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Finessing the Online Home Buyer - My View from 12+ Years of Internet Lead Conversion

After Bob Stewart announced his latest challenge/contest about how to convert internet leads, I wanted to take a few minutes to share what has worked for us to this point.  This may not seem overly organized, since I never seem to take the time to outline anything before it spills out onto the screen, but that's okay, right?


Either way, I hope you find it to be helpful.


I remember when my business partner and I started our real estate website, AustinTexasHomes.com, back in 1998, and I also remember the types of questions we heard from our colleagues:


 



  • Who's going to see it?

  • Why would you want to spend your time on that?

  • Do you think it will actually result in any sales?


You get the picture.  Looking back, these questions seem foolish to the extreme now, but at the time, as I was finishing up my first year of real estate, I had my own doubts.  Thankfully, I didn't let that stop me from learning about how to get my site to show up in the search engines.  Back then, we were mostly concerned about Yahoo, Altavista, Excite, GoTo, and Lycos.  Clearly, times have changed.  You don't hear anyone talking about how to get more "Lycos juice".  



I've been blessed to have had a number of multimillion dollar sales in my career, almost all of which came from the site I mentioned above.  Of course, it has undergone numerous updates (and maybe we'll have another in 2010), but it remains the cornerstone of our agency, which provides leads for most of the 16 agents on our roster.  



We've all heard the same statistic: somewhere over 80% of home buyers begin their home search online these days.  With that in mind, it's important to be the first agent (or at least among the first agents) that these buyers have contact with in your market.  Once you have secured contact information of some sort, ideally name, email address, and a phone number (at a minimum), what's next?



BE PERSISTENT


This may run counter to your notion of what constitutes proper etiquette, but I assure you that it works.  I sold a $1 million+ home on a golf course near Lake Travis to a buyer that my assistant called SEVENTEEN times before she reached anyone.  By "assistant", I mean "wife".  :) Was the buyer upset?  Nope.  He was grateful that we finally made contact and provided the information that he wanted.  He ended up buying a downtown area condo for his daughter from me later, too.  


If you think about how busy you are during an average week, you might appreciate this approach more.  I'm not recommending that you leave sixteen messages.  I'm suggesting that you earnestly try to reach each buyer at different times of the day for the first 48 hours or so after you have the lead in hand.


Will this work for every buyer?  No, it won't.  Will you increase your conversion rate if you manage to get more buyers on the phone?  I would like to say an immediate "yes", but it probably depends on your phone skills, frankly.  Which leads to my next point...


 


BE ENGAGING


This is a very difficult skill set to teach.  Trust me on this - I've trained dozens and dozens of agents.  Some people have the ability to be likeable within seconds; others struggle to keep the conversation afloat.  If you can find a point of commonality with the prospective client early in your conversation (kids, movies, news, etc.), you'll find that they will warm up to you a lot faster.  However, don't force it.  Most people can sense insincerity very quickly.  



Don't be afraid to make them laugh.  Do share something about yourself.  Actually, many of the best tips about blogging apply during your initial phone call with buyers and sellers.  Engage, and they will be much more likely to remember you.





AUTOMATE SOME OF THE PROCESS


Having used many "back end" systems (including a period when we had none at all), I can certainly attest to the importance of having a solid drip email campaign coupled with listings that meet your client's criteria.  We use Automated Homefinder for this - it was actually developed by a friend of mine who is right here on ActiveRain: Joel McDonald.  I have found the features therein to be robust and helpful for our agents.  There's an interesting newer tool which allows us to look up the buyer on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn before calling.  Hopefully, I don't have to go into great detail about how helpful this information can be when you make the first phone call or send the first email.


Automated Homefinder or any good CRM system does a good chunk of the work for the agent, but don't kid yourself into believing that automation can supplant the personal touch.  Select a tool that works well for your needs, but keep in mind that it's meant to enhance your relationship, not replace it.  As a side note, I was not paid for my endorsement of AHF, but if you sign up with Joel, let him know I sent you and he might compensate me.  Who knows?  :)


 


BE AVAILABLE 


Four years ago this month, I answered a phone call from our website from someone who was interested in buying a home on Lake Austin.  22 days later, I closed this buyer on a $3.4 million home.  Yes, really.  It was one of the top 10 sales for 2006 in Austin.  What's the lesson here?  Answer the phone!  If someone calls or emails you, and it takes days to get a response, do you think they will wait patiently for you and only you to get back in touch?  You already know the answer to this question, I hope. 


 


BE PREPARED TO FOLLOW UP FOR AWHILE


You've probably also heard this axiom at some point, or maybe many, many times: Internet buyers have a longer sales cycle.  While this can be true, I think the anecdote I shared just above this section refutes this, and I have plenty of others.  That being said, I will share another story with you in the interest of bragging teaching.  In 2005, my business partner made contact with a couple who were very interested in relocating to the Austin area from out of state.  Their budget wasn't unlimited, but it made my pulse race a bit.  He met with them during two or three visits, months apart.  After roughly 13 months of staying in touch with this couple, he sold them an luxury acreage property for almost $4.1 million.


 


DIFFERENTIATE YOURSELF IN SOME FASHION


This is one area that I probably need to work on a little bit in order to achieve it consistently, but I can give you a couple of quick examples from my experiences that might help:


 



  • Consider sending them something via "snail mail" - most agents won't go out of their way to send any tangible package

  • If the opportunity presents itself, take a video of a specific property, attraction, or area that you think they might find interesting, then personalize it and email it to them - I know this would make an impact on me.  Make sure you appear in the video!

  • If they express interest in a particular home, take a bunch of pictures, put them on a CD, write their name on it, and send it in your package - I got this idea from my friend Bruce Brockmeier of HouseHunt (good stuff!)


I recognize that you probably can't do this last part for every lead you encounter, but it might help to solidify a burgeoning business relationship with the important ones.  





I hope these tips come in handy.  Feel free to contact me with any questions you might have.  Thanks for reading!


 


For other methods of converting internet leads, be sure to check out giftofshift.com/activerain where you can purchase a limited edition hardcover of Gary Keller's book SHIFT, which comes with a free version of the eBook Soci@l: Attract Friends, Followers and Connections to Your Business, written by Ben Kinney and Jay Papasan (in which Ben shares his 'ten days of pain' lead conversion method) as well as free audio versions of Millionaire Real Estate Agent and Millionaire Real Estate Investor all for $19.99.


 


Photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/gesteves/2477396306/


      

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