Hanging around the hydrant.
In recent weeks, I’ve had quite a few conversations with agents about their lead generation techniques. Some of those conversations can be seen in comments on posts here at AgentGenius, some were personal phone calls I made to ask agents their thoughts, and some were just comments I overheard and made note of. The more I listened, the more I heard. The more I heard, the less I learned. That might sound a little odd to you as I am a big fan of learning from others and taking what I can from each person and adapting it to my use, but it’s true. My opinions on lead generation just took a giant step backward.
Don’t worry, I’m happy.
To make things sound even more nonsensical, I’m thrilled that I learned less and less the more I asked and listened. What? That doesn’t make any sense…or does it? Here’s the problem with any lead generation discussion: although there are a handful of basic methods, we all use them differently and to differing degrees of success. Ask every agent in your office what their top three sources are – ask them how they do it and how they use each one in combination with each other. Expect a lot of different answers.
My experiences with lead generation have been varied. I have to admit, it’s an area that I’m still learning and still working on every day. Trying to get a better understanding of how to speak with prospective clients – in a way that keeps my ideas as a real estate agent focused on my goals and how to get prospective clients interested enough to make that next step. Having said that, I don’t think I’m terrible at it, just that I could be better.
Talkin’ ’bout my (lead) generation.
With several different ways to generate leads, I wanted to talk about a few and give my opinions, thoughts, and experience with each. I don’t profess to be the expert on any of them and I’m sure some of the AgentGenius regulars will be able to add much more to the discussion and perhaps help give you some ideas about how you want to generate your leads.
Tried and True, Face to Face: Call it belly to belly if you’d like (I dislike the phrase myself), but this is probably the one thing you’ll hear over and over again. Being in front of people is where it all happens. If they don’t know you, they’re not going to buy and sell with you. Everyone has differing opinions of how to make this happen; networking meetings, open houses, community activities, church, your kid’s school – all different theories on the same basic idea. Get out there and get your hands dirty. I have to admit, this is not my strongest suit. I prefer more one on one interaction, so my networking tends to be on the small scale at any given moment. I know a guy who sits in a dumpy diner drinking coffee half the day and watches the rack of free real estate guides – if someone grabs one, he starts a conversation with them. I know another guy who sits in a bar half the day and drinks and mingles with strangers, only to give them his card. He’s sold a lot of houses in one particular bar. The opportunities to open up conversation with others about real estate are there, you just need to learn to see them and go for them without coming across as a pushy salesman.
Pay to Play, Lead Referral Companies: Sadly, these have become a fact of life for agents. They’re not going to go away. With websites competing for the eyes of the internet savvy buyer, inevitably some of those buyers will request info from a service who will be happy to sell you the lead. We can argue about how fair or unfair this is, but it won’t change a thing. Most of these companies have two camps – those who swear by the company and those who tell their friends what a rip-off they were. When I entered the business, I heard absolute horror stories about HouseValues (I have had no personal experience with them), yet I know someone who swears by the leads they’ve generated for him. I have personal experience with Market Leader’s Growth Leader (I was given the product for free last year in order to test drive and blog about it) and Real Estate Client Referrals (I am a paid customer) and although varied, my experience with both companies has been overall good. I’ve sold houses thanks to both of them and one of those homes was my biggest client to date. The key with any lead generation company is to know whether the leads are 100% yours (if they’re not, I wouldn’t bother) and to be sure there’s a financial sense to what you’re doing. Don’t throw your money at just any old solution. Get trial periods, ask other agents, talk to people – word spreads fast in the RE.net about what’s good or bad.
Follow My Footsteps, Systems: The only system I’ve tried is Brian Buffini’s 100 Days To Greatness. The idea is to generate business in your first 100 days of being an agent and get your database filled and your prospecting via referral business booming. What I found was an overpriced blue box of common sense. Brian’s teachings were dead on in most cases, but most of it was things you could have come up with on your own, but didn’t. Although I learned a lot, I wouldn’t consider myself a Buffinite as I don’t practice some of the basics taught here (the “Mayor Campaign” just sounds like cold calling with live people to me). I think any of the big systems has something to offer, but most of it can be learned elsewhere if you’re a self-starter type (and it could save you a few bucks too).
Playtime or Worktime, Social Media: I think we’ll be seeing a stronger backlash against social media in the coming year. Social media (as a concept) made some mistakes in the beginning and I think it’s going to help drive a firestorm of “is it of any value?” The mistakes? Being new and uncharted waters is never easy. Many agents dove in and started reporting successes. Some of the claims by agents seemed over exaggerated and baseless. In a struggling market, the hidden ROI on social media allowed some agents to use it as “sunshine and roses” prophecy. Social media is not (and in my my opinion, will not be) the golden ticket to real estate riches. In fact, I don’t think anything is. Like all methodologies, it can be a cornerstone of your business, but it is not the silver bullet. Because “social media” became such a buzz word, especially within real estate, the vultures saw opportunity. Classes on Twitter taught by people who had seven tweets, a board sponsored educational event by a man, who when googled, had his first result come up with a particular name for the male reproductive organs that involved size – in particular his (of note, that class was canceled mysteriously after I helped call attention to it), and gurus mass-email marketing their get rich quick schemes and e-books on how to generate a billion followers in an hour. Unfortunately, these are all real incidents witnessed by me. These don’t make me comfortable with social media and in some cases, these voices drowned out those that actually had something to say. It became so bad that words like expert, guru, and mentor became bad words to describe someone. I’m sure many of us would agree that someone like Jeff Turner is all these things and more, but no one would want to tag him with these monikers for fear of the stigma associated with them. My only advice on social media? Make it social – use it to expand your SOI and you can build results.
Lead Generation Leadership
Look to your fellow agents and find out not only what they like to use for lead generation, but compare it to their personality and yours. Do you know an aggressive agent who can convince a buyer to buy a shack and make them think it’s a mansion? If that’s not your style, you probably don’t want to use their techniques. Know someone who sits by the phone all day and waits for it to ring, yet somehow their phone is always ringing? Find out why it’s ringing so often. There are as many different ways to be a lead generating machine as there are stars in the Texas sky. Some of them are similar, but with a tiny twist can become something altogether new and refreshing. My list is in no way complete, just a few that I’ve had experience with and had the chance to speak with others about. What are your favorites? What do you think will be developed in the future as new tools become available (remember, there was a time when drip email marketing would have been unheard of)? What might be unconventional today, but commonplace tomorrow?
The companies above have given me no compensation for their mention in this post. As noted in each one, I have some experience, whether paid or free with them. None of the companies even know I’m using their names (until they happen to read this post). AgentGenius is not responsible for my personal views on these companies and if anyone has some sort of problem with what I say about the companies, please take it up with me – not them.
photo courtesy of mush2274
January 20, 2010 at 12:48 pm
HI Matt, I am very curious about this topic to. In February I am going to launch a 6-9 very detailed metrics gathering program to measure our ROI on SM (Possible? I hope so) vs. Internet Pay to Play and other lure lead driven programs (ie not social or SOI based). 6-9 months may not be long enough, I’ll have to see, but I am anxious to see what the cold hard facts tell me our investment in money and time of these two different methods tell us. My heart says one thing, but we will see what the data say in the end….
January 20, 2010 at 2:46 pm
Janie – It was your and Bob Wilson’s comments that made me think this post up. Bob doesn’t have much love for social media and we’ve talked about it many times in comments now and I have seen that he has his convictions on lead generation and they’re not always the same as mine (or some other people). I’ll be interested to see your results and I know Bob and I have spoken before about ROI involving social media – perhaps your results will change some minds (both ways). My problem with trying to analyze ROI on social media is that it can often come from a chain reaction o social media events – you Twitter a blog post, consumer reads, likes blog reads deeper, goes to Flickr to see your photos of the County Fair and emails them to a friend, friends looks them over and follows you on Facebook, calls you two weeks later and buys house. Where is the “I” in ROI on a case like that? You invested time in multiple systems, yet Twitter really deserves the credit in my example. Had you not sent out that tweet, your client may have never found you. Good luck testing it and can’t wait to hear how it goes.
January 21, 2010 at 6:20 pm
It was also my conversation with Bob and others regarding the same topic. I feel if I am going to say it is not right to bash something that one hasn’t tried, I’d better be better prepared to defend what I do say works with some stats (or change what I say ;-). I hope that 1) I stay on track with my data and 2) I prove myself right 😉 – you can check out my blog where I intend to track it here realestateblog.posterous.com
January 20, 2010 at 12:54 pm
Matt — Great post, brotha! I have seen a ton of posts with regards to lead generation and what to do in order to follow up with them to maximize your conversion rate. And, like you, the more I read, the less and less I thought I knew. Not because any of the information was Earth-shatteringly on point, but because the information was so vast in approach and technique…
Just goes to show you that everyone has strengths and weaknesses. What works for one might not work at all for another…
And, of course, thanks for the mention! 🙂 Much appreciated!
January 20, 2010 at 2:49 pm
Clint – I’ve learned a lot from you when it comes to internet-based consumers and how they aren’t exactly the same as the person that calls you up and wants to buy a house. Case in point – that “largest closing I’ve had so far” came from your company – but took almost a year to close. I learned a lot working with that client and in the end, the payoff was well worth the effort.
January 20, 2010 at 1:02 pm
Great post Matt! I’m really focusing on quality lead generation this year, to make things happen. There are so many lead generation opportunities for us to practice. I don’t think any one of them alone is the magic bullet. My advice is to others is to find the process/activity with which one is most comfortable. When that technique is practiced to the point of becoming second nature, then one can think of adding the next. That’s my plan, and I’m sticking to it!
January 20, 2010 at 2:51 pm
Lisa – You make a great point – you find what works for you and then perfect it. It’s easy to get scattered all over the lead generation map if you let yourself. When you’re a new agent, you kind of have to be everywhere at once to learn (as quick as possible) what works and what doesn’t. Comfort plays a huge role, although stepping outside your comfort zone can be good. When you do, you need to believe in the possibility though, otherwise you’ll more than likely stumble.
January 20, 2010 at 1:15 pm
How about Lots of Listings = Lots of Leads… List to last as they say.
January 20, 2010 at 2:55 pm
Fred – Listings can be a great source, although I am very careful with calls on my listings (I don’t do dual agency – it’s something I don’t believe in), so in that sense, I probably wouldn’t see it as my greatest asset in terms of lead generation.
A question for you…as this is a series dedicated to new agents and helping them, what would you say to a new agent about how to get those listings? How do you build a stable of listings without the leads? It can be a bit of a catch-22 for new agents, so I’d love to hear your thoughts.
January 20, 2010 at 9:54 pm
Huh.. well to be honest, things are quite different than when I started in 2003. And now I am a flat fee broker (I rarely work with buyers now). But back then, I used to go after expired listings and fsbo’s and did a good job of listing and selling them. I have no issue with dual agency, and have done several of them over the years.
To new agents I would not have much advice, sorry… Now is not the ideal time to be a “new” agent.
January 21, 2010 at 8:57 pm
Fred – Only 2003? I thought you had been around longer…weird how you just assume things like that sometimes. Expireds and FSBOs come up quite a bit, so I’d be willing to say that they probably deserved their own segment in my post.
January 20, 2010 at 1:20 pm
I think the most important point made here was to work what works for you. I HATE the phone, so I avoid making calls, which means cold calling was never effective for me. I LOVE to write, which brought me to blogging which is now bringing a good portion of my incoming leads.
To each their own, just remember that any technique is only as good as what you put into it!
January 20, 2010 at 3:01 pm
Lesley – By the time I started, thing like the DNC lists helped make it a less common method, so I never really was taught much about cold-calling. I’ve heard war stories, but no one every suggested I do it. I didn’t realize how much I love to write until I started blogging. I’m glad I started. I hope new agents will try a variety of methods and discover what works for them – it’s easy to blindly follow what someone else tells you is the best method, but it might not be for you.
January 20, 2010 at 2:47 pm
Hello Matthew! You are such a great writer 🙂
Enjoyed your post immensely. I think you and I are a lot alike–I dislike cold-calling (me, you, Lesley and most everyone!), and I don’t think social media is the silver bullet. I DO think social media CAN BE like a silver bullet if it’s targeted (i.e. people in your region) and most importantly, FOLLOWED UP WITH belly to belly. For instance, there are so many facebook and tweet up in Sacramento, I literally could meet and greet all day…and I like that stuff, so it works.
As for lead generation, I signed up for Market Leader (Growth Leader) at NAR, since they are working closely with Active Rain (and it was a monthly payment AND becase they do all the MLS stuff for me) and my first actual month, I got 15 leads (I suck at calling back), but happily, I have already met with one of them and it turns out they are pre-approved and ready to go. We’ve already written one offer, so that one deal, will pay for the whole year of leads. I’m jazzed!
January 20, 2010 at 3:04 pm
Tamara – Nothing’s a silver bullet, but many things can sure help you target what you want out of lead generation. I think in large cities (and tech-heavy cities) social media can be be much stronger than elsewhere, mainly because of the tweetups, Social Media Breakfasts, etc. that bring the online world to real work networking opportunities.
With Growth Leader I have followed many people, but only closed one solid transaction and that client never entered their info, they just googled, found my Growth Leader site and picked up the phone. So in that case, SEO (and advertising) won the day.
January 21, 2010 at 6:22 pm
Tamara, I was disappointed not in the quantity of leads I got, but the quality with ML. I hope that for you it is a better experience. I am researching other options right now as part of our 2010 kick start. Keep us posted on how ML works for you, maybe it was just our market….
January 20, 2010 at 8:01 pm
Hi Matt – I am a licensed agent and have spent lots of time trying to figure out the best way for agents to get leads online at a reasonable cost, to be able to differentiate my services from the other agents, and how to build a trusted referral practice quickly.
What I finally came up with was an agent search site where a significant number of agents can get together on one website to attract new clients online. A single agent or broker does not have the size needed to attract consumers widely, but if we all share one site we can become a real force in the industry.
I have version one of Agent Invitation up and need about 5,000 founding agent members to join before a consumer launch. The first 5,000 will pay no fees for the first 12 months. The monthly fee should be less than $29 per month or less for all other agents and there are no referral fees. The idea is to charge no more than it costs to provide, support and maintain the service. It is a sincere attempt to reduce costs for all agents while providing the information consumers need to research agents across the US and Canada.
If you or any readers would like to know more you can visit the site or email me directly at don(at) agentinvitation.com.
All the best,
January 21, 2010 at 9:39 pm
Don – While I don’t want to turn this into a discussion of your product (as I have never seen it other than a brief cursory glance, so can’t comment directly on it), I have to ask – where is the value for an agent to fight other agents for the attention of the consumers who come to these pooled sites? If I’m putting time and effort into a site, I want the clients to be attracted to me (and they can decide if they want to work with me), not thrown into a website full of what basically amounts to my own competition. Perhaps I’m reading into what you’re saying wrong, but the real estate world doesn’t need sites where we all fight for business trying to outdo one another (see Trulia Voices for some great examples of how that can escalate). Now of course, I see the value in having multiple agents in one place for the consumer, but if it turns into nothing more than agents trying to outdo one another, I don’t think it really serves the agents to participate.
January 22, 2010 at 12:06 pm
Hi Matt – You asked why an agent should participate in a site that presents more than one agent to the consumer – your assumption being that agents will have to “fight” each other to get the attention of the consumer – and you gave a good example of that happening at a popular site.
Great question – I think that when you consider paying for leads from online providers you should consider a few things:
Size matters – You have to be found online. Some sites produce content that brings them a large audience (Zillow, Trulia, Realtor.com etc). Others spend heavily to maintain lots of websites, advertising, SEO, so consumers will find them online. They make investments to attract consumer attention and sell that audience to agents. Some sites promise consumers a bidding war among agents so that the consumer will pay the least for an agent’s services – that attracts a certain kind of consumer (and agent).
Competition – If you subscribe to a lead generation site that sells you an “exclusive territory” you will be the only agent in your area that gets the lead from them, but that does not mean you won’t compete. A few of those consumers might trust that you are as good as anyone and not look any further. It is just as likely that the consumer will simply to go to more than one place to compare agents. As consumers rely more on online sources to find agents there will be more competition, not less. In all but a few cases you will have to compete for business regardless of the source of the lead and if you are not up to it you will not be as successful as you could be. Get good at selling your strengths – it is not a “one size fits all” world anymore.
Differentiation of Service and Skills – you hit the nail on the head when you said “I want the clients to be attracted to me and they can decide if they want to work with me or not. If a site just has a list of agents with no differentiation you are right. We encourage agents to specialize in specific areas (we use community keywords that can be a town, neighborhood, subdivision, condo building – etc.), we encourage agents to post articles about those areas (market info, schools – the kind of content agents put on their newsletter/blog) so consumers can research areas that are not familiar to them and to illustrate the agent’s knowledge of the area. We also encourage agents to specialize in a market segment(s) – first time buyers, seniors, waterfront, condos etc. Another positive differentiator is client satisfaction – we have your clients login to rate your services. A positive referral directly from another consumer is helpful to an undecided consumer and is gold for the agent. Because many agents are together on one site it does not mean that they cannot differentiate their services – it allows them to specialize and attract clients that need what they have. Look at the most successful agents you know – don’t many of them specialize in some way?
Qualification – agents qualify clients to make sure they are serious and clients qualify us to make sure we can do what they need us to do, that we are trustworthy, and that we can work well together. The more a client knows about what you do very well before he or she contacts you increases the odds of a good match. They will come to you with a warm feeling about your abilities, so they are qualified to some degree.
Value to Consumers – If a group of agents can provide the information that consumers really want and need to choose an agent wisely they will come to the site – we will pull them with the valuable information they want (for free) rather than spending money to try to get their attention. As an industry we spend many millions of dollars on advertising and promotion that doesn’t really help the consumer and may not help agents either.
Cost/Value to you -You mentioned time and effort required – don’t forget about money required. Some online lead sellers ask for a significant part of your commission if you do a transaction with a client they sent to you, others sell “by the lead”. Their value is that they have spent the money to advertise, write consumer interesting content, and/or have a great number of listings to view. If we simply provide the information consumers want to research and select agents well we will have a great consumer following. The cost to run the site will be only a few dollars a month per agent. You will get to keep many more of your commission dollars. I just want to make a contribution, pay the bills, and make a living same as you do.
Apologies for the long comment – this is something that I have spent a lot of time thinking about. You may see things differently and that is OK – this is just my attempt to help agents build their practice by bringing consumers some value rather than spending more money than many of us can afford. I hope you found it worth the few minutes to read.
All the best,
January 20, 2010 at 10:42 pm
Matt: I like the way that you broke out the lead generation into chunks. There are so many different sources nowadays for obtaining leads. The key, I believe, is to show self-discipline and be consistent in whatever you do.
January 21, 2010 at 9:42 pm
Melissa – Over and over and over I hear the word “consistent” when it comes to lead generation. Seems I hear it consistently. Perhaps there’s a clue in there somewhere…if only I could put my finger on it.
January 21, 2010 at 8:06 am
Matt, My only advice to agents about lead generation is to stop trying to figure it out and start doing it. It’s not such much what you do as it is that you are consistent with it.
Wake up tomorrow morning and mail an expired listing letter to every expired/withdrawn in your market. Then get up every day thereafter and do the same thing. Do it forever.
Then do the same thing for FSBOs and preforeclosures.
OK so now within 90 days you will have a steady stream of listings coming in. Once you get the listings syndicate them to every website that will take them. You will soon have a steady stream of buyers coming in as well. Set them all up on auto property alerts and leave them alone.
Add in some very specific blogging and social networking and you are good to go. This stuff is not complicated.
January 21, 2010 at 9:20 pm
Thank you for bringing simplicity back into the lead generation program. I complicate things WAY too much. I’m taking notes and making a plan, now to work it!
January 21, 2010 at 9:55 pm
Broker Bryant – I like your explanation of it. I wish someone had laid it out like that when I first started.
Lisa – I have to agree with you. Never heard a more straight forward answer to the question of lead generation.
January 21, 2010 at 10:02 pm
Sounds great, but it’s what in the “content” of the mailings that counts. That’s where most agents FAIL. What agents should write to get the sellers calling – It’s not easy to get them to do that.
January 21, 2010 at 10:21 pm
Fred – Broker Bryant is pretty open about his methods. He’s never been one to “hide” his technique. Just search “broker bryant expired letter” and you’ll find the content of his letter.
I had written a letter and used it for quite awhile (but stopped because I wanted to change it…still need to rewrite it, got off track with that…once again – consistency is brought into the picture), but much like my blog posts and comments, I tend to write too much.
January 21, 2010 at 11:39 am
I love your style and how you make things sound as simple as they really are. I downloaded your FSBO letter yesterday and am sharing it with my class (I’m an adjunct professor of real estate) and will begin my own FSBO and Expired campaign here in Sacramento. I need listings!
Thanks for being you 🙂
January 21, 2010 at 1:04 pm
My suggestion is that whatever you do, make it a system and hold yourself accountable for doing it regularly.
Whether it is FSBOs, expireds, blogging, door knocking, cold calling, sitting in a bar, etc., you need to it on a scheduled consistent basis, and make it a priority.
Once you have made one lead system as marginally productive as possible, move on to creating another, while continuing the original system.
Over time you should be able to develop multiple lead generation systems that draw consistent business from deversified sources.
I stress, you need to set up systems. Don’t do anything with intention of doing it once then moving on.
January 21, 2010 at 10:00 pm
Patrick – I know one of the worst things I see in new agents (including myself) is getting frustrated with anything and thinking “this doesn’t work.” It’s easy to do and give up when it seems to not be bearing any fruit. If there’s one thing I’ve learned is that a bit of persistence pays off in real estate.
January 21, 2010 at 1:14 pm
Thanks Tamara!! I’m a simple man and need to keep things that way or I get confused 🙂 I think I’ll write an article about this stuff. Or maybe I just did.
January 21, 2010 at 1:31 pm
Yeah, me too! I’m looking on your blog and trying to see if I can find an example of the expired letter you use. Would love to see it!
January 21, 2010 at 7:06 pm
Hope I have better luck! But even if this one deal I just wrote and submitted goes through, it will have paid for itself in the first month. And, I know that if THIS deal doesn’t go through, these are still super qualified and motivated buyers, so we’ll find something else.
Fingers crossed and I’ll keep ya posted.
January 22, 2010 at 2:12 pm
You had me at hello.
You’ve offered a free-site so it’s not like we have anything to lose, and possibly something to gain. I signed up.
January 22, 2010 at 3:10 pm
Thanks Tamara – I appreciate your sign up.Tell a friend, the more agents on the site the better it is for everyone.
January 22, 2010 at 11:14 pm
OK – I’m odd….but I don’t like systems, I don’t like pre-planned routines and I HATE scripts. So I decided I would be human when I got into this business and do onto others as I like them to do onto me. My goal was TOP of MIND…how to achieve that? be myself and hit a lot of different mediums and never put all my eggs in one basket.
Funny thing is that the more you do this, the more doors open and the better it works. We obviously work SM with our blog, FB, Tweet-ups…..etc – but we also do direct mailers, we also engage our community, we also give a helping hand to the needy, and we are constantly looking for new ways of achieving top of mind.
January 24, 2010 at 9:17 pm
Lead generation is the life source of doing any sales career.. As to what works the best it is like saying only doing a Open Houses is the way to generate leads it is strictly conjecture. I recently attended Tom Ferrys three day event called Design Your Future. He recommends that you should have at least 20 lead generating sources which includes a heavy dose of social media marketing.
As to Brian Buffini, I live in his back yard and did use his program, what I found is that all programs work as long as you take action on a consistent basis.
January 27, 2010 at 1:19 am
Really you have done a good job. The written style is very prompt and the highly practical manners. So fruitful for us.
January 27, 2010 at 10:12 am
Matt-Your statement “Tried and True, Face to Face: Call it belly to belly if you’d like (I dislike the phrase myself), but this is probably the one thing you’ll hear over and over again. Being in front of people is where it all happens. If they don’t know you, they’re not going to buy and sell with you” could not be more true.
Isn’t it interesting (at least from my perspective) the agents that have enjoyed the most success apply this to their everyday lead generation…and don’t consider it lead generation at all!
In my view, lead generation is simply getting in front of people…all kinds of people…everyday! Believe it or not, as a Certified RE Instructor, I present tons of classes to my fellow real estate professionals and guess what, the majority of my business today is agent to agent referrals!
Calling FSBO’s, cancelleds, expireds or buying leads are all examples of lead generation but for this Broker, should you ever really want to get the business you deserve, get out there and shake a hand or two…you’ll be amazed!