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What is the Best Way to Stay in Touch With Past Clients? [Dear Ginny WTH?]

“Dear Ginny, WTH?” which is like a “Dear Abby” column for real estate objections. If you have a tough client or a marketing problem, “Dear Ginny, WTH?” is for you. Questions can be funny, they can be serious, it doesn’t matter, just ask!

Dear Ginny WTH,

Do you have any best practice tips and tricks for staying in touch with past clients? I’ve done everything from send a year’s worth of Sunset Magazines to monthly direct mail calendar cards to once a month letters with comps and coupons to local businesses. I’m not sure what people want to see anymore. How can I keep my past clients engaged and my name top of mind with them while at the same time providing something of value?

Dear Unnamed Agent,

You are on the right track. Past clients are often the most neglected target audience of any Realtor but should be the most protected. How many times have we read that it costs 5 to 7 times as much to acquire a customer as it does to retain one? And yet, knowing that existing relationships are more profitable, we spend the majority of our planning and budget on new customer acquisition.

A NAR Profile of Home Buyers & Sellers survey says that nearly three-quarters of sellers rely on referrals from friends or neighbors or their previous experiences with a particular agent when selecting a professional to sell their homes. That’s huge. If you can make an impression on a client and continue to let them know you are active, it is very likely that they will refer you to someone.

So what wows clients, is cost effective and provides value. You already know what Dear Ginny WTH is going to say: a combination of communication points works the best if you can get one to one, even better. 

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There is nothing wrong with Sunset Magazine, monthly calendar cards or letters with coupons. Yes, do something monthly or bi-monthly that is a passive branding reminder, but also look for additional customer touch points that allow you to communicate more personally with your past clients.

Send “thank you” messages. Send birthday cards. Ask your customers for their advice…about the market, about your services, etc. It’s flattering to be asked. Gather, analyze, and act on their feedback. Not only will your customers feel as if you consider their opinions valuable, you’ll also improve your service.

Do you know your customer’s birthdays? Hummm. Well, you do know the anniversary of their home purchase, don’t you? Why not? Send a “You’ve been in your house for a year, and I appreciate you” card. Photocopy the sales for the month and write a hand-written note deciphering the market. If you think about it, there are dozens of reasons to contact your customers.

The sale of a house has a predictable post-purchase order? Does your homeowner customer typically purchase a lawnmower, then a chainsaw, then a brush cutter? Send information about the next probable purchase to your new homeowners. You could easily set up a schedule of four mailings for the first year based on predictable purchases leading to the one year anniversary of them owning their home.

You should take the time to nurture your past clients…they are invaluable. How invaluable? Here’s a cool tool from The Harvard Business School to help you calculate the value of a lifetime customer.

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No more excuses. Buy a box of Thank You cards, and start sending them today.

Ginny is a 360 degree marketing specialist with over a decade of experience in real estate-related fields. She’s held senior level marketing positions at Alain Pinel Realtors and Prudential California, Nevada and Texas Realty. She left the corporate world in 2007 to start her own marketing communications company, Cain Communications. She markets to segments that matter using media that matters. Follow her on Twitter @ginnycain.

21 Comments

21 Comments

  1. Lesley Lambert

    April 15, 2009 at 9:20 am

    Yes…I admit it, I am BAD at this! Thanks for the reminder!

  2. Joel McDonald

    April 15, 2009 at 9:24 am

    Great Tips Ginny! (I stumbled across your post thanks to Lani’s Facebook post.)

    One other thing we do is use our IDX solution. After a buyer closes on a home, we narrow their preferences to a price range for that neighborhood, and send properties in that neighborhood whenever they come up for sale.

    We include messages like “I just thought you’d like to know about this home in your neighborhood so you can stay on top of where values in your area are going.” Past clients appreciate it (surprisingly, even more in a down market because we’re staying in touch even when it’s not with great news, and not sugar coating everything), and we’re continuing to cement that ever-important relationship.

    The best part is that it’s free.

  3. Chris Shouse

    April 15, 2009 at 9:26 am

    Very nice reminder of what should be one of our most important assets.

  4. Anni Hagfeldt

    April 15, 2009 at 9:45 am

    You can also ‘pop by’ with small items of value quarterly. Stay 10 minutes, say hello and hand them something that they can use and be reminded of you. Example..measuring spoons,garden tools, gift wrap. Follow up with a phone call or call first and say you will be ‘popping by’ soon.

  5. Matthew Hardy

    April 15, 2009 at 10:44 am

    Of course, having a good CRM system helps. 🙂

  6. Mark Green

    April 15, 2009 at 4:12 pm

    I think I can add to this discussion, but don’t want to “spam” y’all 🙂

    But this is exactly what my company does for mortgage and real estate professionals.

    Here’s a few quick pointers:

    1) The trick is to mix what I call “touchie feelies” like birthday cards, thought-of-you correspondences, etc… with “timely and relevant” content on the industry, a client’s neighborhood, etc.

    Mixing and matching these approaches can be difficult and time consuming though.

    2) Ideally you’ll also reach your clients on a variety of media, ie: postal mail, email, social networking, phone calls, etc. By varying your approach, you’ll be able to achieve high frequency without “fatiguing” your database.

    3) The quality of your materials should be in line with what you want your image to be – thus, I advise against cheap-o postcards and chachkies.

    I could go on and on about this stuff, I love it. If anyone wishes to reach me, you’ll easily find me at our website. Hope this wasn’t too spammy!

  7. Ginny Cain McMurtrie

    April 15, 2009 at 4:18 pm

    Mark, great comments. I couldn’t have said it better myself especially about the “mixing and matching” of approaches.

  8. Nick Antonicello

    April 15, 2009 at 9:39 pm

    Specialty direct mail like birthday cards, holiday cards, etc are good ways to stay in touch with customers in a way that’s passive, not persuasive.

    One way to communicate with past customers is to have them participate in surveys or focus groups about a particular neighborhood and gather feedback in terms of schools, taxes, etc.

    The more specific the communication, the more valuable the response. Having customers fill out initial surveys on wants and needs could uncover other opportunities such as financial services or vacation home ownership.

    Simply calling the customer just to check in is just as important then a mailing of some sort.

    Newsletters, especially e-newsletters, BLOGS and invitations via email to come back to your website are also important customer maintenance functions that need to be ongoing.

    Personalized messaging that’s specific with a call to action is always the best form of communication.

  9. Missy Caulk

    April 16, 2009 at 10:46 am

    We do hand written birthday cards again, went to electronic ones for awhile but they did not mean as much. We do Anniversary hand written of their new home the first year.

    I do Thanksgiving cards as I just felt it was too much at Christmas and it is my way to thank them. As they have babies etc…we acknowledge them.

    We put the new buyers on the Lowes program and get great feedback on that.

    Client appreciation party once a year.

  10. Paula Dollard

    April 23, 2009 at 5:48 pm

    Helpful post, thank you!

    Something that I have had particularly good luck with over the years are client appreciation events. I invite all of my clients (usually have around 150 in attendance) to the movie on a Saturday morning in early summer (depending on what movie I choose). It has been a great way to build customer loyalty & I always get 2-3 referrals minimum within a few weeks after the event.

  11. Cyrus Anvari

    April 23, 2009 at 8:36 pm

    Great blog Ginny with valuable information. I would like to add a few more pointers:

    1-To stay organized, I use “Top Producer” which notifies me of the purchase anniversaries, birthdays, and holiday mailings. I have purchased and added a few hundred letters for every occasion which are downloaded to Top Producer. I can print a letter and addresses on the envelope through top produce in a matter of minutes.

    2- Like many agents mentioned in this blog, I use Brian Buffini “100 days to Greatness”
    system for following up with clients. I teach that course and the “Ultimate Agent” program (for agents producing over 100k” in our office in our Office in Rockville, Maryland. This course is a bit more advanced and adds business networking to the first course.

    3-In addition to monthly phone calls and ‘pop-by’s, I send calendars, hand written cards, e-mails.

    4-I invite clients to gather for Game Nights, Picnics, and Happy Hours every couple months. I invite my new clients so they can get to know my past clients.

    6-I have been using the Lowes customer follow up program for a few years. Clients love to get the coupons and other valuable information.

    Thanks.
    Cyrus Anvari
    ABR, CRS, GRI, E-PRO, CNHS
    RE/MAX New Horizon
    Broker in MD, VA, DC

  12. ana villanueva-hutt

    April 27, 2009 at 1:03 pm

    this is all greaat stufff! thanks for all the ideas.

  13. Jim Young

    May 2, 2009 at 8:23 am

    Thanks

  14. Dana Faircloth

    April 12, 2010 at 12:28 pm

    I too, do the birthday cards, notes and I’m working on the pop-bys—but boy its hard to do it all!!! I’m really thinking about taking the Brian Buffini 100 Days to Greatness. They really have alot of information on their website (mailouts, cards…).

    But like most it takes alot of practice to stay focused.

    I also use the Lowes Realtor program

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