INCREASED SPAM and junk mail has created a generation of Australians who are sick of unsolicited advertising. The days of cold calling and letterbox drops may be coming to an end, and agents have to focus on what tangible benefits they can provide.
Phil Harris, managing director at Harris Real Estate in Adelaide, says the only way forward for agents is building databases and maintaining relationships.
“Letterbox drops and cold calls are so generic, and they don’t build real relationships. It’s like flashing social media in front of everyone’s face,” he says, not long after his agency scooped the Real Estate Institute of South Australia (REISA) Residential Agency of the Year – Large award for this year.
“You’ve got to be connecting in a real way.”
Mr Harris recognises the importance of lead generation and believes with a good database, anyone can become successful within 12 months.
“Lead generation is one of the top two most important things in a business,” he continues.
“The other is conversion.
“As far as lead generation goes for us, our main focus is live contacts or data, which are people who come through open inspections. That’s always a great source of leads.
“The second best source of leads we find is focusing on one area over a long period of time, and chasing down every homeowner’s address and contact number to try to build a relationship with that owner through informative direct mail.
“The days of letterbox drops and cold calling are over. Area specialisation through real relationships is the best way forward now.”
Obtaining the contact numbers of interested buyers is easier said than done, however. And while an agent won’t receive the email address of someone browsing a listing site, they might be able to get their mobile phone number, thanks to a new system.
Real Estate On Mobile is attempting to fill the gap between agents and buyers who are just starting to think about getting involved in the buying process.
The system gives the agent the mobile number of an interested buyer while they view the property.
A code is printed on a signboard that a buyer texts to the number accompanying the code. An automated response sends a mobile webpage with additional information to the buyer, while forwarding on their details to the agent.
Director of Client Loyalty Australia, Peter Cran, who is behind the Real Estate On Mobile system, believes the lead generation software is exactly what agents need.
“The Real Estate On Mobile system meets a key need in the real estate market in two ways. Firstly, it provides an easy and convenient method for property buyers and investors to make enquiries on properties for sale. Secondly, it provides a unique gateway for real estate agents to identify and capture marketing and sales intelligence,” he says.
There are many key areas of difference, in particular the ability to capture the buyer’s mobile number and email address. This, obviously, is gold to the real estate agent.”
But while agents could use features like these to let clients come to them, top real estate trainer, Peter Gilchrist, claims the very best in the industry lock themselves in a room and seek out new leads.
“I coach the cream of the industry, and what I can see is that there are two things agents need to get right with prospecting,” Mr Gilchrist, who operates Real Training International, says.
“Firstly, all agents need the ‘call forward’ system; it’s the simplest system in the world. It’s about making a call, and then pushing that call forward to the next time they will call again. Most people just have databases where they dump everyone they need to ring, and slowly work through them.
“What you should be doing is calling someone, and then setting up a pop-up on your phone or computer to call them again a week later, or however frequently you want to call them.
“And secondly, agents need to do the right thing at the right time. If you get just that one right, you’ll double your business. Shorten the time between calls in this market. A year ago the average time on market was much higher than it is now, which means that people are making decisions faster – so you must be all over them. Over the next six months, we must speed up.
“The top people that I coach will set aside one hour a day dedicated to prospecting,” he continues, “and to do that they need to shut out the noise; that means your phone is off, no one can get to you through reception, your email is off – all clutter has to go for those 60 minutes.”
GEN Y ADVANTAGE
Yet technology has allowed the younger generation to catch up with the veterans of the industry, with mass texting programs and detailed databases allowing young agents to get massive exposure.
“The older generation of agents, it might take 10 years to build a profile if they don’t keep a database and keep in contact with people with quality information,” Mr Harris says. “But now you can have a 21-year-old, who maintains their database and is positive and aggressive at chasing people – they’ll start writing numbers as good as the people who have been in the industry for 10 years in their first 12 months.
“The technology platform has changed the game completely now. Our young guy here, he sells about six properties a month. He has a database of every homeowner in his core area, and when he sells a house there, he sends out a bulk SMS to every appraisal he has ever done in that area letting them know.
“When that goes direct to four or five hundred people’s handsets, it is far more powerful than a thousand letterbox drops. And it’s cheaper, too.”
But some advancement in technology isn’t as great as it’s made out to be. “The whole Facebook thing is an illusion,” says Peter Gilchrist.
“Instead of a thousand people in a letterbox drop, now you have 1,200 imaginary friends with a digital inbox.
“If you were boring and had nothing interesting to say before your imaginary friends, you’re still boring and nobody is listening.”
Social media as a lead generator is a hotly debated topic in the real estate industry. Comments made in June from industry trainer, Josh Phegan – that the best agents weren’t using social media and were instead obtaining results by interacting face-to-face with people – sparked some robust responses from other industry players.
“Social media is going to transform nearly all industries, including real estate,” Paul Tonich, director of Melbourne-based Altitude Real Estate, said in response to Mr Phegan’s comments. “To neglect [social media] now, as a leader of an organisation, you will pay a price in five to ten years," Mr Tonich said.
Social media expert Greg Vincent agreed.
“I agree that agents shouldn't be hiding behind technology, but since the internet works 168 hours a week – either for or against an agent – it's important to leverage the web and social media to your advantage,” he said.
“I have agents who now get called into listing presentations un-opposed because of what they do via Facebook.”
Mr Gilchrist also has a low opinion of newsletters. “People are wasting their time on newsletters,” he says. “If I get another chocolate cake recipe in my inbox, I’m going to vomit. And stop sending out profiles about yourself. No one cares about what your office did for Christmas, or that you have a family.”
But his top tip is to persevere, even after the listings come rolling in.
“Everyone prospects, but most agents will drop prospecting the moment they get ‘busy’ or if they need to go to a lunch date.
“If they’re too busy, prospecting goes out the window. What prospecting you do today, will catch up with you in around eight weeks’ time, so that hour a day minimum is vital.”
Listing websites are generally considered more of an advertising platform rather than a proactive lead source. Real estate agent Jeanette Howle, dreamed of creating a listing website that could complement an agent’s advertising, as well as sourcing leads.
After many years of preparation, Real Estate Match Making Australia (REMMA) launched earlier this year.
“We officially launched REMMA on 1 July 2012, so it is only very new to the market.
“I am really proud as it is the realisation of a long-time dream and passion of mine.
“We’ve got 130 real estate agents who have created profiles and over 1,100 listings in a little over four months, so we must be doing something right,” she says.
As a licensed real estate agent and auctioneer, Ms Howle put together the site using her own skills and experience.
“REMMA has been engineered and programmed completely from my own ideas, designs, concepts and product knowledge.
“I had the idea for the site years ago. In fact, everything you see on the site and all the information started in my scrapbook. I match-make people and property, instead of people with people – this is one of the [core] ideas behind the concept for my site.”
REMMA allows agents to create their own profile and showcase their properties free of charge. When the site matches a buyer or tenant to the agent, the site will direct the consumer straight to the agent's profile and contact details, including their own website.
“As long as my agents get the leads, I’m happy. It’s not about trying to control the source, it’s about getting the source to as many people as we can.
“REMMA complements the advertising and marketing strategies that agents already have in place … [and] will give extra online exposure, generate extra leads, extra referrals, extra listing tools and give a real point of difference for the agent.
Other features include a real-time ‘chatbox’, which allows buyers to speak with the agent if they are also online. The personal touches on sites like
REMMA complement the ‘relationship’ side of real estate that Mr Harris claims is vital to any business.
“Everybody is out there looking for the silver bullet,” he says. “But the reality is that the people who are able to leverage relationships more quickly have the advantage.”
BACK TO BASICS
But the basics of real estate are still the foundations of good lead generation, including successful marketing.
“Social proof is a huge part of prospecting. If you're consistently selling homes in a given area and you’re getting great results, then people will gravitate towards you,” says Mr Harris. Yet agents should be wary of seeming to brag because, according to Peter Gilchrist, consumers are over it.
“For 50 years, this industry has either been bragging or begging,” he laments. “We’re either telling everyone how good we are – and we’re seeing that with these videos of agents who think they’re movie stars – or we’re saying ‘we need more listings, urgently. Give us more money please.’ The whole conversation needs to be turned around. You need five ‘gives’ before you can ask for something in return.”
But when it comes to door-knocking, Mr Gilchrist agrees that it is a dying trend. “I tell agents who door knock to learn the harmonica, that way they’ll [at least] make a couple of dollars by the end of the afternoon,” he says.
“As long as you have a reason, cold calling is okay. Cold calling to beg or brag is a waste of time. If you’re going to do it, there’s two ways. Firstly, there’s the [real estate trainer] Eric Thaine system; he leaves a card in the letterbox that says, ‘Call me about your house tonight between six and seven o’clock.’ And that has massive results. Who knows why!
“Or, when you pick up the phonebook and start at Mrs A. Anderson, have a reason. Say, ‘Good evening Ms Anderson. You live on this street, correct? I’m from ABC Real Estate and we have some buyers who are very interested in moving into this area, so we’re ringing the residents to see if there is any chance of making a move.
“It’s crass and as cold you can get, but it’s more honest than some of the stuff I see in my letterbox.”