How to stay competitive in a crowded arena where time is money and engagement matters - BY SEP NIAKAN (Inman)
If online lead generation is one of the pillars of your business, then you’re already well-versed in the hustle of online lead conversion.
The national average to convert an online lead to a sale hovers around 2 percent. The internet lead game requires speed-to-lead and persistent follow-up to maximize your return on investment.
Competition for online leads has become more fierce.
Zillow and realtor.com have increased their prices in most markets over the years, and many great (but costly) all-in-one platforms such as Commissions Inc., BoomTown, Real Geeks and others offer pay-per-click services that inevitably increase competition (and therefore conversion costs) as more agents jump on board and fight for the same online leads.
Exploring new techniques
Buyers and sellers are in a hurry to get the information they want, and if you’re not fast enough when they need you, they’re going to find someone else.
In fairness, it’s not just real estate clients who do this; it’s everyone. We’re part of an instant gratification culture. We need it, and we need it now.
Leads contacted within the first five minutes are about 100 times more likely to close than those with longer response times; waiting 45 minutes drops your chances much closer to zero.
It’s not just about speed, though. It’s also about connecting with clients through their preferred media and with relevant information; some people aren’t ready to talk, and as an agent, you’ll get a better response when you are persistent and if you connect in the client’s comfort zone.
In this hustle, only the most proactive agents will thrive.
The good news is that there’s plenty of technology to help you do it. Here’s what you need to stay ahead of the pack with your lead conversion efforts.
Truly ‘virtual’ assistants: Real estate chatbots
Chatbots, like those developed by companies such as Automabots and Structurely, are designed to use natural language and connect with people with answers they want in real-time.
While most of this software is still experimental, early results look promising — and that means there’s a big opportunity for agents at the forefront.
How they work: Users open a chat window — on your website or in Facebook Messenger — and make a comment or ask a question, such as “I want to sell my home,” or “I need to find houses for sale with three bedrooms and a big, attached garage.”
The bot responds with information and follow-up questions (like, “I see that your home has four bedrooms and two bathrooms. How much do you want to list it for?” or “Are you looking in a particular neighborhood?”) until the user gets the listings or information they need.
When the bot has enough questions answered, it asks for the user’s contact information to email listings or market updates, or to connect them with an agent.
How they help users: Users get answers to simple questions right away, and they can provide the bot with contact information if they’re ready to talk to an agent; if not, there’s no pressure in either direction.
How they help agents: Many clients work with the first agent they connect to; using a chatbot gives you a chance to start the conversation, even if you’re out showing homes, you’re on the phone, or you’re done working for the day.
During the chat, the bot can ask pre-qualifying questions to the visitor, which helps you understand the prospect’s basic needs and whether he or she is qualified. If a user really wants to talk to you and tells the bot, the bot will send you a message right away.
The bots are programmed to ask the buyer or seller if they want to get regular alerts or if they want the agent to contact them, so the end-game is still to get the prospect’s contact info.
Not your grandma’s autoresponder
Automatic text and email responders (features included in most CRMs including Follow Up Boss and FiveStreet) instantly reply to your leads with customized responses that show your clients you’re listening.
How they work: Potential leads contact you via text or email, the autoresponder categorizes the communication, and responds on your behalf. It can respond automatically using the person’s name, lead source, the property they inquired about and other relevant info. A response might look like this: “John, thanks for reaching out on Zillow about 123 Main Street. Are you available to view it?”
How they help users: Users receive the instant gratification of a response that is relevant to their needs.
How they help agents: An automatic text or email responder can give you a head start in starting the conversation with a lead when you’re busy or someone contacts you after hours. Beating another agent to be the first responder might mean the difference between getting to a sale or having a lead go completely cold.
Drafting Riley to your team: Live text concierge 24/7
Riley, a service created expressly for real estate professionals, uses real people to nurture and convert your leads via text message 24 hours a day.
How it works: When an email lead comes in, it forwards to Riley. Their text messaging concierges get started by texting the lead with their standard scripts or custom ones you have created for their team to use.
Riley texts incoming leads 24/7, so leads don’t have time to go cold. You can watch the text conversation in real-time on their app, and you can jump in on the text conversation at any time.
Riley’s agents use scripts you can customize based on lead source and prospect type and have full conversations to identify budget constraints, timelines and any other questions that you have put in their scripts to ask.
How it helps users: When you’re using Riley and a lead submits an inquiry, they can start getting answers when they want — even if it’s 2 a.m. And because the lead is inquiring via the web, they might just be more comfortable texting instead of getting a phone call.
How it helps agents: Riley’s concierges help weed out weak leads and hold on to the strong ones, and you’re able to view the entire conversation from your smartphone’s screen. They work around the clock, so they are connecting with leads while you sleep, giving you the speed-to-lead edge, especially during off-hours.
You can use the tool’s built-in analytics features to gauge the efficacy of the scripts you’re using, and you can take advantage of the service’s long-term drip campaigns. Another benefit: When a lead responds to one of your drip texts, Riley responds within minutes to keep them engaged.
Building rapport one clip at a time: Video emails
Real estate drip campaigns worked exceptionally well in the ’90s and early 2000s, which is exactly why top agents are still using them.
The problem? - Many agents are still using them the same way they used them in the ’90s and early 2000s.
How many times have you deleted an email because you just couldn’t force yourself to slog through the Great Wall of Text?
Our brains are wired to process videos about 60,000 times faster than we can process text, which explains the huge surge in video views (people are watching more than a billion hours of video on YouTube every day).
Enter BombBomb, which seems to be the breakaway leader for video in real estate at the moment.
BombBomb offers integrated video email marketing with tracking, scheduling and auto-responses (think intro video via email to introduce yourself to a new lead). It integrates with Gmail, Android, iOS, Zillow, FiveStreet and many other platforms.
If your budget allows, Vyral is another very effective, video-centric service that sells itself as a “done-for-you” video marketing program. It includes hands-on coaching and support, assistance in video content creation, blog articles, newsletters and more.
These video email services are great for drip campaigns as a fresh twist on an old, tried-and-true strategy. Agents have been using the same drip campaigns for decades because they work, but by adding video to your emails, you’re ahead of the competition as far as connecting and building rapport.
How they work: You record and send a personalized video from your desktop, laptop or mobile device and insert it into an email (it’s inline, not an attachment). Your potential clients see an animated preview of the video and the text you’ve written. The open rate, view rate and other stats are compiled in a user dashboard where you can get eyes on the data to figure out how well it’s working for you.
How they help users: Users more easily get a feel for who you are, how you can help them and whether they might want to work with you when you’re connecting through video, and they don’t have to scan through a text email to get the information they need.
How they help agents: Video is the best way to build rapport if a face-to-face meeting or phone call is not possible right away. Moreover, video drip campaigns help agents get more user engagement than regular email drips. Services like BombBomb boast 68 percent higher lead conversion, 81 percent more replies and responses and 87 percent more clicks in emails.
Waiting by the phone: Appointment setters
Not every agent can afford to hire an inside sales agent whose sole job is to dial out to new internet leads as they come in.
But to give yourself the edge, you need someone to make the call and start building rapport with the lead before another agent does. Third-party appointment setting services like Zillow Premier Agent Concierge and Appointments, Inc. (an add-on of Commissions, Inc.) bridge the gap by calling your incoming leads for you.
How they work: Zillow Premier Agent Concierge calls your incoming email lead, and they’ll do some basic qualification and live-transfer the lead to you. You can route all your initial lead call responsibility to their representatives, or you can choose which leads you want to talk to as they come in.
Appointments, Inc. will call any lead from any lead generation source you route into their system (as long as you are a Commissions, Inc. platform owner). They go one step further by also attempting multiple calls, setting email drips, and following up with leads who aren’t quite ready for a conversation on first contact. Both services promise that leads will get called in 5 minutes or less and be available 10 to 12 hours a day, seven days a week.
How they help users: Users have live, almost-instant access to a live person to start the conversation, even when you are not available.
How they help agents: If you’re busy with a client or off the clock, you can still be sure that someone on your team is making contact and warming up your leads. Phone concierge services weed out “tire-kickers” and people who leave fake phone numbers so you’re free to focus your energy on those who merit it.
You’ll get the details from each call, such as when the call was made and basic pre-qualification answers the lead provided, and each service groups together the information and files them away as notes and/or statuses in the lead’s record.
In addition, sometimes it takes five or six attempts over several days to get a lead to pick up the phone, but many agents and teams aren’t as persistent as they could be; concierge services jump in and make those contact attempts for you. They create a comfortable middle ground between hiring your own inside sales agents and letting leads slip right through your fingers.
If internet lead generation is one of the pillars of your business, you need to ferret out every possible way to maximize your results. Using new tech and techniques to your advantage could mean the difference between converting a half-percent of your leads and 3 percent of your leads, and that’s huge.
You’re likely spending thousands each month generating this business, and these tools, which don’t require much effort on your part, can exponentially increase your returns.
Sep Niakan is the broker/owner of HB Roswell Realty in Miami and founder of CondoBlackBook.com, the leading site to search for Miami condos for sale. Follow @condoblackbook or @sepmiami on Twitter, or on Facebook.