For decades, the “in-home” demonstration has been a staple in the home improvement sales process. But the Internet, emerging technology, and a new generation of homeowners may change the future of the in-home visit forever.

In many industries, the path to purchase has become simpler and easier. You can book a restaurant reservation online. Uber and Lyft can pick you up and take you where you need to go without calling a cab. Even haircuts can be scheduled with a few taps on a mobile phone.

None of these purchase paths include a phone call or a person-to-person conversation. It won’t be long until homeowners start to ask the home improvement industry to simplify their purchase paths as well. Homeowners in general, but especially millennials, are looking for ways to improve their homes without an in-person sales presentation.

How Would It Work?
As technology has evolved, it has become easier to see, understand, and visualize a product or service and purchase immediately. People buy clothes without trying them on. They buy furniture without seeing it in person. Why can’t they replace their windows the same way?

The sales process is going to shift gradually, very gradually, from in-person demos to mobile-based sales, primarily by way of phone calls and texts.

And while that sounds like a major shift, the home improvement industry won’t have to start from scratch. Much of the technology needed to do phone-based sales already exists and is being adopted by some of the major players in the home remodeling space.

Changing the Upfront Sales Conversation
Step one in the sales visit is getting information. In order to create an accurate value proposition for your prospects, you need to know more about the home you’ll be working on. How are you supposed to do this if you can’t even get in the door?

There are also technology options here—namely, drones and software. Roofing companies use drones to assess the size, pitch, and type of a homeowner’s roof. Solar companies use Google Maps to determine sun exposure. Programs like Roofsnap and EagleView essentially automate the evaluation process, generating on-the-nose estimates without a ladder.

The potential is enormous for both your sales team and the customer: you can often get measurements for almost any exterior project, including siding, landscaping, and even painting. You then use that information to start a sales conversation over the phone, rather than sending a representative to the house.

As a result, your sales team will be spending more and more time in the office—and reaching out to more customers—because they don’t have to travel nearly as much. Meanwhile, the homeowner doesn’t have to let a stranger into the home and doesn’t have to block out two hours for a presentation. It gives them the control and flexibility that they want.

Companies doing exterior improvements will be able to deliver a preliminary project plan and price to the homeowner—subject to change if it turns out that there is a serious unforeseen problem. Only after a homeowner chooses their products and a price will a professional go to the home to confirm measurements and ensure that there are no issues (such as rotted fascia, infested beams, etc.).

Boston-based Renoviso has put this approach into action. They are handling the entire upfront sales conversation and product selection online and over the phone. Homeowners describe their job in detail, and then a phone conversation moves the process forward. Finally, the company dispatches a subcontractor to review the job, but only after price and product are agreed upon.

Main Street Lumber's app improves the ordering process for customers.
Main Street Lumber Main Street Lumber's app improves the ordering process for customers.

Mobile Makes Projects Easier to Estimate
Most people use their cell phone as their primary camera. They take pictures of everything they need and everything they’re interested in. A picture, as the saying goes, is worth a thousand words.

It makes sense then that younger homeowners are more interested in looking at images online than looking at samples and product flipbooks in person. In the era of Instagram, users are able to work with images in more ways than ever before. A homeowner wants to be able to take a picture and get an accurate idea of project cost.

There are a few software programs out there that can estimate square footage of a photo and numerous apps that use your phone’s camera to visualize features. Loop Loc, a pool cover company, only requires the homeowner to upload a photo of his or her pool in order to generate a quote. After they submit the photo, they weave a sales pitch into their estimate, either via phone call or online.

Bringing Virtual Reality to Home Improvement
Another image-based selling tool is virtual reality (VR). Similar to old school architectural mockups, VR allows the homeowner to truly visualize what their finished project will look like. It is especially appealing for interior remodelers, as homeowners can easily compare styles, designs and placement. Lowe’s recently added this feature to their brick and mortar stores.

During the typical sales presentation, the sales rep spends a good chunk of time helping the homeowner imagine their completed project. With image-based software and VR, you can truly bring their vision to life. Is it technically an in-home visit? Yes. But, the technology does most of the talking. Millennial prospects will enjoy both the experience and the security of knowing the final result of their investment.

If you’re worried about gearing up for the VR revolution, don’t rush. This trend is new and will trickle in rather slowly. For now, I recommend observing.

Delivering a Memorable Quote
Without the in-home visit, the estimate is your biggest opportunity to sell. With the average person spending over four hours a day on their mobile phone, reaching the homeowner by text, email, and telephone is your best bet. The goal is to make them feel comfortable and engaged.

Texting is by far the best way to connect with millennial homeowners. With 98% of all text messages opened by the recipient, texting can be a valuable tool in driving discussions and resulting business with homeowners. Home improvement companies can use text management tools to set appointments, notify homeowners of progress, gather customer satisfaction data, and follow up.

Even with the popularity of text, telephone sales techniques will still be a vital skill. And this is going to be the hardest transition for many home improvement companies to make. Turning your killer, sharply-trained in-home sales force into one that is equally good on the phone is no small feat.

This Change Has Happened Before – and Homeowners Liked It
Several years ago, some of the largest home security companies in the country moved away from the in-home sales model and embraced phone sales completely. Their dealer networks became installer networks, while sales was handled in-house by phone sales experts. They’ve grown exponentially ever since.

Technology has created a generation of information-first homeowners. Younger homeowners will want to plan their home improvement projects in the place where they’re most comfortable: on their mobile devices. Making the sales process as easy as possible—and using technology in your approach—is key to securing business with this generation of homeowners.

A new sales approach won’t and shouldn’t happen overnight. But, you’ll want to be prepared to meet the expectations of homeowners who want a simplified purchase path. Just like an old home, the home improvement sales process has good bones, but it will need to be updated as homeowners and technology continues to change.