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Do search consumers want to be called or left alone?

It’s the age old dilema.  Realtors have property search sites set up with one goal and one goal only – to gain leads with the idea of converting them to clients.  We don’t do it as a community service, we don’t do it to be nice, we do it to build business.  Consumers, on the other hand, may want to just browse properties in private.  Maybe they aren’t really in the market, maybe they are looking at properties way out of their price range, maybe they are just 15 years old, who knows.

Enter the dilema….

We are told that when a consumer enters their information that you must contact them immediately (minutes really) if you have any chance of “converting” them.  We are also told that a consumer needs to be “touched” or contacted an average of eight times before they engage.  Those numbers, in and of themselves, can lead us to some semi-stalker behavior….We call or email immediately, we follow up, we follow up, we follow up… and maybe, just maybe they “convert”.

On the consumer side, maybe this is all a bit bothersome.  Maybe they really are just searching and want to be able to search in peace and privacy, unbothered until they contact us (if ever).

So I, as a business person and Realtor, am always torn… Do I call, touch and try and convert?  Do I leave them alone to search to their hearts’ content hoping they will think of me when the time comes and they really are ready to buy or sell?  It is a large issue and one to not be taken lightly.  Make no mistake, I am in business and the bottom line is of supreme importance, but so is perception, relationships and trust…  How to balance both and win at both is the question.

To contact or not to contact, that is the question.

I’d like your input, what do you think?  What is the best way to create the most engaged and mutually respectful Realtor-Consumer relationship from your online contact resulting in a good (and profitable) business experience for all?

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Written By

Janie has been in the development, construction and real estate industries for over 20 years. She began her career in commerical construction and has slowly worked into all of the related industries and added residential properties to her resume 7 years ago. She is currently the co-owner of sister companies, Papillon Real Estate and Papillon ReDevelopment (a construction and project management firm). Janie blogs for The Coral Gables Story. In her "free" time, she is a graduate student of Atlantic History with a focus on the history of business and technology. She is a lover of geo-anything. She loves the story.

30 Comments

30 Comments

  1. markbrian

    May 19, 2010 at 11:05 am

    Today’s consumer often does not want to be contacted, added to drip campaigns etc IMHO. But some agent do quite well with this strategy. Who am I to say which is right or wrong?

    Think about the big push with social media and how that is changing the business. Interesting times without a doubt.

    Thank you for a thought provoking article.

  2. Janie Coffey

    May 19, 2010 at 12:11 pm

    Hi Mark, drip, no drip, call, no call, it really is a dilema either way you look at it. I know that I don’t like to be contacted unless I made the initial contact to businesses, yet on the other hand, when I call new “leads” I often get a positive response. The difference in consumer attitudes does make it hard to determine the best plan of action… Still scratching my head.

  3. BawldGuy

    May 19, 2010 at 12:12 pm

    My Boise Team Captain is the lead dog on a team headed by a pretty astute broker/geek. He’s always busier than a one-legged guy in a butt kickin’ contest. Why? Cuz whenever someone opts in with a phone number on their search site, they’re often contacted while they’re still in search mode. To paraphrase him — “Only a smallish minority are surly when I call. On the other hand some remark with pleased surprise that someone ‘cared enough’ to actually offer some help.” Bingo!

    This approach is so successful, it’s a constant battle just to keep up.

    • Janie Coffey

      May 19, 2010 at 12:48 pm

      Jeff, I have heard that before. I have also heard people say that if a phone number is not required and they still put it in, they are much more open to the call. That makes a lot of sense…

  4. Duke Long

    May 19, 2010 at 1:01 pm

    Janie,
    Great topic.We use a back end CRM program.We also have a call center,e-mail touch program in place. I have yet to find anything better for lead attraction and conversion.Oh, and what the Bald Guy said!

  5. Ken Brand

    May 19, 2010 at 2:07 pm

    I say give’m a call.

    For better results, obviously be very friendly, and focus on what questions they might have, what information they might need, etc. No selling, just helpful conversation and follow-up. If they don’t need anything now, I’d politely ASK them if the would be offended if I stayed in touch from time to time. If they say yes, I’d start the Top Of Mind Awareness – Trust Building Campaign (i.e. consistent follow-up)

    Sure, some will, some won’t, so what. I’d rather call an be told no, then wait and hope and wish.

    My 2 cents.

    • Janie Coffey

      May 19, 2010 at 3:57 pm

      Hi Ken, I really like the soft sell, information helpful approach. I think it is the same approach Bawldguy took when he was door knocking, being there, top of mind, yet in a friendly and knowledgeable way…. great input, thanks for stopping by

  6. Erica Ramus

    May 19, 2010 at 2:34 pm

    I think most want to be left alone — in the beginning. Our approach is to send them what they want and remind them that we are here to answer questions. Let them come to us.

    We just took out 2 buyers and sold them properties and they were on our drip email list for 8 months and 11 months. We converted them–when they were ready.

    • Janie Coffey

      May 19, 2010 at 4:00 pm

      so maybe the first contact really depends on the timing… hmmm good point

  7. Troy Roark (ILRealEstate on Twitter)

    May 19, 2010 at 3:19 pm

    Try several approaches. Look at your web stats, and don’t make any follow up calls. See what your conversion rate is. Then for a few months, spend some time being hyper-agent. Follow up incessantly, then check your conversion rate. Maybe try the friendly, no pressure call for a while, then check your conversion rate.

    Different approaches are going to work better for different agents. You need to figure out what works best for you.

    On the other hand, remember that your current conversion rates will not stay the same. While you might be getting decent numbers with the soft approach, if you work on your phone skills, the more aggressive approach might get much better rates with practice and confidence.

    • Janie Coffey

      May 19, 2010 at 4:06 pm

      fantastic input! I really like the testing idea. And the fact that results can change over time with skill set….I think test idea is something we are going to put in place. Great suggestion, wish I had thought of it!

  8. Chris

    May 19, 2010 at 3:45 pm

    As a consumer and not a Realtor I can say that if i HAVE to give my phone number to get into your site then you are likely to end up talking to a very confused Domino’s employee if I even bother to finish the registration. If the field is optional and I fill it in then I am okay with and even willing to be contacted. If you DO add me to your drip list would you at least do me the favor of maintaining it and allowing me to opt out at any time? I have been receiving listing notifications for 5 years from on agency for real estate in a state where i have not lived in more than 4 years because I need to remember the password to my account in order to change my notification preferences. Needless to say, they are marked as spam and i will never see any of their emails.

    • Janie Coffey

      May 19, 2010 at 8:36 pm

      great points Chris. I think simply asking for a name and an email is the best way to go, I agree. I appreciate the input on a consumer’s side. I am also happy to hear that you think it is ok for a phone call if the number was optional, that gives quite a bit of peace of mind. Thank you again for sharing and please stick around here more often!

      Oh, PS agree an easy out is CRUCIAL! (one click is the best)

  9. Michael Bertoldi

    May 19, 2010 at 9:32 pm

    I think Chris had a good point. Don’t make the phone number mandatory.

    That way if they give it to you, they’re probably a serious buyer.

    And of course, utilize the email address asap.

  10. Missy Caulk

    May 19, 2010 at 10:16 pm

    We have the highest conversion rate when we call. The calls are low key not pushy not a bunch of blah, blah, blah’s.

    We rarely get snarly people. The goal is to find a common interest and connect with them in a meaningful way. Then we leave them alone and let them search on their own time frame.

    Now if we see they come back after not logging on for a while, we believe they have a life change and may be interested again, so we send them a email to see if we can help them.

    I like Tony’s approach test, test, test.

  11. Chad Lariscy

    May 19, 2010 at 10:24 pm

    Boy….does this open up a can of worms? This came up today during our car-a-van……so what do I think?

    I simply ask. I allow several searches free of registration, then I simply have 3 questions, require name and email only, phone number is optional. The FIRST question is, “Do you mind if I contact you concerning your North Georgia Real Estate needs?” I would say that 7 out of 10 actually answer it, and most of the time it is, “please do, I also included my phone number.” If not, they usually give me a reason such as, “I have always dreamed of a cabin in the mountains, but unfortunately now is just not a good for us to purchase so we are just looking,” or something very similar to that.

    Just a thought…but obviously make sure that you respect their decision! It seems to work well for me.

    Thanks so much for the great feedback, this is a tough one!

    • Janie Coffey

      May 20, 2010 at 10:21 am

      I love this approach, then you KNOW and no second guessing!

  12. Dunes

    May 20, 2010 at 12:35 am

    A good number Agents seem to see it as a Lead Generator so I’m sure a good many will point to that side of it and share success stories…Spammers will point to their success rate if asked and justify Spamming as a good Lead Generator/Business practice would be my guess…

    But NO, Consumers if you ask THEM for their opinion are going to overwhelmingly respond with a Big NO in my opinion (Have never heard a Consumer ask if anyone knew a good Agent site that wanted Contact info, have heard them ask if there were any that didn’t)…and that’s the opinion that really counts isn’t it?
    Unless the potential of getting a lead counts more….

    I do not use the “give us info” sites nor would I ever suggest to a Consumer that they use them, quite the Contrary…

    • Janie Coffey

      May 20, 2010 at 6:35 am

      hi Dunes, if a site does not ask for any more than a first name and email to register, yet gives the option of more info (ie phone, etc) and they DO give it, what do you think their expectation is? At that point, if they give it when it’s optional I mean? I think this is where alot of the difference b/w being and not being spammy lies…

  13. markmac

    May 20, 2010 at 11:24 am

    I’m a consumer who’s currently in the market to purchase a home. I’m also a freelance marketing consultant and web designer who works with realtors to help them improve their online marketing.

    For optins, I think phone number needs to be optional or it will kill your conversions. If I’m asked for my phone number I usually enter a fake. Also, I find the fewer fields you require the more optins you’ll get. And if you can segment your lists based on buyer type (first time, relocating etc.) that’s even better.

    If you’re worried about being pushy and leaving your prospect with that icky feeling then I suggest taking a content marketing approach that’s centered around creating tutorials about various home buying issues and that targets different types of buyers. It’s a great way to build a relationship, demonstrate your knowledge and market your services in an under the radar way.

    And I don’t mean those canned articles your brokerage distributes. Create your own content that’s unique to *you* and it will keep you on people’s minds until they are ready to make a decision.

  14. Dunes

    May 20, 2010 at 1:43 pm

    I don’t even agree with the email/registration concept (That should also be optional IMO)

    I think there is really not a discussion here about “Does the Consumer want to” (and that’s fine) but more of a how do we do it with the least amount of negative perception……

    If emails & phone# are optional then there is no debate, heck they signed up…registering is just a nice way IMO of saying “Provide us with your email so I have some way to make you a lead” even if you don’t leave a phone #….

    I have no problem with Agents deciding this is to good a lead generator to not use just as I have no problem with Consumers using Trulia/Zillow/Realtor.com ect. to avoid using Agent sites that wish you to “Register” …Choice/Options, that’s OK with me…..

    I just do not think as I said this is really a discussion about what the Consumer wants, but a discussion about the best way to use access to Searching property to get leads and not peeve to many people off…
    Because most people are polite of course many will not be snarly when called but after they hang up how will they answer the Question “Who was that?”

    I think the Question based on the responses should be…How do we do this with the least amount of fall out….And yes know all about the need for business and competition and the need for and and and….But the Question I saw asked was..

    “Do search consumers want to be called or left alone?”
    How is the answer to that question, I only have a few get snarly but I get leads so it’s OK to do it? Or a discussion of what is or is not considered Spam by Agents…..

    I’m just saying IMO if this question were actually asked wanting to know what Consumers think….The answer is NO..Registration/emails are just as unliked for the most part as unsolicited phone calls are….As I said if the registration/phone is optional then..who cares they signed up for it but without the option the answer to the Question asked is NO in my opinion…to me..a non-agent their seems to be much more concern about using this effectively as a lead generator than any real concern if it bothers most Consumers…

    That’s fine, I just didn’t respond to that discussion I responded to the question asked….No, Consumers are not thrilled to be emailed or called because they HAD to Register to search/look at properties IMO but if it’s optional (Email & phone)how could I have a legitimate complaint

    • Janie Coffey

      May 22, 2010 at 9:38 am

      HI Dunes

      Yes, you are right, this post was specifically about lead generation lead sites. I have both kinds (registration required and registration not required) and they are for two different purposes. (my main site is a no registration required, it is a service for the readers) but the lead generation search site is geared toward serious buyers and targeted very differently.

      I think about when I enter my info on site for whatever purpose. If I receive a non-pushy “welcome call” followed up by helpful emails, it doesn’t bother me and warms me to them. If I get a “pushy” call and follow up/repeated calls, now that bothers me a lot. I think it comes down to if they are “just looking” or “in the market now” kind of thing. The first are going to want to be able to do their own thing, the later might be more open to a nice welcome.

      Thank you for so much input on the topic.

  15. Thomas A. B. Johnson

    May 22, 2010 at 1:46 pm

    I offer the best search in my market. If you want to play with my very expensive data, you must at least let me know who you are and let me talk to you at least once. Just my $.02.

  16. Denise Hamlin

    May 23, 2010 at 12:04 am

    Lots of good comments here. I struggle with calling, but agree that if consumers include phone number when it’s not required it’s a safe bet that they’re not going to mind being called. Having said that, when I do call I mostly get voice mail and the chances of a call back are slim to none.

    Email on the other hand works great for me. A high percentage of people respond to the first contact and I have a high conversion rate from that too.

    Ultimately I’m a do unto others kind of gal and since I don’t like to be called or harassed when I’m making decisions I don’t do it to people visiting my site either.

  17. Tom Billings

    May 23, 2010 at 2:30 pm

    I provide several ways for potential clients to contact me regarding the Arizona HUD homes and properties I sell. First, I have visible phone numbers. Then I have links to contact me by form or email, but only on the individual property page. If a potential client has an interest in a specific property they usually want to be contacted.

  18. Doug Francis

    May 23, 2010 at 8:53 pm

    The only way to get action is to call… and fast because they will forget about you in a NY minute. Yes, the call makes you significant.

  19. Erion Shehaj

    May 24, 2010 at 9:55 am

    Fantastic post!

    I want to approach your topic from a slightly different aspect. In my opinion, most IDX solutions out there (including the one I use) do not put enough emphasis on the lead generating side of things. Its mostly about the “pretty” with them – it reminds me of the struggles between architects (techies) and engineers (agents). In the end, agents provide such great tools to the consumer at no small expense in return for a chance to earn their business. And guess what: Most consumers know this (those with pronounced entitlementality excluded) and accept this when they register on a site. I think the problem is not THAT you ask them to register but HOW. Most IDX solutions out there use the “main shutoff” (to use this tool you have to register) or “ambush” (now that you searched for 5 min, you must register to continue) options. Neither of them are very efficient in my opinion. The “no registration” option would be optimal if the consumer wouldn’t have to search long and hard for the millimetric button that allows them to contact the agent for more info. In our sites our conversion rates are so much higher when we write blog posts about properties and encourage the consumer to contact us via prominent buttons and contact forms instead of relying simply on the Idx all-in-one solution.

    I am a big believer in asking for more information rather than less: we ask for phone number, whether they’re working with and agent and what’s the timeframe for buying. Result: 259 people have filled out our forms on one of our sites since mid march. 40% of them were already working with an agent and would be extremely annoyed by that “drip campaign” by now.

  20. Jonathan

    May 24, 2010 at 3:01 pm

    Well as a consumer and since I was bored and not really into realtoring I’d like to ask you, how many sites put you off with big forms to fill out, or it asks you for personal information, do you like being rung up and aggravated when your phone contract is due?

    If i was looking for somewhere to live or somone to sell my home, I’d want it to be an enjoyable experience, its not something you do every day. If I had to fill out a form on 20 different websitres just to get a look in and then these people kept ringing me then as a market your all gonna aggravate alot of consumers, this would cost you money if you were someone who worked alone. But the one realtor who uses a friendly customer service approach where your here to help will do alot better in the long run than the nagging guy who wont leave anyone alone.

    I think it comes down to one question, are you a major corperation or a freelance sole trader? a corperation is gonna nag people do death while a sole trader should be a friendly person. Its the personal touch that will get you most of your work above that corperation in your area. People like a personal freidnly helpful touch, rather than a “hi I am ringing from condolidation homes(or something) we have noticed your in the market to sell your home we’d like to sell you blah blah blah”

    I’d give them an option and then be friendly and offer help as a friendly person, not as a business.

  21. Stephanie

    May 24, 2010 at 3:11 pm

    I tend to visit many real estate sites just to browse. I won’t even pursue those that require registration, because I don’t want to sign up for anything.

    As a consumer who has bought 4 houses, I prefer to browse in peace. I may be unlike some home shoppers in that I know what I’m looking for and more used to looking at properties, but if I am seriously interested (which is the only time I’m actually going to buy) I will call the number and ask to see the property, regardless of whether or not the agent initiated the contact. I think anyone who is interested enough to buy will make the call themselves.

    I don’t have a problem with a “Would you like an agent to contact you?” form that asks for a number, but more likely than not, if I want to talk to someone, I’d just call them so I’m not waiting around for a call.

  22. Stephanie Crawford

    May 25, 2010 at 2:49 am

    I’ve struggled with this my entire career. I don’t really like calling, so I just add them to my monthly newsletter unless they ASK for information or a showing. IDX registrations aren’t nearly as valuable as questions IMHO.

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