Must Read If You Are Marketing By Carrier Route

We all got so granular over the past few years!  And that’s a good thing!

Rather than shotgunning our message all over God’s Green Earth (and paying a hefty toll for the privilege), we started looking at our marketplaces through a magnifying glass.  Instead of marketing by Zip Code, we started breaking down the Zips by Carrier Route.

Most Help-U-Sell offices refined their marketing targets down to 5 to 10 Carrier Routes, depending on turnover rate and budget (That usually works out to 3,000 to 8,000 households).   The problem is, since every Carrier Route has its own turnover rate, it became difficult to know what the OVERALL turnover rate was in your complete target.  Most Brokers just kinda guessed.

Does that make any sense?  You just spent all this time and energy carefully tearing your marketplace apart so that you could construct a productive target.  Instead of doing what most Brokers do (which is to guess or make the decision based on hearsay or gut), you based the whole process on FACTS.  Cold hard FACTS.  And now, you’re going to guess at the turnover rate within your target?  I think NOT!

So, here’s what you do:

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Add up all of the households in all of your Carrier Routs, then add all of the houses that sold in the past 12 months in all of the Carrier Routes . . . . Then just divide Homes Sold (the small number) by Households (the large number).

Those of you in a Coaching Group can use this AMAZING number in the Market Analysis tab of your 12 Month Goal Setting Worksheet, here:

torate22b

I sincerely hope this keeps you guys from guessing about your business!  And maybe the whole process will intrigue some into investigating the Coaching Group opportunity.  I hope so.  We’ve got openings.

Lead Generation I: Analog and Digital Marketing

If you are a Help-U-Sell broker, you want to generate leads.  Mostly you want to generate seller leads, but buyer leads are ok too.  You read and you hear about online marketing and lead generation and it sounds wonderful!  You want onboard!  And you wonder how!

I’ve been working on this for awhile and I have seen some great successes.  I’ve also seen some failures.  I think we get into trouble with online marketing for two reasons:  lack of budget and not doing the groundwork first.  You see, that marketing that we did before the Internet matured into a viable marketing vehicle – the mailers and postcards and CIs and Arounds and signs signs signs – didn’t go away.  They are still vital.  Online marketing, though essential today, is in addition to those other things we all used to do before the downturn.  As people leap to online marketing, I see them abandoning that real, tangible, local marketing – what I call Analog marketing – and that’s a mistake.

Analog marketing has to do with being physically visible in the target market.  A well located office with great signage is essential Analog marketing.  A billboard is Analog marketing, An EDDM delivered to 5,000 households is Analog marketing. A car wrap is Analog marketing.  Regular and planned contact with your CIs is Analog marketing. Sending postcards to 100 neighbors around a new Coldwell Banker listing is Analog marketing. Having lots of For Sale and Directional signs out is Analog marketing.

And Analog marketing is the first step.  It should be in place before taking on an online, or Digital marketing program.

Listen:  I love my digital life.  I love the fact that I can hold a device in my hand that makes a Star Trek communicator look old fashioned, that beams a signal into space and beams it back so that I can be instantly connected with anyone on the planet.  I love that, without even pushing buttons, by simply speaking to Google, I can access the sum total of human knowledge, to learn new things, figure stuff out and get answers on the fly.  I love that we have an inexpensive electronic marketing mega-tool that enables us to be in front of consumers in our local marketplaces and across the country.

But unless you have done the Analog steps of becoming visible in the local market, your attempts at Digital marketing will be less effective.

So, part one of lead generation is . . . back to basics.

It is doing a comprehensive Market Analysis – really doing it – looking at today’s real turnover rates around the area and choosing your target market(s) from those neighborhoods with highest turnover.

It is setting up systems that happen automatically every day in the office:  the EDDM that goes out every month or six weeks, Brag Cards and Arounds, regular contact with CIs, budgeting for a car wrap and maybe a billboard.

It is creating a budget for all of this Analog marketing that is treated like your office rent:  you’ll plan to have the expense no matter what’s going on in your business (because marketing is what drives your business).

Once that blanket of Analog visibility is laid down and functioning in the marketplace, it will be time to add in the Digital.

By the way, here are some metrics to guide you in setting up the Analog portion of your marketing program:

  • You want a Target Market of between 12,000 and 20,000 households.  The size will be determined by turnover rates (lower = more households) and your budget.
  • You should look for neighborhoods where Turnover rates are 4% per year or higher.  Anything under 3% per year can be a problem.
  • Your total marketing budget (Analog and Digital) should be between 7% and 10% of your anticipated annual Gross Commission Income.  If you plan to Gross $250,000, you should be spending between $1,500 and $2,000 per month.
  • Roughly ⅔ of your marketing budget should be Analog, devoted to being physically visible in your target market(s).  ⅓ should be devoted to Digital marketing.  It costs less, so you spend less.

Next up:  What is Digital marketing? And how to go about making it work for you.

Marketing Nuance – A Subtle Point

You listed with a real estate broker to sell your house, right?

Actually, that’s probably not the correct syntax. What you really did was to list with a broker to get your house sold.

It’s a subtle difference in wording, but one that points out the disconnect between thought and reality for many real estate consumers. The first phrase imbues the broker with near magical powers: he is going to take the house, wave his magical real estate wand, and cause someone to buy it. That’s really not what happens, although many brokers would like you to believe the myth that it does. Phrase two is closer to the mark: you’re going to use a broker to gain access to the natural matching of buyers and sellers that’s already going on. The broker is not magical. He is just a skilled gatekeeper.

Of course, I was selling real estate when dinosaurs roamed the earth and I’m sure things have changed (yeah, right), but . . .

Sellers used to be very concerned about what I was going to DO to sell their house. They wanted to see examples of the advertising I would run on their property, thinking that it was advertising that would cause the house to sell. They wanted to know how many open houses I was going to hold, thinking that the activity of allowing people easy access would cause the house to sell. They seemed to think that selling a house was an active process, that somehow advertising and activities would cause otherwise disinterested potential buyers to suddenly want the home.

I toyed with the idea of telling the truth – that that’s not what happens at all – but opted instead to do what I was taught in one seminar or another: play to the sellers’ misconceptions and overwhelm them with all of the advertising and activities I was going to DO.

By the way: this ‘grin at ’em and tell ’em what they wanna hear’ attitude is how salespeople die. Truth is always best.

The TRUTH was probably best expressed by my old broker back in Stone Mountain, Georgia, Richard Williams. Richard was and still is a real estate visionary and one of the smartest brokers I ever met. I was railing on one day about how he needed to do more advertising in this publication or that one when he calmly said, ‘Jim, a certain number of buyers are going to buy houses in the neighborhood today whether you are there or not. Your job is to get in front of as many of them as possible.’

That statement encapsulates the marketing function of a real estate broker as accurately as it can be. People can’t be made to want to buy real estate. They either do, or they don’t. A little education can help them make an informed decision, but it is a decision beyond anyone else’s control. Their decision to buy one house over any other is not a decision at all, it’s a choice, an illogical, personal, quirky choice. No amount of full page advertising is going to cause them to choose one house over another.

The broker’s job is to orchestrate a marketing program that puts his or her office in front of as many of these potential buyers as possible. Once that is achieved, ‘selling’ real estate becomes a matching process: buyers’ hopes and needs to inventory.

So how does a smart broker market to get in front of as many potential buyers as possible?

Job one is to be SEEN, to be VISIBLE. The consumer needs to see your sign, your logo, your name everywhere to have a comfort level that you may be able to help. The most effective way to accomplish this is with For Sale signs . . . SO: the best thing your real estate broker can do to sell your house is to go out and get another listing and another listing and another listing. The company with the largest number of signs in the neighborhood* is probably going to get the largest number of calls . . . of course, what they do with the calls is another issue, one we’ll talk about in a moment.

Job two is to GENERATE LEADS: to put marketing pieces into the hands of consumers that will motivate them to make contact with the office. When a broker decides to create a marketing piece, he or she should do it dispassionately . The decision to advertise one house or another should be made based on which one will cause the largest number of potential buyers to contact the office, not on which seller is ‘owed’ advertising this week. This is an important point. Truth is: almost always, the property that motivated the potential buyer to contact the office is NOT the property they eventually buy. There are dozens of kick-out factors they may encounter as they do their investigation. But that doesn’t matter. What’s important is that they contacted the office.

So, when a broker decides to advertise a property, it’s not to get that particular property sold, it’s to generate buyer contact. It is this general lead generating activity that will cause your house to sell and it may not even involve advertising your house at all.

Now, in today’s ordinary agent centered real estate world, this ‘orchestration’ of marketing rarely occurs. Agents, stumbling all over one another to beg for listings, promise the one tangible thing they can think of: advertising. And sometimes they actually do it: willy-nilly, this property, that property, whichever seller is most cranky this week. The broker is not taking control of this process, is not doing the higher level job of deciding what to advertise and what not to advertise, because he can’t afford to. He’s already paying his willy-nilly agents SOOO Much that he has no money for carefully planned marketing. In a universe where agents who do 6 deals a year command a 75% or even 80% split of the commission, marketing becomes the responsibility of the agent, not the broker, and there is no coordination, no strategic planning of marketing, no sense to it at all.

Ok: we’ve got Job One and Job Two. Here’s the third thing the real estate broker needs to do: CAPTURE LEADS. When marketing causes a potential buyer to contact the office, what will then cause them to agree – however subtly – to letting the office match them with a perfect property? It is a process that often occurs on the telephone, and smart brokers work on it constantly.

It’s important to understand what courage it takes for a potential buyer to pick up the phone or fill out an online inquiry form. They know they are likely going to hear from a salesperson . . . and that’s not what they want at all. What they want is the information. Period. So there is a very natural defensiveness on the other end of the line when the agent answers the phone.

How the agent handles the call, how he or she relaxes the caller, provides valuable information, builds a comfortable rapport with the caller is EVERYTHING. All of time money and effort the broker has used to generate the lead can be lost right here if the agent is not prepared to earn the caller’s trust and then to begin the matching process. Now, think back to the last time you called a real estate office for information on a property. Uh-huh. I know. It was a painful experience. If the agent made any attempt to earn your business at all, it was probably lame, stupid and full of sales scripts. And that’s IF they tried to get your business at all (most won’t).

As a business consultant to real estate companies, I can almost always increase the company’s bottom line by several percentage points (and that’s a lot) by simply working with whomever is answering the phone and responding to buyer inquiries. I’m not kidding. That phone call, that inquiry, is the ARENA. That’s where the process of ‘selling real estate’ begins. It is so important, I think it makes perfect sense for a home seller to call the office of the agent they are considering and see how they are handled. If the person on the other end of the line can’t comfortably communicate competence, if they can’t skillfully earn the right to help you find your next home, how are they going to capture the real caller who might be perfect for your house?

Bottom line: advertising wont sell your house. An agent or broker won’t sell your house. What will sell your house is an office with an active lead generation and capture process. And where will you find such an office? I’d suggest you look at Help-U-Sell. Our offices continue to keep the broker in charge of marketing, lead generation and capture. We are completely focused on the process and we do it better than anyone in the industry. AND: with low set fee pricing, we save sellers a lot of money, too.

*I talked about visibility in terms of signage only. It’s simpler that way. But understand that visibility extends far beyond your front yard. Today it’s getting the inventory all over the Internet. It’s putting the best houses in the inventory everywhere a potential buyer is apt to be looking. Marketing is like building a spider web: the more strands in the web, the more places the company’s identifiers and best listings can be seen, the more potential buyers can be caught.

Are Open Houses Dead?

I had breakfast with a broker last week.  He’s a great broker, has come through Real-Ageddon with a few scars on his face but never lost his smile.  His perseverance is paying off:  he’s having a very good year.

Now, understand this:  I am a Help-U-Sell purist.  With no hesitation and absolutely no doubt, I embrace what our visionary founder created.  In short:  If Don Taylor Said It, I Believe It, And That Settles It.  But I am becoming a vanishing breed.  Most Help-U-Sell brokers have adjusted the system here and there, mostly in response to the difficult market realities of the last five years.  I have no problem with that: job one is survival.  But when you talk to me about your sliding scale of fees (versus your SET FEE) or the elimination of Seller Participation from your operational system . . . well, I can get very loud and long winded.  As a result, many Help-U-Sell brokers won’t talk to me about what they’re really doing;  they just don’t want to get the lecture again.

My breakfast broker is different:  he’s made all kinds of adjustments and has no problem sharing them with me.  We debate them.  On tap at this meeting were Seller Participation and Open Houses.

‘I don’t do Open Houses, ‘ he said.

‘Ok,’ I answered, ‘But your sellers hold their own, don’t they?’

‘No.  I tell them it’s a waste of time,’ he paused, registering the shock on my face.  ‘If they insist, I’ll give them signs and they can hold their own . . . but I don’t do Open Houses.’

I was running a little short of breath.  ‘Can . .  you . . please share . . with me . . . why?’

‘They don’t work.  Open Houses are dead,’ he said, ‘Plus, that’s old-style marketing.  It’s what ‘real estate ladies‘ did in the seventies before the Internet made them irrelevant.’

‘But . . .’

‘Buyers don’t work that way anymore.’  He offered me a sip of water in hopes it would help me regain my composure. ‘Today, they’re on the Internet, looking at photos, going to virtual tours.  If they see something they like, they drive by . . . and if it looks good, that’s when they call to get inside.’

‘Really?’  I was picturing a pristine and deserted beach and silently chanting ‘oommm‘ to myself  in hopes of getting my pulse to slow.

‘Nobody has time to drive all over town, dropping in on random Open Houses.   That’s just not the way to get a property sold today.’

When I got back to my office, I did a little Googling.  I discovered that he is not alone in his thinking.  Many agree that the Open House is a vestige left over from a time that has long passed.  But not everyone believes this.  I tossed the question out to our Brokers on our regular Wednesday Power Hour Webinar.  Most were absolutely on-board with Open Houses and mostly with Seller Participation.  As I listened to them I began to realize where the discord was coming from.

It all has to do with being clear about what you want to accomplish.

If your goal is to sell the house that’s being held open . . . well, that’s a rare occurrence at best.  Maybe Open Houses as a strategy for accomplishing that . . . are dead.

But a couple of Help-U-Sell Brokers said the principal benefit of Open Houses (held by them) is the opportunity they provide to present their program to potential Sellers – the neighbors, the casual drop-bys.  People are surprised to find a Help-U-Sell Broker sitting on an Open House and say something like, ‘Gosh, I didn’t think you guys did Open Houses.’  And that opens a whole dialogue about who we are and what we do.

Others talked about the benefit of having dozens of additional directional and Open House signs up in the neighborhood.  The added visibility boosts inquiries from both buyers and sellers.

And finally, there were those who talked about how Seller-held Open Houses create additional opportunities for lead capture, opportunities that don’t involve the Broker’s time.  Going back to Don Taylor:  A well-coached Seller, holding his or her own Open House, always gets contact information on anyone coming through.  On Monday morning, that list is faxed to the office for followup.  Most times, the visitor has eliminated the subject property . . . but is open to hearing about others (bingo!);  and sometimes, with a little clarification, they are ready to make an offer on the subject property (bingo again!).  A Help-U-Sell broker who has done a good job of selling Seller Participation may walk into the office on Monday morning to find 3 or 4 or more sign-in sheets in the FAX machine, and suddenly there are half a dozen more buyer leads.

So, here is the message:

As with every piece of marketing you do, the first order of business is to define exactly what it is you want to accomplish.  Then track results in terms of what you said you were after and evaluate the program based on that criteria.  Simple.

What might you want to accomplish with an Open House?  Pick one or two, not all five:

  • Sell the subject property
  • Make contact with buyer prospects who probably won’t make an offer of the subject property but who may buy something else through you
  • Create an opportunity to spread your message to potential sellers in the area
  • Boost your visibility in the marketplace through increased signage (directional and Open House signs)
  • And in the case of Seller held Open Houses, multiply your efforts, getting more done than you can do yourself
My breakfast broker decided the only thing he might want to accomplish with an Open House was to sell the subject property.  That’s an iffy proposition at best, so no wonder he thinks Open Houses are dead.  As a marketing tool, however, Open Houses do hold all kinds of  other possibilites.
By the way:  there is acutally a sixth reason to hold an Open House and I left it off the list because Help-U-Sell Brokers generally don’t do it.  It is often the only reason an ordinary REALTOR holds an open house:
To create a false impression of activity thus pacifying an anxious seller for another month.

Did You Stop Marketing? Or Did Marketing Change?

Help-U-Sell Marketing was always intense and usually direct mail oriented.  You carefully chose your 15,000 +/- households and then hit them over and over with ETMS and Brag Cards, Free Weekly Lists and Save Thousands ads.  The price tag for all of this was large but the pay off (if you chose your target market wisely) was huge.  I talked with a former franchisee last month who described his operation as a machine.  He set up his marketing and hired an assistant whose job was to handle the in bound seller inquiries and book him five listing appointments a day.  That’s all.

And it worked wonderfully . . . until the housing market began to unravel in late 2005.

Suddenly sellers were faced with declining values, a weakening economy, cutbacks, layoffs and a tightening credit.  Buyers weren’t buying and sellers couldn’t sell.  The power of that wonderful marketing machine faltered too.  By 2007, you could spend thousands of dollars each month on marketing and get very little return.  Offices that hadn’t worked buyers, who didn’t develop a client base, who never learned how to talk with an expired listing or a for sale by owner — in other words:  the ones who had relied on marketing driven listings alone to generate revenue — began to fail.

At the same time, the survivors began to emerge.  Sharp, scrappy and determined, these brokers had the guts to look at the new reality with new eyes.  The realized that, just as the market had changed, so had the consumer.  Those brave souls who ventured into the market were doing their homework and doing it online.  Buyers were in control and spent months on the Internet, looking hat houses before they were ready to ink a deal.  Putting two and two together, smart Help-U-Sell brokers realized that marketing to sellers was no longer efficient and went after buyers where the buyers were hanging out:  the Internet.  They invested in websites, search engine optimization, social networking, blogs and more.

They also went back to school.  They remembered that every real estate transaction was about solving problems, a buyer’s problems and a seller’s problems.  But the problems had changed dramatically from the days when five listing appointments a day could make you a star.  Buyers were having difficulty getting financing and sellers were upside down.  We had to learn mortgage lending to identify those  buyers we could help  and we had to learn short sales to minimize the damage to our sellers.  Help-U-Sell brokers became navigators, pointing the way for buyers and sellers to make it through the new maze of market realities.

Direct mail marketing didn’t die — it just went on hiatus.  We used the break to learn how to work with new tools to generate leads and, with perfect timing, new Help-U-Sell websites bloomed on the Internet.

Today, the real estate market is starting to wake up.  I know this because investors are in an absolute feeding frenzy and have been for almost a year.  Investors always set the bottom of the market — when they come out to play up ticks in activity and value are not far away.  Just as the market improves, we also have to start ratcheting up our marketing.  Brag cards are a great way to start — even if they are hung on doorknobs rather than delivered in mailboxes.  A carefully targeted Penny Saver or super market mailer campaign might also make good sense.  Remember:  we survived the downturn by adapting.  We changed the way we marketed.  We will flourish in the upturn by doing the same thing.

The Internet was (and continues to be)  all about reaching buyers.  It’s time to start reaching sellers, too — and nobody knows how to do that better than we do.