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S2 EP 10 | Building Trust with Ashley Durham

Show Notes:

Focus Discussion of the Week:

35% of new home buyers were uncertain or overwhelmed about the new construction process. This means that it’s vital to provide information every step of the way. Make sure nothing gets lost in translation — and minimize the uncertainty — by providing the resources and content for buyers to understand your product and processes. Ashley Durham from Stone Martin Builders joins the show to discuss how her team keeps their buyers informed and engaged.

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Two thought leaders come together to explore all things sales and marketing from their unique perspectives. Each week, Mollie Elkman, Matt Riley, and others from Group Two dive into a focus discussion to talk about the latest trends, changes, and best practices.

[00:00:00] Ashley: So there’s a lot of things that the customer doesn’t need, all that information. The day they sign the contract, but dripping that information to them along the way and saying, okay, here we are, this is what we’re doing now. This is what we’re going to do next step. And this is what you can expect in the days to come.

Once again, just builds confidence. It reduces stress. you know, I was just sitting there thinking like we’ve all been in this industry for a really, really long time. And it’s very easy for us to have. Piece about the process. But I think about if our thrown into a hospital and told to do a nurse’s job or told to, you know, understand a nurses, lingo, I would fail miserably and I would have extremely high anxiety.

And so most of these homeowners are not builders. They’re not realtors, they’re not, Marketing experts for builders. And so the lingo, the process, the system that the days, the what to expect next are create anxiety. If you don’t provide them with the right information,

[00:01:00] Hi, and welcome to building perspective with Matt Riley and Mollie Elkman. We’re here to bring value to you and your team by exploring all things, sales and marketing related all from different

Thaïs: perspectives. Welcome to building perspective. I am your co-host for the week. 

Thaïs Cuffy with group two and I am joined by.

Alexis Udine our other co-hosts for the week. Hi Alexis. We have, we have stolen the show from Matt and Molly just for a week, because we have a great topic. We want to talk about this week and a wonderful guest, Ashley Durham with Stone [00:02:00] Martin Builders as welcome Ashley.

Ashley: Hi, how are

Thaïs: you? Great. So just to introduce the episode a little bit, we’re going to be talking about building trust, the value of transparency and communication in today’s market.

but before we get into the details, actually, if you could just give us a quick intro of yourself. Your career background, how you came to work at stone Martin, and then just a quick recap of stone Martin builders, where you build what you build, that sort of thing

Ashley: I would love to, I am a realtor by trade, got into the industry in 2005 and sold residential real estate.

And sales and, started working with builders throughout my career. And then in 2019, was invited to join stone Martin builders as a sales manager, which meant that I opened a firm to house all of their sales associates and created a sales platform [00:03:00] just in a consolidated way that they had not had before.

Stan Martin builders. Is new construction home sales in Alabama and Georgia, from sort of the North to the South, Huntsville doeth in berm, not Birmingham, Montgomery Pratt bull pike road, had one area and then now moving into, West Georgia. The Harris County Columbus area. So a growing company started in 2006 and over the last two years have grown organically about 40% a year.

So, definitely a lot of growth here and it’s an exciting opportunity to be a part of this company.

Thaïs: Amazing. Yeah, you guys I’ve been following you, obviously, since I’ve been that I grew up too. And your, what you do is amazing. Your homes are beautiful. I wish you built in Louisiana where I am. Maybe eventually you’ll come down further South, but it just looks like an amazing product.

And, and [00:04:00] you’re, you’re. Processes and your creative and your branding, everything is just so on point and relevant for where the market is right now. So that’s why we wanted to have you on the show and talk through that a little bit. So just to give all of our listeners a sort of a framework of why we’re talking about this topic, I grew up too.

We’ve been talking about this a lot over the past weeks and months, and this is this concept of being absolutely transparent with our buyers so that they understand what’s going on in the market. and they trust the process and they trust the builder as, as a partner. if you guys listened to last week’s episode, with Brett Steele from Zillow, we talked a lot about the data that came out on sylows consumer housing trends report for 2020.

And I’ll just name just a couple of these stats, because I think there’ll be important for the discussion today. Yeah. 35% of new construction buyers were uncertain or overwhelmed about the process to build or buy new construction. That’s actually up seven points from the [00:05:00] previous year. 32% of buyers said hidden costs and upgrades, upgrades were not transparent until the purchase.

51% of new construction buyers said they wanted their agent or broker to handle all the communication with a builder, which is up 17. Percent from last year. essentially what all this means is more than a third of our buyers are either confused or overwhelmed or don’t even want to talk to builders directly.

They’d they’d rather their real estate agent handle that communication. so the question is, what do builders do about this? Obviously we want our audience and our customers to trust us, to trust the process. and so we have to figure out ways to overcome. Overcome these challenges. so I think. From what it appears to me, I am an outsider looking in stone.

Martin has really picked up on some of these signals over the past couple of months, and has been really putting an emphasis on communicating your process through [00:06:00] content and through creative, making it super easy for your audience to understand what’s going on and we’ll get to some specific, specific examples shortly.

but what has driven sort of that decision to be super transparent and clear in your communication with your buyers?

Ashley: Well, that was a lot of information.

It’s interesting. Those statistics are very interesting to me. being in, the residential listing and selling business prior to new construction is the same for all consumers. they are. Information hungry. And I tell people all the time that information creates confidence and lack of information creates fear.

So it just goes down to the. Point that we strive to achieve constantly at St. Martin builders is clear communication. If we can provide clear communication and information to the consumer about what to expect, and then we can [00:07:00] follow through with those promises. Then we are only building the confidence that consumer has.

In our product and in our process so that the consumer then feels comfortable and wants to work with us and actually trust the organization. So, you know, transparency is a word you used and, communication is just the key factor to being able to build that consumer confidence in the organization.

Yeah, you

Alexis: make it sound easy, right? Like everyone should just probably, but unfortunately you don’t see that all the time. And some people are kind of backpedaling and trying to get those systems and processes in place now, but you’ve had that built out and I feel like you’re almost a step ahead of the game, if that makes sense.

Ashley: There’s definitely been a focus on processes and efficiency in this organization from its conception. Now, I do think that over the past two years, we’ve really started to focus more on the processes and efficiencies for the consumer [00:08:00] perspective. in the beginning of the organization, it was more about the building perspective, you know, how can we make this a streamlined approach in everything we do?

And now we’re really focusing more on the consumer. Consumer experience and satisfaction doesn’t mean that we succeed all the time, but every time we do fail, we come up with a new strategy for how we can improve.

Alexis: So let’s kind of talk about, let’s dive into some specific examples, that stone Martin has executed, and let’s kind of take it from the path of, starting on online.

And let’s talk about, your OSC, your online sales process and what that looks like. And so we work together to collaborate a whole followup process and in there. We put, some emails that were visually exciting that talked about who stone Martin is, what their differentiators are, and really mix them in with your followup process.

And we talked about the tablet, which I want to get into, which is a whole nother, huge thing that you do. But [00:09:00] we work together to kind of put these emails in your followup processes, but we, it was really important to say who you are. What you do differently than the competition and what you have over a used home or resell phone at home.

And the reason that is so important is, you know, people, when they’re in a new home search, they’re looking at multiple builders at one time. And so I think we work together to kind of put those emails there to really make you stand out amongst the pack and keep what you do differently top of mind for people.

And so, that’s something that’s. Fairly new for you guys with the whole OSC. So how do you think that’s working? thus far. the

Ashley: online sales counselor, program with the help of group two has been a success

Alexis: shameless plug.


Ashley: shame was like, that’s right. That’s right. you know, I obviously am new to a sales management role in new construction.

And so I didn’t know a lot about online sales counselors and a group to really stepped up to the plate to help us. Put together that program [00:10:00] and it has really been successful. just the sheer number of lead conversions to contracts from online leads has been amazing. You know, of course we partner with Zillow and realtor.com and BDX and, and we, we spend a lot of money to get these leads in the door.

And the online sales counselor program has really just brought into play the ability to convert those leads to actual buyers and get them in first. One of our sales associates on site. So it’s been a great program. the, the steps that you guys, that group to took us through to just truly understand who we are and, and be able to put that on paper and be able to verbalize that with our salespeople and our online sales counselor made a huge difference.

Our online sales counselors now can actually. understand what the company can offer the consumer and in the very first conversation that they have with the consumer, they can tell the story, they can tell the story of who the company is and why the company, could build a home. That is a great fit [00:11:00] for that consumer, because it’s so much more than just the number of bedrooms and bathrooms.

It’s what does this company stand for? And. Are they the right fit for you as a purchaser?

Alexis: I think you say that so well, because it’s more than obviously communication and transparency are key, but we also need to build trust. We have to remember that this purchasing decision is the most important person decision of a person’s life.

So they want to go with a builder that they can trust. And how do we do that? We keep our brand recognition. We stay in front of them, and that’s really a natural way to build trust, really great job at stone Martin builders, developing that.

Ashley: Yeah, we really try. We want to be transparent with the customer and tell them exactly what we have going on in the background.


Alexis: All right. So switching gears a little bit. One other thing that I think is so impressive is talk to us a little about, about a tiny piece was kind of diving in and she said, Oh my gosh, they have 153 videos on YouTube and looking at. and you know, [00:12:00] we hear that video is key more and more now, and I know we’re working on, some of that content with you specifically, but talk to us about those, framing techniques, do dehumidifiers, all the great quality construction videos, and kinda how that came to life.

And, and just tell our audience a little bit more about that.

Ashley: Okay. So have you ever played the game telephone where like you sit in a big room and you whisper a, a secret to someone and then they whisper it to the next person and the next person that

Alexis: goes

Ashley: down the line. And then by the time it gets to the end, you’re like, that’s not what I said.

Thaïs: That is where

Ashley: the video’s derived. the videos are a great. source for us to be able to give a very clear picture to the consumer of what they are getting with nothing being lost in translation. And so, that is how that all came about. We wanted to be able to say, Hey, this is what we do for you and for the [00:13:00] consumer to hear every consumer, to hear the same message over and over and over again.

And so, not only is it for them to understand their product, but it’s also for them. To be able to have a lot of people. I mean, you just read the statistic. 35% of new construction buyers are uncertain and overwhelmed about the process. These videos that we have produced, give clarity, the buyer can sit down at their own discretion in their own time and say, I want to know more about my water heater.

Okay. Let’s, let’s click on that video and learn about that. And then you’re just inching your way up a little bit more and more to remove that uncertainty and that overwhelming feeling that the customer has because buying a homeowner a home for most people is their largest investment. And when you’re spending the most amount of money you’ve ever spent in your entire life, you deserve to have the answers and not feel uncertain about anything that you’re investing in.

Thaïs: And these are such great videos because they’re short and to the point, but they’re [00:14:00] branded and they’re professionally produced and they just they’re so easy and fun to just literally like go through video. After video, after video, I was sitting there going through video ads or video, Like

Ashley: Netflix,

Thaïs: right?

Exactly. You can bend content,

but I have a question about that series. Where, how do you use it? How do you distribute those videos? Because 153 videos. It is a lot, but how do you use

Ashley: them? Okay. So what we do is. Every home purchaser that signs a contract with stain Martin builders receives a tablet, and that tablet is a gift to the homeowner on the tablet.

We have every app that applies to every home, system that we offer. it also has. The app for our bill or our programs that allow you to follow the build and that type of thing. And then it [00:15:00] has all the videos. So what we do is group two helped us put together a path to home ownership. And so what it is is that clear path of understanding what’s the step-by-step process.

In building your home and as they go, as the consumer goes through that path to home ownership, we have different, it’s sort of like candy land. We have different little, bullet points that say, okay, watch these videos now, or watch these videos now. and so they, they have a timeline for which they should watch these videos all along the path to home ownership until you get to ownership.

and right now we’re actually working on putting together our entire warranty process in the same, aspect. And so. Basically. so the consumer is not overwhelmed. We break it up for them, give them timeframes. And then we really want them to have watched every video prior to their homeowner walk through and at the homeowner walkthrough.

we actually ask them to sort of sign off and say, yeah, we watch these videos and we understand, and then give them opportunity to ask questions. What did we miss in the [00:16:00] videos? What did you not see? What can we. Claim further. and that really helps us to, and once again, just builds confidence in the consumer, in the product that they’re purchasing.

Alexis: I love it. Yeah.

Thaïs: Can we talk about that production team video? You guys do such a great job with video.

Alexis: So yes, I think it was something that you kind of had. And then we went in and created this. Wonderful. But it’s think about it. Like. If you’ve never built a home before you don’t know what to expect. And so there’s these people behind the scenes.

So we kind of came up with this production video that really spells out the process for people. And I got to say, I share that video with group two and the whole agency went wild over it because it was so well done and we’re putting it out wherever we are. We actually just put together a whole email that, you know, the video is embedded and it goes out to the audience.

So we’re really kind of leveraging that. But that’s the things that we’re talking about just we can’t assume. And I feel like in home building. We assume so much that people speak our language, but they don’t. And so we really it’s all about not only communication and [00:17:00] transparency, but the education of it all.

And so I think when you kind of put that all together, it makes it less overwhelming and in the end creates a better experience for that customer, which is so important because, you know, from start to finish, that’s what we’re looking to pave the way for. So, all right. So we talked a little bit about what happens from the, you know, the online lead.

And then we talked about how people have this tablet, which is amazing, groups who actually put together a whole campaign highlighting the tablet, because that is a differentiator, that your guys have, which is amazing. But what happens now? You know, I bought in, I trust sonar and I’m going to choose them for my builder.

And so I signed my contract and I am now. A purchaser. So what have we been working on? talk to us a little bit about our post-contract email series or our post-contract process, and what that looks like. So, yeah,

Ashley: that was one of the biggest factors in new home. Purchases is that the purchaser gets all of this communication leading up [00:18:00] to the contract and they’re told how great you are and how wonderful this is going to be and all these things.

And then all of a sudden they sign a contract and it’s like, see you at the closing table. And that’s totally not fair. And if I was a purchaser, I would not be okay with that. And so, what we have done is created a process through our CRM, for our sales associates to, conduct. Communication, just regular communication with the home purchaser throughout the build process, making sure they understand you may not see activity on your lot for the next 30 days while we order windows.

or, you know, look, this is we’re going to form the lot. Today. And we’re going to break the house this day, and we’re not going to have another meeting with you until after framing. And so there’s a lot of things that the customer doesn’t need, all that information. The day they sign the contract, but dripping that information to them along the way and saying, okay, here we are.

This is what we’re doing now. This is what we’re going to do next step. And this is what you can expect [00:19:00] in the days to come. Once again, just builds confidence. It reduces stress. you know, I was just sitting there thinking like, W w we’ve all been in this industry for a really, really long time. And it’s very easy for us to have peace about the process.

But I think about if our thrown into a hospital and told to do a nurse’s job or told to, you know, understand a nurse’s lingo, I would fail miserably and I would have extremely high anxiety. And so most of these homeowners are not builders. They’re not realtors, they’re not, Marketing experts for builders.

And so the lingo, the process, the system that the days the, what to expect next are create anxiety. If you don’t provide them with the right information. So, we’re really excited about that. The, the post contract process, Group two, once again has made it pretty for us and exciting and inviting. and we are just throwing so much content in there constantly so that the homeowner has zero questions [00:20:00] along the way, and they can have accurate information.

Thaïs: Yeah. And I think it’s so important that point you made about, you know, buyers don’t know the process, you know, as builders and as sales and marketing people. you know, especially in this market, you know, we feel sometimes like we’re going through the process, the same process over and over again, but we have to remember that it’s the first time to that buyer, you know, it’s the most exciting part of that buyer’s life, you know?

So if we keep that perspective in mind, I think it helps to, you know, It helps us communicate, the excitement and the newness and, just, you know, the joy and in buying and building a new home to them. So.

Alexis: I love that it’s all about setting the expectation, which is what you do. And I tell the story all the time.

I’m not going to name the builder, but I’ve built two new construction homes. And I know the builder was in constant communication with me in the beginning. And I loved it. I was so excited. And then second, they [00:21:00] got my check and selections were over. It was radio silence and it didn’t feel good. I was like, well, I thought we were friends.

Number one. And number two, like. You know, I had an understanding being in the industry that I know that they’re probably waiting for the permit and, you know, towns can take a long time, but like not the, not everyone doesn’t know that. And it kind of ruined the experience a little bit for me. And you want to make sure not to damage your brand because you might have it, like you said, from day one, a great experience.

And then you get that contract. You don’t want to fall off because people can still talk to their friends, talk to their family, go on Google and give you a poor rating. And so how do we combat that? Well also building in efficiencies. And so by having that whole post contract process in place, you’re setting yourself up for a better experience referrals.

you name it. So that’s been really great to see as well. Awesome. All right. any other, I think that’s all I have for list of content. I know there’s many more things you do, but just kind of wanted to give like a brief, sampling of some of the great things. One thing that I. So have a [00:22:00] lot of fun working and collaborating with you on, and it kind of talks to building your brand is how we plan out your campaigns and your, your messaging for a full year.

Not every builder does that. And I think there’s something there to say as well, because like we talk about branding and recognition and building trust, and that’s something that you really exceed at as well. And plan ahead for, so just talk to me a little bit about that and that decision to plan so far in advance.


Ashley: So, You know, Alexis truth be told the purpose of planning so far in advance is because if I don’t, it may not get done right in the moment. And so, creating that time to set aside and say, okay, what does this next year look like? What can we do to accomplish our goals? And what messages do we want to be heard?

And then. Then being willing and able to adjust it along the way, which we have certainly done. you know, last year we had our entire campaigns, spelled out and then came COVID and so everything [00:23:00] changed. Right. but if you think about it in advance, And you create your calendar and you know what you need to get done, then it keeps you on track and you’re not having to race yourself to get things out the door.

So that’s really important. And also, I mean, it’s important for us to just sit back and say, you know, have that, have those. Thought-provoking times where you sit back as a group and say, who do we want to be instead of reacting to who people say we are. And so, I, you know, coming from a, media background, you know, they always teach you, you, you know, your message before you’re asking.

Right. So, you know what message you’re going to deliver before anyone ever asks you the question. And that’s sort of what we do by preparing in advance. We know the message we want to send for the year in advance. And so we’re going to prepare that message. And then if we have to tweak it along the way we can,

Alexis: And that kind of speaks about communication in a different way.

It’s, it’s planning ahead in and saying, you know, what do we have to offer to the customer? And what do we want to make sure that we’re getting in front of people? So it’s [00:24:00] also communicating who you are, how you’re different and making sure that we kind of touch on product price, whatever it might be, that variety of content and staying in front of people.

So that’s definitely valuable too. awesome. All right. Us. What else we got? So

Thaïs: speaking of, pandemic related change, I was just curious, what is the market like right now, where you’re building? what are some of the challenges that you’ve seen and obviously part of, part of the way that you’re handling them is, is through these processes and your communication, but just in general, what are you seeing in Alabama and Georgia where you’re building.

Ashley: are the biggest factor affecting the market where we are. And I think across the country really is material supplies and delays. that is where we have our biggest holdup and we are offsetting that just through sheer communication. You know, we increased our cycle times some to [00:25:00] account for windows and different materials.

and obviously, you know, we. Do not enjoy monthly price changes, but we’ve had to fall into that system. in order to keep up with the prices that are continuing to increase for materials, we’re working hard to make sure that we stay within, a consumer affordability plan and offering the consumer a product that meets their needs.

because as fast as the materials increased, we didn’t all get raises. It work. And so we want to make sure that the consumer can still afford the same Martin product and that we’re adapting as needed along the way. So that’s probably been the biggest thing, you know, last year when COVID hit, We all feared a decline in the market, obviously that didn’t happen.

You know, the market really increased, but our biggest, goal during COVID, was to stay, ahead of the game to stay top of [00:26:00] mind for the consumer and then constantly tell them what was going on in our world. So we did weekly email updates to our under contract buyers. And then we, once again changed our processes.

We changed our, email blast and different points of communication in our CRM system, just to make the customer feel more comfortable and understand everything we were doing in our world.

Thaïs: I love that. And I think it, you know, in the face of any change, any market change that speaks to the value of, yes, you can have a period of uncertainty

Alexis: or, you

Thaïs: know, or being scared of, of what’s.

Well, what you don’t know is coming, but then you have to act and then you have to begin to act proactively. And I think that’s exactly what you guys are doing, with all of your campaigns and your strategies. It’s just, it’s, it’s a really impressive collection of work. So. Thank you for being, a leader in this space and being an example.

I really enjoy watching all these [00:27:00] pieces come

Alexis: through trendsetters and yeah, I think that’s, that kind of says it all. Like it’s not being reactive, it’s being proactive and that’s what we’ve seen stone Martin do. And it’s been really fun to be part of it and really great to collaborate and, yeah, it’s all good stuff.

I love everything you shared today.

Ashley: Well, it takes a village and we’re very thankful for our relationship with group two and, and being surrounded by really great people that are innovators and forward thinkers and willing to take the crazy ideas that come out of this office and make them into something that’s a reality.

So it’s a blessing and we’re excited to, to be a part of an ever-changing market. It’s never boring.

Thaïs: All right. Well with that, I think, I think that’s it. We like to say, thank you so much, Ashley, for joining us. and we appreciate your time and we will see everyone next week. [00:28:00] .

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