If you’re a real estate agent or lead a real estate brokerage, the truth is you’re also an entrepreneur. And like most entrepreneurs, that means you’re also in charge of sales and marketing. It doesn’t matter if you’re a newbie agent or the latest tech startup – you’re still responsible for making it rain.
And make no mistake, understanding how to make the register ring is the key to the long-term success of any business. While that has always been the case, the growth of Web usage and the tidal wave of mobile has changed everything. Today, the sales field is much more complex. It involves creating a path to discovery and figuring out how to nurture the consumer during their journey, even when their not ready to talk to you yet. The shift is happening before our eyes: marketing is replacing sales when it comes to the modern consumer.
The statistics don’t lie. By 2020, Gartner predicts customers will self-manage 85 percent of their relationships with companies, without ever directly engaging a salesperson. A separate survey from The Economist found that 50 percent of respondents believe marketing will own the customer buying experience in the future, while only 20 percent believe sales will own that experience. Real estate buying data illustrates the same paradigm shift. Nearly 90 percent of homebuyers searched online during their real estate search process, and 52 percent of first-time buyers start there. So how can today’s real estate agent capitalize on marketing moving into the driver’s seat?
Here are four ways:
1. Kill Interruption-Based Sales Tactics
It may still be easy to steal attention, but it’s harder than ever to earn it. This is the era of trust marketing. Cold-calling and -emailing aren’t dead, but they may be on life support. These tactics are part of an outdated sales model, in which salespeople were gatekeepers of information. Throughout the sales process, salespeople would slowly drip information out about the market. In the age of the Internet-educated buyer, this model breaks down. Buyers and sellers do their research and then engage with agents or brokerages. They control the buying process, and if you interrupt the process rather than informing their journey, you’re likely to be cut off.
In the old model, salespeople were so busy trying to reach a quota that they had little time left to actually listen and provide value to prospective buyers. That won’t fly with today’s buyers, who can’t stand unsolicited emails or unwanted calls. Want proof? Around 72 percent of Americans have signed up for the National Do Not Call Registry. Marketing now informs proactive lead prospecting. Realizing the goal isn’t to sell to buyers, but rather to engage with and be found by them, successful digital marketers are focusing on authentic storytelling and engaging content. Rather than simply leveraging sales collateral, you need to be interested in the topic you’re selling if you want to be interesting to potential buyers.
In this sense, salespeople become the conduit through which the right content is delivered to the right prospect at the right time. In addition, rather than focusing on creating new leads, they can become the buyer’s advisor. In real estate, sales nurtures the homebuyer with the research aspect of their buying process, all in the hope that they can be sold on contracting services from a real estate agency or brokerage.
2. Create Content That Educates, Informs and Engages
With marketing taking over for sales as the lead engagement channel with prospective buyers, content takes on an even more important role in the buying process. That means having a strategy to map your content to the buying process of your target customer. Whether it’s text, audio, video, email or another medium, content needs to hit the top, middle and bottom of the funnel:
- At the top of the funnel sits the content that identifies you or your brokerage as a resource for future homebuyers and sellers. For instance, if you are targeting first-time homebuyers, one strategy would be creating downloadable guides for first-time homebuyers that explains the end-to-end process of buying a house, obtaining financing and preparing for the big day, along with unique insights on buying a house in the specific community you’re covering.
- The mid-funnel content introduces your agency or brokerage, along with some of the key differentiators that help you solve the challenges of buying a home. For instance, if the buyer persona you’re targeting is young families with children, perhaps you begin to create content that illustrates some success stories of young family buyers who you have helped find homes near well-regarded school districts, playgrounds and family-centric hubs.
- Finally, bottom-funnel content should focus on specific new listings or personalized information for active buyers that is created with the goal of the buyer bringing you on as their agent. A great example of this could be a customized email that hits a bucket of active buyers interested in a specific neighborhood with the best new listings in the market.
All of this content assists in helping to move buyers through the purchasing process while also establishing the external brand of your agency or brokerage. Most importantly, it’s driven by information and data, not industry jargon. This is key for engagement and also helps with SEO and social discovery.
3. Leverage Social Networks for a Groundswell of Consumer Engagement
Outside of the mobile Internet, perhaps no other medium has had such a radical impact on sales as social networks and media. In fact, they’ve created a whole new model for sales – social selling. This is the practice of using social networks to research buyers, their spheres of influence and how to help them find you. With social networks, everyone within your brokerage or agency can have a role in selling by creating more connections and broader networks online.
The ability to listen through social allows salespeople-turned-marketers to take the pulse of the target market, and respond as buyers do research in real time. For agents, a good place to start is Facebook. In fact, research has shown that 74 percent of referral traffic to agents’ websites comes from Facebook.
Once you’ve found the right social network to communicate with homebuyers, you need to determine what sort of content you will engage them with. If you only post content about you, your product or your brokerage, you’ll hear crickets. You need to look at social through the eye of the buyer. Look at your LinkedIn and Twitter fans and followers. Where are your buyers? Then, become part of those networks and make your best impression. Your network is your net worth in social. Think of those who you have worked with in the past and expand. Leverage your college alumni relationships.
4. Utilize Real-time Buyer Engagement Opportunities
Social media has also created the introduction of real-time buyer engagement. Simply put, when buyer interest is expressed online, or specifically through social media, you need to reach out in real time. After all, according to an MIT study, you’re 100 times more likely to reach a lead calling within five minutes of their inquiry versus 30 minutes. The rule applies beyond inquiries, of course. Any sales signal can be followed up on in real-time, whether it’s a prospect opening up a weekly newsletter, clicking on a social media link or downloading a first-time homebuyer’s guide.
On mobile, research and inbound inquiries can happen almost instantaneously. A previous study from The National Association of Realtors and Google found that of new homebuyers using mobile to search, 48 percent are looking for directions to visit a listing, 21 percent locate a listing agent and 28 percent call the brokerage directly.
Of course, there are ways to automate real-time follow-up as well. Agents and brokerages can use calls-to-action (CTAs) on landing pages, emails and blog posts to encourage immediate engagement. For longer timelines, you can set up drip campaigns to ensure you don’t lose touch with important leads. In addition, as warm leads become hot, they can be transferred into a the bucket of “active buyers” for more targeted digital contact. Agents can even set up call tracking with a service like CallRail, which can send an email every time you receive a phone inquiry with context on the inbound buyer and how they found your business – enabling you to follow up right away.
Marketing on the Buyer’s Timetable
While all four of those tactics can help you capitalize on marketing becoming the new sales, it’s important to drive home the biggest overarching change in the marketplace. Today’s buyer has more control over the home search and buying process than ever before. As their knowledgeable advisor, you need to engage them with information at the best intervals along their journey, and be there when they finally commit to making a purchase. For the foreseeable future, you’re on the buyer’s timetable – not your own.
Seth Price is author of the upcoming book “Recognition,” VP of industry relations at Placester and a frequent keynote speaker who deeply understands the intersection of personal branding, marketing and sales to that helps create rocket fuel for growth. Find more about Seth on his blog and podcast, the Craft of Marketing.