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This article was published on: 02/01/2005

FEATURE: Problem solving

BY JIM HATFIELD

Pearls of Wisdom

There are no easy answers to the marketing challenges you face every day—like how to compete against your area’s most visible salesperson, how to sell a problem listing, and how to achieve a real return on your Web site investment. That’s why REALTOR® Magazine asked marketing gurus inside and outside the real estate business for their take on each of these scenarios. Their answers show that overcoming marketing obstacles is by and large a matter of confidence, persistence, and out-of-the-box thinking.

CHALLENGE:

· The Market Goliath
· House Terrible
· Web Obscura

CHALLENGE: The Market Goliath

Maggie put a teapot on the stove and turned her attention to the mail: bills in one pile, mail from friends in another, junk mail in the round file, and anything to do with real estate in a folder to study for ideas on how to build her fledgling business.

“I can’t believe how much stuff she sends out,” she thought, as she unfolded a glossy, four-color mailer that bore the headline “Win with Wynn!” above a smiling photo of an attractive, silver-haired woman and a tagline that proclaimed Wynn Williams wants to be “Your No. 1 Real Estate Professional.”

A morning’s worth of phone calls and e-mail and three showings later, Wynn was still on Maggie’s mind as she slipped into a booth at the Salad Bowl for a late lunch with her mentor Sara, the retired broker who’d suggested Maggie would be a natural in the business.

“Look at this,” Maggie said, handing the promotional piece to her friend.

“Wynn’s still tooting her own horn with gusto,” said Sara.

“She mails out something like this at least twice a month. And her picture must be 10 feet high on that billboard at Fourth and Main. I’ve lost three listing presentations to her already this year,” Maggie said. “Everyone says, ‘We love your approach, but Wynn knows everyone in this town and, besides, you’re so young, and blah, blah, blah.’ ”

“She was doing the same thing when I was in the business. That’s how long she’s been at it,” Sara said.

“I have a huge presentation on Thursday, and I know the sellers are inviting her, too,” said Maggie. “I can’t afford to lose another one. What can I do?”

What the experts say
“First Maggie needs to find out if her competition is as dominant as she assumes,” says Don Hobbs, chairman of Hobbs/Herder Advertising, Newport Beach, Calif.–based company specializing in real estate marketing. “By consulting the MLS, she can see if Wynn has more than 30 percent of the market. If she does, Maggie needs to find a different portion of the market, one where she can compete more effectively.”

“Maggie may find out Wynn isn’t a powerhouse at all. Either way, Maggie needs to deflect impressions that she’s new in the business and concentrate on building her own brand by developing an elegant, oversized, four-color personal brochure and regular mailings of her own that exude quality and competence and reflect her personality,” says Hobbs. “These materials should also be consistent, right down to color. That’s why Tiffany’s always puts its diamonds in that familiar blue box. Even before you open it, you know there’s quality inside.”

Hobbs suggests Maggie send her personal brochure before each listing presentation and a thank-you note as soon as she leaves. “It’s all about creating an image of professionalism,” he says.

Harry Beckwith, the brand-building guru who advises Fortune 500 companies and who wrote Selling the Invisible (Warner Business Books, 1997), adds that Maggie can undermine her opponent’s strength by serving clients exceptionally well in aspects where Wynn is weaker. “Prospective clients may fear they won’t get as much attention from a top practitioner like Wynn. So Maggie should demonstrate her willingness to work like crazy to sell their home,” he says.

Ultimately, Maggie’s competitive advantage may simply be her professionalism, says Beckwith. “She should arrive at the listing presentation impeccably dressed, with a handsome briefcase, carrying a presentation that demonstrates she’s a specialist not just on the local market but on the prospect’s neighborhood. Afterward, they’ll say, ‘She’ll work hard for us, and she’ll work smart. Let’s go with Maggie!’”

CHALLENGE: House Terrible

Betty stood at the window of her problem listing, a newly constructed two-story home in an older neighborhood in her affluent Midwestern suburb. She watched as a new Lexus slowed to a crawl while the driver and his passenger scrutinized the large brick structure. Then, just as she crossed her fingers, the car continued up the street.

“Another prospect who won’t even come in,” she sighed, turning toward her business partner, Liz.

“You can’t blame them,” said Liz. “Just look at this place. The front porch has more columns than an embassy. Nobody buys turrets in this market. And three kinds of brick? The builder just didn’t do his homework.”

Betty walked across the large, empty living room to the fireplace mantel to retrieve the cards of other salespeople who’d shown the property. “Marty was here. Did you get any feedback from him?” she asked her partner.

“He said his clients got as far as the powder room, saw the black marble basin and gold faucets and said they didn’t have time to see the whole house. Good thing, too. At least they didn’t notice the breakfast bar is built eight inches too high,” Liz said.

“Or that the side door opens right into the laundry. No mud room at all. What was the builder thinking?” Betty added.

“Maybe we can get a price reduction,” Liz said.

“Tried that. The builder says, ‘No way’,” said Betty.

“There has to be something we can do,” said Liz. “But what?”

What the experts say
“Betty and Liz should identify this home’s strengths and market them heavily in print and on the Web,” says Elayne Jassey, one of REALTOR® Magazine’s “Top 50 Solo Performersand a sales associate with Prudential Connecticut Realty in Stamford, Conn. “For instance, new construction is a big plus. They should also promote the large living room with fireplace. And by all means, sell the neighborhood.”

“The partners should give the builder plenty of feedback to prove they’re working hard to get the listing sold. They should also let the builder know some concessions—such as different bathroom fixtures or painting the brick a neutral color—may be necessary to secure an offer. They may want to take the builder on a tour of other new homes in the market to give him an idea of what they’re up against. This alone may cause the builder to agree to a price reduction,” counsels Jassey.

Dan Gooder Richard, president of the Gooder Group, a real estate marketing company in Fairfax, Va., says Betty and Liz should ask the builder to help market the property, pointing out that every month it goes unsold adds to his cost. Richard also suggests they ask the builder to make changes for the buyer without markup. “Cutting the breakfast bar down to size or creating a mud room would be a great ‘builder bonus’ package,” he says.

Richard suggests promoting the bonus using Talking House technology, which enables prospective buyers to park near a home they’re interested in and listen to a description of its features on their car radio. He also recommends maximizing exposure to other practitioners by offering catered food and a drawing for a $500 builder-paid shopping spree. “A nice bonus for the salesperson who brings the ultimate buyer in 45 days would also boost exposure,” he says.

If the builder won’t agree to a price reduction or special incentives, Richard says, “Betty and Liz may have to walk away from this white elephant before it tramples their bottom line.”

CHALLENGE: Web Obscura

“OK Dad, your turn,” said Adam, as he helped himself to more spaghetti. It was Sunday night, and the Armstrongs were well into their favorite mealtime discussion starter: “What’s bugging you?”

“What’s bugging me? My Web site, that’s what,” said Derek, a veteran real estate professional but an admitted newbie at anything to do with the Internet.

“Your site looks great,” said his wife, Marjorie, as she passed the Parmesan cheese.

“Yeah, Dad. What’s wrong with it?” piped up Angie, their 12-year-old.

“It may look great, but it’s not doing beans for my business,” said Derek. “For one thing, I don’t think people can find it. And if they do find it, they don’t fill out the reply form.”

“Maybe that’s one of the problems,” said Marjorie. “People don’t have time to fill things out. What do other practitioners do?”

“I don’t know. Bill Whistler is always bragging about his site but he should—he paid a ton to have somebody build it.”

“Maybe you should find a wizard, too,” Adam said.

“I’ve thought of that, but there are so many experts out there, and they’re so expensive. Besides, I keep thinking I can fix it myself,” Derek said. “I just don’t know what to do first.”

What the experts say
“Web sites are billboards in the middle of nowhere,” says Saul Klein, e-PRO®, GRI, president of Internet Crusade, developer of the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS® e-PRO® certification training, a course to help practitioners work successfully in the world of online real estate. “As a result, Derek needs to drive traffic to his site on every piece of marketing he does—from business cards to bus benches.”

“He should make it easier for search engines to find his site by using phrases such as ‘downtown Los Angeles homes’ at least four times throughout the site. He should also use phrases such as ‘real estate professional’ instead of his company name in the title tag and other coding,” says Holly Berkley, author of Low-budget Online Marketing for Small Business (Self-Counsel Press, 2003) and owner of the San Diego-based Web site design and marketing company Berkley Web Strategies (http://www.berkweb.com/). Derek’s domain name should also reflect what he does, not the name of his business, she adds. For instance, who’s going to search by DerekArmstrong.com?

Another way to maximize traffic: “Exchange links with other sites,” Berkley says. “Salespeople would benefit from having links to their site at others their customers would naturally visit, such as home improvement and mortgage sites. You should be able to exchange links with related sites at no charge, as long as you agree to list those links in return.” The site www.linkpopularity.com offers tutorials on how best to create reciprocal linking arrangements, she notes.

Once people arrive at your site, “they want information about homes and the quality of life in the community, such as school ratings and recreation resources, so give them a lot of it,” Klein adds. “And make sure your site has a lot of listings and is searchable.”

Besides including all the expected, necessary stuff at your site, “have something that makes it stand out. One practitioner I know raises boxer puppies,” Klein says. “So, along with homes, her site features wonderful photos of dogs and a calendar of dog show events. This brings people back to her site. Even if they aren’t looking for a home just yet, someone in their network probably is.”

Beyond personal interests, “an effective Web site should be designed to attract the owner’s ideal customer,” says Berkley. To attract families Derek could show a picture of a young family in front of their first home. If he specializes in waterfront property, he could include photos of the area’s boating culture. “For less than $100, he could purchase high-quality stock photos from http://creative.gettyimages.com/source/home/home.aspx or www.corbis.com,” she says.

Klein adds: “Every page should encourage visitors to call or e-mail him or fill out a contact form. And Derek should be sure to promise—and deliver—a quick response.”



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