The conference agenda was largely what you would expect: a combination of presentations on sales efficiency, team design, prospecting and a host of other business considerations. A majority of the conference focused on creating, building and maintaining a real estate business.
Whilst there, I detected one underlying theme around new ways to grow. Where a few years ago agencies were trying out new techniques without success, now some were perfecting those same techniques and reaping the benefits.
The theme that emerged for me was a growing connection to customers who were both highly mobile and connected with social media. These customers needed a different style of interaction, an interaction on their terms. For example:
- They did not want to be phoned. Phoning someone interrupts their current activity and can often be considered ‘rude’. A phone call is something only done for urgent matters such as needing a contract signed to get a deal over the line.
- If they had to be phoned, and they were not available, they did not want a voice message left. A voice message is the hardest form of message to pick up after the fact. An agent should rather SMS them with a short brief of the issue and ask for a call back.
- They did want bite-sized updates of what was happening in a negotiation or sale - a lot of small updates regularly. SMS works well if they are actively interested in the sale (for example, they have made a previous offer or asked to be informed of what is happening with the property). If they are less interested then Twitter and Facebook postings that are short and sharp work too, but see my point 4 below.
- Customers wanted to be communicated with on their terms. Asking them on first meeting how you can keep them updated on what is happening maximises the agent's ‘cut through’.
Indeed, ‘cut through’ is probably the theme to highlight. Property buyers and sellers live in the same world we all do, and as such are very busy people. Daily, they manage a backlog of hundreds of emails on top of holding down busy jobs and personal lives. As an agent, your first and best chance to work out a strategy for working with them is on your first meeting. This is when they are engaged with you and you have their attention.
It might be at an open home, or a listings appraisal, or a phone call from them enquiring about a listing, but this is the best and often only time to work out how to communicate with them.
Most agents at this point ‘database’ a customer. This means they do something like:
- Get their name, address, email and telephone number
- Find out if they own a property or are renting
- Find out if they are looking to sell or buy and when
They then ‘categorise them’ into their database based on their buying/selling cycle and start sending the customer emails. They will also follow up on the particular opportunity from the contact.
Assuming the customer did not turn into an immediate buyer or seller, after six months they are just a name and email address in a database that gets a ‘market snapshot of some form’ sent to them regularly. The agent is proud of their database as it has ‘X thousand contacts’ in it, but how engaged are those contacts and how many will think of the agent when they finally do make a decision to sell or buy?
If we take the customers perspective, as an example, they went to an open house for a property they were interested in six months ago. For whatever reaso,n it was not suitable, and they are still looking in the market - although not particularly actively. They get 1,000 personal emails a week from different sources, of which 10 are from agencies that have them ‘databased’.
The agent's email is not going to ‘cut through’ this noise easily. They will pay it at most a minutes attention.
So if on first meeting, when that customer is engaged and interested in a property, a further two pieces of information were gathered:
- When and how to contact them. Eg Facebook post or tweet at a certain time
- Exactly what to contact them about – for example ‘investment properties around $400,000’
Then a much higher level of 'cut through' is achievable. Now the customer is getting told what they are interested in, at a time when they are able to digest that information, and through the channel that works best for them. The same customer who is interested in investing but has not had the time to wade through all the real estate emails finding the few properties that match their criteria, is now getting a focused communication on their needs and is far more likely to engage and buy through the agent.
NAR showed that the top agents in the USA were communicating with their customers in the way those customers wanted to be communicated with.
The communication was about what the customers wanted to know, at a time when they were likely to pay attention.
Achieving that cut through in communication turns a dead database lead into a lifetime customer who will transact through you.