The first call was in the middle of the week. A cold call. The receptionist puts E. from Houzz through to my desk. “I’m looking at your website right now,” she says. She offers some compliments about it and wants to know if I'm happy with the website host, because "Houzz offers that service," too.
It’s a sales call, of course. I tell her that when it comes to SEO and website hosting, we’re covered. No matter—she then wants to set up an appointment, with a calendar invite, for a web meeting involving a Houzz demonstration.
A few days later I sit through the presentation, a 30-minute webinar on the greatness of Houzz, its analytics, and the fact that they’re the No. 1 platform Google recognizes for remodeling.
Old Hands at Houzz
Here’s what E. wants: our business on her particular social media platform. Five years ago I signed up for a free Houzz account. In all that time we’ve had the same listing format as almost every other company on the platform, and not one homeowner has cross-referenced our company from it.
That’s not necessarily Houzz's fault. The platform is geared toward interior remodeling projects (particularly the design element), rather than the kind of exterior work our company specializes in. Any remodeling project—outside or inside—has to be planned and designed, but when it comes to a bathroom or a kitchen, the number of components and combinations is almost infinite.
A roof? There are between 15 and 20 products involved, and color is rarely a factor in selection.
Siding? More of a design element, but we count on homeowners contacting us because the manufacturer knows, and certifies, the quality of our installs.
Boosted Search Rankings
That said, every company should be on any social media website that doesn’t charge, such as Facebook, Instagram, or Houzz. The more exposure, the better.
The question is whether or not you at some point pay for it, or pay for enhanced visibility. Facebook makes this easy: Design an ad and direct it to a specific demographic in a particular geographic area. You can then use that targeted ad for a day, a week, or a month.
What E. wants to sell me is an enhanced listing on Houzz—a boosted ranking with a link to our website and a phone number linked to a trunk line. Houzz sells the enhanced listing at a regional rate, with area counties divided into two or three different sections. Back in 2015 we did something similar with Yelp: It cost us $10,000 and produced a single lead.
But I’m curious and somewhat interested, so I ask E. what the monthly cost of four sections in Morris and Bergen counties would be? “Mike, most contractors in your area would pay $1,500," she tells me, "but if you buy today it will be substantially less.”
This has a certain familiar ring to it. Many consumers looking for siding or roof replacement, she says, land on Houzz. “You see how important this is for your business, don’t you Mike?”
All Over Again
By now what I’m hearing is like some karmic blast from the past. The dozen tie-downs—“Doesn’t that sound like it would benefit your company?”—are right out of the Tom Hopkins playbook, which I used for three decades of old-school home improvement selling. “And you told us, Mike, that this was an area where you wanted to concentrate your marketing.” Am I dreaming?
Okay, how about if I try it for a month? No, E. says, it’s only available as a six-month contract.
Okay, okay, but how much is this going to cost? This is where the tap shoes go on and the dancing starts. “Normally it’s $200 to $300 per section,” she says.
How much is it today? “Well, if you buy one section, you get the second one for free.”
I said I guess I ought to buy a lottery ticket, too, since this is my lucky day. I asked E. to do me a favor and call me back with an exact number.
E. calls me back, this time with a supervisor on the line. They begin with a recap about how wonderful Houzz is, but soon she’s right back into the pitch—here come the numbers.
She quotes several different prices, and several types of offers at several prices. There are three different price categories: regular, premium, and deluxe. Each of these has a high number with an X slashed through it, along with a lower "Buy Now" price, with no X. “Which one of these fits most comfortably into your budget, Mike?”
“That makes sense to you, doesn’t it Mike?”
“You can see how this will impact your business?”
And so it goes.
Where’s The Value?
Throughout both calls, it felt like I was on the line with a telemarketer from a time-share company. Do people still sell this way in today’s America?
My feeling then, and now, is that if Houzz is as great as they claim, why not put all the facts on the table, including the actual per-lead cost of the service? Telling me that if I buy tonight, and only tonight, I get exclusive or reduced pricing sounds exactly like the way I used to sell siding—at phenomenal gross margins to homeowners I counted on to know nothing about either the product or how their houses work.
Can we be honest here, or does the sales process have to contain some element of false urgency from which the notion of manipulation is apparently inseparable?
Finally I said, “We're done here, folks.” There was really nothing to talk about further. Maybe the value is there somewhere, but I was too distracted by feeling maneuvered at every turn to rationally determine it.
In that, I’m not all that different from today’s homeowner, who has less and less time to make an intelligent decision about a product or service he or she knows a lot more about than ever before, thanks to the internet.
Why the sleight-of-hand pricing, the endless tie-down questions? I’m not going to agree to buy something I’m not convinced I need just to turn off the pressure on the other end of the phone. That’s irrational and expensive. And yet, it’s the way many home improvement companies count on selling their products to homeowners.
Imagine if E. had explained the competitive marketing advantages of using Houzz by citing solid statistics about roofing and siding leads for companies using the service. Imagine if she backed up her facts with a one-month trial period, either free or at an introductory rate. How different would this conversation have been if she had started with what our company needed in the way of marketing, and how she might fill that need, rather than starting from her need to sell a set number of contracts?
Not only would the conversation have been different, but the outcome might’ve been as well.