A Brand-New You Marketing guru Greg Herder shows one sales associate how her skills from a previous line of work can be an asset to her real estate career.
In Tampa Bay’s nonprofit circles, Cory Adler is something of a celebrity. For 30 years, she’s championed a variety of social causes, from domestic violence to at-risk children to affordable housing. She’s held executive positions with some of the area’s most prominent human services organizations, and her dedication earned her the Tampa Bay Business Woman of the Year Award in the nonprofits/social services category in 2004. She was also named one of former President George H. W. Bush’s National Points of Light.
But Adler was ready to make a career change when she turned 50. “I was doing good things for the world, but I wasn’t preparing myself for retirement,” says the sales associate with Keller Williams Gulf Coast in St. Petersburg. So she earned her real estate license 18 months ago, assuming the 1,000 contacts she acquired as a liaison between the nonprofit and for-profit worlds would jump start her efforts. Much to her surprise, neither her contacts nor her status in the community has done much for her new career.
“I’ve had some success, but people still connect me to my former profession and continue to ask me about those organizations,” says Adler. “I encourage people to see me as a professional [sales associate], but the message isn’t getting through.” They’ll ask her where to donate a bag of clothes or call her when their daughter is in trouble or they have money to give, but she says she’s not the person they call about real estate.
Until recently, Adler shared an office with three other sales associates. One died, and she and the others are considering creating a team. “We don’t have an agreement yet, but we’re talking about it” she says. “I’m hoping to strengthen my position by saying it’s a team and not just me.” Bring in the Expert
For advice on how to change people’s perception of her, Adler recently spoke with real estate marketing specialist Greg Herder. Here’s how their conversation went: 1. Read Up On Positioning
First, Herder points out that Adler will never change people’s minds by simply telling them she’s in real estate. “Cory, people have seen you as an answer to a nonprofit situation,” says Herder. “When consumers think of Kleenex®, they instantly know it’s a tissue. Kleenex can never stand for anything else. You have name recognition, so you’ve got to segue in the consumer’s brain from nonprofit to real estate.”
To gain an understanding of how consumers perceive brands, Herder recommends that Adler read the marketing classic “Positioning: The Battle for Your Mind” by Al Ries and Jack Trout. “It’s an excellent book for your own edification—a marketing paper, if you will,” he says, adding that it explains the importance of a brand strategy. 2. Start a Media Blitz
If Herder had met Adler during her transition phase, he would’ve advised her to use her name recognition to generate publicity. “I’m assuming you have some press contacts; everybody I know who’s in nonprofits has a relationship with the media,” he says. “You should’ve been in the paper nonstop with articles and press releases about why you [changed careers]. You’ve done this great job of helping others, and now you’ve got to help yourself for retirement is a great angle. You’re a good example of what newspapers look for in human-interest stories.”
Adler has local media contacts but she’s never used them for personal gain. “A newspaper guy said he would use me as an expert that he could quote, but I haven’t talked to him about becoming a sales associate yet,” she says. Herder understands, but says Adler shouldn’t avoid the spotlight any longer. “They can probably come up with some interesting ways to spin your story. Try giving them information on what’s happening in the [real estate] community.”
He recommends that she put together a press release and a personal brochure—or have someone create them for her—telling her history and highlighting what she’s trying to accomplish in real estate. “Keeping core values of doing good for people while taking care of yourself is a great place to start,” says Herder. “It’s going to help people see you in a new light.” 3. Keep on Giving
To attract business and continue her philanthropic ways, Herder advises Adler to offer to donate a percentage of her commission to her clients’ and customers’ charity of choice. They will see that you’re still doing good for the community, and they’ll want to help you. That would also be great in articles and press releases. All of your positive work will carry forward into the future and keep pumping referrals.”
She personally created databases for three major nonprofits, totaling about 16,000 names. “I’ve [worked with] agents who have had extraordinary success doing this,” says Herder. “You can raise significant numbers for those nonprofits.” 4. Regularly Promote Yourself
Adler sends monthly e-mails to almost 1,000 people. She knows about 300 of them well, the other 700 casually. Herder recommends that she segregate the two groups. “Send a monthly newsletter to the 300 people you know more intimately, telling them what you’re doing in your career. For example, ‘Last month I sold three homes. As you know, I donate 10 percent of my commission to the charity of my client’s choice. I hope I can count on your help in the future.’”
To create top-of-mind awareness, Herder recommends that Adler generate four to five contacts with her client and customer base each month—in the form of press releases, articles, just-listed and just-sold mailers, letters and e-mails. It will take more frequency, he says, to cultivate the prospects with which she doesn’t have an established relationship.
“Remind [the 700] with whom you don’t have a strong relationship that a percentage of your commission will go to the nonprofit of their choice, and just stay in front of them,” he says.
Adler asks whether she should do a personal brochure or a newspaper article first. “A great article could pop some transactions, but maybe not,” says Herder. “Your materials, given to people in three or six months’ time, will generate a steady flow of business. A brochure, articles, promotional events should all be your high priority.”
Letters printed on letterhead and hand signed by Adler will have the most impact, says Herder. “Here’s the key: When people get a marketing piece from you, they judge it more by the quality than the content. Ideally, you should have both. I would recommend color—a little louder than the standard —in every piece of marketing. Make sure your marketing exudes quality but it’s fun and [shows] your personality.” 5. Host Special Events
Adler has access to a yacht club and is considering throwing an annual get-together for her past clients, customers and sphere of influence. Herder thinks that’s a great idea. “You’re used to doing those functions; just [refocus] them to real estate,” he says. “Make sure that when guests leave, they’ve got a positive vision of you being in real estate.” Herder thinks it would be a good opportunity for Adler to recognize her best clients and customers with an award. “The first one could be for the most caring client you’ve worked with this past year, and then you can tell a story about something that client did,” he says. “You could even [jokingly] give a special award for the most difficult client. Make it fun. That will tie them into you incredibly well. It’s a fabulous thing for you to do every year.” 6. Use Caution in Joining a Team
Herder warns Adler against joining a team. “I have two partners, and we’ve been together for 20 years, but our experience says 80 percent don’t work,” he says. “The worst thing that happens with teams is success. You’re going to share the expenses, but you’ll also share the profits. How will you split the money? If somebody leaves the team but stays in real estate, what happens to the contacts? It’s cheaper to hire a great administrative person than to get partners.”
Herder wonders what will become of Adler’s promotional activities for her nonprofit leads if she joins a team. “If you donate 10 percent of your commissions, does it come out of your commission side or is ita collective?” he asks.
He also points out that it’s harder to develop a personality for a team than for an individual sales associate. “Our research shows that most consumers don’t believe they get three [sales associates] for the price of one,” he says. “So don’t try that as a marketing ploy.”
Adler assures Herder that her team has already covered the “what ifs,” and that they are walking into the partnership knowing they have an out. “We’re having meetings, and we’re writing everything down—not just talking it through and forgetting later,” she explains.
“I see so many teams that don’t have an out, and then a year down the road they realize they have very different beliefs on how to take care of clients and how to operate,” says Herder. “I still hate the idea of a team, but at least you’re [anticipating] some of the potential problems.”