around someone’s home completely unattended by someone else. Yet the “REALTOR as Door Man” mentality permeates today’s most important sales event: the one in which a real customer actually arrives.

Maybe the pilot hit on something today. He not only taught us something about sales but he also seemed like a normal guy. Not a “secret pilot locked in the cockpit” who gives the obligatory “buh-bye” on the way out the door. He reached out, talked to us, and created a personal link. And it worked: Considering we left an hour late from Des Moines, I’m amazed that I’m writing such a positive piece about a flight. But how could I otherwise? I feel like this pilot is almost a friend. And I’d fly again with him anywhere. Talk about “customer for life!”