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People in the Machine

This is a kind of follow up on some thoughts I had about Benn’s most excellent post yesterday, What is a Lead?

I don’t like the term “lead” and I encourage consumers not to become one. In general if a web site requires the user to give contact information just to search for homes chances are the consumers will become someone’s lead. They will dripped upon by lenders and Realtors looking for buyers and sellers. By “dripped upon”, I mean that spam that we call email campaigns.

Savvy consumers know this truth and don’t give their contact information away easily. When they come to my blog they read and search for homes for months, and then one day they sign up, or send me a note, or give me a call. I don’t go to them, they come to me.

Getting “leads” from the internet can be like a bad dream. I have not had very good luck with internet “leads” that are “captured” through lead capturing systems. If they really do want to buy or sell they tend to be a bit harder to work with than the people that I know, or the people who come to me through the blog. They require more follow through, and screening and are harder to convert into loyal clients.

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Some of the sites that bring in “leads” frighten me. The people who have contacted me through those sites are not always the kind of people I even want to talk to let alone work with. Hate to mention this but not everyone that I have met on the internet is wonderful. There are crack pots, wack jobs, fruit cakes, predators and assorted kooks out there surfing the web and I don’t always want to be found by them.

Yesterday I got a lead from “MySpace” and decided to respond to it. I am not about how many “leads” I can get but more about meeting the people who live inside my computer and who are looking for me. This one is a “lead” and is interested in one of my listings. He is also looking for a lender. I gave him the contact information for a great lender and gave the lender a heads up that I don’t know this person. The lender sent a funny note back. He gets the “lead” thing too.

There are great ways to meet people on the internet and there are some not so great ways. Meeting people and winning business is as much about quality as it is about quantity. I guess I prefer to attract clients rather than “capture leads”.

I could include in this post a list of sites that generate leads that I don’t want but I won’t. In general they are sites where users have to sign up or sites where a zillion agents from all over the country hang out, or sites where members do not have to use their real names. They are big anonymous places where people can come and play without anyone knowing who they really are. Scary stuff if you ask me.

I realize I probably have the minority point of view on this topic but have been using the internet as a primary way to win business for many years and have learned a lot through my experiences both good and bad. I still experiment with social networks and they are not all equal. I gravitate toward the networks that have local groups and where member share a common passion or interest.

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Written By

Full time REALTOR and licensed broker with Saint Paul Home Realty Realty in St. Paul, Minnesota. Author of StPaulRealEstateBlog.com, Columnist for Inman News and an avid photographer.

38 Comments

38 Comments

  1. BawldGuy Talking

    April 10, 2008 at 11:30 am

    Add me to this ‘minority’ Teresa. You’ve saved me a post.

    When I put folks on my email list, it’s with their permission, and I mean ‘conscious’ permission. Not the usual internet slight of hand con.

    I think we must live the same lives.

  2. Aria Schoenfelt, Austin Real Estate

    April 10, 2008 at 12:08 pm

    No way! I agree with you 100%! I’m busy making sure my clients are happy and don’t want to waste my time chasing flaky internet “leads.” If I get one, and I do from contact forms on my websites and communities I’m involved with, I add them to my newsletter (which they can unsubscribe from privately) and tell them what I can do for them should they decide to become a client (rather than a lead).

    You are not alone. I feel that those agents who are serious about lead generating are desperate. Times may be relatively thought right now, but my real clients need me more than ever. They “real people” are always my priority.

    Thanks for putting that out there. I was feeling alone as well!

  3. Teresa Boardman

    April 10, 2008 at 12:18 pm

    BawldGuy – get a hair cut, just kidding. Nice too know I am not alone.

    Aria – “real People” yup. they rule, “leads” drool. 🙂

  4. Ben K

    April 10, 2008 at 12:19 pm

    I’m with you. While this is more of a passive approach which generates fewer “leads, I find the quality of the “leads” are far superior when you let them come to you on their own. When they do finally contact me, they do so for a specific reason (see a listing, ready to buy or sell, etc).

  5. Gabe Sumner

    April 10, 2008 at 12:24 pm

    Teresa, a great post and a great perspective!

    In general, it is best to avoid viewing the Internet through the lens of “self promotion” and “lead generation”.

    Rather just look at the Internet as a way of being part of a community. Find a niche, find a need, participate, be helpful and let the chips fall where they will. I am not a REALTOR but rather a web programmer. I have found my participation and willingness to hep anonymous strangers (no strings attached) has opened up wonderful side opportunities. I’m a big fan!

    If people get the sense you are hard selling them though, they will cease trusting you.

  6. Bill Lublin

    April 10, 2008 at 2:22 pm

    I met Teresa on the Internet – enough said! Mittens Rule!

  7. Teresa Boardman

    April 10, 2008 at 2:31 pm

    Gabe – I agree, being part of the community by contributing in a meaningful way. I meet amazing people, we don’t talk about real estate, it is more like Aren’t you a Realtor? Good I need one, can you help me?

  8. Jay Thompson

    April 10, 2008 at 3:14 pm

    “I realize I probably have the minority point of view on this topic…”

    I’m with you 118% (that’s better that the standard 110%).

  9. Teresa Boardman

    April 10, 2008 at 3:16 pm

    Jay – maybe the only people who are leaving comments are those who agree. i know several agents who just love the “leads” they get through Active Rain and Trulia voices and Homegain too. I was waiting for them to jump on this but i am not hearing a peep. 🙂

  10. Jay Thompson

    April 10, 2008 at 3:36 pm

    They are definitely out there. But it’s going to take a strong personality to post here that they disagree…

  11. Bob

    April 10, 2008 at 8:24 pm

    I disagree.

  12. Jamie Geiger

    April 10, 2008 at 8:28 pm

    Agree, Agree!! I have found that when a person is ready to buy or sell- they pick up the phone and call. When they leave a phone number- I will call them and if they do not- I just send an email letting them know I am available if they need my help. I gave up the “drip” email stuff a couple of years ago.

    I also do not like the word “leads” Some of my best friends to this day are people that found me on the Internet, bought or sold a house, and now are great friends.

  13. Toby Boyce

    April 10, 2008 at 9:48 pm

    I think it all goes about how you view your business.

    I had an agent telling me the other day her Web site generates 90-100 leads a month. I was amazed, asked about the conversion ratio — less than 10% ever became “real” buyers or sellers. She loved the numbers. Sure puts my 3-4 leads per month to shame, but of course my 100% conversion to “real” buyers and sellers puts her to shame.

    I refer to “leads” as “suspects” … in part because I don’t have enough information to determine where they stand and also because they could very likely be being sought by the local P.D.

  14. Larry Yatkowsky

    April 10, 2008 at 10:11 pm

    Teresa you have triggered an old memory. I recall once whining to my manager about leads. He handed me the “Dialing for Dollars” script, ripped out 20 pages from the phone book threw them at me and said – “There – yah go kid, yah got leads!” “Ring em up.” “If they answer, they are alive and if they are alive yah got opportunity!”

    That SOB gave me a phobia about phone books that extends to “lead-generating what-evers. Neither ever ‘generated’ lasting quality business.

  15. Teresa Boardman

    April 11, 2008 at 3:37 am

    Toby – my conversions rates are also very high which is a good thing. There is not way I have time to follow up on 100 leads a month. Most of the 100 are not leads they are just extra work. I always say that I don’t care how many people read my blog, it is who reads my blog that counts. I don’t write to google so people will find my blog, I write so that the people who are looking for me find my blog.

    Larry – I never did the cold calling thing and I got a bad time for it. My reason for not doing it is simple. I believe that we should treat others the way we want to be treated. I don’t ever want to be cold called or dripped upon so I don’t do that to others.

  16. Teresa Boardman

    April 11, 2008 at 3:39 am

    Bob – sorry I missed you in the last comment. Thanks for stopping by. There are many who disagree with what I am saying here. It goes against some of the proven principles of lead generation.

  17. Gabe Sumner

    April 11, 2008 at 9:00 am

    Larry, I obviously know nothing about your details, but based solely on the story you told above; I think your manager was right on the money! Is cold calling very effective? No. Is it annoying? Of course.

    However, when you complain about a lack of leads; what is he supposed to do? Lead generation is work. Whether it be cold calling, blogging, holding open houses, placing ads, participating in community organizations, etc, etc, etc. It takes time & effort.

    Too many agents seem to expect to be served “quality leads” on a silver platter; whether by the company or by a web site. How should your manager have responded?

  18. BawldGuy Talking

    April 11, 2008 at 10:54 am

    Gabe — Please explain, using your experience, how cold calling isn’t effective.

  19. Gabe Sumner

    April 11, 2008 at 11:19 am

    BawldGuy, I made a sweeping generalization and I probably should not have. Standing on the street corner in a “Bear” costume holding a sign might work. The world is full of opportunity. Who is to say what works? Fate works through busy hands. Just don’t sit around and you’ll probably be fine.

    I still think there is a discussion that could be had about how effective a given technique is. I would argue that cold calling, in this day & age, probably has a low rate of return. However, I will let others voice their own experiences.

  20. Gabe Sumner

    April 11, 2008 at 11:21 am

    P.S. Regarding my own experience; my own experience is hanging up on cold callers inside of 3 words. As mentioned earlier, I’m a web programmer who works in the real estate industry…not a REALTOR. So my perspective on everything is going to be very different (irrelevant?). 🙂

  21. BawldGuy Talking

    April 11, 2008 at 11:36 am

    Gabe — I know several agents in San Diego alone, who do nothing but cold for business. The lowest income of the group last year, one of the worst in a decade, was well over $400,000.

    The reason cold calling, (and door knocking for that matter) is so often maligned is for the same reason, (main reason?) 80-90% of RE agents fail, even in the best of times. They can’t stand the thought of guaranteed rejection.

    The dirty little secret in RE is that those still cold calling or knocking doors are kickin’ more booty than the vast majority of their peers. It’s not even close, Gabe. I understand that as a web programmer you’re speaking from conclusions based upon everything but empirical evidence.

    For those like myself, who have not only cold called but also knocked doors for insane income, you sound like what you are, an outsider with an uninformed opinion. I don’t mean that personally, nor is my intent anything but helpful. You simply are mistaken.

  22. Jay Thompson

    April 11, 2008 at 11:44 am

    I can’t speak personally to the effectiveness of cold calling or door knocking because I don’t do them. Not because of the efficacy, but because I firmly believe in the “do unto others” rule.

    I despise being cold called and having someone knock on my door. Hence, I have difficulty doing that to someone else. Same thing with forced registration on web sites. I don’t like having to give personal info to see something on the internet, so I can’t ask someone to do that on my sites.

    Could I gather more “leads” if I cold called, door knocked or forced registration? Almost certainly. But it’s not happening here.

    If that’s your bag and you are successful doing it, more power to you. I don’t consider myself “better” than someone that uses these methods. Not at all. Just different, nothing more.

  23. BawldGuy Talking

    April 11, 2008 at 12:00 pm

    Exactly Jay — Everyone does what works for them while remaining in their comfort zone.

    Though I haven’t cold called in quite some time, my buddies in the house side literally roll their eyes when I tell them of some of the conversations I’ve seen on blogs. They could buy and sell most ‘tech savvy’ agents before their second cup of coffee and not know it unless their accountant told them.

    Most RE agents with your tech savvy don’t have your skill on the people side, so they’re not nearly as effective as you are. They quit. Same with cold calling/door knocking.

    I used to teach both. I know I could pick almost any agent at random and show them what to do and how to do it, and their income would spike. And it wouldn’t be ‘cuz I’m so smart either. How smart to ya hafta be to do those two things? 🙂 It’s because they’re talking to folks who can either tell them to go to hell, or hire them.

    Isn’t that the the epitome of the prospecting concept?

    BawldGuy Axiom: Nobody asked you how you skinned the cat until they ascertain that a cat was actually skinned.

  24. Gabe Sumner

    April 11, 2008 at 12:00 pm

    BawldGuy, no offense taken…what you say is completely true. What hooked me on this article was the topic of real estate lead generation with regard to web sites & the Internet. This is an area where I have a lot of direct experience. I have personally created several real estate web sites and dealt with multiple IDX data imports.

    My perspective in this area has often put me at odds with “conventional thinking”. I believe this is good & healthy though. I always love a good discussion. Thanks for the comment.

  25. Larry Yatkowsky

    April 11, 2008 at 12:41 pm

    Gabe,
    FYI: it was when I was a life insurance rep.
    RE: Sweeping generalization:

    It is probably another generalization for we deal with undocumented empirical knowledge that cold calling ROI is minimal or non-existant. The playing field has changed. Time is the common element for us all. Cold calling time is a very expensive methodology. Few would disagree that talking to an answering machine results in a return. The time wasted listening to a dumb ass “you’ve reached blah blah blah with screeching back drop noise of “we are the champions” or some “narly” hip hop tune” while you wait to deliver you message is debilitating. I contend you will have as much success in your efforts as standing in a shopping mall handing out business cards. On a positive note – at a minimum you get qualify who gets your card.

    However, in defense of your position, I will admit there was a time cold calling by phone worked and worked well if your determination persisted. Allow me to digress.
    Lisa long retired realtor was the cold call queen. She had style. It was brutal but it was style. In her broken Austrian accent her words were: “Hah- lo, my name is Lizzzzah, you vant I shoood sell your house? Ooooh, not now, ok – I vill call in 2 months.” Click! To the minute 2 months later the same spiel. She did 200 of these each and every day. 15 seconds and it was over. I further admit I never had the “junk” that woman carried and exhibited during her career. She was formidable. That wonderful woman sold a lot of real estate in her time. All were from cold calls. Ironically, she never did achieved much repeat business from those “leads”. Her parting words when she retired were: “zee answering machine – has killed my business undt zo – I must stop.” What a character!

    To paraphrase Teresa’s comment, most recipients of cold calls I believe, perceive you as a lonesome whaco. I would add to this that I think most people consider their private phone as a tool for their exclusive use and are I think, quite offended when liberty is taken by strangers with a mission.

    As a testament to the changed landscape of real estate, many in this forum share the success of blogging “the intelligent, informed invitation” where the potential “client” is not treated as a cold call “lead”. BTW Gabe if I call you better not hang up. .>)

  26. Teresa Boardman

    April 11, 2008 at 2:10 pm

    Just a general comment. Some seem to beleive that one person can’t use technology and have people skills. real estate is very much a relationship based business. it doesn’t matter how great the web site or blog is if the agent doesn’t have the communication skills and the people skills needed to do the job. My background is in technology and in sales but my degrees are in the social sciences. I think that combination of skills, interests and educational background it perfect for my job. I don’t hide behind my computer screen I use it to draw people out from behind theirs and we connect and we work together.

  27. Gabe Sumner

    April 11, 2008 at 3:57 pm

    Regarding cold calling, everyone needs to listen to this.

    There is some bad language in this, so be careful.

  28. BawldGuy Talking

    April 11, 2008 at 4:04 pm

    I shouldn’t dare send that video to my buddy making half a mil a year cold calling. He might get scared.

    What’s your point? He’s still making the money, and his clients love him.

    Cold callers and door knockers are kickin’ web butts all over the country.

    Everyone NEEDS to listen to this? Fold your tent, and go home.

  29. Gabe Sumner

    April 11, 2008 at 4:04 pm

    WHOOPS! Forgive me, that last link was incorrect.

    Click here, let’s try again.

  30. ines

    April 11, 2008 at 10:53 pm

    I hate to do this and I guess I’m on a roll, but I honestly think that the methods we use for lead generation and what works for some and not others has a lot to do with generational studies. I agree with you Teresa (without the “H”) and Jay that I would not do onto others what I hate to be done to me (cold calling and door knocking) but I would also like to add something for discussion.

    I had a website without a call to action and applied the passive approach for many years – just recently I decided to try a “call to action” and a more aggressive approach to lead generation and to my big surprise the customer leads were not only more abundant, but were quality as well.

    I like to test as I go and sometimes I will go outside my comfort zone – but I’m happy to say that the system I am using is getting me more business. And THAT was my goal to begin with.

  31. Bill Lublin

    April 12, 2008 at 12:03 am

    Ines- We use both types of sites and get quality leads as well – I think some consumers expect to “trade” information for information – And I think you’ll find that when people do what they are comfortable doing, they do it more frequently and therefore are mosre succesful (as Jeff points out when he talks about cold calling)

    Gabe: With all dues respect, In sales businesses, people need to do what works to get themin contact with potential buyers and sellers, and as Jeff (bawld guy) points out, there are lots of people using cold ro warm calling to meet new people. Some people don;t respond and some do, but its still a viable method of meeting new customers (and that is the point of business)

  32. Greg Cremia

    April 12, 2008 at 8:02 am

    Back in the 90’s internet leads were all serious. There was a lot less of them too and a lot less competition and no IDX.

    Fast forward to IDX. For years I had an IDX that let people search all they wanted without giving me anything and the leads were few but serious. When someone contacted me they were ready.

    A couple of years ago my IDX provider made it possible for people to search all they want without registration. If they want to see extra photos and more details they had to register. I tried it to see how it worked. My fear was I would lose the flow of people who were ready, like I was used to getting.

    End result. I still get the same clients that I always got but now I get tons of these useless internet leads. I put all of the useless internet leads into our MLS system and these useless leads now get updates when new properties come on the market or there is a price change. No recipes or newsletters. They came looking for real estate so I give them real estate. The opt out rate is less than 1%. The bad email addresses are less than .5%.

    Now I still get the same quality leads that I have been getting for the past 11 years plus I get emails and calls from these “internet leads” thanking me for keeping them up to date, asking questions, and making appointments. Some of them have been getting updates for a couple of months and some have been getting them for a couple of years. In essence, I am farming buyers. When the market gets back on it’s feet all these incubating leads will really start to hatch.

    There is a middle ground but it does require more work.

    Update: my wife is on the phone right now with one of those “internet leads” who called about looking at condos next week after getting our updates for some time.

    PS. if your MLS does not have this update feature my IDX provider has it and I know of other IDX providers that offer it.

  33. Missy Caulk

    April 12, 2008 at 4:23 pm

    Teresa, I have never done cold calling either, for the same reason, I HATE to be cold called. However, I do have a Search site that brings in tons of people looking to buy homes in Ann Arbor. The site is very sticky so they keep coming back. All of the closings this year and 69% last year from buyers registering on our site. Yes, I said register. I show them how many listings are in what they searched for, with an example, Google Maps, Google satellite images, multiple photos and then they register. One lady signed up today and called me and I will meet with her next week.

    Maybe as I continue to blog this won’t be necessary, but for now it is my bread and butter. When you have at team you must feed the team. We have 7 pendings right now closing in April and May from the dreaded word, “lead”. In my mind that is what they are until they become a client.

  34. BawldGuy Talking

    April 12, 2008 at 4:28 pm

    You tell ’em, Missy! Leads are leads until proven otherwise, regardless of the PC crowd.

  35. Brian Brady

    April 13, 2008 at 3:05 am

    MySpace? (and I accused you of being “just a blogger”). Obviously, I’m duly impressed.

  36. Linda Davis

    April 15, 2008 at 4:22 pm

    IYou can go to a ton of sites in my area and get all the information you want on MLS listings. On my site when you register and leave your phone number (not required), you can expect to get a friendly call asking if you found what you need and whether you would like any help. I consider it good service. My registration form says, if you leave a phone number you will get a call.

  37. Rick Duffy

    June 10, 2008 at 1:51 pm

    Teresa

    very insightful, and helpful thanks Rick

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