Client Base Development, Doggie Style

My dog, Homer, is a master at client base development.  I’ve been studying his technique on our walks and believe I have the salient details down.  Homer relies almost entirely on Pee-mail to stay in touch and to communicate his message.  We have half a dozen walk routes we take on a rotating basis and on each one he stops up to 20 times to sniff out his incoming messages and respond with a little dribble here and there.  (Dogs have about 220 Million scent cells in their noses; we have just 5 Million)  Here’s what I’ve noticed:Homer

His commuications are very brief.  He doesn’t waste the other dog’s time by pee-ing about the bush, so to speak.  He comes right to the point and uses the minimum to communicate his message:  usually 10 drops or less.

His messages are focused on things of interest to his client base.  Since they are all dogs, the thing that interests them most is food, so Homer keeps his conversation on this topic.  Today’s message was (approximately . . . I am translating):  ‘Hey, James made pasta with an Alfredo/Tomato sauce last night and gave me some.  It was good!  I also had two Alpo Snaps, but I had to sit up and roll over to get them.’  Short, focused, to the point.

He responds to new messages quickly.  Usually, we just make the rounds:  he stops at pretty much the same trees, bushes and light poles on each of his routes, picks up his messages and responds.  But every once in awhile he’ll pick up something new, probably from a new friend, or on a new shrub.  In these cases, he stops what he’s doing and devotes full attention to learning as much about the new dog as possible and then responds with a quick welcoming splash.

I have to say, it works.  When we meet other dogs out on our walks there is the usual wagging and sniffing ritual and then, sometimes, the surprise of recognition.  Homie will prance about and say something like, ‘Oh!  I know you!  You pee on that palm tree on Third, near Brooks, right?  I remember something in your last message about chewing up one of your owner’s shoes . . . did you get in trouble for that?’ 

OK;  I’m being a little silly, but there is a some Canine wisdom here: 

  • Have a system that occurs regularly, effortlessly and automatically
  • Keep your communications brief
  • Focus on items of interest or of value to your clients
  • Respond quickly to new contacts and get them in the system
  • Be friendly, personable and conversational when you run into any of your people on the sidewalk. 

The sniffing . . . you can probably do without.  A little wagging never hurt anybody, though.

3 Things Your Marketing Should Accomplish

It’s three.  Just three.  You should have something going on in each of these areas every day.

Visibility – Targeting – Client Base Development

I know:  it sounds simple.  I tried to complicate it, tried to make it five things and then four, but ultimately, that’s it:  three very clear Objectives. 


To be visible is to be seen.  That’s what you want in your marketplace.  You want to be seen and the more the better.  In the real estate business, being seen is usually a function of signage:  for sale signs, open house signs, directional signs, office signs, and on and on. 

Think of it this way:  every day, every homeowner in your marketplace decides which real estate company is biggest, strongest and best.  Oh, they have no idea they’re making the decision — it’s all taking place subconsciously.  But they’re making it nonetheless.  As they walk and drive through their neighborhood they’re noticing signs:  for sale signs, sold signs, open house signs, directional signs, bus benches, billboards, office signs, and they’re keeping count:  who has the most.  Whether you have 5 listings or 50, you want to be the company making the largest number of impressions with your signs. 

So what do you do?  You coach each seller to hold their own open houses, provide each with half a dozen directional signs and encourage them to put them out often.   You put out directional signs yourself, pointing to your office.  You put Market Blitz signs up wherever you can.  You buy a VW Beetle and wrap it, parking it within eyesight of the busiest intersection in your marketplace.  You rent office space that allows you a big, visible sign.  You sponsor a Little League team and have your logo placed on the back of their shirts.  Once a month, you put up an awning in your parking lot, hang it with Help-U-Sell banners and offer free lists of foreclosures to potential buyers and a selling consultation to potential sellers.  In other words:  you avoid being a secret agent.  You actively seek and exploit opportunities to be seen as a Help-U-Sell broker in your area. 

If you orchestrate the Visibility portion of your marketing plan well, every other piece of marketing you do will be enhanced.  Really.  People seeing your homes magazine ad or finding your listing on will be more likely to respond because they’ve ‘seen your signs everywhere!


It’s a basic marketing concept:  getting the most bang for your buck.  Your goal is spend your time, money and effort trying to reach the people in your market who are most likely to buy or sell real estate in the near future.  When you do ‘Arounds’ near a new listing, you’re targeting (the neighbors are more open to your message because they’ve seen the sign two doors down).  When you optimize your website with keywords relevant to your marketplace, you’re targeting (people in your marketplace looking for information about buying or selling will be more likely to find you).  When you do a mailing to people who closed between 2003 and 2006 with minimal down payments, you’re targeting (this group is most likely to be upside down or in some other real estate distress that you might be able to solve). 

Your task (in addition to being visible) is to always be targeting various groups that may have a greater or more immediate need for your service.  When you call FSBOs and Expireds, you’re targeting.  And targeting is the second prong in your three prong approach to marketing.

Client Base Development

Here’s a sad bit of history:  during the early part of this decade, many Help-U-Sell offices generated so many leads that they ignored the back end of their businesses. The focused on closing new business and didn’t cultivate the happy past customers and clients they’d served.  When the market turned, these offices had no strong, supportive base on which to fall back.  Today, the offices that are surviving, even thriving, are ones that can say, ’30 – 40 -50% of my business is repeat or referral.’ 

Cultivation of your client base means staying in touch in a way that the customer finds meaningful.  It means reminding them from time to time that you’re in the business and are ready to give their friends the same excellent service you gave them in the past.  It’s a simple message,but it’s very powerful.  And just like maintaining visibility and target marketing, it’s something you should be working at every single day.

Visibility – Targeting – Client Base Development


You may have both, you know.  An SOI and a CI that is. 

SOI is ‘Sphere of Influence.’  It’s an old real estate term and means everyone who knows who you are and that you are in real estate.  Some are your immediate family and best friends while some may be little more than acquaintances.  The key is that they associate you, your name or face with buying and selling real estate.  You cultivate your SOI in hopes that when it comes time or them to sell, they’ll think of you.  Cultivation comes with newsletters, postcards, drop by visits, occasional phone calls, market updates and so on.

CI is ‘Center of Influence.’  It’s a Help-U-Sell(r) term and it is subtly different from SOI.  A Center of Influence is someone who, under the right set of circumstances, might tell others about you.  The concept of the CI comes from the marketing truth that word of mouth is the most powerful form of advertising.  CIs help you spread the word to those who are likely to be buying or selling soon.  They may not know you personally, but they understand that Help-U-Sell equals savings and are willing, even anxious to share that understanding. 

Here’s the deal:  in 1976, when I started selling real estate for Century 21 in suburban Atlanta, I was told it was a numbers game.  I was told the more people I asked if they wanted to buy or sell, the more business I’d do.  This was true.  Probably still is.  I was also told that I should ‘farm’ an area and ask everyone who lived within that geography if they wanted to buy or sell, regularly.  Years later, the concept of farming evolved to where it was not necessarily a geographical thing.  We began farming other kinds of groups of people.  People with a strong connection to an ethnic group might farm that group.  People who were active in a specific country club might farm that club.  Others of us started farming our Sphere of Influence:  contacting them on a regular basis to see if they wanted to buy or sell. 

Help-U-Sell came at it from a direct marketing point of view and realized what was needed was to help people understand if they worked with Help-U-Sell they’d probably save money.  We wanted people to equate Help-U-Sell with savings.  When we cultivate that identity with one consumer, chances are good that next time he or she hears that a friend or neighbor is planning to sell or buy, they will suggest a conversation with Help-U-Sell. 

Our advertising messages were carefully crafted to cultivate this kind of CI behavior.  Postcards, Free Weekly Lists, homes magazines, newspaper ads — all were designed to make three important points:

We’re here — People use us — and It works

Look at Help-U-Sell homes magazine ads.  You may see a dozen homes, but  as many as half of them will be sold — and will say so.   But they’ll say more:  ‘Sold in 16 days, Seller saved $4,325’.  Or ‘Sold in 8 days, Seller saved $5,676.’  We showcase ‘sold and saved’ as much as ‘For Sale’ because doing so powerfully delivers the three key messages:  We’re here, people use us and It works. 

Keep looking at that Help-U-Sell ad.  There’s another distinguishing characteristic there, maybe off to the side:  the Testimonial.  Our clients are usually delighted the day they list with us and even happier the day they close.  Getting a concise testimonial to use in marketing is easy under these circumstances and using the testimonial in advertising powerfully hammers home the message:  We’re here, people use us and it works. 

Testimonials, Sold and Saved, and the tag line:  Full Service – Big Savings all work to ingrain a Help-U-Sell identity into the consumers’ mind.  Anyone who gets the message that we might save them some money in commissions is likely to call just to find out what we do — and that  accounts for a large part of the numerous leads the typical Help-U-Sell office receives every month. 

So, really: whats the difference between SOI and CI?  Nothing much.  It’s mostly in your approach.  If you’re running around like a chicken with its head cut off screeching ‘Wanna Buy?!?  Wanna Sell?!?’ you probably have an SOI.  But if you’re gently getting the message that you are different in a way that benefits buyers and sellers into the minds of people — you probably have a CI.  And I think that’s better.  Eventually your SOI gets tired of you always asking the same questions.  They may just joke about it or they might stop taking your call.  The CI on the other hand, gets your message and disseminates it for you.  The CI is self perpetuating.  

And oh, by the way:  unless you have a business proposition that is different and also beneficial to the consumer chances of ever getting anyone to spread the word for you are pretty slim.

Your Magical Marketing Sliver Bullet

Do you want your marketing to generate more leads?  Of course you do.  No matter how many you’re getting you always want more.  You could crank up your spending, send out more mail, increase your pay-per-click budget, take out more ad space.  Or, you could be smart.

One thing that hasn’t changed in real estate is the power of signs.  Really.  I talked with a broker the other day who complained that she got no leads from her website.  We talked around the problem for awhile and I finally asked how many listings she had.  ‘Three,’ she said.  Three listings = three signs.  She’s unknown in her marketplace . . . and that’s why her website doesn’t draw. 

The first part of your carefully created marketing plan needs to address how you’re going to establish your presence in your target area by becoming visible (read:  by getting as many signs as possible out). 

So you only have three listings.  You know that Open Houses create an opportunity to use 4, 5, 6, or even more directional signs.  But how many open houses can you personally hold on a Sunday afternoon?  One, right? 

 That’s one of the great things about Help-U-Sell.  We have this concept of seller participation and a willing and properly prepared seller can hold his or her own open house whenever they want.  If you got all three of your sellers to be open at the same time on the same day, that’s 18, 19, 20 signs in the marketplace (maybe more), and you’re making your presence known. 

Directional signs are not just for Open House day, though.  They are powerful in the everyday world too. You must investigate local law and restrictions and then plan your directionals around them.  However, I know of a number of offices in areas where directionals are prohibited who put them out Friday evening (after the enforcers leave work for the weekend) and pick them up Sunday evening.  We even have one South African office that has a budget for monthly sign fines!  They know they’re going to be cited, but the value of having signs in the marketplace far exceeds the cost of the fines.  To them, the fine is just a marketing expense!

At Help-U-Sell we also have something called ‘Market Blitz Signs.’  These are smaller signs, usually made of cardboard or plastic that simply use your logo and feature your phone number.  They don’t promote anything ‘for sale,’ and they don’t point to anything.  You blanket your marketplace with them — put them on telephone poles and fences and really anywhere they can be taped, tacked or stapled.  You refresh and replace them regularly and pretty soon people are saying , ‘I see your signs everywhere.’ 

Signs don’t always have to be stuck in the ground or tacked to a post.  A car wrap is a wonderful sign with the added benefit that it’s mobile.  I’ve known many brokers who encountered restrictions that affected the effectiveness of their office signage, who used a wrapped vehicle, parked at the street, to build their presence in the marketplace.  And you don’t have to stop with a wrapped vehicle, either.  Magnetic car signs, in your colors with your logo are available and easily attach (and detatch) from the side panels of your car. 

Finally, keep an eye out for community events and sponsorships that give you an opportunity to put your brand in play.  The perfect example is the softball team to which you donate jerseys with your logo on the back.  Hey:  it works for race car drivers and basketball players, why not with the kids in your target market? 

Being visible in your marketplace, laying down a big, thick blanket of branding that people can’t help but notice, will make every bit of marketing you do . . . more effective.  Your ads will pull more, your mailers will get a better response, your website will get more hits.  And you don’t have to have dozens of listings to do this.

3 Keys to Marketing Success

Help-U-Sell starts with a premise:  we are a marketing company.   That’s a heavy concept and it’s pretty rare in today’s traditional real estate world where ‘marketing’ (read: advertising) is done largely by agents (not brokers) and done individually, one house at a time.  It usually goes like this:  the agent gets a listing, promises all kinds of ‘advertising’  and then scrambles to do it in such a way that the impatient seller is placated.  The result is disconnected stuff all over the place, little coordination and little evaluation. 

Marketing companies don’t work like that. 

Start with Analysis

At Help-U-Sell we begin with a thorough analysis of the broker’s target market.  We look at everything we can find about the market place, breaking it down to smaller and smaller units:  zip codes, then neighborhoods, then carrier routes.  Among other things, we’re looking for two significant details:  seasonality and turnover rate.  Turnover tells us where to target our advertising and seasonality tells us when.

Then Target Your Marketing

One of the keys to being successful as a marketing company is narrowing your focus.  You want to target your prescious marketing budget to the group that is most likely to respond and use your service.  the biggest bang for your buck.

For example,  you could target the 400 homes in a particular neighborhood where the turnover rate has been 6% for several years — which means that 24 homes will probably come on the market this year — and try to get , say: 20% of those.  Running campaigns on several target neighborhoods at once can produce much better results than shotgunning your message to the world. 

Then Track Your Results

Traditional agents put their new listing in a homes magazine and then breathe a sigh of relief because the seller will be happy for the next week or two.  If a marketing company puts a listing in a homes magazine, they do it to generate leads and so they carefully track the results they achieve.

Every time the phone rings in your office with a potential buyer or seller on the other end (or you get an email inquiry),  you have to write it down, count it, keep track of it.  Ideally you get a name, contact information and what caused them to call.  But even  if you never get beyond the fact that they are a buyer or seller, you keep track of how many times potential customers contacted your office.  Source information is critical in evaluating your marketing program and making decisions about where to best spend your dollars. 

If you have an easy to use leads managment system, like the one we use at Help-U-Sell, you can look at every bit of marketing you’ve done and see how many leads each piece generated and how many commission dollars were eventually earned.   Ultimately you know whether that homes magazine ad produced $5 for every  dollar you spent or $50, or (gulp) no dollars.  And until you know that  you aren’t in a position to fine tune your market plan.