I hope you had a wonderful holiday season. Mother nature has been giving us more than a "taste" of the winter spirit here in the good ole' Pacific Northwest. For some It's been a while since I've had a chance to communicate with you. Now's the time!!
Question #1: Bill, what have you been up to, and what does it mean for us?
As you know, I'm not just a FAST software guy, nor just a computer trainer. Most of you have used me as the eyes and ears to what to prepare for strategically. This, more than ever, is crucial. The current market and technology will demand a plan to enhance your Internet capabilities to become more interactive. So, I've been heavily involved in the whole "customer relationship management" thing for the last year. I will probably be helping clients form a strategy to move from "operations management" software to the full scope of what technology offers us now.
I've been asked to work with practically all the legacy homebuilder systems out there. So, over the last year or two, I've had to learn Builder MT, TOM, Mark, and Timberline as well as FAST and Newstar. While each of these is different, the techniques to plan and implement them successfully are amazingly similar. If you are studying possible changes, I can probably give you some non-biased perspectives.
Finally, I've worked in cooperation with SMA Consulting as a strategic partner. SMA is composed of people you know: Bob Whitten, Steve Maltzman, Mike Benshoff, and others. We've traded much intellectual information to enhance the tools we teach, and make our teaching more pragmatic and less theoretical. I've applied my process management controls to their scorecard and they have used me with some of their clients that need implementation assistance and procedure development. Overall it's permitted me to be much broader based in what I can offer you.
Question #2: Bill, what should we be focusing on for 2007 and beyond?
It's been a great ride and now it's time to get back to running an outstanding business. I'm not saying this to be critical of anyone, but the market has permitted us to lose some of the crisp edge you need to succeed now. If you go back to my process analysis (it's on my website www.waallenconsulting.com) and review the control points you see there ask yourself whether you and your staff need to update how you do things.
One of the most obvious control points is your follow up with marketing. How effective is your advertising and marketing investment? How well do your salespeople track their leads and develop new ones? Are "routines" documented and accountable? It's time to take time with some of these "basics" that you might have been "too busy" to do a year ago. Once you identify the most important areas of management focus how will you measure it? Think of not only how you follow up, but also what difference it makes in cycle time, internal and external quality, as well as cost recovery. As a final note I would encourage you to manage your sales operations like a well-coached team. Know your customer, know your product, know your competition, and know why each prospect will buy from you and what it will take to create the emotional urgency in every buyer.
Over the last ten years we've accepted the need to integrate operations (purchasing, sales, and scheduling) with back office accounting. We have now entered the new realm of integration of vendors, subs, and customers. Now is the time to consider how much repetition and redundancy you go through with handling contracts, bids, variances, change orders, and the whole contract to closing cycle with your customer. If you map this on paper you may find a real tool in your website and export/e-mail of documents from your back office system.
Question #3: What do you see happening in technology?
As I've indicated above, there has been a tremendous interest in "CRM". All of this is well and good, but it begs the question of how YOU serve YOUR customer the best. This will necessitate your looking inward and defining who you are and how you brand yourself. Just because we have the ability to automate everything from design and model visits to customer service history does not mean that forcing your customer to "do it all on the computer" makes much sense. I think choices are important and flexibility of time is important. Those things make the web based products real tools. They do not replace those areas where "high touch" is needed.
People today want convenience. If you assess whom your internal and external "customer" is, the ability to get information any time any place becomes a necessity. Builders today would be prudent to post job and schedule information to EVERY stakeholder including management, the field and even the customer. The best system will be one that can eventually replace the Nextel need to "beep" somebody. This will be done with many of the wireless scheduler products coming on the market, but will also complement web-based access to the same information.
Finally, there is more than ever a need to "read from the same page". We've talked about integration for a long time, but it's evolved into reporting tools that allow the builder to export and output and merge data into everything from forms to spreadsheets to pivot charts. Most vendors have given us free portals to allow this to happen. Well and good, but we now face the potential for more confusion than ever as everybody has their own agenda. Don't waste time and resource coming up with limitless "data mining" reports just because somebody asked for it.
The successful builders will be the ones where management exercises the leadership to keep eyes on the target and make sure everyone understands how that target is defined.
Question #4: Is there one key to success over the next few years?
I'll be talking about this at IBS, but I think our buyers and co-workers are ready for a true demonstration of quality. We're not talking about word-smithing here, but a true bearing down on process quality with an emphasis on delivery. We've seen so many examples in the service industry where a business does 95% of the job. That's a lot of effort for missing by 5%. So I think if we constantly look for the 5% extra it takes to establish "exceptional excellence", we'll gain the respect, market recognition, internal pride, and perceived value that will more than make up for the time it takes to go that extra 5%. The profits will follow.
Please notice I'm not saying much here about increasing volume or market share. If you want to excel, you will do it by raising your team to a level they aren't at now. This requires an investment in training and focus.
My Question for YOU:
Are you planning to attend the International Builder's Show in Orlando again this year?
The classes and speakers are better than ever. Personally, I'll be in two of these. One will be entitled "So, you want to run a Homebuilding Company" and the other will be a panel on "Using the Internet in a Changing Economy". Both subjects are pretty timely and I'd love to see you. If you want to review the course offerings and set up your dance card, go to NAHB.org and select the "buildersshow.com" link, or just use www.buildersshow.com as the address. Once there you can register and look up speakers and programs. My two gigs will be at the end of the day on the 8th and 9th from 4:00 to 5:00 PM.
If any of you would like to meet with me during the convention, please contact me and we can link up between the 6th and the 10th of February. I will be staying at the Best Western on International Drive and will have my mobile number available (425-766-4848).
My wishes to all of you for the best in the New Year and look forward to seeing you!