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Why sales calls are a dying real estate marketing tool despite smartphone addiction

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Ashton Kutcher on his smartphone at a SXSW party. Photo by Steve Hall.

Isn’t phone addiction good for sales calls?

There has been a growing trend over the past several years and while we acknowledge that trends can change, I’d like to share with you several points below that outline the state of phone marketing as we see it based on several studies including our own. Our assertion is that smartphone addiction seems like it would benefit those of the traditional school where sales calls makes big bucks, but in a growing demographic it has the opposite result.

First of all, are smartphones really addictive?

Are smartphones akin gambling? CNN reporter Shelly DuBois said, “researchers are beginning to suspect, the old joke about not being able to put down the phone may not just be funny, but true.” DuBois points out that the psychiatric community does not share a consensus on addictions and notes that just now is compulsive gambling being named a medical, psychiatric condition.

CNN reports, “Smartphones actually could tap into one of the same pathways in the brain that make slot machines so addictive, according to Judson Brewer, the medical director at the Yale Therapeutic Neuroscience Clinic. One of the reasons gambling is so addictive is that it taps into a powerful associative learning pathway.

Associative learning means that your brain is trained to make you feel either good or bad after a certain event. Winning a jackpot feels great, so gamblers get a very strong hit of good-feeling chemicals when they win, which makes them want to do it again. “That forms an associative memory,” says Brewer. “Wanting is the stickiness that creates the glue between what you just did and that feeling.”

It turns out that reinforcing that reward intermittently creates a more powerful need than offering a reward consistently. If people hit the jackpot every time they pulled a lever, gambling would be boring. But because they don’t know when the reward is going to come, they want it that much more. Smartphones, in a way, also channel intermittent rewards.

Think about getting pinged—alerted to a new message. You’re not sure when it happens, but when it does, it’s usually something interesting, worth a glance or maybe even an immediate response. A text is no monetary reward, but you can still train your brain to expect one—and crave it.”

Yet it is still not considered a legitimate addiction in the medical community.

A tale of two studies

An Australian study found the rate of individuals that are what could be considered addicted that act irresponsibly with their cell phones (constant texting, checking pings, to a point that it interferes with daily life) is proportional to the rate of people who drive irresponsibly. The study notes that “addiction danger signs included running up huge bills and having irrational reactions to being without a phone if you forgot or lost your mobile,” noting some users had gone so far over in data or text use that their bills were in the $5,000 range.

An award winning study performed by a blind high school student using biometric data showed that teens manifest addictive behavior, thus withrdawal. The budding psychologist said on NPR, “I found addictive tendencies in my subjects. They almost went through withdrawal symptoms. And the way that I like to explain that is that cell phones and other sorts of technology are very inherently stimulating. And so when you take them away, a kid becomes understimulated, and almost doesn’t know how to entertain himself.”

If you have a teen, you know the drill

Although not recognized yet in the psychiatric community as an addiction, anyone (like us) with a teen knows that if you take that magical device away, the world might actually end for your child. Our squirms, acts bored, and seems as if something amazing is waiting for her just in the other room that she can’t get to. This behavior is not unique in our home, all parents know that grounding involves taking the precious cell phone away. And that is when the addiction signs become very real, almost as if literally fiending for a drug, foot tapping and all.

Wouldn’t phone addiction bode well for traditional marketers?

Absolutely not. Millenials do not see the cell phone as a phone, in fact, most rarely talk on the phone- it is a texting and internet device that plays music. Last summer as part of a study on a related topic, we asked our daughter why she doesn’t talk on the phone and she pointed to being used to have several conversations at once, yet holding a low commitment level to whichever one she chooses- it’s perfectly acceptable to go walk the dog mid-text conversation, but you can’t put the phone down to multi-task if you’re talking. It requires too much attention.

The study I mention was a private study at an Austin high school in which we asked 40 kids age 13-18 about their use and attitudes toward technology and we found that they were not impressed with much of anything and almost scoffed at our (adults’) fascination with the iPhone- they’ve been in existence since they were “little,” so why would they be impressed? Smartphones are part of their DNA. Asking you to be impressed as a child that a phone had a push button dial instead of a spinner would probably cause eye rolls too, no? The youth were not only unimpressed, they didn’t care… until we asked about technologies they hadn’t lived with yet like augmented reality- then they lit up, but 100% of the kids said they couldn’t live without their phones and the majority confirmed that they rarely use the device for phone conversations, with texting being their top use of the cell phone.

Calling introverts on the phone

PsychologyToday columnist Sophie Dembling writes about the perils of calling an introvert and describes why introverts hate talking on the phone. Dembling points out four reasons she as an introvert hates talking on the phone:

1. The phone is intrusive. It rings and we are expected to tear our minds away from whatever they were focusing on and refocus on whoever is on the other end of the line and whatever he or she has to say. This makes my brain hurt. My mind doesn’t change direction easily.

2. Most phone calls are chit-chatty rather than deep. And we all agree: introverts don’t like chit-chat. I have one friend who starts every call by asking, “Whatcha you doin’?” I have no idea how to answer, except with “Nuthin'” or “Workin'” or “Cleaning the schumtz out of my computer keyboard.” And I can’t imagine that any of these answers could interest her, so the call immediately feels awkward.

I do have friends with whom phone conversations get deep and I enjoy those, but they require a block of time. When that kind of call ambushes me, it derails my whole day. I try to schedule them–and even so, a certain amount of bullet biting is necessary for me to keep the appointment.

3. Introverts tend to be slow thinkers and responders and long pauses don’t go over well on the phone. If I am on the phone with a talkative person, I struggle to get my say. I end up doing a lot of listening and uh-huhing. After a while, I get bored.

4. It can be difficult to focus a busy, busy introvert mind on the abstraction that is telephone conversation. Listening to one thing and seeing something else is a lot of sensory input piled on top of everything that’s already going on in our heads. This is exhausting and my mind often drifts back into itself; I have to force it back to the conversation.

Millenials are phone introverts

Based on all of the above, I believe that anyone born after 1982 most likely has introverted tendencies regarding telephone conversation. It is hard to focus, it feels like an intrusion, and honestly, it gets boring quickly, even if it someone we really like or want to talk to- it’s how we millennials have been hard wired. Cell phones are not attached to millenials’ heads like the average 54 year old female Realtor, they’re down by our sides with our fingers flying- the two uses are wildly different.

New York Times columnist Pamela Paul wrote an extensive piece on why the phone is now defunct (as a marketer, I insist you read the entire article right now, lest you misunderstand the state of the world). The article outlines that the world used to be phone-centric and business was done exclusively on the device. Now, phone calls are made when someone doesn’t understand an email and is in a hurry. We have several younger staffers here at AG, all of whom are most reliably communicated with via text (last fall, one staffer and I texted over 400 times in just three months).

Pamela Paul captures the sentiment perfectly:

“NOBODY calls me anymore — and that’s just fine. With the exception of immediate family members, who mostly phone to discuss medical symptoms and arrange child care, and the Roundabout Theater fund-raising team, which takes a diabolical delight in phoning me every few weeks at precisely the moment I am tucking in my children, people just don’t call.

It’s at the point where when the phone does ring — and it’s not my mom, dad, husband or baby sitter — my first thought is: “What’s happened? What’s wrong?” My second thought is: “Isn’t it weird to just call like that? Out of the blue? With no e-mailed warning?'”

Phone calls constitute emergencies

I too panic when my phone rings. So few people have the number and it usually means someone I love is dead or in the hospital. I text frequently, but use Twitter/Email/Facebook even more frequently. For my birthday last year, Benn got me the HTC Evo because I needed a phone that I could do business on like it was a baby laptop (which is exactly how I use it), not so I could talk on the phone. That’s the last function of a phone nowadays.

Phone calls being ignored started with Caller ID and has devolved into something much more. Benn’s parents’ use of the phone points to another growing trend as their Caller ID pops up on their television screen so they can ignore it without getting up (unless it is us or one of the siblings of course). The commitment level to the phone has changed in all demographics, not just hipster kids.

The final point: cold calling is dead

Although cold calling or even warm calling is alive and well in other demographics, if you call a millenial who doesn’t recognize your number, there is almost no chance it will be answered. And then, when a message is left, it will be deleted and not returned because millenials don’t talk on the phone. If you leave a website or email address, your chances increase, but not much because you’ve violated the cultural norms of the person you’re calling- they don’t want to be sold to, they barely want to talk to their mom on the phone.

For those arguing that social networking is bunk, the jig is up- smartphones have replaced phones and the next generation of buyers will not take your cold calls. During a recent conversation with several friends my age, I asked how they would respond to a sales call and universally, there was disgust, one girl even cussing about a simple message left on her cell phone from her Realtor that she had already hired, “haven’t you heard of text or email?” she asked.

This is the state of affairs with millenials and even many GenXers, and they can be ignored or complied with, one of which will cause your business to decline over time. Not all people in all age groups fit into any given category, but research supports the general trend toward smartphone addiction choking off sales phone calls. Sales calls now have their best chance of survival in the form of a Facebook ping or tweet during a time of low commitment and passively remaining top of mind is one of the best ways to replace the cold calling of the past.

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35 Comments

35 Comments

  1. Jonathan Benya

    March 28, 2011 at 12:58 pm

    Darn it, guys! Quit writing articles I agree with so much, it’s interfering with my workload today! In all seriousness, this is a point I’ve been trying to make for years, and I think it dovetails nicely with the recent conversation about Mike Ferry Vs. modern marketing. Introverts don’t want to talk on the phone, but they do want to buy houses!

  2. Fred Romano

    March 28, 2011 at 1:24 pm

    Great post Lani, most of our clients list with us without ever speaking on the phone first. And all of our customer support is completed online through forms on our website. It’s also interesting that most buyers leads are through websites that generate emails, so it’s rare when we get live callers.

    Technology is there for those that want to use it! We love it 🙂

  3. Art Vuilleumier via Facebook

    March 28, 2011 at 2:11 pm

    Hahahahaha … have we all forgotten to be social.We all know that there are generational differences, but isn’t putting all M’s and X’s into this box showing just a bit of arrogance? There are still plenty of both generations (and other generations) that still and will use voice communication! And before you put down Mike Ferry … his methodologies still work!

    • Benn Rosales

      March 28, 2011 at 4:50 pm

      If you’d left this message for us via voicemail it would still be sitting there unheard. Yes, phones still work, but trends are trends. Empirical evidence isn’t enough? That’s cool, Mikey needs a new pair of shoes.

      It’s pretty obvious you young puppers still don’t read before you start typing or opening your mouth.

  4. Art Vuilleumier via Facebook

    March 28, 2011 at 2:11 pm

    Hahahahaha … have we all forgotten to be social.We all know that there are generational differences, but isn’t putting all M’s and X’s into this box showing just a bit of arrogance? There are still plenty of both generations (and other generations) that still and will use voice communication! And before you put down Mike Ferry … his methodologies still work!

  5. BawldGuy

    March 28, 2011 at 5:57 pm

    At 59 I accept what you’re saying as gospel. Yet go to any office housing 50 or more full time agents, and the top 10, generally speaking, will all be OldSchool prospectors. How long must we wait for the NewSchool to ‘show us how it’s done’? 🙂

    Seriously, roughly 15% of my clients are 35/under. In the last few months two have been mid-20s. I’ve never, not once detected any arrogance when it comes to communication mode. Sometimes it’s email, but much of the time it’s phone conversation. Funny how it works when phone calls equal better results. I find Millenials are very kind, considerate folks. They adjust to what works, in context. I’ve had to do the same. Yet still, much of my client communication remains good old fashioned phone conversations.

    • Lani Rosales

      March 28, 2011 at 6:10 pm

      Jeff, you’re right, the fat lady hasn’t sung yet as many demographics still rely heavily on the phone but in ten years, that will not likely be the case.

      We spent time studying a group of high school students and have studied young professionals an a contracted study. The results were (as I mentioned) not surprising- they don’t use the phone as a phone. You’re right, many will adjust if they are working with someone like you who functions best on the phone, but in coming years, this will not likely be the case.

      I recall the vehement reaction my young professional friend had this month on this very topic and without being prompted, she talked about the nerve of her annoying Realtor calling her phone instead of emailing, and this wasn’t a sales call, it was a hired agent. The wave is coming, I feel it.

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Smartphones

LG G Flex will have a curved display: why it even matters

The LG G Flex is exciting as it is curved, but there are much deeper implications of this announcement that your company should take note of before your competitors do.

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LG G Flex to feature curved display

You may have heard that Samsung will launch a smartphone with a curved display (although they’ve so far fallen short on their plans to produce their smartphone prototype that is completely flexible), but did you know that LG is hot on their heels, with rumors of the LG G Flex launching this November?

As depicted above, what is believed to be called the LG G Flex is similar to a standard smartphone in shape, with just a slight curve, using plastic OLED screen technology

CNET reports that sources close to the project say the G Flex will have a six-inch display and November is the projected unveiling, but that could always be pushed back (although to be in time for the holiday shopping season, we suspect it will be a November launch).

Samsung will likely unveil their curved display phone this month, and there are rumors that the Galaxy Note 3 could feature a curved display as well.

Curved does not equal flexible

So why develop a curved display? Analysts point to the device actually fitting around your face naturally for making calls, and others note that it fits in a rear pocket more comfortably with a curve.

Curved does not equal flexibility, though, as the devices are still stationary, but the reason the LG G Flex being curved matters to you is that mass production of this type of technology is the precursor to what’s coming next – flexible devices.

Looking into a crystal ball

LG already introduced a curved 55-inch OLED tv panel, and was first to the finish line with the ability to mass produce fully flexible plastic screens, announced last year with their electronic paper display (EPD) product, sold overseas.

The LG EPD is not just flexible, allowing the screen to bend up to 40 degrees from its center, it is a 6 inch, 1024 x 768 e-ink plastic screen. The technology used mimics the way traditional ink appears on paper, which many prefer over the backlit flat panel displays of tablets and computers. The EPD is only 0.7mm thick, weighs 14 grams (that’s 1/33 of a pound) and is said to be scratch resistant when dropped.

Flexibility is next, and it is relevant for your brand not just for the novelty of having a flexible device, but because the way people interact with your website or app could be changing sooner than you might suspect.

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iPhone 6 concepts beginning to emerge

With all the hub-bub about iOS 7 and iPhone 5, several iPhone 6 concepts have emerged. The most prominent feature is the wrap around screen.

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Looking into the future

Whether you are an Android lover or an Apple fanatic, people love to fantasize about what the newest phone release will bring, from hologram keyboards, an added projector, and so forth. As for the iPhone 6, the most common feature designers and fans think it will have is the wrap around screen. AGBeat has featured this concept several times, and while it has yet to become reality, there seems to be high hope for the iPhone 6 release.

Dribble users have designed and shared several concept models, all of which have the wrap around screen, also known as the infinity screen. This design allows a more engaged user experience, by removing the side casing. The sides have a flat, touch-responsive volume control and a much thinner design overall. And some additional revisions (based upon Cladio Guglieri’s original) have included wifi, Bluetooth, do not disturb, airplane mode, and rotation lock icons, right on the side.

These additions give you instant access to your most used controls, without the need to tap through to gain access to the settings screen. Also, with the extra features, the opposite side of the phone shows your message status, emails, and music controls. DeviantArt also has multiple postings of the infinity screen design. This is absolutely amazing to me because there is so much information in such a limited amount of space. The thickness of the phone in the concept states 0.30 inches; it is really hard to believe an email icon can fit and be legible, but it does.

Other futuristic possibilities

There are also several versions that include aluminum plus carbon fiber casing, in many different variations. Although most still remove the edges from the iPhone 5 design. Behance users have also created several examples of this design concept. With touch sensors wrapping the display edge, concept designers believe no borders means nothing between your hands and the display. And they hope accidental gestures can be prevented with the sensors, although this is just a concept. You certainly would not want to pick the phone up to answer a call from your boss and accidentally start your iTunes playlist.

The only problem I see with this beautiful design is protecting the edges, despite designers touting the durability of the new technologies. As someone who frequently drops their phone, and attempts to keep it safe by using a protective case, I wonder how you can utilize the edges, but still keep the phone safe. Also, I would be interested to see, how often holding the phone triggers the side sensors. Otherwise, I think the wrap around design is both beautifully functional and a long overdue, welcome feature.

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Contacts+ app adds productivity to any Android

Android users: Contacts+ is a great new way to manage your contacts, making a potentially frustrating process simple and streamlined, adding productivity to your phone.

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Contacts+ is more than a contact manager

Contacts+ is more than just a contact manager though, it is also a dialer app and combines photos with information from all your connected services: WhatsApp, Facebook, Foursquare, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Google+. Contacts+ is a welcome alternative to the Andriod favorite Smartr. Since Smartr was recently acquired by Yahoo!, Contacts+ could not have come at a better time.

You can send free and regular messages without switching apps, sync pictures to your contacts, including cover photos, from Facebook and get birthday reminders.

How the app works

With optimization for both Android phone and tablets, you have the ability to sort your contacts in a variety of ways without worrying if you will be able to see all the data. You can sort by groups, favorites, smart contact (prioritization by frequency or A-Z), and search message history of your contact from one place. If you happen to have the same contact in your phone more than once, Contacts+ will sync them together to save you any confusion.

One tap opens a contact card, and then you can tap again to make calls or email them. Once the contact card is open, you can also catch up on their social media life. Leo from Contacts+ writes, “they have a sync process with Facebook and Google+, essentially users connect their accounts (authentication is performed securely through the respective service) and once an account is connected, Contacts+ links and syncs contacts based on unique identifiable information, enabling them to automatically connect your contacts and their identities.”.

New features have been added

The newest features include high res picture sync, a new black theme, T9 search in the call log, Dialer+ shortcut that can be opened over your call log/contacts screen, the ability to call back directly from the incoming message pop up and ignore accents improvements.

The only drawback is that some of the “sorting” features are a bit harder to find. You will need to tap through a couple of different options to find the ability to sort by last name, for example. But, once you get used to it, it really is a nice way to manage your contacts. Contacts+ is free in the Google Play store.

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