Centers of Influence

When I was selling real estate, back in the Pleistocene Era, agents all had their ‘Sphere-of-Influence.’  In the 90’s, as computers became more and more a part of the equation and CRM programs moved to the forefront, agents started to referring to their ‘Client Base.’  The idea was the same:  these were people who had done business with you in the past and/or might do business with you in the future.

Being the anti-realtors* we tend to be, we never used that language.  Instead, we used the term our founder, Don Taylor, taught us:  Centers-of-Influence, or CI.

There is a subtle but significant difference between a CI and a Sphere-of-Influence, and it has to do with marketing.  We believe the most powerful form of marketing is word-of-mouth.  We believe that consumers put more faith in the recommendations of other people just like themselves than they do in slick advertisements on television, radio, in print or on the Internet.  When you look at ALL Help-U-Sell marketing, it is clear that we have a very specific and provocative message we are trying to install into our target markets:  that we are here, we are very different, people use us, it works and they save money.  The message is so powerful that it ‘sticks’ in the mind.  It hovers there.

Even if the person receiving the message has no need for our service, they are apt to remember the message when they talk with someone who does:  ‘Oh, hey, I saw an ad from this Help-U-Sell company the other day.  Looks like they might be able to save you some money.  I think it might be worth checking out before you do anything.’  And, Bingo!  Our marketing has worked.  It has caused one person to tell another person about us.  And that’s what we want to be happening with our CIs:  we want them talking about us with the other people in their lives over whom they have some influence.

While the typical Realtor is hitting their Sphere-of-Influence with, ‘Wanna buy? Wanna sell?’  Help-U-Sell folks remind their CIs they have a great program that saves people money.  All we are trying to do is build and maintain credibility with our CIs and keep our message in the conversations that occur day in and day out.

All of this brings me to a very important development.  Working with the Help-U-Sell Home Office and with Jack Bailey (the undisputed KING of CIs), Excel Print/Mail has developed an automated CI followup program.  It is a series of 8 beautiful cards that go out at specific times of the year.  The messages are informative, not sales-pitchey, and are designed to build credibility for your program and to keep your name in the forefront.  Cost is about 41 cents a card, including postage, and there is no contract (you may opt in or out at any time).  For about $100 you can reach a CI group of 250 people – and that’s pretty darn good!

The whole program is automated via OMS, is easy to set-up and use.  Without going into tedious detail, here’s what you do:

1.  Log into OMS and go to Setup-Office Details, and click on the ‘my office’ tab.  About a third of the way down the page, click ‘yes’ to opt-in to the CI program.

2.  Now, return to the menu on the left, select Contacts and My Office Contacts.  Note there is now a column with check boxes for CI.  Tick off the contacts you want to include in the program.  Make sure you have mailing addresses for them by clicking the ‘View’ button.  Add any other contacts that are not already in OMS.  AND:  if you have your CIs already on a separate spread sheet, you may get that over to Robbie and Kendra in Sarasota and they’ll get them in there for you.

3.  Again, back in OMS, select Marketing and Content, then Center of Influence.  This will take you to the page showing the cards and allowing your customization.  Set it up and you’re good to go.

You’ll notice on the card page, there is a Movement Mortgage Template button at the top of each card.  Introduced at Success Summit, Movement Mortgage has agreed to fund part of this new CI program if you so choose.  Cards will then include their Logo and RESPA required language.  It will be an optional feature and – it’s not ready yet.  So if you’re getting setup for this today, just keep that option set to No.  More information will be coming as the Movement Mortgage program is readied.

I can’t guarantee anything . . . but I can promise you this:  if you will take the couple of hours required to set this program up, get your CIs in, customize your cards, and then let it run for 2015, you’ll experience at least a 10% increase in closed sides next year.  I think this program is that good.   Go ahead, do the multiplication and see what impact a 10% increase would have on your bottom line.  And then get crackin’!  Excel will be collecting the mailing list on Dec. 29 for the first card, which goes out on January 15.

 

*Let me explain what I mean by ‘anti-realtors.’  It’s not that we hate Realtors or anything like that.  Heck, we ARE Realtors.  And it’s not that we always do the opposite of what Realtors do.  It’s just that Realtors in general are so off track, so far away from the essence of our business that, in an effort to remain relevant and viable,  we often do things differently than they do.  We make choices based on what’s good for the consumer.  They say they do the same (some of them even believe it), but all you have to do is look at the commission line on a typical HUD-1 to know who they are looking out for!  

The heart of our business is the consumer – the buyer and seller facing a big financial transaction.  It’s not the real estate agent.  Unfortunately, the contemporary business is structured around the agent.  It’s all about the agent.  Whole companies – big ones – focus their business plans NOT on selling real estate (and helping consumers with their property transactions) but on recruiting more and more real estate agents.  It’s completely upside down, and so deeply ingrained that the industry will collapse and evaporate in a cloud of irrelevance before it changes.  

Help-U-Sell is a brilliant re-invention of the real estate business.  It’s as if a group of really smart people with a big pile of money examined every aspect of the business and reworked it to make sense to buyers, sellers, agents and brokers.  It is real estate without all of the lunacy that results in consumers paying tens of thousands of dollars to sell their homes.

 

 

The Secret to Help-U-Sell Success

The secret to how Help-U-Sell works isn’t a secret at all.  We’ve never tried to hide it.  Though it is very simple, it is so different from the way ordinary real estate works that our competitors dismiss it and assume we’re not telling the whole truth; so we continue to hide in plain sight.  Here’s the easiest description of how Help-U-Sell works I can create – it’s just four steps:

  1. Help-U-Sell begins with a superior offer to home sellers.   We go into the market offering a service very similar to what ordinary brokers offer, but we charge a logical set fee (rather than a percentage commission), which can save the seller thousands.
  2. The superior offer enables the Help-U-Sell broker to take more than his or her share of listings in the target market.
  3. More listings means more signs and better marketing, and  ultimately, the large listing inventory generates a strong flow of Buyer (and Seller) inquiries into the office.
  4. We capture those inquiries and turn them over to Buyer Agents who are carefully groomed and trained (via Science to Sales) to convert them into sales.  As listings increase, as the flow of leads increases, as we add Buyer Agents to handle the flow, production snowballs.

That’s it.

The mechanics are easy.  What’s more difficult – especially when dealing with people who have grown up in the ordinary real estate universe – are the attitudes required to make it all work.  There are four critical areas that underpin successful implementation of the Help-U-Sell system.  These are essential areas of focus on which the whole program depends.  If these elements are faulty, Help-U-Sell will not perform to its potential.  They are:

  1. Broker Control.  The Broker is the business, and the business is the Broker’s.  The Broker is in the business of selling real estate.  This contrasts with ordinary brokers who, by and large, are in the recruiting business. The ordinary Broker recruits to expand his business; every agent added increases the Broker’s reach (well . . . in theory, anyway).  Help-U-Sell Brokers rely on their marketing and office systems to expand their business.  Agents come in to help the Broker handle the large amount of business the office is generating.
  2. Systematic Marketing.  Because the broker is in control, he or she creates and manages a marketing plan for the Help-U-Sell office and for all the office listings.  The marketing plan is constantly fine tuned and eventually becomes a relatively stable, almost fixed expense.  When we take a listing, we don’t create a whole unique marketing plan for that one listing — that’s what ordinary real estate agents do and the result is thousands of agents running around willy-nilly with almost no marketing coordination.  We take the new listing and simply plug it into our existing office marketing program which produces results for all of our listings.
  3. The Buyer Inquiry.  This is the single most important moment in a Help-U-Sell office.  It is the place where we take the power of our superior offer and our marketing and convert it into leads, prospects, clients and sales.  That’s why we work so hard to make sure our people are handling the inquiry – whether from phone or Internet – effectively.  Really:  if you want to improve your production and your bottom line, I know of no better way than to improve the way inquiries are handled in your office.
  4. Buyer Agent Job Description.  Help-U-Sell Buyer agents focus on one single but very important aspect of the business:  they convert Buyer leads generated by the office into closed transactions.  They don’t prospect for listings, don’t call FSBOS, don’t go on listing appointments or orchestrate marketing.  It’s an easily managed job description that enables the agent to do many more transactions than he or she could at an ordinary office.

As I read this I am struck by how much of it deals with Buyers and Buyer Agents and Brokers hiring Buyer Agents.  The Listing and the Seller side of the transaction are mentioned only a couple of times.  But we are Help-U-Sell. Doesn’t that indicate that this description is a little twisted?  Not at all.  At Help-U-Sell, the listing side of the business is pretty simple.  It’s easier to take listings when you have a superior offer and our systematic approach to marketing gets listings sold.  It’s the buyer side that requires the greatest shift in attitude by the largest group of people.

I am reminded of my first ever meeting with our founder,  Don Taylor.  He smiled as only Don Taylor can smile and said, ‘People forget, but Help-U-Sell was always about the buyer.’

Let’s try to remember that.

Testimonials: How to Get Them and Why They Work

There are four key components of Help-U-Sell Marketing.  The four components work together to deliver our consumer message, which is:

We’re Here, People Use Us, It Works, and They Save

Ha!  I bet you thought our consumer message was ‘Sell Fast, Save Thousands,’ but it’s not!  That’s a slogan, and a darn good one too.

The message is the association we want consumers to make subconsciously whenever they see our logo. Our marketing should teach them who we are (a real estate company), how we are different (we save them money), and that other people in the local market have successfully used our service.

The four components of the consumer message are:

  • Pictures and descriptions of homes For Sale – our listings
  • Sold and Saved’s
  • An Easy Way or Smarter Way bulleted list of how we work
  • And Testimonials

These components work together to make the point . . . powerfully.  Really:  if any one of these items is missing, the marketing is weakened . . . and we start looking like every other generic real estate company!

Testimonials are key.  They give the reassurance a potential customer needs that this somewhat strange real estate company that promises savings actually works.  They calm skepticism to the point that most consumers will pick up the phone and ask that magic question:  ‘What do you do?’

30 years ago we asked for pen and paper testimonials.  It was a cumbersome process but yielded a concrete item that could be fanned out on a desk during a listing consultation or proudly displayed in the reception area of the office.  A little later came email.  Both of these methods required the client to sit down and compose a note from scratch.  Today there are much easier ways to get a testimonial.

Both Trulia and Zillow have an online review area where a consumer can rate their agent and comment on their experience.  It’s very easy to orchestrate:  you simply log on to your agent account and send a link to the survey site to your customer.  And you absolutely SHOULD do this with every satisfied seller or buyer because visitors to those large property portals rely on these reviews when deciding which agent to call.

Increasingly consumers are turning to Yelp to make local buying decisions, and your reviews there can also be helpful.

You want good reviews on all of these sites, but you don’t want to make the process difficult for your clients by having them go to three of four different places to give you a testimonial.  I mean:  some will happily do it, but it is asking a lot.  Instead, spread your testimonials around.  Once you have five or six in one place, ask your next five or six customers to go to another place.  I don’t know that having more than half a dozen really good reviews on Zillow or Trulia makes a huge difference:  six should be sufficient.  Once you have decent coverage on the third party sites, you can start to collect testimonials yourself.

Survey Monkey (surveymonkey.com) offers a free platform for building a survey form for collecting testimonials and reviews.  You make up your own questions and the Monkey can accommodate multiple-choice, ratings, text and other forms of input.  I’d suggest keeping your survey simple.  In fact, mimicking the review form that is on Zillow is probably fine.  Once you’ve setup your survey, you can send a link to it to all of your customers and start collecting their testimonials.

And then what do you do with them?  Put them in every piece of marketing you do.  Rotate them through your website, your blog and your Facebook page.  Read through them when you are having a rough week.  Call the testimonial source and thank them for their kind words and for the privilege of working with them.

If you’d like to see excellent use of Testimonials, check this out. 

Remember what Don Taylor taught us:  the most powerful form of advertising is word-of-mouth.  You want your business to be so refreshingly different and so consumer friendly that everyone you work with goes on to spread good rumors about you.  The testimonial is a powerful twist on word-of-mouth advertising.  Get them.  Use them.

PS:  Robbie is building a testimonial gathering mechanism in OMS that should be functioning in the next several months.

 

Do-It-Yourself

Most people don’t want to attempt the sale of their own property without professional help.  That’s smart.  There are so many things that can go wrong, so many landmines on that path; and these are BIG things that can cost a lot.  Still, when the alternative of paying, say . . . $15,000 or more in sales commissions is considered, some elect to brave it on their own.  And sometimes they’re even successful.  Most of them, however, say they’d never do that again!

The problem with Do-It-Yourself is the definition of ‘it.’  What is it you are going to do yourself?  The whole thing?  Pricing? Preparation? Marketing? Screening? Showing? Open houses? Contracts? Arranging financing? Handling details? Solving problems?

Frankly, I don’t like that definition of ‘It.’  It’s too big.

But, what if we defined ‘It‘ as simply being those things any capable homeowner could do for him or herself?  What if we pull out all of the technical aspects of selling a home, all of the tasks that take specific knowledge and experience, and shortened our list of ‘It‘ to:

  • Showing the home (I know:  50+ years of REALTOR-speak has conditioned us all to believe we can’t do this well, but, come on:  who knows your property better than you?)
  • Holding open houses

Now, that’s an ‘It‘ I can live with! Especially if it means ‘It‘ can save me big bucks!

And, guess what:  it can.

You see, one of the many things Don Taylor, the founder of Help-U-Sell, questioned about the Ordinary real estate business way back in 1976, was the role of real estate agents in the typical office and the expense associated with having them.  Instead of a real estate office with 50 or 100 agents stumbling around doing half a dozen deals a year each (which, by the way, is a true picture of what an Ordinary real estate office is:  that’s  normal for them), he wanted a handful of agents, focused on a specific job description, doing four or more times the average production of agents elsewhere.  To realize this vision, he looked at the list of things agents have to do in a real estate sale – which is similar to our big list of of ‘It‘ above – and tried to pare it down.

He recognized that most agents spend huge amounts of time opening doors for people and sitting in open houses.  Overheard at a REALTOR meeting:

What did you do last Saturday?

What a day!  I had to show one of my listings in the morning – someone called and wanted to see it.  I drove 30 minutes to get there, waited another 30 minutes  . . . and they didn’t show up.  So, that was my morning.  Then I had an open house in the afternoon, which meant I needed to start an hour early putting out signs and making sure the house was ready to show .  And then it rained all afternoon, remember?  Hard!  I sat there for four hours with my lemonade and cookies and didn’t see another living person.  

Gee, why didn’t you just close up shop and go home?

Believe me, I wanted to, but I promised the seller two open houses and this was the day they chose, so I was stuck.

Don decided that a typical homeowner – carefully prepped by a sharp agent – could easily show his or her own house and, with a little more preparation, hold an open house.  That would save a lot of time in a typical agent’s career – and saving time saves money.  Whose money, you ask?  In Don Taylor’s mind, it saved the homeowner money.  After all it was the homeowner taking over these simple tasks that steal agents’ time.  With a seller participating in this fashion he would need fewer agents and could charge less.

There’s more to how Help-U-Sell brokers are able to charge less and still make more than their Ordinary counterparts.  There is a ton of difference in how Help-U-Sell offices approach the business – marketing, lead capture, incubation, transaction processing – but for now, we’ll stay focused on this one aspect:  Seller Participation.

Think about it for a moment.  You’re a home seller.  It’s a beautiful Thursday afternoon.  You’re home, working in the yard.  The house is neat and clean . . . what the heck!  Why not put out the Open House sign and a few directionals.

Meanwhile, Ms. P, always looking for her dream home, takes a new route from the grocery store and finds your open house.  After a bit of friendly chatting, you get her name and contact information (your agent prepped you well), and take her through the house, which she loves.  She wants more detail and might want to make an offer.  You hand her your broker’s card and tell her he will be in touch.  You wave goodbye.

You call your broker, who calls Ms. P, has her come to the office to answer her questions and have her pre-qualified for a mortgage.  Then he brings her back to the house for a more in-depth tour.  That evening, he comes back with her offer and earnest money check.

You found the buyer yourself.  There was no outside broker or agent involved.  When the sale closes, you’re only going to have to pay your Help-U-Sell Low Set Fee.  It is a successful sale – and you saved thousands of dollars in commissions!

That’s a Do It Yourself I can live with!

 

Are You Ordinary?

Well, the nasty-gramms have already started to roll in. If you are Help-U-Sell you know this comes with the territory: we scare the be-jabbers out of ordinary REALTORS so they tend to hurl Molotovs when we make ourselves heard.

My last post – the one about building a landing page for Sellers – contained some blunt but honest words about ordinary REALTORS. I named a handful of national brands, lumped them all together and said they were ordinary and that there was not one whit of difference in their consumer-side operating systems. There may be some behind the scenes areas of differentiation, most frequently in the way agents are paid and how they are encouraged to help the broker recruit, but the consumer doesn’t see that and doesn’t care about it. The consumer experience is identical whether you are Keller-Williams, Coldwell Banker or Exit. And trust me: that is not a good thing.

So I had a couple of people tell me I don’t know what I’m talking about because their brand is anything but ordinary! I had an old friend from my Century 21 days tell me I’d probably never work in the legitimate real estate business again. Now that’s a hoot, isn’t it? Because in that pronouncement he labelled the Brand I love, which is the one viable alternative to the tired agent-oriented real estate business model (Help-U-Sell), ‘Illegitimate.’ I think I’d rather be illegitimate than extinct, wouldn’t you?

I think it’s time you put your own real estate career to the test. All of you. It’s a simple set of 10 yes/no questions. If you answer ‘yes’ to more than 3 of them, then, no doubt about it, you are ORDINARY – and therefore headed for extinction sometime in the next decade. Ready? Let’s Go!

  1. Do you charge home sellers a percentage based commission? I’m sure you’re doing it because you’ve never questioned whether it made any sense or not. I assure you it does not.  If you need convincing, start HERE.
  2. Do your sellers pay the full percentage based commission specified in the listing agreement even if there is no outside selling broker or agent to pay?
  3. Do you allow your sellers to actively seek their own buyers if they choose?  And if they are successful, do they pay less?
  4. Does your office management team spend the bulk of its time recruiting new agents and training unsuccessful agents?
  5. Does your office incentivize agents to help in recruiting?
  6. Are agents in your office responsible for doing their own marketing and generating their own leads?
  7. Are  the mediocre agents in your office – ones doing, say, 8 deals a year or fewer – on  commission splits greater than 50%?
  8. Have you changed offices in the last 2 years?
  9. Do you put all of your listings in the MLS?
  10. Does your office own or have an interest in ancillary services (termite, title, escrow, mortgage, etc), and does your management team pressure you to pressure your clients to use those services?

Seriously:  3 yeses and your REALTOR DNA is probably so twisted you may never recover.  The only hope would be if Don Taylor – the founder of Help-U-Sell – were to open up a Betty Ford type clinic for recovering 6%ers . . . and I’m sorry, but he has his eye on other prizes.

So, what do you do if you do get more than 3 yeses and have to admit that you are, in fact, ordinary?  Here’s an idea:

  1. Take your gross income from last year.  Go ahead, take it right off the 1099
  2. Divide that by 52.  It’s ok to use a calculator for this and subsequent steps
  3. Now estimate how many hours you put into your real estate career in a typical week
  4. Divide the Dollars (the answer you got when you did the division in step 2) by the hours (step 3)
  5. That’s how much you made per hour last year in real estate . . . Gross, before taxes, insurance, business expenses, and so on
  6. Now compare that with minimum wage, or with starting pay in any salaried job for which you might qualify
  7. There’s no easy way to say this . . .  if the hourly wage is higher than what you grossed per hour last year, get out of the real estate business

Finally, I also got taken to task for ‘hating real estate agents.’  I’m sorry:  that’s just WRONG.  I love good real estate agents.  I think they are more than essential.  I think they are heroes.  What I can’t stand are mediocre real estate agents who continue to bump along, almost failing year after year.  They deliver inferior service, drag the image of the entire industry down, and sap business from good agents who could serve those buyers and sellers so much better.