THAT ELUSIVE DATABASE AS A MARKETING TOOL

There is a huge amount of money spent by real estate companies and their clients to attract the ever-elusive buyer. All are targeting that special buyer –the one who will pay the most on the day. Every week we are bombarded with volumes of publications displaying huge quantities of properties, generally sorted in “brand” order and almost daily my letterbox is host to photocopies of flyers about property and salespeople.

All are worthwhile strategies, but diminishing in return, as everyone starts to do the same thing. Some have resorted to volume to gain an edge, whilst others have chosen quality. A focus on auction and vendor marketing contributions has built some companies profile and sales success. But endlessly we see the majority of real estate people reacting to marketing exposure, rather than setting out to create business.
Amongst the very best performers right now I see business owners and salespeople who understand the power of working their personal networks and past clients. They have effective and managed databases. Used not only for targeting when specific properties are for sale, but as contact points for referrals ( I‘d rather call these “Preferrals”) and building credibility so that when this contact has a need for real estate servicing, they are “their consultant”, or at very least on their shopping list.

Over the years various articles have appeared discussing client databases and right now in the market there is a range of software products. They vary from in-house single entry systems integrated with the listings and sales data, to stand alone products like Tracker and Act. I don’t intend to discuss the merits or failing of the various systems, just the power of their use and some strategies that you may be able to implement.

So who owns and manages the information

The biggest debate seems to be “Who owns the database?” This is a hairy one. The pragmatist in me says the “Office owns the data of past buyers and sellers, and the salesperson owns their network of contacts. I take the view that the sharing of the information is far more important than the ownership. If we take the view, that selling at this level is a relationship business, then quite clearly the salesperson has a serious claim. The office on the other hand may be providing all the administration, stationery and postage for the programme and rightfully claim ownership.

The issue with total salesperson ownership is the ability for that salesperson to transport their business to a competitor and continue to work the contacts you have helped them to nurture. I do however see sales people running their own systems totally because the office either doesn’t have the technical or administrative resources, or there is a culture of secrecy and mistrust. “I don’t want anyone to access my contacts thank-you”

I believe this culture will change as people see the benefit of accessing all available contacts when new listings come into the office. The option of the sales person who knows the contact, deciding whether their contact is informed about any new listing, is fast disappearing, as the clients become more techno-literate and can access the information themselves. The fastest growing offices have a culture of trust! Not only is the technology used to manage the contacts, it is used to distribute information to them, on behalf of their registering salesperson and in the interests of all salespeople in that office.

I sense a rapid movement from protected databases to open databases, but with the interests of the registering salesperson protected, so long as they are active in managing the contact.

Which-ever philosophy you adhere to, there is no doubt that many have gained an edge over the last few years by developing their networks into databases. These are used not only to manage existing potential sellers and buyers, but to nurture a
“Client-base” of people who will send those “Preferrals” and use them as “their agent.”

So who should be in the database?


Obviously all your personal contacts and network should be included. I believe in permission marketing. That is no one goes in this database and gets a surprise to get further contact from you. Get their permission first. If you are new to the real estate business you will need to write to them over a period of weeks, starting with the excitement of your new career and building through to some useful real estate information, so you change your contacts view of what you do. If you are starting a new business or embarking on database marketing for the first time, you need to understand the need for frequent and persistent communication before you have any real impact.

So here’s the list:

Personal Contacts – get really thorough here, including professionals you use.
Use your network
Past Clients
Appraisals = future sellers
Active buyers as “A”, “B” and “C”
Open Home attendees you need to follow-up
Local influencers – Mortgage Brokers
Bank managers
Solicitors
Accountants
Etc

A salesperson needs to start with a list as close to a minimum of 200 as possible. I have some clients at the moment who are personally in contact with over 500 a month by mail/e-mail and the majority of them get a phone call as well. Their businesses are growing as others lament their lack of progress.

Software option.
If you don’t have a proprietary software programme, or you want to run your clientbase separate from other elements of the business I find Microsoft Outlook (not Outlook Express) suits my purposes admirably. It’s a programme supported by a company that will be around for a while, it does mail merges, single and bulk e-mails, dials from the contacts card, has endless category choices. I can customize the screens and printouts to suit my purposes. The other benefit is, you don’t have to wait to get started – it’s available now.
It does not allow for the more complicated aspects of database management, but it allows you to maintain and manage your contact programme simply.

Not all contacts have the same value

The biggest danger is to treat all contacts the same.
Whilst Buyers and Potential sellers have an obvious daily priority, the balance of your network needs some organization.

I prefer to break it down to three zones.

Diagram

What’s an Advocate?

Put simply, these people are your favourites. These people know you, trust you and want to help you. They are the source of the Preferrals I mentioned above.
At Christmas time they get the Calendar, the bottle of wine and the Christmas card delivered personally.
Each month they get your letter or newsletter, a phone call and a personal visit. These are the people you have a “coffee” with, whom you invite to company functions and take to sponsored events.
Some companies go so far as to levy every transaction an Account Management Fee, so there are always funds to entertain and foster key accounts.
The building of this Advocate base is a key strategy to removing your reliance on volume advertising for your future business.

Past Clients

Pretty simple definition really. You’ve done business with these people but they are not yet referring you business. The aim is to turn more of these people into Advocates.
Each month these people get your letter/newsletter and a follow-up phone call. The phone call can increase the response up to 5 times that received by just mailing.
You already have a professional relationship with these people and there is no knowing when they or some one they know will need some more real estate attention. So keep in touch with a range of letters and articles. Never be afraid to ring them up and say hi. Take on-board the concept – “My Clients love hearing from me”.

People who Know You and what you do

Now this is where the work starts. Never be afraid to ask any –one you meet if they can go on your mailing list. Get their e-mail address if they have one, and distribute your newsletter that way. It’s so much cheaper and quicker.
Each month send them a generic letter and if your total client base is under 250, these people should all get a phone call as well. You want to become the person they will turn to, or recommend when real estate is on the agenda.
Don’t be afraid to make this big.

That Letter

To keep it simple there are some straightforward guidelines.
Keep the letter to one page
Put an interesting PS at the bottom of the page
Bold the recipients name and address
Tell them how busy you are
Tell them how proud you are to work where you work
Ask for the business
Mention something personal
Ask for the business again

Something personal gives you something to talk about rather than real estate.

Using E-Mail

Isn’t it amazing when people send you e-mails with hundreds of other peoples names and e-mail addresses attached. If you are techno-literate enough to run a database and do bulk e-mails one would think you know how to use Bcc or Blind carbon Copy.
This hides all the recipients’ names and saves the risk that some one else will capture your list of contacts.

Persistence and Frequency

So the database as a business builder has a real place in your business future.
One of the key elements is the need to maintain frequency and persistence. Too many people expect an immediate response to flood their days, following a mail out.
Not only do you need to call on the phone, but also you need to make sure you persist on a frequent cycle. In residential sales and with personal contacts, a monthly cycle is not out of the question. Rotate your contacts between personal letters (So learn to run a mail merge) and the office Newsletter. Include flyers on recent sales successes and selections of new listings. Show how active and successful you are.
Many people start with one or two mail outs, never get round to the phone calls and then complain it doesn’t work. This takes self-discipline and persistence. Stick at it, and it will pay handsome dividends.

Use this list to promote special events such as Auction Promotions, Sponsorship events and company functions. Never be afraid to organize a Premier night at the movies and invite your company and personal Advocates. I’m sure there are a multitude of events you could apply this strategy to.

The choices

Real estate has an entrepreneurial bias but more than ever I am convinced there is an urgent need for some operators to place more process and system into their business.
Whether you are a business owner, manager or sales person you can establish a plan to build a personal list of contacts and current buyers and future sellers. Once this is built it is a simple matter of preparing a plan to prepare and distribute information, which adds value to the relationship between the client and the business.

Yes it takes some time and resources, but done with regularity and followed up with a phone call it is the fastest way to build both your credibility and referral base. That means business growth!

Your technology is meant to add a competitive advantage – take some steps to make sure yours does.

IAN KEIGHTLEY


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