Embracing Online Leads: Your Very Own Pond of Prospects

You may know what you’re supposed to be doing to convert online leads into new business, but are you actually doing it? Get pointers on streamlining your conversion process.

May 1, 2007

In the pre-Internet days, it used to be hard work to get good leads. It would sometimes require months of door knocking, cold-calling, and cultivating stay-in-touch programs. And, if the general market slowed down, like it recently has done in many parts of the country, your flow of leads would tend to slow down, too.

The Internet, however, never slows down and it never gets tired. It continues to deliver qualified leads regardless of current market conditions. This makes it the most prolific and reliable source of new business in the industry — period. You may think I’m exaggerating, but I’m not. As long as you know how to speak the language of your online leads, and you know what to do with them until they’re really ready to buy or sell, you’ll never have a shortage of clients.

Third-Party Lead Generation

There are two primary sources of Internet leads: your own Web site and third-party services. Generating leads from your Web site is a topic I have covered extensively in this column, so for now I’m going to focus on third-party lead generation. The following are several different categories of these kinds of services:

  • Franchise-Based. Examples include RE/MAX’s LeadStreet, Coldwell Banker’s LeadRouter, and Prudential’s affiliation with Yahoo! These are programs that franchise real estate brokerages offer for the benefit of affiliated agents.
  • Fee-Based. This includes HomeGain, Reply!, HouseValues.com, and many more. These companies spend a great deal of money to capture online real estate consumers and then sell them back to you as leads.
  • Free Services. This is a relatively new hybrid lead generation model in which the lead generation company makes money on advertising and provides leads free to agents. The most recent of these is Zillow's Home Q&A feature. This allows any agent to answer consumer questions about any property (even if another agent has it listed) and therefore become the area “expert.” This service costs nothing to the consumer or participating agents.

Clearly, with these types of services (and, of course, a targeted Web site), online lead generation is not a problem. Instead, a much bigger problem — some would even call it a headache — is knowing what to do with the leads once you have them.

Can You Speak the Langauge?

Have you ever been trained to work with the Internet Empowered Consumer (IEC)? Many agents haven’t been, which puts them at a big disadvantage when it comes to turning those often-anonymous e-mails from online consumers into real business. Here's what you need to know.

To successfully convert these leads requires an understanding of human behavior within the online context. Here are some of the fundamental principles of that behavior:

  • IECs want control, so give it to them. Because of their anonymity, the online consumer is in control and likes it that way. The more you try to take control (as you might do in a typical sales situation), the more you will push them away.
  • IECs value their privacy. Take every opportunity to reassure your online prospects that their privacy will be absolutely protected by you and your staff.
  • Few are ready to buy or sell. I estimate that 19 out of 20 online leads are from consumers in the information-gathering stage, and are not ready to explicitly declare their needs. These folks are easily converted to transactions, but only if you know how to nurture them to the point at which they are ready to move.

First Response Is Key

How you first respond to an online inquiry, regardless of its source, can make or break your chances of ever converting that lead into new business. Frankly, this is where most agents typically blow it. To provide some guidance, I created two e-mail scripts that I call “critical first response” e-mails. These are designed to be totally consistent with the wants, needs, and behavior of the IEC. There are two versions of this script, one for instances in which no phone number is provided in the inquiry, the other if there is a phone number provided. Below I’ve provided some excerpts, but you can click on the links if you have time to read the full e-mail script.

  • Phone Number Isn’t Provided: “I realize that you’re in the information gathering stage, and may not be ready to open up about who you are or what your needs are at this time. When you are ready to explore your real estate needs further, I will be happy to assist you. PS: As a way of saying 'Thanks!' I've given you a complementary subscription to my information-packed monthly newsletter, FIRST HOME News."
  • Phone Number Is Provided. “Since you provided a phone number in your original message, it appears that you are ready to discuss your home buying needs. If this is not the case, please let me know via a reply e-mail. Otherwise, we can discuss your needs in detail over the phone."

These scripts can do wonders, but they’re really just the first step. That’s because most of your online leads are not ready to do something now — they’re 3, 6, maybe even 12 months away from being ready to take action. Here’s how to make sure you don’t lose them between now and then.

Your Private Pond of Prospects

If you’ve ever done any fishing you know that unless the fish you caught is at least a certain minimum size, it must be thrown back into the water. Now think about your chances of ever catching that same fish again once it has grown to legal size. Not very good odds is it?

Yet, that is what the vast majority of agents do when they get an online lead that isn’t ready to move. They simply throw it back — or worse, ignore it. Now imagine that you have your very own private fish pond. And every time you caught a fish that was not quite ready, instead of throwing it back, you put it in your special pond. There, you have someone tending to the fish all the time, feeding and nurturing them until they were ready. This would mean you are practically guaranteed to convert all the “fish” you catch into business, at some time or other.

The most effective way to accomplish this is to hire an assistant or a virtual assistant who is adept at managing online leads. They will continue to “feed” your leads with appropriate drip e-mail until they are ready to be taken over by you. This strategy allows you to focus on listing, selling, and negotiating, yet guarantees a high online-lead conversion rate. In essence, you get to enjoy the best of both worlds, without being stuck in front of a computer.

Invaluable Skills

Online leads are a dime a dozen. Lead management and conversion skills are far more valuable. If you can learn to be a great online-lead farmer, you’ll reap more business than you ever thought possible — no matter what is happening to the general market.

Michael Russer, a.k.a. Mr. Internet®, is CEO of Russer Communications. He is a leading speaker and author in the real estate industry and has been writing about Internet marketing and virtual outsourcing since the dawn of the commercial Internet.