|This article was published on: 06/01/2008|
6 Best Practices for Online Leads
A well-thought-out strategy for responding to e-mails is central to your success with today’s Web-savvy buyers and sellers.
If you're like many of today's real estate practitioners, the majority your new leads come from the Web. An online consumer will shoot you an e-mail (often anonymously), fill out a form on your Web site, or maybe just send you a text message.
Given today's challenging market conditions, you want to treat these inquiries like gold. You must respond professionally — honoring prospects' desire for privacy while also providing valuable information that will eventually turn them into clients. Here are six general rules that will help you accomplish that goal.
Best Practice #1: Respond in Kind
If a prospect e-mails you, respond via e-mail. If a prospect text messages you, respond via text. (By the way, you will see more initial online inquiries via text messages as the “Thumb Generation” reaches the age where they are considering purchasing their first home.) The general rule is to respond in kind, unless the inquiry explicitly asks you to do otherwise.
Best Practice #2: Don’t Call Them
If you've somehow acquired a prospect's phone number and you're tempted to pick up the phone, stop yourself. It’s generally a bad idea. Why? You risk driving that potential client away because in all probability, he or she just wanted information, not a salesperson trying to set up an appointment.
Most human beings feel vulnerable and defensive when they’re on the phone with a salesperson with whom they don’t have a relationship. That’s one reason why Internet is such a popular place for prospects’ to gather information before speaking to a real estate professional.
So, is it ever appropriate to call an online prospect in response to an online inquiry? Yes, there are a couple of exceptions.
Best Practice #3: Always Include Your E-mail Signature
An e-mail signature is an information block, usually at the end of your message, that includes your complete contact information. In addition to being professional, it is a required disclosure by some real estate regulatory jurisdictions. Once you have established a solid and ongoing client relationship with the prospect, including your signature in each e-mail message is no longer absolutely necessary. However, you still may decide it's a good idea, as it provides a convenient way for clients to find your contact information.
Best Practice #4: There’s No Such Thing as Too Fast
Online consumers are a very impatient bunch (remember, the Internet connects people around the world in just milliseconds). They expect a very fast response to their inquiries. Ideally, you will respond to e-mail within a few minutes. However, this presents a logistics problem if you’re showing property, at a listing appointment, or in the middle of a heated negotiation — or on vacation, at your child’s dance recital, playing golf, etc.
So, how can you be responsive without having to sit in front of your computer all day? The most practical answer, in my opinion, is to use a virtual assistant who specializes in online lead management. VAs do sit in front of their computer all day and therefore are in a position to respond immediately on your behalf. The best place to find a VA with specific real estate sales support skills like these is REVA Network (in the interest of full disclosure, I’m one of the founders of this network).
In addition to acting as your online proxy by providing immediate response to online inquiries, they can also help you stay in touch with those online leads who are not quite ready to move just yet. Should an inquiry arrive via text message, you at least will be in a better position to respond to it in a timely fashion since it arrives on your cell phone. Once again however, you could re-direct these messages to your VA to handle them as well.
Best Practice #5: Keep in Touch, Or Else
Or else you risk losing the prospects forever. I’d estimate that 19 of 20 valid online real estate related inquiries are prospects in the information gathering stage and can be three to 18 or more months away from taking action. So if you want any chance of doing business with this massive 95-precent segment of online leads, you need a way to stay in touch that doesn’t drive them away.
Drip marketing is a great solution for turn latent leads into closed transactions, If you follow these guidelines:
Best Practice #6: Treat Online Leads Like Human Beings
Yes, there is a person on the other end of that e-mail you just received. Remember that online consumers are human beings just like you and me. The key is understanding human behavior in the online context, and then leveraging that understanding into practical communication strategies that result in the highest likelihood of converting casual inquiries into closed transactions.
Mr. Internet is the alter-ego of Michael J. Russer, an Internet speaker, trainer, author, and consultant. He co-authored the new book, The Real Estate Website Success Guide (2007).