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The definitive approach to high-tech/high-touchBy Joe Cooke

According to the most recent NAR survey, 80% of America’s home-shoppers use the Internet to initiate their search and 81% of those Internet-savvy searchers use a real estate agent when they are ready to buy.
That means that a majority of the potential clients out there are contacting you through the Internet before they call, before they drop by your office and even before they hit an open house.
Despite the fact that consumers are initiating contact in a “high-tech” environment, they still expect “high-touch” personal service from their agent.

High-tech and High-touch
Clients who are willing to pay a commission expect to receive valuable services in exchange for their money. That means that you have to call them on the phone, send them a personal note or even drop in for a visit. However, you have to get the timing right. People start their home search much earlier than they used to by logging on to the first real estate site that pops up in their browser-hopefully yours.
The good news: your real estate Web site is generating a robust list of prospects.
The bad news: most of them are “just looking.”
If you have several Internet leads coming in every day, they are likely to go unanswered if your mind is all on the high-touch activities. Automated e-mails and tickler files allow you to follow up over an extended period of time without losing your mind, but the automated responses won’t convert those potential clients to paychecks. The ideal response system has to integrate both high-tech and high-touch.

Here are 9 ways to integrate high-tech and high-touch:
1 – Follow up fast, follow up often
2 – Let them know that you are a real person
3 – Give them all the information they want and need
4 – Implement a high-tech drip e-mail campaign
5 – Add high-touch to your follow up items
6 – Set up a tickler file
7 – Make time for the high-touch
8 – Track your efforts
9 – Stay in touch for as long as it takes

Follow up Fast, Follow up Often
Most people who are browsing the Internet for properties will eventually buy through the agent that returned their inquiry the fastest and then provided the best follow up.
Sellers of commodity items like office supplies, music and other retail items have the high-tech follow-up approach figured out. They use auto-responders, drip e-mail campaigns, special offerings and newsletters to keep in touch.
For instance, my son saved up $80 for a motorcycle helmet. We logged on to the Internet, did a quick search, clicked on the first vendor that popped up, picked the color from a palate and bought it without any human interaction. I now get a monthly e-mail from the vendor advertising specials, close-outs and featured items. I never expect to speak to a real, live human being.

You Are a Real Person
Paul May, broker/owner of the Help-U-Sell franchise in Las Vegas includes a streaming video reply in his initial responses using an online video content management system at HelloWorld.com.
“It puts a face to my e-mail to let you know there is a real person to work with you,” says May.
But don’t fall into the trap of talking about your GRE and ABI designations and all the millions of dollars of sales you’ve made; you will lose their interest. It’s not about you. This is a hard pill to swallow sometimes, but it’s a crucial point.

Give Them Information
Clients expect information. If you are stingy with the information you give out, or if you ask for too much information from you prospects before you give them what they want, they will go somewhere else. They live in a world of almost unlimited choices. The smart real estate agent is going to give them the information, knowing that they will get it anyway. What reason is there to hold it back?
The more you give, the more comfortable they will be in asking you for more.

Drip e-mail Campaign
Short 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.
The NAR survey indicates that buyers chose their agent based on two main criteria: reputation and trustworthiness.
You demonstrate your reputation through useful content, such as how to shop for a mortgage, what to look for when choosing an inspection provider and what to expect when you buy a home in Sunny Valley.
You demonstrate trustworthiness through personal service. Include a discount coupon for some national florist chain, or include an article on a community service organization, such as Habitat for Humanity or the Make a Wish Foundation.
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.

Personalize
Once you have established a relationship with a prospect through market updates and e-zine contacts, start tailoring personal e-mails 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.

Tickler File
Create a list of leads to call or e-mail each day. Keep this list scheduled out for two to three weeks ahead. Follow up for at least six months. Personalize your follow up for the warm leads but let cool leads drop into your drip e-mail campaign.

Make Time for the High-Touch
Paul May sets aside one day each week, between five and seven, to make follow-up phone calls. These are not the initial follow-up calls; they are the ongoing follow-ups. Remember, the initial call or e-mail response has to happen right away, preferably within an hour of the initial inquiry. After that initial response, set a follow-up. Put it on your calendar. If something comes up and you can’t get to it, move it forward.
The key is continuous follow-up for as long as it takes.

Track your Efforts
Use a database to track your marketing efforts. Research systems like Top Producer®, Act!® and Maximizer® to find the right one for you. To find other solutions, search the web for “real estate contact management software.” Some vendors allow you to download the product and use it on a trial basis for 30 days. The start-up period can be challenging, but the long-term benefits are worth it. In addition to tracking and scheduling your marketing activities, you can log birthdays, hobbies, job changes and anniversaries.

As Long as it Takes
The NAR survey reports that typical buyers search for eight weeks before signing on the dotted line, but we know from experience that it can be as much as two years (or longer) from the moment of first contact to the commission check. On the other hand, they may buy tomorrow. You just don’t know.
Several years ago I received an e-mail from a woman on the west coast. From the tone of her writing, I thought she might be in her mid-twenties. She told me she had always dreamed of owning a certain grand old estate in my town. That was all she wrote. I set her up in my follow up system and we corresponded off and on for several years.
Eventually the manor and surrounding grounds came on the market, so I called her. She blew my assumptions away. It turned out that her husband was a successful surgeon almost ready to retire and that her youngest daughter was about to head off to college. It took a bit of work on my part, but they ended up with the house of their dreams. From the date of that first e-mail inquiry to closing: over two years.

Your Competitive Edge
Remember, with the market slowing and with the number of real estate agents at a record high, converting Internet leads to cash is more important than ever. You will never get every sale, but you can increase your odds dramatically by practicing the fine art of high-tech/high-touch follow-up. That will be your competitive edge.

Joe Cooke writes and speaks regularly on marketing, motivation and self-improvement.

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