As many of my readers will know, I come from a direct sales background. Back in the day, we had a churn 'em and burn 'em mindset. If the prospect didn't buy a vacuum cleaner on presentation night, we fired their lead card in the bin with disdain.
Over the past 17 years I've worked with many real estate agents on websites and marketing, so I'm invited to attend their marketing seminars from time to time, to provide my perspective. It always shocks me when agents are advised to adopt the old "numbers game" mindset, tossing out "dead leads", so they can move on... "next!" Churn 'em and burn 'em baby!
Our family takes their cars to the local GM dealership for service. Over the years, I've spent quite a few hours in the waiting lounge, enjoying a courtesy coffee and catching up on email on my tablet while my car gets an oil change. One of the salesmen has always taken the time to come over and chat whenever he sees me. I'll see him walk to the service department desk, then check his laptop before coming over. (Hey, I know exactly what he's doing, he's checking my file in his CRM, refreshing his memory. What a pro!) He asks me about my daughter, my husky, my outdoor interests, my business... He understands the value of building a relationship, and it's paid off well for him. Our family has purchased four cars from him already.
I still remember the first time we met. I had dropped off my car for service and was looking at a few cars on the lot, to get some air. It was his "up", so he sauntered over, umbrella in hand. I informed him I was just killing time. My answer didn't deter him. Unlike so many salesmen before, he didn't write me off and hightail it back into the warm showroom. As I recall, he got me a coffee and we talked about mountain biking and rock climbing in Squamish for nearly an hour.
If your website's working for you, and someone's engaging in social media on your behalf, the phone should be ringing and your inbox should catch the leads. You'll come across hard-ass "real estate sales gurus " defining a lead as having a full name, phone number, email address and a comment that expresses some level of interest. Webmasters are consequently ordered to make all form fields "* required." Only if all the fields are filled in, it's a lead.
But are completely filled in inquiry forms and calls the only leads you're receiving? Is that the only definition of a useable internet-generated lead?
I do understand the frustration that comes from spending hours with someone that isn't serious. I sent years in the sales trenches. And tossing out a lead with distain may provide some measure of immediate satisfaction. But I'm the 'SEO guy' who looks over the analytical data, from a wide array of websites, and prospect-hostile forms that require all fields to be filled in are a surefire way to stop more leads from coming in. When the form page gets several hundred unique visits, but completed forms number under two percent, your potential clients are being scared off by the discriminatory 'requirements'.
There are times I've only received an email address, a phone number or Twitter ID, but that turned into a website design project and several years of ongoing marketing retainers. Someone may fill the name field with a bogus name "Sly Stalone", then ask a legitimate question, with a genuine email address to reply to. Many sales people wouldn't answer that email, but it's a lead, and that shy person may be a buyer. If the person provides a way to get back to them, the lead is viable.
Of course there's a sales process we want to take people through, elevating leads to prospects, then to clients and finally closed clients. But there's a real danger in discarding a lead, just because they're not ready to pull the trigger today. If you do that, you'll always be looking for new leads.
Our leads require nurturing. Maybe they aren't ready to buy or list their home today, but they have friends who are. If you've treated them graciously and with respect, you stand to gain a referral. If you've turned your back on them for having wasted your time, they may even advise their friends against contacting you.
Your email list is one of the most important lead generation tools at your disposal. So how do you get prospects to join your list?
Today's sales funnel process generally begins in a social media channel. Your prospective client likes one of your teaser posts in Twitter, Facebook or LinkedIn, and decides to read the full blog post on your site. The content is ridiculously valuable and it leaves a profound impression. A few days later, they see another social post, and come by the blog again. They realize that, for their real estate objectives, your content is a must have.
They may initially subscribe to your RSS feed, so they can follow you in their reader over the morning's cup of coffee. But you want them on your mailing list, so you can influence their buying/selling decisions over time, moving them from cool leads to warm ones. How do you get them on the list? The same way you moved them over to your website, with incredibly valuable content.
"Epic" content (way better than anything your competitors are publishing) is all about the audience. If you're targeting condo buyers in Downtown Vancouver, your posts, articles and downloadable whitepapers should all provide information that is vital to making a purchase decision or selling a property in the area. (And no, "here are my listings" blasts are not valuable content! "I just listed a new property" is likewise all about "you.")
By selling your audience on the must have value of one of your whitepapers or perhaps VIP access to special information, in a carefully written high-conversion landing page, some will willingly exchange their contact information to receive a higher level of content. These are first-tier 'cool' leads, and it's a bit early to contact them yet. Have some faith, and patience.
Lead nurturing systems evolve, and finding the right system can be very time consuming. It's easy to avoid connecting with prospects while trying out various solutions you hope will enable you to connect more effectively. For 2014, the funnel system we're most happy with is using Unbounce landing pages or Gravity Forms, either MailChimp or AWeber's autoresponder/double opt-in system to keep things CASL compliant, with the REthink (Salesforce for real estate) CRM.
It's important to track your leads through every phase of the sales funnel, with contact information, conversation notes, copies of emails sent and received, information you've picked up from their Facebook profiles, etc.
Leads represent the beginnings of relationships, not disposable email printouts or cards in a big numbers game. You 'friend' and 'follow' your new friends on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn. That way, when they casually mention that with the baby coming, and their home space will be limited — or their friend does — you'll be the first agent to congratulate them. When you throw out a lead, you throw away a whole human being... think about that.
If your sales approach is a bit old school, like mine was, I'm hoping you'll try nurturing the leads that didn't view properties or sign a contract this week, rather than firing them out. Have you ever looked at a product at the mall, but didn't pull the trigger, only to come back a week later, mind fully made up, ready to make the purchase that day? Exactly!!!
I welcome your questions and comments below.
Cole Wiebe helps brands and professionals grow their influence and value online; so they can “out content”™ their competition. Cole is a content strategist, content writer, conversion copywriter and online marketing coach.
Real Estate Marketing Tips Blog