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A Twist on the Basics/Users/adamp/Desktop/Stuff for FAR/Magazine Assets/JUN08/Images/FreshLook

It’s time to get back to the basics. (We know you know!) But, the basics need a fresh look. Here are some ideas.

At the height of the real estate boom, Paul Labossiere didn’t have to call expired listings, pick up for-sale-by-owner (FSBO) customers, master the art of changing a “no” into a “yes” and continually hit up past customers for new referrals.
But he did it all anyway.

A lot of other sales associates couldn’t understand why he was doing all this.

Labossiere didn’t listen. He kept knocking on doors—and finding more ways to knock. He invested in tech tools that redefined the basics of sales. He sharpened his sales communication skills.

When the market changed in 2006, many sales associates had trouble making ends meet. Labossiere’s RE/MAX business in Port St. Lucie maintained its momentum, yielding 160 closings in 2005, 140 in 2006 and 155 in 2007.

He concedes it takes more effort to find new customers these days. But Labossiere is in his comfort zone. He just conducts business like he always did—implementing new, updated ideas along the way—and the rest has taken care of itself.

“This is not a business for the faint of heart,” Labossiere says. “If you’re not willing to make a long-term commitment to education, practice and service, I don’t think you should get in.”

Point of fact, too many people got into real estate during the boom and never even learned the basics to begin with, says Matthew Ferrara, CEO and president of Matthew Ferrara & Co., a Boston-area coaching firm that focuses on technology in real estate. It’s time that people reassess the value of Sales Training 101, and then use new tools to implement practices that have been around for years, he says.

“We have to step back and say, What are the basics? They’re about relationship building,” Ferrara says, adding that when using technology, “It should be in support of sales practices, not to substitute for them.”
Here’s a list of “the basics” and ways that you, like Labossiere, can redefine them with an edge.

Make the Cold Calls
It all comes down to this.

Alas, it’s the one practice that will put you over the top, says Clark Toole III, president and CEO of Sarasota-based Coldwell Banker Residential Real Estate. Can cold calls be avoided? Unequivocally, no. Toole runs a workshop called “Call Reluctance” because, he says, 86 percent of sales associates are shy about picking up the phone. But there are some tools to ease the pain.

His company has fed sales associates a steady diet of ways to implement cold calls, stay in compliance with the “Do Not Call” laws and regulations [for more on this, read “Resources” on page 19] and use other basic sales techniques. As a result, many of Florida Coldwell Banker sales associates had a better year in 2007 than in 2006, Toole says.

So … back to the dreaded cold calling:
Not every sales associate spends time trying to convert a FSBO to a customer. But the National Association of Realtors® reports that 90 percent of FSBOs end up working with a sales associate, Ferrara points out. “I want to reinforce that this is the low-hanging fruit. Stop spending tons of money to find someone else when these people are right in front of you,” he says.

Don’t Rule Out FSBOs
There are new techniques to tap into FSBOs—the best are Web sites, Ferrara says. The sites that advertise FSBOs give you people’s names and, often, their e-mail addresses.

 “You don’t have to pay for the leads. Just do a search within your marketplace, within 10 miles of your office,” says Ferrara. “And I recommend you start prospecting those that don’t have photos of the property on the advertisements. We know that nobody is going to look at an [advertisement without photos]. They are in the most desperate need of professional help,” he says. When talking to these people, point out that 88 percent of buyers want photos, and you can help with that.

“It requires persistence and that you continue to get your name in front of them. A lot of times they’ll call you back,” he says. “What are they going to do—hang up on you? These people can’t hurt you. They’re not going to hunt you down. They just want to get their home sold.”

Case in point: Labossiere recently obtained a listing with a FSBO customer, and he gave the seller a 24-hour period to cancel the listing. A family member who didn’t own the property got involved and killed the listing. Seven days later, the homeowner called back and listed the property again.

Renters can also be highly responsive to cold calling, especially in this market, says Steven David, of Florida Professional RE Inc. in Fort Lauderdale. David is also Labossiere’s personal coach.

To find tenants in your area, use a cross-reference directory like Hill Donnelly (www.hilldonn.com), which annually produces 230 directories on CD-ROM, David says. The directory will reveal whether someone is on the do-not-call list. Search for communities where rents are high enough to make it possible for a renter to own a condo of equal size for the same monthly payment.

The biggest objection from renters is that they can’t afford a mortgage. Show them that they can afford to make the leap. And discuss first-time homebuyer assistance programs, David says.

Knock on Virtual Doors
E-mail campaigns allow you to knock on virtual doors. Toole says he’s always been a big believer in good contact management systems. “When you meet people, put [their names and contact information] in a good system and have an action plan to drive the contact with them,” he says. “You’re going to need to nurture more people.”

For many people, e-mail is the preferable means of initial contact, he adds. “What you should ask is, How do you like to be communicated with? If you get the e-mail addresses, you can zip out electronic postcards in a couple of keystrokes, and that’s an effective campaign. Make it personalized, and draw on your database for past customers, centers of influence, etc.,” Toole says.

Position Your Brand
It’s important to use your company’s brand to your advantage, because consumers are company focused, not sales associate focused, Ferrara says. “Branding is reinforcing who you are,” he says.

Jeff Shaw has hit on one of the easiest ways to brand both himself and his company, Century 21 Realty Group in Valrico. He wears his name tag on routine errands. He has countless stories of people who have hired him just through simple encounters when he was wearing the name tag.

Shaw’s approach works this way: He waits for people to make eye contact. The first thing they say is, “Oh, you’re with Century 21?” He laughs, “Yeah! Want to buy a house?” If not them, they usually know someone who does. In one grocery store check-out line, he landed two customers—the cashier’s husband wanted to buy property, and the bag boy’s parents needed to list their home. And one of Shaw’s managers landed five high-end properties worth a cumulative total of $14 million by wearing his name tag to lunch.

Grab Their Attention
The bus stop bench. The grocery shopping cart. Sales associates who use these devices can now go a step further and actually get more than a passing glance.

Here’s how: Rather than plastering your photo, post a text-messaging number, Ferrara says. For example, in an ad, you can advertise properties that each have a different text number. In addition to the property photos and the brokerage name and number, the ad would read, “For information, send a text message, ‘info,’ to 43605.” The caller receives a text message containing more details about the property.

“The best part is that it’s instant. If you really want to catch people’s attention, use ‘instant satisfaction,’” Ferrara says.

The other “best part” is that it’s “dirt cheap,” he adds. “I know lots of companies doing it for pennies.” One source for this is CellSigns (www.cellsigns.com). The company has its own server and issues you a text number.
“[Many] buyers today are younger, and everything is done through the texting methodology. They don’t even do e-mail, but text. You always should accommodate the consumer on every level,” says Ferrara.

Take a look at your own marketing campaign and consider ways you can refresh it with a twist on the ordinary. Whether it’s via technology or by simply wearing your name tag, you can build the relationships that keep your business rocking in good times and in bad.

Heidi Russell Rafferty is a Kentucky-based freelance writer.