Keep the Leads Flowing

A low-cost strategy for creating smartly worded classified ads will keep prospects in your pipeline year-round.

March 1, 2010

Is real estate really a seasonal business? It can certainly seem that way. In most markets home sales predictably peak at certain times of the year and slow down at others. This hills-and-valleys rhythm is something that many practitioners have come to accept.

In fact, with the spring selling season in sight, most of us are gearing up for one of those much-anticipated "hills."

But during traditionally slower months, many practitioners reason that there's little use in trying to find customers. The result: They all but abandon effective and consistent lead generation until the market picks up. And the notion that it's harder to find customers at certain times of year becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

In reality, there's no reason your business has to suffer at any time of year. You have to make the decision that lead generation is a priority 12 months of the year, regardless of how your market is performing. If your competitors aren't putting forth effort during the slow times, you have a huge opportunity, just by being consistent, to reach prospects who are serious about buying.

It sounds like an easy enough concept. So why don't more real estate professionals do it?

For starters, most people dread lead generation more than anything. Cold calling, organizing client parties, buying big billboard ads—these traditional activities can be time-consuming, expensive, and downright unpleasant. And like most unpleasant tasks, lead generation becomes something that practitioners worry about and subconsciously avoid, choosing to keep themselves busy on the more enjoyable aspects of the business.

In my 22 years in the business, my success came in large part because of the way I approached lead generation. I took the seasonality out of my business because I had an easy system involving ads I placed throughout the year.

The cornerstone of this system is what I like to call "reverse prospecting," in which qualified prospects call me, not the other way around. My pipeline was filled on a consistent basis, which meant I always had enough good customers to work with no matter what season it was.

Given the fact that many practitioners today are keeping a close eye on their marketing funds, I'll focus here on how to execute the strategy with very little cash—through classified ads you place online (such as Craigslist) or in your local newspaper. These ads are inexpensive or free and people who are reading the real estate classifieds tend to be prospects who are actively looking for homes.

Here are five steps to effectively reaching and converting those buyers using my system:

1. Think of advertising in a new way.

Even though you're placing an ad, your goal is not to sell the property, as counter intuitive as that may sound. That's because it's virtually impossible to sell a house with a classified ad.

When a potential buyer sees a real estate ad and calls, in what percentage of cases does that person come to view that particular listing and then buy it? What happens most often is that, as you begin to describe the property, the buyer starts to eliminate it and politely tells you that it's either too big or too small, in the wrong area, or too much money. If you've mastered the art of call conversion, you can get the buyer interested in a different listing. Therefore, when you're writing your classified ads, you shouldn't be thinking about how to showcase all the wonderful features of a particular home. Instead, think about how you can get the highest response.

2. Make ads compelling and nonthreatening.

The most effective and least expensive way to generate leads is to offer prospects something they want and make it very easy for them to get it. That means respecting the fact that no one likes to be sold to. You'll get a much greater response if prospects don't have to speak with a salesperson to get the information they're after.

How does this translate to an itsy-bitsy classified ad? Don't focus your limited ad space identifying how many bedrooms a particular listing has or whether the garage is attached. This will only eliminate great prospects who think they're looking for something else. The better option: Explain your listings in general terms, and prompt the reader to contact you, visit your Web site, or listen to a recorded phone message for more information.

Let's take a look at two ad examples. The first property ad is very typical of what I see in newspapers and Web sites. The second one is an actual ad I ran in my local paper week in and week out. When I placed these two ads in the same paper, on the same page, I received about four times the number of calls on the second ad.

3. Prepare for incoming calls and Web visits.

The whole point of running classified ads is to get motivated buyers to contact you. When they decide to take action, you need to provide a positive experience so that they'll want to continue doing business with you.

Your recorded voice message should have a friendly demeanor and thank the caller for contacting you about the listing. For example: "Hi, this is Bob Smith from XYZ Realty. Thank you for calling to receive information on lovely, detached homes with private yards on quiet streets in Newmarket. Please leave your name, price range, and mailing address so that we can send you a list of homes that match your criteria. Thank you for calling. Get ready to leave your message—here comes the tone."

On the Web, make sure prospects are landing on a page that provides a similar friendly message and a form where they can submit their name, price range, and contact information. Don't forget to create a reliable system for documenting all your prospects; those who don't plan to buy right away should go into your drip marketing programs.

4. Fine-tune your follow-up.

Before calling prospects back, it's smart to consult a carefully worded script that will help you identify their needs; establish their timing and motivation; and, most important, set up a face-to-face appointment.

The key is to be helpful and nonthreatening. The best way to encourage prospects to meet with you is to make a targeted offer that provides a great benefit to them for very little work on their part. For example, ask buyers: "Would you like to receive a daily list of homes that match your criteria?" If they say yes, respond: "Great, if we can get together for about 15 minutes, I can listen to exactly what you're looking for so that we don't miss out on the perfect home. When is a good time to get together, days or evenings?"

5. Track your results and test relentlessly.

Consistency throughout the year is your goal. Place ads that will appear every single week, and run tests often to see if different wording will produce better results.

If you're trying to attract prospects in a certain niche, try using universal wording that would appeal specifically to that group. (Avoid language that would violate fair housing rules. At REALTOR.org/realtormag, search for "Tips for Fair Advertising.") By tracking each approach, you can quickly determine the best messages and the best places to run them to get maximum return on your advertising.

Craig Proctor is founder and CEO of Craig Proctor Productions, a real estate coaching company based in Newmarket, Ontario. Before leaving real estate sales at the end of 2009 to focus exclusively on coaching, Proctor spent all 22 years of his career as a top salesperson with RE/MAX International. For more on his selling system, visit www.thecraigproctorsystem.com.

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