The Key Housing Corporation: What do you mean, a ‘depressed’ housing market?
• Achieving impossible goals in an impossible market
• Laying the foundations for a competent internal organisation
Lidy van der Schaft – CEO
After a hard day’s work I was letting off steam in the local pub, on the harbour just outside my office. The place was unusually busy. Unknown to me, a prize was being presented – to someone who had come up with the most innovative idea for benefitting the neighbourhood. The prize was being presented by the director of housing at De Key Housing Corporation. I ended up talking to her and, as usual, business cards were exchanged. Her name was Lidy van der Schaft, an extremely pleasant and disarmingly open person. We met again, not long after that. This time to talk about the Bitsing method. She found it interesting. As a director of a housing corporation she was keen to find out more, particularly as Bitsing has the potential to sell houses. She then decided to apply the method to her business. The housing market was depressed and Bitsing seemed to be just the thing to inject some life into it. Her specific objective was unusually challenging: sell 240 houses in a seriously dormant market. A target twice as high as the number of house sales achieved by the corporation in the previous year. Doubling sales performance in a depressed market represented an extreme challenge. Although not an impossible one if the Bitsing method was applied. Bitsing was applied, with the following results: * The key Housing Corporation sold 126 houses in 2011. * In 2012, with the help of the Bitsing method, they sold 244 houses. * This is a 193.7% year-on-year increase in houses sold. What did De Key do, so differently, to so successfully defeat its competitors and the market conditions?
What De Key certainly did differently was that it did a lot – it did much more than other organisations’ rather cramped efforts to sell houses. Probably the most important thing that it did was not to focus purely on selling the product, houses, but also to profile itself as a brand. This combination of product (house) and brand (De Key) – laid an essential foundation, on which the sales success was then built. While other players in the market seemed to want to look as much like their competitors as possible – saying the same things and marketing themselves in the same way, De Key, driven by Bitsing methodology, communicated its uncopyability. De Key Housing Corporation is one of the oldest housing foundations in the Netherlands. In itself this is nothing spectacular- every organisation has a history, after all. Until one looks deeper into the historical information and discovers that De Key laid the foundations for people being able to have their ‘own’ home – albeit in the context of social housing. De Key was also able to uniquely communicate this primary need: ‘At home – in your own home!’
The housing corporation effectively communicated this uncopyable proposition to its target group, thus successfully completing the phase of creating preference for the brand, De Key. In addition to his typically Bitsing approach, Lidy adopted other aspects of the methodology. The corporation’s marketing communication allocated no more than 15% of its content to selling houses. This 15% sales focus was in sharp contrast to the usual approach in this market, in which communication is 100% devoted to selling the house. Other players in the market were characterised by the assumption that the house and its location were the determinants for sales success. For them, logic dictated that all attention was to be focused on the house and the sale thereof. This assumption has of course being proved to be extremely oversimplified – and wrong. The house and its location – the product – can only be partly instrumental in making a successful sale. Indeed, this factor amounts to just one of the six Bitsing steps. The market contains another five factors which determine whether someone will by a product (a house) or not. Namely: the other five steps of the Bitser ladder.
De Key was outstanding in its application of the other five steps and, yes, this resulted in their getting the most out of every individual in their target group.
The principle that six Bitser steps always have to be “climbed’ apply, of course, to every market and to every target group. If your organisation focuses purely on sales, then the achievement of sales and turnover success will be difficult. There are another five steps – and these also demand attention. This approach requires working on the basis of facts – and always keeping the relevant ones in sharp focus. An interview with Lidy van der Schaft (a retrospective on an initial Bitsing period) It is precisely one year later and I am again visiting De Key, in one of Amsterdam’s most beautiful locations. Standing in Lidy van der Schaft’s office I once again enjoy the classically Amsterdam view across the Amstel River.
My most pressing question receives an immediate answer.” Did you achieve the objective?” I ask.
“The objective was achieved”, answers Lidy. “At least 240 houses were sold.” I feel my eyebrows rising in astonishment. I know, of course, that the Bitsing method always guarantees the achievement of its goals, but I’m nevertheless surprised that this has again proved to be true – in the most difficult market imaginable. The prevailing opinion is that the housing market is depressed. However, once again, assumption seems to have been disproved by fact. And the plan had indeed predicted that this goal would be achieved. I had every reason to believe the outcome, but the news that this had once more been demonstrated in practice…resulted in a euphoric moment! ‘Wow!’, I said. “Again!” I questioned her further on how the Bitsing method had helped. “Well”, said Lidy,” It’s brought us more than we expected”. She described how Bitsing had provided a foundation, a basis for the organisation’s achievements. She added, and I quote her literally, ”Bitsing provided the basis for changing how we looked at things. It showed us that we must focus on facts and avoid assumptions. Bitsing provided handholds that enabled us to get a grip on the correct focus.” Such successes can never be completely attributed to the method, in every detail. There are always a host of other activities which contribute to the results. However, Bitsing did lay the foundation and a foundation can be built on. In this case, to sell nearly twice as many houses as in the previous year and, in so doing, to achieve an ambitious objective. Lidy agrees, ”The support of a solid foundation enables you to be more adventurous in looking for further opportunities. And we did discover them. For example, we developed an intense focus on existing tenant and student target markets. These were options that we otherwise would never have discovered.” De Key also experienced, ”That because Bitsing is based on facts, one is constrained to make the correct choices”. And as Lidy said, “This is why we were able to communicate with the correct target markets”, in effect those which would be responsible for generating the required turnover.
Answering my question as to whether Bitsing had further benefitted the organisation, Lidy came up with something very interesting indeed: “Unknown to ourselves, we lacked competency. Bitsing makes you aware that you’re doing things the wrong way. It made us aware that we lacked certain competencies, that we had been ‘unconscious of our incompetency’. It then provided the handholds for us to get to grips with correcting these shortcomings – we became conscious of competency. Then we came to the phase of rolling out the Bitsing programmes, thereby entering the next phase: that of unconsciously becoming even more competent, in yet more areas. The entire process made a big impact on us. In a period of one year the team at De Key became truly professional.” ”Bitsing enables you to discover your organisation’s talents. Again, this is due to the solid foundation provided by the Bitsing method”, said Lidy. ”Our organisation is large, diverse and consists of a number of islands, each with its own language. As a result of applying Bitsing across the entire organisation, we have all started speaking the same language. As a result, we work better together – and working together is, of course, always the best way of working. It’s another benefit of the Bitsing method.” I asked Lidy whether Bitsing had not only been appreciated by management, but also by the employees. Her answer was straightforward, ”You quickly learn to be selective about who you want in your team. The early adapters stand out and these are the people that you need first. All of our employees experienced the Bitsing method in a very positive way though. Why? Because it facilitates and supports them. It tells them how to do things, how to tackle issues… Bitsing gave them handholds. It means there’s always something to rely on, a system, and that’s very useful for everybody.” Lidy was also lyrical about the effects on their website – and other areas of the organisation. ”Our website was passive, static. As a result of applying this methodology it has been transformed into an active website, which is intensively used in the communication with our target groups. And because we now work so efficiently and have the correct focus, we are now also in a position to deploy this approach to other parts of the organisation, such as student housing and parking sales and rentals.” Lidy continued, ”It’s now a year later and we use Bitsing on a daily basis. It has introduced a structure. This means, for instance, that I now automatically receive the reports I need, every week. These reports provide the necessary facts on our sales and turnover. They put us in a position to react appropriately and to take advantage of any changing trends in the marketplace. And all this comes from Bitsing’s insistence on having the correct focus on the facts, as they stand today.”
Lidy concludes, ”And, of course, things like our ‘house-buying cafes’ and open house routes are also very popular, because we now know who to talk to…because we’ve identified our target group. All of this has grown from the foundation laid by Bitsing.” De Key is a perfect example of how an organisation should use the Bitsing method. My mission is to enable any organisation to apply Bitsing autonomously, following an initial, guided Bitsing period of about 12 months. This development is precisely what took place at De Key, which is why this case study is a source of particular pride!