No one saw it coming. Last summer’s build up to the referendum saw a happy, healthy and profitable market, with new homes sales ticking over and targets being broken on a weekly basis. Pipelines organically increased and many developers continued plans of rapid growth.
The morning of 24th June came as a huge political and economic thud and with this, the house building industry crashed to a dramatic standstill. PLC’s shares plummeted, Stirling fell and purchasers began to get nervous. Many investors pulled out of bulk deals and our clients saw sales pipelines come tumbling apart. Boards went into panic mode and plans to grow were put on hold for the foreseeable future. However, amidst the uncertainly and chaos within the market, the reality of the job never disappeared – developers still had to sell and the pressure was on sales staff to make up numbers in what was potentially the biggest market scare since 2008.
I’ve always felt the role of a Sales Manager is somewhat overlooked and simplified at times to ‘someone who just sells houses’. This couldn’t be further from the reality – sales is so much more than what the title suggests. Without sales staff, the end goal of a developer would not be achieved.
A regional MD of Redrow once told me ‘sales staff are arguably the most important piece of the puzzle when it comes to profitability’. They are the face of the company and are expected to consistently deliver and uphold exceptionally high levels of service at all times. They act as the lynch pin internally between departments, often keeping boards and senior management aware of sales activity on site, delivering market research and producing high level reports. Sales Managers are often tasked with leading and motivating large teams of site sales staff across diverse and large regions (with no one site posing the same challenge!). Externally, they manage relationships with agents, marketing, and PR firms and probably, most importantly, on-board and see the customer through from initial enquiry to completion.
Naturally, there were casualties over the summer period, but the majority of housebuilders rolled their sleeves up and got on with the task at hand. Sales Managers had to think on their feet – how do we make up for the deficit after the summers losses, whilst continuing to secure business for the future? Many saw the weak pound as an opportunity to attract a different type of overseas investor, whilst others focused more on home grown sales as a route to profit. ‘We had a very difficult summer’ one Sales Manager at Barratt told me ‘London had come to a halt and deals were dropping out left right and center. We had to change strategy and quickly adapt for something we had no plans for’. The gamble paid off, however and brilliantly, after the initial disruption of the referendum, many of our clients managed to claw back sales, with some actually managing to increase the profit margins on the unit sales initially lost. By Christmas it was business as usual – share prices slowly crept back up and buyers returned to the market.
The general consensus has been that time really is the greatest healer. ‘Once the economy proved its resilience and Stirling regained its strength post-Brexit, faith was once again restored and purchasers flooded back’ a Sales Director from Crest Nicholson commented. ‘This, of course, coupled with sales staff staying positive, committed and focused; and by adapting to the sudden change as well as managing customer and client expectations, developers yielded some excellent end of year results’.
The market only appears to be going from strength to strength and 2017 looks to be a very positive year. Its only mid-January and clients are reporting pipelines have been rebuilt, completions are at record high for some and many are still looking to grow in the next 12 months, opening new regions with plans to attract the industries best talent. ‘We have learnt a lot from last summer and if anything, have improved our internal operations as a result of Brexit’ a source from Berkeley Homes, told me ‘most importantly, our staff showed great loyalty through a time of uncertainty and sales team continued to give a best in class service, even when the sky began to fall around them’.
Of course, I have a great bias towards sales staff (after all, they are who I recruit day in day out!), but the industry as a whole should be exceptionally proud of the resilience and determination shown during a period of instability. The results from 2016 prove that construction is one of the strongest and most robust industries in the UK market and long may its growth continue.