6 Best Practices for Online Leads

A well-thought-out strategy for responding to e-mails is central to your success with today’s Web-savvy buyers and sellers.

June 1, 2008

If you're like many of today's real estate practitioners, the majority your new leads come from the Web. An online consumer will shoot you an e-mail (often anonymously), fill out a form on your Web site, or maybe just send you a text message.

Given today's challenging market conditions, you want to treat these inquiries like gold. You must respond professionally — honoring prospects' desire for privacy while also providing valuable information that will eventually turn them into clients. Here are six general rules that will help you accomplish that goal.

Best Practice #1: Respond in Kind

If a prospect e-mails you, respond via e-mail. If a prospect text messages you, respond via text. (By the way, you will see more initial online inquiries via text messages as the “Thumb Generation” reaches the age where they are considering purchasing their first home.) The general rule is to respond in kind, unless the inquiry explicitly asks you to do otherwise.

Best Practice #2: Don’t Call Them

If you've somehow acquired a prospect's phone number and you're tempted to pick up the phone, stop yourself. It’s generally a bad idea. Why? You risk driving that potential client away because in all probability, he or she just wanted information, not a salesperson trying to set up an appointment.

Most human beings feel vulnerable and defensive when they’re on the phone with a salesperson with whom they don’t have a relationship. That’s one reason why Internet is such a popular place for prospects’ to gather information before speaking to a real estate professional.

So, is it ever appropriate to call an online prospect in response to an online inquiry? Yes, there are a couple of exceptions.

  • If the prospects explicitly ask you to call them and provide their phone number.
  • If it is clear that the lead has come directly from your highly targeted Web site, and the prospects offered their phone number voluntarily (in other words, they were not forced to reveal it in order to access information on your site or order a report). It’s so important the lead comes from your highly targeted Web site because then it’s more likely they’ve already learned about your business and have started trusting you. That’s a contrast from most inquiries from third-party lead generation services or “one size fits all” sites are actually quite cold.

Best Practice #3: Always Include Your E-mail Signature

An e-mail signature is an information block, usually at the end of your message, that includes your complete contact information. In addition to being professional, it is a required disclosure by some real estate regulatory jurisdictions. Once you have established a solid and ongoing client relationship with the prospect, including your signature in each e-mail message is no longer absolutely necessary. However, you still may decide it's a good idea, as it provides a convenient way for clients to find your contact information.

Best Practice #4: There’s No Such Thing as Too Fast

Online consumers are a very impatient bunch (remember, the Internet connects people around the world in just milliseconds). They expect a very fast response to their inquiries. Ideally, you will respond to e-mail within a few minutes. However, this presents a logistics problem if you’re showing property, at a listing appointment, or in the middle of a heated negotiation — or on vacation, at your child’s dance recital, playing golf, etc.

So, how can you be responsive without having to sit in front of your computer all day? The most practical answer, in my opinion, is to use a virtual assistant who specializes in online lead management. VAs do sit in front of their computer all day and therefore are in a position to respond immediately on your behalf. The best place to find a VA with specific real estate sales support skills like these is REVA Network (in the interest of full disclosure, I’m one of the founders of this network).

In addition to acting as your online proxy by providing immediate response to online inquiries, they can also help you stay in touch with those online leads who are not quite ready to move just yet. Should an inquiry arrive via text message, you at least will be in a better position to respond to it in a timely fashion since it arrives on your cell phone. Once again however, you could re-direct these messages to your VA to handle them as well.

Best Practice #5: Keep in Touch, Or Else

Or else you risk losing the prospects forever. I’d estimate that 19 of 20 valid online real estate related inquiries are prospects in the information gathering stage and can be three to 18 or more months away from taking action. So if you want any chance of doing business with this massive 95-precent segment of online leads, you need a way to stay in touch that doesn’t drive them away.

Drip marketing is a great solution for turn latent leads into closed transactions, If you follow these guidelines:

  • Give them value. Every message of your drip campaign needs to be perceived as highly valuable by the recipient. If the prospect is part of your specific target market (luxury buyers, first-time buyers, etc.), put them into a campaign that addresses their specific needs. If all you know is their interest in a particular property (typical for most third-party lead generation services), then provide them with ongoing, up-to-date information about properties and neighborhoods in the general area of their interest.
  • Don’t overwhelm or underwhelm. You want prospects to remember you for the right reasons. Avoid contacting them more than once a week or you’ll likely push them away. On the other hand, make sure your campaign keeps in touch with them no less than once a month.
  • Make it easy for them to say “no thanks.”At the bottom of each message (assuming you’re doing a drip e-mail campaign), include easy “one-click” opt-out instructions in case the prospect no longer wants to receive your messages. Online consumers don’t like to feel like they’re trapped into receiving something they don’t want. Also, since most email drip campaign systems track opt-out requests, you can see whether your campaign is doing its job or not.

Best Practice #6: Treat Online Leads Like Human Beings

Yes, there is a person on the other end of that e-mail you just received. Remember that online consumers are human beings just like you and me. The key is understanding human behavior in the online context, and then leveraging that understanding into practical communication strategies that result in the highest likelihood of converting casual inquiries into closed transactions.

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.