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By Joe Cooke

RISMEDIA, Jan. 7, 2008-“We’re interviewing two other agents,” your prospect informs you.

At that moment, do you think, “Great! This is wonderful. Once they compare my marketing program to my competition’s then this listing is pretty much in the bag!”

Or, do you hear a little voice in your head that says, “Great. Now I’m probably going to have to fight over the commission rate.”

There is a reason you end up taking a cut in pay to get a listing. If you offer the same services as any other agent, then price is the only competitive edge left to you.

Ask yourself this question: How do home sellers pick an agent? When the National Association of Realtors polled home sellers and buyers, they found that reputation and professionalism were the top two criteria for selecting an agent. If you ask 100 real estate agents to describe what makes them different from every other agent, they will say things like, “I’m the most professional. I’m the best. I know the market. I know the industry.”

Everyone says that. Everyone puts a sign in the yard. Everyone places information in the MLS in the same way. Everyone runs ads in the paper. Everyone has a Web site. Everyone holds open houses. So, what makes you different?

One of the key elements in any marketing plan is differentiation. All of your designations are fine. You’ve learned much by going through the process to get them. But most people have no idea what GRI or ABA stands for, nor do they care. And 20 years of experience tells them little about what you do. For all you know, your prospects may have listed a home with an agent with 20 years of experience that still did business the way we did 20 years ago, and it was a disaster.

Telling your prospects that you are better than anyone else is an empty promise. You need to show them. To do that, you actually have to do something better than everyone else, and it has to be something tangible. That’s where the CMP comes in.

The Power of Customized Marketing Plans
Make an appointment to preview the home. On that first visit, collect information. Ask questions. How soon do you need to sell? Do you have another home picked out? Do you have an idea of how much you want to ask? Who else are you interviewing? How do you feel about open houses? What criteria are you using to select your agent?

Don’t get into pricing or commission discussions on the preview visit. Your goal is to collect enough information to create the marketing plan. Tell them about your system. You can say something like this:

“Most agents just enter information in the MLS, stick a sign in the yard, put an ad in the paper and then wait for a buyer to show up. But I do things differently. With your input, I create a written marketing plan that is specifically tailored to your property and your needs. And it’s a proactive plan; in other words, I am constantly taking action by networking, holding open houses, making phone calls to agents that work in this price range and a host of other things, but only those things that make sense for you and your home.”

Make a follow-up appointment for the next day. Leave a competitive market analysis for them to review. Stress that these are not comparable homes – these are the competitive homes. In other words, there is a “best buyer” for your prospect’s home – the buyer that just loves their home and will pay top dollar to get it. However, even the best buyer has a budget, and if the home is listed outside of their relevant range, they won’t even pull it up on a search, much less come see it.

The point of the competitive market analysis is to let your sellers get a feel for their market position. If they feel that they chose the initial listing price, they will be less likely to blame you if it is too high.

On your second visit, show up with a draft of your Customized Marketing Plan, integrating all of the marketing strategies that you have discussed in a timeline. The more detailed the plan, the more professionalism you demonstrate. Start with every activity that transpires from Day 1 (executing the listing agreement, putting the sign in the yard, entering data in the MLS, and creating the ad copy.) Continue with fairly detailed descriptions of what goes on every day for the first 21 days, including agent tours, open houses and follow-up activities. The more detailed you make the plan, the less you have to justify your commission.

At the 21 day point, show a meeting to discuss progress so far. The reason for the 21-day review is that you hope to catch an anxious shopper in the first three weeks. The anxious shopper is one who has been searching for several weeks in the relevant range, and is ready, willing and able to buy. The right home just hasn’t shown up yet.

Describe the nature and purpose of this meeting as you go over the plan, so that they know in advance that you will be reviewing the price in 21 days.

After the first 21 days, you will be re-assessing the entire marketing plan, so the next 90 days of activities can be described in more of a summary format for the initial plan.

The Final Plan: Getting the Listing
In the final plan, include a schedule of follow-up activities that you will perform with the sellers, such as checking in every other day to collect business cards from showings, checking the lockbox three times a week and e-mail updates on agent responses to showings. All of these activities are customized to your prospects needs – if they like e-mail, use e-mail. If they like phone calls, use the phone.

Don’t leave them a copy of the plan until they sign the listing agreement. Also, don’t plan out further than the listing agreement expiration date. Create the draft plan to coincide with your office standard or your own goal. For instance, if you are going for a six-month listing, still follow the general 21-day and 90-day review periods, but include activities out to 180 days.

Much of this planning can be template-based. Customized does not mean that you have to start from scratch every time. Once you have a good template, tweaking it to fit each client’s needs is easy. And once you have the customized marketing plan for your prospect, you have tangible proof of your professionalism.

Will you get every listing? No. But you will have a distinct advantage over your competition, whether you are an experienced pro up against youthful enthusiasm or a rookie up against an long-time agent with a deep personal connection.

By the way, you should be asking your prospects how many other agents they are interviewing. Once you know that you offer a tangible, professional marketing plan that your clients can hold in their hand, review and compare to what the other agents are offering, you’ll have a hard time holding back a smile when they answer.

Joe Cooke is an author, speaker and entertainer with over 25 years of experience in real estate, marketing and management.