The Prospect Warm-Up

When cold-calling became taboo, sales associates got creative. Today, technology draws much better results.

March 1, 2011

Cold calling used to be a standard part of business for nearly everyone in residential real estate. But then, in 2002, federal and state Do Not Call laws came along, bringing with them an industrywide fear that a key prospecting tool would be gone for good.

But many practitioners today say the ban was a positive development for the real estate industry. "Most consumers don’t appreciate being cold-called and having a sales pitch forced on them," says Sam DeBord, managing broker at Coldwell Banker ­Danforth in Seattle. "Getting rid of cold calls helps our reputation."

Here’s how DeBord and others have transitioned from making unwelcome phone calls to receiving warm leads from receptive consumers.

Give prospects what they really want . . . and then call.

"Consumers today clearly want more and more information," DeBord says. "Our focus is to give them as many tools on as many different platforms as possible to help them understand the market."

DeBord does that through his Web site and blogs. "We publish as much relevant and useful data for our clients as possible, from market updates to neighborhood guides," he says. DeBord also writes a monthly blog post for his local newspaper analyzing price trends and reporting significant waterfront home sales.

The return on DeBord’s online endeavors: When anyone from his team does call a prospect (in line with the applicable rules, of course), the brokerage name is often recognized and respected. "We have a far better conversion percentage than we’d otherwise have," he says. "With cold calling, you could get appointments, but the client’s initial impression was to not fully trust you. Today, if you provide service in the way clients expect, they’ll go with you, without a sales pitch."

Break the ice with e-mail.

"Communicating with prospects through e-mail is much more personal, effective, and productive than cold calling," says Ruth Miron-Schleider, CRS, e-PRO, broker-owner of Miron Properties in Tenafly, N.J.

Miron-Schleider asks everyone she meets for their e-mail address and permission to contact them; she now has an e-mail database of more than 1,000 prospects. "E-mail allows people to initiate communication with me, and they can and do ask for information and resources they want and need," she says. "It could be another year or two, or three, before they give me their listing. But they view me not as an intrusive salesperson but as someone who has provided useful information."

Don’t ask for too much too fast.

Joe Adkins says his silver bullet is video. The broker-owner at The Realty Factor in Orlando, Fla., places ads for properties on Craigslist, eBay’s Kijiji, and Backpage directing people to a Web site.

"We’ll have a 30-second video that, for example, gives viewers a property tour and offers a free list of bank foreclosures if they fill out their information," Adkins says. "The less information we ask for, the more leads we get. So typically we ask for only a name and e-mail address."

Adkins has tracked his results closely and has tinkered with his strategy to get the most leads. "If we don’t autoplay the video, people don’t click ‘play,’" he explains. "If we autoplay the video and let viewers pause it, they’ll pause it. But if we let the video run, they’ll watch and give us leads. No video, no leads."

Adkins has happily bid adieu to cold calling. "When we were cold calling, it was tough to get any response," he says. "Now it takes 20 minutes to post a landing page and place ads, and for every 100 unique visitors, we capture 2 to 3 percent of leads."

freelance writer

G.M. Filisko is a Chicago area freelance and former editor for REALTOR® Magazine.