Marketing Lessons from Selling My House

Ralph houseFew things have bigger personal finance and lifestyle implications than owning (and selling) cars and houses. In the last month, I did both … within a week (see my marketing lessons from buying a car). And while I enjoy talking about my experiences as much as the next person, the purpose of this post is not to double as my diary, but rather tease out the sales and marketing strategies behind selling my house … and outline what every marketer can learn (myself included) from the process. After all, as behavioral scientist and bestselling author Dan Pink says, everybody works in sales these days.

Marketing Lesson #1: Know your goal.

Once I decided to put the house up for sale, I knew my goal was to get rid of it as soon as possible … above a certain realistic price floor. In other words, I was willing to entertain anything to get out quick as long as I wasn’t paying out of pocket in the end.

Universal business translation: In marketing anything, you first need to have a goal. What do you want for your organization as a result of a particular initiative? Branding? Publicity? Traffic? Leads? Loyalty? Referrals? New customers? By articulating and prioritizing the goal, you can then plan the appropriate steps—strategy, creative, communications, audit (borrowing from Samuel Scott)—to get there. For example, if you choose (yes, choose) branding as the goal of a particular campaign, then be sure you plan and measure appropriately, i.e., not the same way you would if your goal was short-term sales. Different goals require different forms of measurement.

Marketing Lesson #2: Get help if you need it.

Once I had the goal established, the next step was hiring an agent. I knew I had neither the expertise nor the time required to gain enough competence to represent myself. So, I did the prudent thing: Hire a trusted professional. What informed my selection process? Luckily, my sister recommended an experienced guy (with gushing praise) who earlier in the year quickly sold her condo after much time and trouble trying to sell it with a previous agent.

Sold. (On the agent, that is.) I told him my goals, gave him a tour of the house, looked at the numbers, and signed the contract right there. Two months later I had a purchase agreement. Happy new year, 2015! Two months after that (as scheduled), the house was handed over … all in the dead of a cold, snowy Cleveland winter.

Universal business translation: Just as I needed an agent, you might need an agency … or at least more help. Whether it’s a full-time hire, a part-time intern, a consultant or other form of outsourcing, you can’t achieve your goals efficiently (if at all) without the right resources. Dreams and desire will only take you so far. This precept also applies to technology; if you need a special software solution to get the job done (e.g., marketing automation or customer relationship management platforms), then pay up and train up! Digital marketing is complex and ever-changing; falling behind or having knowledge gaps is natural and expected.

Universal business translation #2: Strike while the iron is hot. If you don’t know when that time is, you better have the right employees or agency who can advise you when to send another message, run another ad, pay to renew some marketing software or reach out and contact that hot sales lead. Just as my real estate agent told me when to respond and how to negotiate based on the frequency and intensity of the buyers’ signals, corporate marketers need to be sensitive to the signals of their buyers as they go through the various stages of a big purchase, backing off when they need room to breathe, and stepping up when they need materials or personal reassurance to support their decision. As in much of life, timing can be everything with marketing.

Marketing Lesson #3: Price to the market.

In the process of buying this same house 8 years ago (near the end of a historical peak cycle), I remember encountering what the Home Buying for Dummiesauthor calls fake sellers. You know, the people who ask for the ‘Publishers Clearinghouse Sweepstakes’ price because they know a.) homeowners can always sell their houses above the purchase prices b.) owning personal property is generally a money-maker c.) how precious their house is and how much they deserve for it based on their gut feeling or d.) all the blood, sweat and tears they’ve put into maintenance and renovations justifies it.

I vowed I would never be that person if my goal was truly to sell the house in a reasonable amount of time. Granted, if you can afford to take the time to hold out for your dream price, good luck to you. I recognized that as a choice, too: My need to live elsewhere was too great and my time too precious to cling to some fantasy of what I was “owed” for the house. I didn’t want to risk living there indefinitely with a ‘For Sale’ sign in the front yard or waste energy in a constant state of flux … dropping the price and taking it off the market every 6-9 months for years. Simple capitalism, my friends: Let market forces rule.

Universal business translation: Deal in reality, because if you argue with reality, you lose 100% of the time. Just as I understood the reality of what the market would bear for my modest, updated colonial in the Old Brooklyn neighborhood of Cleveland, you need to realistically know what your best customers are willing to pay for. Would they pay a premium for a premium offering? Are they currently?

Whatever you charge for your service or product, determine what the market will bear and push right up to that line. You risk losing profits (and killing growth) by underselling. At the same time, you won’t sell anything if the price is too high, perceived or otherwise. Make sure you can deliver exceptional value at whatever price your business charges for its offerings.

And always be wary of the free lunch.

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