Where Are You Leading Your Online Leads?

First, choose the right method for generating Internet leads. Then, here’s what to do next.

November 13, 2014

It’s unlikely that every lead you get online is an actionable one. Leads pour in from real estate portals and other sources, but many of them aren’t buyers or sellers who are anywhere near taking the plunge into the market. So how do you get higher-quality leads, and what do you do to get the best chance at snagging their business?

At the “Building the Intelligent Internet Lead” session during the REALTORS® Conference & Expo in New Orleans, four top-producing real estate professionals opened up about where they find leads and how they go after them. What became clear is that there is no “silver bullet,” as one of them put it. You can refine your lead generation with a fine-toothed comb, but it’s up to you to decide the most effective way to spend your time — whether you should buy leads or troll for them yourself — and where you should go from there.

What’s the Best Method for Getting Leads?

Mariana Wagner, Keller Williams Realty, Colorado Springs, Colo.: “I used to spend my time going after more organic leads, and that worked well for me,” Wagner said. But as she built her real estate team, the Wagner iTeam, with her husband, Derek, she needed to manage her time more efficiently. She found the spending a little more money on lead generation was the right route for her.

“The best use of my time and my money is to buy leads,” she said. Wagner uses Leads Today, a company that creates neighborhood maps pinpointing FSBOs and expired and new listings, along with all the sellers’ relevant contact information (including names, phone numbers, e-mail addresses, and social media profiles). “People who log in to these lead-generation systems and put their information in — they’re serious. They’ve been the best sources for us.”

Wagner said she also gets a lot of listing leads through Facebook ads that she creates. These two methods have helped her team close four to six transactions a month, she said.

Lane Hornung, e-PRO®, founder and CEO of 8Z Real Estate, Boulder, Colo.: “Organic SEO has been a great lead generator, but that world is changing because the big real estate portals are playing at a very high level nationally,” Hornung said. “Getting your search results in the top 10 is getting harder.”

Particularly for new agents, Hornung recommended not focusing on SEO because of the overly competitive landscape — “unless you’re trying to win on a hyperlocal level, which agents can still do,” he said. Hornung says he focuses most of his company’s lead-generation efforts on pay-per-click Google ads and Facebook ads.

“We feel like we can control the experience there” as opposed to advertising on real estate portals, where you lose a lot of control over how the ad is placed, Hornung said. “Plus, Google and Facebook are not real estate brands.”

Christine Dwiggins, SRES, vice president of marketing at NextHome, San Francisco: For a franchise like NextHome, which provides its members with their own real estate websites, the key is to not overwhelm potential clients with bothersome forms. Dwiggins said that’s an easy way to turn off potential clients.

“People don’t want to be hounded by filling out forms and being captured as a lead,” she said. “They want to ask questions when they’re ready.”

Dwiggins said NextHome gets leads from several different sources and distributes them to its brokers and agents. One big source is online real estate portals. But the company doesn’t focus on capturing leads coming to its own sites. Instead, it focuses on “creating an experience for our users,” Dwiggins said.

Audie Chamberlain, vice president of marketing at The Partners Trust, Beverly Hills, Calif.: Online leads aren’t the bread and butter of Chamberlain’s company, he said. “In our market, 80 percent of leads come from referrals,” Chamberlain noted. “We see Internet leads as an emerging market.”

But he sees two sources as primary when thinking about where consumers go to find a practitioner: LinkedIn and the big real estate portals. “For organic online leads, you have to get your LinkedIn profile bulletproof,” he said. “But you have to think about where the audience is going. In our market, they love to go to the portals.”

So The Partners Trust, he said, is beginning to advertise more on portals. In four months, such advertising has brought the company more than 100 leads a month. But it’s still early, and the company is still refining its strategy to get online leads.

“We’re not putting much more of an effort into it other than time,” Chamberlain said.

What Do You Do After You Get the Leads?

Wagner: “You have to follow up with a lead within five minutes,” Wagner said. She knows that when she gets a lead, she’s usually not the first agent that lead has made contact with. “Way more than half the time, the seller says, ‘You are the first person to call me back.’ We pretty much have the listing then if we want it.”

She cautioned pros not to rely on e-mail as a primary means of first contact with a lead. “We get leads in our spam boxes sometimes,” she said. “So can you imagine how many of our follow-up emails land in spam boxes?”

After making an initial phone call, Wagner sends a handwritten card to a lead the same day. But what you call a lead back and don’t get an answer?

“We keep calling until we get a hold of them,” Wagner said. “If they don’t respond in a week, we drop them into our ‘long-term nurture plan,’ so they start receiving our newsletters and other correspondence.”

Hornung: Real estate professionals aren’t lazy, Hornung said. They just can’t respond to every lead that comes there way because it doesn’t make much economic sense.

“One of the decisions we have to make is whether this person is worth our time right now, and maybe you don’t need to follow up on that person right now,” he said.

Hornung’s company employs a “client care team” staffed with people who make the first point of contact with a lead. They call leads and find out whether they are selling or buying or both and which neighborhoods they are looking in, and then the client care representatives tell the leads a little bit about the agent they will be working with.

“It gives our agents what I call ‘hand-crafted leads,’” Hornung said. “They’ve got even more information about the lead before the agent makes the first call. When the hand-off from client care to agent happens, we expect the agent to act quickly.”

He cautioned, though, that hand-offs can be fumbled. It’s important that the client care team fully understand their duties, he said.

“Whether you’re an individual agent, a team, or a brokerage, you can put someone in between you and the raw lead,” he said. “It makes a better experience for the agent and the client. But it’s not a good use of your time to follow up on unscrubbed Internet leads.”

Chamberlain: “There is no silver bullet” when it comes to how to pursue a lead, Chamberlain said. “We live in an Uber world — consumers today can get anything in real time at the touch of a button. For real estate, we’re not there yet with all of these other apps that our clients are using.”

Ultimately, it’s about the personal connection, he said. And he encouraged “newer, hungrier associates” to take on the challenge of making faster, smarter contacts with leads.

He spoke of an agent only seven months into his real estate career who decided to double down on leads he was paying for from real estate portals. It wasn’t as much about how quickly he contacted them but the quality of his message once he got them on the phone.

“He goes into each lead fearlessly: ‘I know you’ve sent this inquiry to three or four other people, but I’m here to help you,’” Chamberlain relayed. “That agent has closed six deals in seven months. Your goal is to take that Internet lead offline.”

Graham Wood
Senior editor

Graham Wood is senior editor for REALTOR® Magazine. He can be reached at gwood@realtors.org.