Mike Damora is vice president of sales and marketing at K&B Home Remodelers, in Succasunna, N.J. Reach him at madamora@kbhomesnj.com. Follow him on Twitter @madamora.

Just The Facts, Ma’am

That old saw that goes "If it seems too good to be true..." applies to home improvement marketing and sales

May 07, 2018

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.

Second Round

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.

Comments

Comments

Just WOW! Mike - thank you! You really put it out there for the world to see in black & white - and I couldn't have said it better myself! Rather than playing on the guilt you're trying to push on me so I make an emotional decision out of fear of losing something that you've falsely created value in, our remodeling sales playbook is all about taking the time to know our client and the emotional attachment they have (or don't even realize they have) to a space to be remodeled. Asking them "where is the pain"? Not the pain of being embarrassed about your outdated kitchen so I can slam something in place that is aesthetically pleasing. No. The the pain that comes from bumbling elbows with your significant other while you're cooking and they're getting a snack for the kids. Or the way the refrigerator door ALWAYS hits the corner of the counter and you've just grown numb to its annoyance. Or how every time you're coming out of the kitchen, you bump right into someone coming in because the blind corner is just, well, blind. THAT'S the emotional intelligence of a successful remodeling company. We may not be the biggest, but my heart believes we're the best because the end of remodeling projects are bittersweet for us; the end of a project, but parting with a homeowner we've grown fond of! I know that every client we work for is a happier homeowner when we leave.

Hey Annette Marie, thanks for sharing, I know exactly how you feel. We have actually formed long-lasting relationships with many of our customers, I guess because at the end of the day we really do care, as opposed to many of the contractors I've encountered that couldn't give a flying banana through a rolling donut about their customers.

Been there and done that with Houzz, and all the "professional middleman" sites. It's funny when they start out with, "We work with other contractors LIKE YOU, in you area..." When I asked them to name them, they can't for some reason. Then I inform them we're the only designer/contractor in North Georgia that has wasted their time even listing on Houzz, so their first line was untrue. Why should I believe any to thing else?

Hey Robert, great name by the way, by any chance are you related to the infamous delta blues guitar legend?

Anyway, yeah these guys clearly play the numbers, constantly trolling for unsuspecting, or uninformed contractors so they add another notch on their virtual gun handle.

Thanks for the feedback.

~MIke

Mike,

I've read & enjoyed your articles for years. You have lots of good insights on human behavior, and a "modern" sales process that serves customers well and enhances your company's reputation.

We've been on Houzz for about four years now. We originally paid $300/month, then it moved to $350/month two years ago. We get an "enhanced" presence for that money: a hosted page for our company, Creative Kitchen & Bath. We don't advertise on the site, but use it more as almost a second website, linked to ours. It has a more extensive portfolio of our completed projects than our own website, because it's easier to update with new photos as projects are completed. Houzz also takes leads for us (as part of the deal--no additional charge), when viewers of our page fill out a contact form and a brief description of the work they'd like done. We've had several profitable leads off the service, so it works well for us. Again, we don't advertise on the site, since we've got all the work we can comfortably handle right now.

We never received the "hard sell" approach which you got from Houzz. It almost makes me wonder if a third party is re-selling space on Houzz--it's just much different from the way Houzz dealt with us. But I know what you're talking about. We were on vacation in Hawaii one time, and my wife signed us up for a free meal and an "information session" on purchasing a time-share. It was one of the more excruciating 3 hours I've ever experienced: the cajoling, arm-twisting, "let me get my supervisor", etc., etc. Never again. We've been contacted by Home Advisor several times recently, encouraging for us to sign up for their lead service. Definitely a harder sell than what the Houzz people brought us, but not as bad as you experienced w/ Houzz. We thought about it, but declined--with as much business as we can handle for now, why pay for leads?

Again, I've enjoyed your articles over the years. Keep up the good work!

Regards,
Tom Owen
Creative Kitchen & Bath

Hi Tom, thanks for feedback and encouragement. Glad to see you survived the "Time Share" experience, most people need a crash helmet and a lightsaber to fend off those barracudas.

~Mike

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