Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Real estate is ripe for innovation

An interesting article from MarketingProf’s today details an interesting approach to innovation, and I think the approach can be very pertinent to the real estate industry. Technology has advanced to a point where blatant inefficiencies in the traditional real estate business model are being continually challenged by simple innovation (think Zillow, RedFin, Zip Realty) and there is significant opportunity for people in the trenches to really succeed with a little innovation…..

Okay, back to the article and the lesson. The MarketingProfs article: To Innovate, Break A Rule recommends that approach of taking stock of traditional rules and dogma for doing business challenging the validity of those rules. With new technologies and tools, many of the old rules of the transaction no longer apply, and the groups that challenge those rules end up capturing market share. As an example, a comps report used to be the exclusive tool of the real estate agent. Zillow broke that rule and now we are reeling. The same concept applies to access to MLS data. Now you can get listing data off of thousands of websites and a full interface from Trulia. RedFin broke the rules of the two-party exclusive representation and is rapidly growing beyond the Northwestern market.

So what does the article teach about creating innovation in your own business? I have posted some excerpts below, but please read the entire article.

“How do you do it?
Rules come in innumerable forms: service levels, pricing models, distribution, product features, and customer experiences. Clearly, rules can only be broken that are operationally and financially realistic, but I recommend approaching the task openly, with three questions in mind:

1. What are the natural laws of your business? The practices that are so familiar and regular they are almost unnoticeable? This is perhaps the most difficult task, because by definition it requires seeing your business clearly, without the bias of "business as usual."

2. A rule must be relevant. Backroom processes and cost-reducing efficiencies don't count unless they translate into something profoundly meaningful for your customers. Ask: Which affects them the most? Are there ones that most obviously frustrate or irritate our customers? (A really clear indicator here is this: What do you fight with your customers most about?). At this stage, focused customer research can be useful, particularly if you can test alternative service/product models.

3. Which practices, if changed, could
have the most disruptive impact on the marketplace? What would really change the rules of the game? Breaking a rule isn't just about creating new value, it's about repositioning yourself. The question is as much about marketing as product/service innovation. It should send a dramatic signal that you do business differently. Even if few Commerce Bank customers go on Sundays, being open seven days a week gives immediate credibility to their "most convenient" market position. “

Monday, October 30, 2006

The Carnival of Choosing Your Niche

I was reading one of the Carnival of Real Estate’s posts from Bloodhound Realty last week on the topic of changing your business model to maximize your return. The post was specifically on adopting a flat fee model versus a full commission business model to adapt to the current real estate environment. Now there is nothing special about the flat fee model, but what I did want to point out is that the approach that our Bloodhound has taken is to identify where the biggest revenue potential exists in his organization. He has then adjusted his business model to leverage these opportunities.

The posting make the point much more eloquently that I have. However, the lesson is simply that real estate agents need to take a good look at their current service offerings as well as their market and determine exactly where the greatest opportunities lay. For Bloodhound Realty, their approach for differentiation is to move to a flat-fee service and really market the savings that potential buyers and sellers will enjoy. For other agents, they may choose to focus on specific niche’s; agents in my area are specializing in buy and hold investors as well as first-time home buyers. Regardless of your approach (flat fee, low priced niche, luxury niche, investor niche, rental niche, leasing niche, etc.) now is the time to really look at how revenue is brought into your organization and what is needed to keep the cash flowing in.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Real Estate Agents Have a New Voice Online

I am please to announce that our Podmail system in ONLINE!!!! This one has been some time coming, but I think you will like the system and the service. I have posted a copy of the press release below. After you read it, feel free to try out the new Podmail system fee. Simply click here, plug a microphone into your computer, and you are ready to go!

(October 27,2006) - 4MySales.com Agent Success Systems announces the addition of a new Podmail social media tool to the suite of resources that the company currently offers real estate agents. The new Podmail feature allows member agents to leverage new online technology to add an audio component to their email marketing to increase client response and lead generation. 4MySales Podmail include a complete podcast system where members of 4MySales can record, post and distribute their own podcasts as well a new direct email feature which allows the member to record and distribute audio messages as part of their drip email marketing campaign.

“Our goal has always been to help novice and experienced real estate agents leverage technology to increase the revenue-generating capacity of their business. Many agents struggle with finding clients. Our mission is to help make that process as simple and as automated as possible. I feel that this new Podmail system, coupled with our other tools to help agents generate leads and manage clients, creates a comprehensive program that real estate agents can use to really boost their business.” stated Barrett Niehus, the company’s principal.

The new Podmail feature compliments the company’s current suite of tools which includes online lead aggregators, an automated real estate blogging system, client management tools and a full email marketing system. The company’s service offering is completed by the inclusion of a tool for member agents to automatically generate a complete and customized marketing plan that is designed to allow member agents to target specific areas of their practice where improvement will have the greatest positive financial impact. The new Podmail tool and associated suite of resources is available now through the company’s website, www.4mysales.com

Help your clients send you leads

I wanted to share an interesting referral idea with you that I had received the other day. The concept is to simply create business cards that you client can hand out that provide the property details.

When you client signs the listing agreement, explain to them that their own sphere of influence is a great place to really create word of mouth exposure for their property. Friends are always more open to tell other friends about great homes that need to be sold. As a service to the client, have business cards printed that have the property details on one side and contact information where people can call to get more information on the other. Give these cards to your client and ask them to hand them out at their leisure to everybody that they know.

The distribution of the cards is a great way for your client to help in the marketing effort of their property. In addition, the contact information on the back leads directly to you; which means that this is an excellent and mutually beneficial marketing tool. Your client benefits from increase exposure of their property and you benefit from potential leads calling you for more information.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

For investors it is time to buy...

I’ve been spending a bit of time lately on different real estate investment sites. TheCreativeInvestor.com is the one where I get most of my information, but there are a few others. Anyway, what I find interesting in the different discussion boards on these sites is that the strategies for investors has not changed significantly since the slow-down. Many of them are still trying to employ the creative financing and acquisition techniques. However, most have adopted a buy and hold attitude.

You may be asking, what does that mean to me? Well, if you are not an investor yourself, you may have clients that are. If you look at the market right now, we are in a lull where the opportunity is present to position yourself for some substantial long-term gain. Prices have stagnated or dropped, but interest rates are still at historic lows. Prices will remain low-to-stable for the next year, but will inevitably begin their slow march up again. For those investors that are looking for a long term return, now is the time to acquire properties with positive cash flow (NO FLIPPING) that they can hold onto for a few years. As rental rates rise, so will the values of the investment property. Although rates of appreciation will likely not reach the double digit growth that we have seen in the past few years, you can still retire wealthy simply by buying rentals with positive cash flow and holding those properties for the long term.

Monday, October 16, 2006

New real estate lead generating idea

Okay, so I had this promotional idea the other day and I have not quite flushed out the details. However, the idea is a variation on the ideas that I had mentioned earlier about using RSS feeds to get in front of your target real estate customer at work.

My idea is instead of creating a customized feed that sits on your prospect’s wallpaper, why not use existing technology to get your message continually into the prospect’s Outlook email box? The idea is simply to leverage news feed tools such as the NewsGator Outlook interface to create a news tool that you can give your clients. I am not sure if you can do this yet, but what if you could customize the feeds that were included in the download as a default and then use it as a promotional giveaway to your clients? They could download the tool which would put your personal news feed updates (just listed, blog, podcast) right into their email in-box. Obviously your prospective client could customize the feeds to meet their individual needs, but if your template adds value, they will be exposed to your message on a continual daily basis.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Driving customer to choose you… with email

I have always been a fan of using drip email marketing to drive clients to REALTOR’s® websites. It is arguably to most cost effective direct marketing tool that many agents have available. There are however, a number of things to keep in mind to make sure that your email communications are welcoming customers toward you and not driving them away. If you are just sending out updates and data you may not be getting the results that you are looking for and may even be hindering the sales process. In contrast, a carefully crafted email message with the proper call to action can have great results. With that in mind, I want you to answer the following questions about your own drip email campaign:

1) Does the piece offer specific value to the client? Many email newsletters just contain general information about topics ranging from local housing markets to new recipes. The data may be interesting, but is there any component of it that a prospective client would really look forward to receiving. Newsletters that include specific reports, guidelines and lessons that help home buyer’s make better informed decisions tend to be much more welcome than those that contain generic data.

2) Does the piece communicate your specific value proposition? The drip email piece is a marketing tool for you. This is one of the few tools that you can use to truly communicate how you can add value to your prospective client’s life. First and foremost the piece should communicate why your client should choose you over all other real estate agents.

3) Does your direct mail reference the positive experiences of other, or even include testimonials? The web is an anonymous place and distrust is understandably inherent in the medium. Help you clients understand the benefits that you offer and use testimonials to help manage their expectations of how beneficial working with you will be.

4) Do you have a call to action and does your piece set up the expectation for future communication? Every direct marketing piece that you send should have an explicit invitation for the client to contact you immediately and directly. The “call us now; operators are standing by” approach is often the tipping point that is needed to get a response from your target client. In addition, if you are presenting valuable information, a great approach is to hold a little back with the promise of divulging it in the next communication. The “cliff hanger” approach serves to create additional brand awareness with your target homeowners or buyers and helps to ensure that your next communication is accepted and opened.

5) Does the data in your drip email message move your client further into your prospecting engine and further down your sales pipeline? Your communications should serve to educate your prospects about the value that only you can offer in the home buying/selling process. Each message should be crafted to help your prospect understand the value that you present and their need for your services.

As I mentioned above, drip email marketing can be a great tool to help you and your fellow agents attract more clients and maintain a continual presence with current and past clients. We use drip email as and integral part of our 4MySales prospecting engine and continually enjoy phenomenal results.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Update from REALTOR Tools

I have been a bit remiss in posting this week. We are in the midst of launching our new podcast feature and are having challenges getting the Active X certificate. The new feature should allow you to record a podcast, associate it with a listing, post it on your blog, and even included it in your direct email campaigns to increase your close rate. When it is up and running I would like to invite everybody to come and check it out. Until then, I am juggling the new products and finding new and cool ways to help you grow your business.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

New FSBO Prospecting Idea

I was made aware of an interesting FSBO lead prospecting tool this afternoon and I think it may be a great way to close more FSBO prospects. The idea was published in a Broker Agent News article and the approach is simple, but may prove to be highly successful. The biggest part of the idea is to provide your FSBO lead with their own 800 number. The leads would go through you, but would be provided to your FSBO prospect to help them sell the house. The article also recommends that you create flyers and loan the prospect a yard sign.

The benefits of providing these tools to the prospect are that you can feel comfortable asking for the listing. You can also feel comfortable in asking for referrals. In addition, you have visibility of those that are looking to buy a house, and flyers may still maintain your contact information. It’s an interesting tweak on some direct placement marketing.

Help others find this article: Digg It!, Reddit or Bookmark it

Friday, October 06, 2006

The border wall is a pain in my side

Normally I talk about nothing but real estate and marketing. It’s kind of a passion and hobby for me. However every once in a while get moved to focus on more political issues. The issue that is getting my attention right now is the border issue and the bait and switch that is going on in our government. I wrote a couple of weeks ago about the two border patrol agents that are facing 20 years in prison for trying to arrest a drug smuggler with 740 pounds of marijuana. If you recall, they were convicted because the US attorney general gave the smuggler amnesty to come to America and testify against the two agents. Anyway, that sort of ignited my indignance toward the security policy of our country. It also increased my fears that terrorists may someday slip across the border and cause another umpteen-thousand deaths in the name of their religious convictions.

Needless to say I have been following the news about the border since learning about the plight of those two agents. I was fascinated to hear that last week congress authorized a 700 mile long fence to be constructed along the US/Mexican border to support an increased level of security. Now I personally never believed that congress would actually take steps to secure the border and my beliefs were validated this afternoon when I learned that the move to approve the fence was primarily just a PR move. According to this most recent article on MSNBC:
In border fence’s path, legislative roadblocks
Loopholes mean fence may never be built, at least not as advertised

The actual construction of the fence may never happen. The money will be allocated to infrastructure projects as well as some pilot programs. Legislators can happily now tout the new legislation during this election year as a PR move to prove that they support border security. They can also sleep with the cozy assurance that the fence will likely never be built…. at least until some terrorist-derived travesty happens on American soil. So it is business as usual on Capitol Hill. Politicians continue to say one thing and do the other, but those that support the mire can rest assured that they have lost my vote.

A bit about my past

I have been involved in real estate for a while in some form or another. I started out trying to learn everything there was to know about the creative investment market. I spent a great deal of time on websites like theCreativeInvestor.com as well as read a number of books on flipping, hard money lending, creative financing, short selling, lease to own, as well as a number of other creative real estate investing techniques. During that time I developed our IP Ware real estate investment analysis software which provided a great return as a business as well as proved to be a great real estate investment analysis tool. From there I got into online marketing and started finding new ways to help real estate agents really become successful at their chosen careers.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Four Critical Keys to Writing a Web Site Home Page

All of us have web pages. It is a fact of life and most of us can’t do business without a good website. However, how many real estate agents have really taken the time to craft their home page into something that really conveys their unique selling proposition? I know for our site we spent a great deal of time just to develop the message A Simple System to Close More Sales. The unique selling proposition of your site should be blatantly apparent as soon as your prospect lands on the site. After that, my personal recommendation is to put as many data captaining features as possible on the page so that you can convert the page view to a prospect. With those personal thoughts in mind, here is a great article from Marketing Profs that details the four critical components to consider when developing a website.

I am not sure if the article itself is part of their premium offering, so here are the four conditions from the article:

1. Use your principal homepage headline to communicate your site's underlying value proposition
2. Use some short introductory text to clarify and expand on your headline
3. Help visitors find what they are looking for
4. Make your first-time visitors feel comfortable and confident

Overall, your website should effectively convey the benefits that you offer prospective home buyers or sellers and provide simple and easy ways for them to give you their contact information. Many real estate agents use their websites simply as billboards with great head-shots and pictures of nice houses. With some simple planning, a website can be so much more.