Where Real Estate Gets Its Dirt

Lead Ambiguity

One of the favorite vendor pastimes is trying to solve “the big problems” in online real estate today. This happens in hallway conversations, lobby bars, or big plush chairs in hotel lobbies. One of the biggest topics is the fact that most agents don’t respond to leads. Who cares if your site has tons of traffic, if the leads it generates don’t get responded to? And if you are selling products to agents that claim to generate leads then you have a bigger problem. Retention.

Typically the conversation ends in a head shake, a swirl of the adult beverage you’ve been sipping on, and the muttering…

“Stupid agents”.

I got a call from Dave Howe from MetroList Services in Sacramento. Dave has been in the MLS business longer than most. He’s seen vendors come and go through his market for many, many, years. I fondly call him the “hardest working man in the MLS business”. Anyway Dave wanted to chat and said to me, “You know I’ve come to realize, it’s more important to brand a lead “trusted” to an agent, than it is to brand a listing “trusted” to a consumer”. In a Yogi Bearish type of way Dave was on to something.

But how do you brand a lead “trusted”, or maybe a better word is “legitimate”? Most lead notification comes via email, and you can’t really brand a subject line.

After a bit of back and forth what we came to was that the problem really wasn’t “stupid agents” not responding to leads, but the shear amount of other email filling their inboxes that causes the agent to be distracted. I’m not talking about the “mickey mouse” or “john doe” leads, there will always be those. What I’m more talking about is the desensitization agents get from the promotional email they get from vendors promising them leads/services. Sometimes they can be from the very vendor who they are paying to receive leads from trying to upsell them to a another package.

There have been several solutions to this problem, most of them center on the broker (i.e. Weichert) taking over the lead follow up process and doling out the leads to paying/qualified agents. But the problem still remains for a vast amount of agents wanting to sign up for these lead generation services directly. It’s a huge opportunity.

But it’s time to change the premise of the argument. We (vendors) are so compelled to upsell agents to the next column of products and services we forgot the rules of any long term relationship. We need to establish trust first, then deliver on what we promised. If we do that, the rest will follow.

The big problem in online real estate isn’t just the agents not responding to leads (or using your product), it’s stupid vendors who want to jump from first base to third base too quickly.

  1. This is awesome Greg – I was having a very similar conversation with a broker friend last week. I’ve always heard the complaint that “RDR” or “Realtors Don’t Read” but I’ve never thought it was that simple. What I’ve learned increasingly over time is that agents read what they think will be valuable to them. This means crafting headlines / subject lines / tweets that get their attention AND that deliver on the promise when they read more or click through. What you describe above – where they learn that most of the emails from a vendor (or MLS/association/broker for that matter) are NOT useful so they stop opening the emails….that’s can take some work to solve, to repair the communication relationship.

  2. @Matt It was our conversation at T3 plus the call from Dave that made me connect the dots. I thought of a simple solution to this problem. Next time I see you (Midyear?) lets chat.

  3. Interesting post Greg. I know we grappled w/ this issue together a few years ago.

    In the short term rental space we faced a similar problem. The solution was a universal inbox that a) provided immediate meaningful auto responders based on parsed data (e.g. a full price quote or alternative accommodations) and b) a super quick process to follow up on “pending items” (and discard junk).

    Our marketing partners love this because we share this aggregate data back along w/ conversion outcomes with them which they can use to make a case for their services.

    Is no one doing the same in the RE Lead world? For agents, the obvious killer “app” would be a mobile app that uses push notification and “eats” leads from all the major channels like Zillow, Trulia as well as the agent’s website and MLS.

    Perhaps something to add to CloudCMA?

  4. So, me and my team have spent the last couple of years digging into this problem. Zulia loves the unresponsive agent because they then upsell the responsive ones. A Zulia rep once famously told a CMLS audience that “…they want to insure that the consumer has a positive experience”, so they replace an unresponsive agent’s info from a listing with one that’s paying attention. Consumer gets a response. No harm no foul?

    We’re launching this public search portal/lead monster called Spring in Chattanooga tomorrow. This issue played huge in our many bar napkin discussions. How will a locally branded search ever compete when 85% of your membership is asleep at the wheel?

    There are several sides to this, but I think you nailed one Greg. They will respond to that lead source which benefits them most directly (and consistently). If our gamble is right, we’ve created a beautiful, mobile, trusted client zone with no lead hostage-taking, branded to the local MLS. This fertile lead ground, loyal to the broker will (fingers crossed) quickly become a trusted source and therefore THE place where local leads are created, nurtured and converted.

    The first step to consistent interaction.

  5. Interesting conversation. This is always a challenge when there are multiple messages to deliver and historically only one email address. That problem is compounded when one of the messages is a consumer lead that you want the agent to respond to quickly.

    It’s not just upsell messaging that creates this situation, but can be upcoming training alerts, product enhancement notifications, etc. (although admittedly it is sometimes upgrade opportunities).

    We ended up building a couple tools for Homes.com customers to help with this which are similar to what @Rob described. “Lead Gator” aggregates all the leads agents are receiving from anywhere online (other portal sites, their own agent sites, etc.) into one place, and our native apps provide push notification of these leads to agents.

    Even our most engaged agents found it difficult to manage the process when it remained rooted in email. At least removing lead notifications from the fray of the inbox is a start.

  6. @Jason Lead Gator sounds interesting. If you are aggregating other lead sources then it might be worth another place to check everyday.

    I wonder as @Rob suggests if we just bring it out of the email realm, maybe sending a Text alert. People pay more attention to text messages than email nowadays.

  7. In fear of Homes.com ‘dog-piling’ on this conversation, I felt it important to point out Dave Howe’s original premise. For various reasons, agents have become conditioned to not trust many of their property lead emails, so they just delete potentially valuable leads with disregard. Through our partnership with MLS’s, Homes.com has been promoting the brand “MLS” to the consumer. “The local MLS is trusted source for property data.” Mr. Howe points out that MLS means even more to the real estate professional. We took this to heart and plan to use the term “MLS Trusted” in lead notifications when Homes.com has a partnership with the MLS and also has received permission for this messaging.

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