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By Joe Cooke

Conventional wisdom and industry experience indicate that we have to follow up with a potential client at least seven times before we expect to stick in their minds enough for them to call us when they need us.

Whether your database is a thousand strong, or a mere dozen, you can ramp up your follow-up campaign right now. Follow-up will build a small database into a powerhouse, and it can whittle a large, cumbersome database into a focused, income-producing asset.

Before you launch any kind of follow-up campaign, stratify your database. Start with your very best clients and give them some kind of sorting label, such as "hot" or "gold" or the traditional letter "A." These are your repeat customers. They send you referrals, they buy and sell with you exclusively, and they may be investors, friends and family members (but don't count on those last two categories.)

Any client who is on your list as being ready to buy or sell, but who does not quite rise to the gold level then falls into the silver category. These are the warm leads, or the letter "B" clients.

Everyone else is bronze or "C" for cool. You may create a fourth category later-"D" for delete or call them iron or lead or even slag (the crusty formation of impurities on the top of molten metal-it is skimmed off and thrown away.) The bronze category tends to be the largest and the toughest to consistently contact.

1. Semi-Monthly Marketing Update
For your Bronze leads, try a marketing update. Send it once a quarter, or once every two months. For your snail-mail recipients it could be a postcard. There are companies that will manage these postcard campaigns for you-you just upload your information to their web site and they produce and mail the postcards. For an e-mail version, just use the exact same data, in the same format. The entire message should fit in the average "preview" pane of an e-mail browser.

Try something like this:
"Lower Lost Valley Real Estate Update"
# of sales in the last 90 days: 210
Average sales price: $225,000
Average days on market: 95
Average sales price this time last year: $195,000

Two warnings:
– Don't try to sell them anything. The point is to stay in contact. If they are no longer interested in your market, they will tell you eventually. If your bronze category is large, you may not have the time or energy to do anything more than an e-mail contact twice a month. For the post card portion of your campaign, you will have to follow up with a phone call. Simply say, "Hi, Jane, this is Bob Smith with Lost Valley Real Estate. I'm just checking in to see that you've been getting the marketing updates I've been sending, and to see if you have any questions."

You may get a "Yes, keep them coming," or a "Don't bother sending them anymore," or some variation. Whatever it is, just say "Thank you" and leave it at that. Unless, of course, they say, "Hey, I was just getting ready to call you." That will actually happen more often than you expect.

– Find a system to send out individual e-mails rather than "spam" type mass e-mails or messages to "undisclosed-recipient" or "no-reply" or other impersonal recipient lines. A system like Constant Contact can send personalized e-mails to your database, even including a "Dear Jane," at the beginning.

However, avoid the temptation to send a fancy HTML e-zine. As pretty as they are, they are likely to either (a) go unread, or (b) end up in the spam box.

2. Personal Notes
Regardless of where someone falls in your database, one of the most powerful gifts you can give someone still costs only a few dollars. Keep a stash of note cards handy, along with stamps. Send a note anytime someone helps you, calls you, helps someone else, is mentioned in the news or even if you simply notice something in the news that you think they should know about. This is one of the most powerful business building tools we have, and hardly anyone uses it.

3. Newsletter
Newsletters are a great way to stay in touch. Everyone has some interest in the market, whether they just bought from you recently or are thinking about buying or selling in the near future. Keep your newsletters focused on the market and real estate issues. Keep any sales pitch subtle and to the point. Don't talk about yourself.

4. Mailings
Different than newsletters, mailings are informational flyers. Many agents use these for their silver and gold clients, since the per-unit cost can be comparatively high. These work best if they are a single page with a cover letter. Try to rotate them, one month sending useful information on real estate, such as how to stage your home for sale, and the next month sending something of general interest, such as how to cook a Thanksgiving turkey.

5. Coupons
Try approaching your favorite furniture store, paint store, flower store or other local business, offering to mail out a discount coupon to all your clients. You'll find that soon, businesses will be waiting in line to get a coupon in one of your mailings, and your clients will love the thoughtful gift. Unless your database is largely out-of-towners, avoid Internet businesses and national coupons. Real estate is a local business, and your clients want to do business with the people in their own town.

6. Hud-1 Forms
Keep a copy of every closing form and send them to your clients in November when they are (hopefully) doing their tax planning. Even if they haven't misplaced their copy, they will appreciate the thoughtfulness.

7. Drop-Ins
For your very best clients, schedule a time to come by. Bring a small gift. My wife always made the very best molasses spice cookies. We packaged them up and I dropped them off to friends, business owners and even my media contacts. In the spring, you might try small potted plants. Whatever it is you choose to give, always attach a "thank-you" note.

8. Phone Calls
Phone calls are less effective than a personal note but still appropriate. Call on a client as you would call on a friend. It could be just to say "Hi," or it could be to tell them about a sale at Macy's or a great new golf course that just opened up across town.

9. Personal E-Mail
As opposed to the short e-mail market update, tailor a personal e-mail specifically to the client. If you have an out-of-town client that has been watching the market for a while, or is interested in a certain type of property, make sure you are updating them regularly with new market information, even if your update is telling them that you have no new news. The point is to stay in touch. If you don't, someone else will.

10. Special Occasions
Our insurance agent sends each of our kids a correctly sized polo shirt on their birthdays. A local business owner who is a client of mine sends me a birthday card every year. Obviously, they have us in their database, along with our kids, all of our birthdays and other special occasions. If you really want to stand out from the crowd, make it a point to remember the names and ages of your client's children. If you can't do it in your head, find a field or two in your database where you can track that kind of information. Track and recognize wedding anniversaries, move-in dates, graduations and any other important life events.

Finally, it's been said that the metaphysical interpretation of the number seven is "many," and that the phrase "seven times seven" as used in the Bible actually meant "as many as it takes." Whether or not that is true in the Biblical sense, it certainly is true in real estate. The real rule of thumb for follow-up is just that-touch base with your clients as many times as it takes to take them from bronze to silver to gold.