Establishing a Lead: Lead Generation Systems
One of the attributes distinguishing higher-income REALTORS® from those who don't earn as much is their use of a contact or lead management system, according to a May 2011 survey of 1,700-some agents by Active Rain. Three of five agents earning at least $100,000 annually worked with such a system, versus 34 percent of agents whose yearly earnings fell below $35,000.
"It was the most dramatic difference," according to Gary David Hall, who is a broker, REALTOR® and consultant specializing in real estate technology. Although other factors, such as the percentage using email marketing, differed between the two groups, the variances weren't as dramatic.
Before purchasing a lead management system, Hall recommends first determining what you’d like it to do. For instance, some REALTORS® will benefit most from a system with a comprehensive library of templates for emails and flyers, while others may need systems that can help manage transaction details or that offer finely tuned search capabilities.
Carol Adams, SRES, of Coldwell Banker in Sacramento, CA, uses PropertyMinder, a website platform with client relationship management capabilities, to keep in contact with a database of clients and potential clients she’s acquired via open houses and her website.
Adams uses the tool to automatically send monthly emails with information, such as updated market statistics, to the individuals within her database. "I send this to everyone whose email address I have," she says. Adams also can use PropertyMinder to send targeted emails – say, an explanation of short sales – to a subset of her database.
Another consideration is the system's ability to work with whatever mobile computing device you use, Hall says. While it's not true that lead management systems inevitably tie you to your desk, not all systems work with all mobile devices.
Another decision point: whether to go with a web-based system or software that is installed on your desktop. You may be able to purchase a desktop-based system for a one-time charge; in contrast, many web-based products carry ongoing fees.
However, as with most purchases in life, you get what you pay for, Hall cautions. The pricier systems tend to offer more features, which can aid in growing your business. What's more, while desktop systems typically work fine for one person, you'll probably need a web-based system if it will be used by multiple agents or brokers.
Caren Acheson, of WEICHERT, REALTORS® in Plainville, MA, uses Constant Contact to send emails to her database of potential and current clients. While the basic version of the product gets the job done, only the upgraded version enables Acheson to see how many recipients of the emails actually opened them and clicked on any links. "It's more difficult to use if you don't buy the enhanced version," she says.
Along with software applications developed specifically for REALTORS®, many agents use online sites like Zillow and Trulia to generate leads. Acheson, for instance, will purchase leads; the cost generally varies by zip code. Acheson also will engage in activities on the sites that don’t cost money, such as answering questions posted by buyers and sellers. "It gets your name out there again, again and again," she says.
In addition to sites specifically focused on real estate, search engines offer another huge lead generation opportunity, says Bradley Joe, marketing manager with San Francisco-base digital marketing firm, WebMarketing123. He points out that every day, more than 3 billion searches are conducted on Google. "It's a massive opportunity," he says.
REALTORS® who would like to tap into the search engine have several options, Joe says. They can use a pay-per-click model to be part of the advertising section that appears after a search (a light-colored background distinguishes these ads from the actual search results). Generally, the more people who bid for a word or phrase, the higher the cost will be.
In addition, REALTORS® can apply search engine optimization tools to help their websites appear at the top of the search results. Determining which words or phrases might propel a particular site to the top of the rankings isn’t easy; Google’s search algorithm contains some 200 variables, Joe says. Among other factors, it considers how the term is incorporated within the content, as well as the number of links to your site from other websites and social media.
"Links serve as votes for your site," Joe says. What's more, the algorithm can change frequently. "This is definitely a process; not set-and-forget," Joe says.
REALTORS® can use several tools to aid their efforts. For instance, with Google's "keyword tool" you can enter a search phrase – say Seattle REALTOR® – and see the average number of searches that used that phrase and similar ones over the past 12 months.
No matter which lead generation and management system a REALTOR® uses, most "require a paradigm shift in how you work," Hall says. "You need to get away from scribbling things on Post-it notes."
Particularly with more robust systems, the goal is to train yourself to enter the myriad details of your marketing campaigns, listings and closings into the program so that you can take advantage of the transaction management features. These tools can prompt you to send emails, make phone calls and handle the hundreds of tasks that are critical to completing sales. Hall acknowledges that this isn’t always an easy shift.
"It can be difficult to accept that you’re being reminded to do these things," he says. However, "it takes a commitment or it won’t do any good."
Karen M. Kroll is a freelance writer from Chanhassen, MN.
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