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How to Get 90% of Your Business From Direct Mail/Users/adamp/Desktop/Stuff for FAR/Magazine Assets/JUN08/Images/RealtorAdvantage

Here, one sales associate tells how he writes direct mail letters that produce real results.

When, as a new sales associate in 2006, I sent out direct mail to potential customers, my letters looked like everyone else’s—basically, junk mail. Knowing that most people sort their mail over the trash, I decided to ramp up my efforts and turn them into a productive lead-generation tool.

I did this out of necessity, since it wasn’t working to call for sale by owners (FSBOs) and expireds and to follow up every lead that came my way. On expireds, for example, I was going up against 15 or so other sales associates and given only a few seconds to get a word in before the owners hung up on me. Knocking on doors and leaving business cards was also ineffective. Adding to my plight was the fact that I live in a rural town of 50,000 people, which gave me just a few leads to chase every day.

Fed up, I decided to learn how to write effective, compelling direct sales letters. Using a basic, five-page letter that my brother (also a real estate licensee) was using to sign up expireds in Gainesville, I started to see results. In it, I cover a very personalized view of the housing market, how to stage a home, how to price a home in today’s market, how to get full exposure to buyers (through my marketing plan) and how to follow up with potential buyers.

My letters also portray me as an expert, explain how I market a home sale and end with my asking for permission to preview their home (to show how I can sell it). While five pages may sound like a lot, I’ve found that if you pack the letter with information the homeowner can use—and that speaks directly to the recipient—he or she will read it. I tested changes and tracked those results, and a few thousand letters later I can proudly say that 90 percent of my business comes from the direct mail channel.

 Here’s my strategy:

1. Focus on Benefits
Your sales letter is an opportunity to put your salesmanship to work, in print. When targeting expireds, for example, you already know the recipient (vs. a FSBO) is ready and willing to sell. Expireds are also frustrated because their homes haven’t sold, so play into that emotion by answering the tough questions (e.g., Why isn’t my home selling?) and provide solutions. 

Think of all the objections the seller can come up with, and answer them in your letter. My letters are conversational, and easy to read, and I leave out all the real estate jargon that most people won’t understand.

If you have a vast knowledge of the local market, for example, focus on that and tell how it can benefit the seller (i.e., Will you be able to negotiate contracts more effectively? Get sellers more money? Protect their best interests?) Or if you’ve successfully listed and sold a dozen expireds in the last six months, tell how you did it. 
 
2. Use Compelling Headlines
Remember, typical recipients are thinking, “Who cares? Why are you bothering me?” when they open your direct mail, so answer those questions in the headline. My headlines are four to five times larger than the standard font, and I usually spend at least 50 percent of my time crafting them and the rest writing the letter itself.

The headline should be as long as necessary, and should always focus on what benefit your services will give the buyer or seller you are targeting. For example, “I Can Sell Your Home Quickly and For Top Dollar, and Here’s Why … .” From there, go into the body of the sales letter and craft your story. It may be about the length of time you’ve been in the business and the number of home transactions; what you can do for the customer; or the specialized niche in which you excel. Whatever it is, be sure the headline serves as the eye-catcher and that the story backs it up.
 
3. Target the Market
I recently listed a home after sending the seller multiple direct mail pieces that even included a listing contract. Off the market for a few months, the home was in good condition, but had been overpriced. I sent the longest letter (30 pages) first and included information about a sales price the market would bear. The seller called me to list his home, dropping the price by about $50,000. Within two weeks he got three offers and sold above the asking price.

That’s just one example of how carefully I target my market, instead of sending nonpersonal letters to everyone in the region. I select potential customers whom I know need help selling their homes and then create direct mail campaigns that educate them and drive them to me for that assistance. Instead of spending money on newspaper and radio ads, I’m able to use a relatively inexpensive marketing mechanism to generate the bulk of my leads. My investment is the time I take to craft the letters, the postage I spend to send them out and the materials (i.e., paper, envelopes, printer ink, etc.) I use to reach my target audience.

For a typical campaign, I will invest about $500 to send out 100 packages. About 20 people will respond; 10 of those will list their homes with me, and two of those will result in sales. The typical direct mail campaign yields a 3 to 5 percent response rate, and at times I’ve posted 15 to 20 percent, particularly when working with a targeted list of recipients.

4. Test Changes, Track Results
Great headlines and letters aren’t enough in today’s market. You also have to be able to test, track and tweak as needed to get the kind of results that I’m posting. Start by just getting your piece out there, and don’t worry about perfecting it.

But let’s say you send out a mailing to 100 addresses and get no responses. You know that something is definitely wrong. It could be that the reader couldn’t get past the headline or that you haven’t come up with a compelling message for the targeted customer group. Start by changing the headline, and then send it out again.

If it still doesn’t work, go to the body of the letter and start tweaking it to your audience’s needs. Using a database, track every single person to whom you mail, and maintain a running tally of every response, inquiry, listing or sale that comes as a result of your direct mail. Understand that even if you send out 100 packages and one person responds and lists his or her home with you and it sells, the return on your investment is still good.

5. Get Personal
The telltale signs of junk mail are metered postage and preprinted envelopes. To make my direct mail stand out, I use a traditional postage stamp on every envelope. On the first mailing, I always handwrite the envelope (both mailing and return address), and on subsequent mailings, I use a handwritten font that’s in my word-processing software. This gives my mailings a personalized feel that most direct mail lacks. It makes it look like a human being actually took the time to write the letter, address the envelope and “lick the stamp,” so to speak.

Calvin Curry is a sales associate with Keller Williams Realty in Gainesville.  Last year, The Curry Team closed around 100 transactions and around $20 million in sales volume. For a copy of Curry’s sales letter, e-mail him at calvin@calvincurry.com.