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By John Voket

RISMEDIA, Jan. 2, 2008-It’s a classic conflict…a heavyweight match-up – buying Internet leads vs. generating them through your own mechanisms. But no matter the outcome, it is implicitly clear lead generation provides the lifeblood to ensure survival in the 21st century real estate industry.

The subject was examined thoroughly by a crack panel of industry pros at RISMedia’s Annual Leadership conference in a breakout titled: “Clicks for Cash – How to Make Lead Generation Work for You.” And the discussion was facilitated by someone who founded one of the most successful lead generation startups, Glenn Houck, president of LeadQual.

Houck was joined by Sean Black, VP of Sales for Trulia; Larry Liebross, COO of New Homes America; Michael Lissack, who heads up The Lissack Team at Downing-Frye Realty; Mike Montsko, president of Weichert Lead Network; Leslie Tyler, VP of Marketing at Zip Realty; and Rob Cook, chairman of the Houston Association of Realtors.

The “lead” question about developing Internet strategies for a smaller broker’s office was fielded by Montsko. He queried the audience and learned many were buying keywords – unfortunately, many competitors in their markets are doing the same thing.

“So you’ve got to beat them to the punch,” he said. “Customers are expecting instantaneous response from Internet inquiries. If you don’t answer that form promptly, your competitor is going to get it. Forty-four percent want a response in 30-minutes, but 48 percent of these leads never get answered.”

Weichert developed a follow-up management system that is making a significant difference in making sure more leads get answered, but it’s all about immediately connecting good people to quality leads fast.

“People buy people before they buy services,” Montsko said.

Liebross addressed how changing markets affected his company’s approach to Internet marketing. In the highly competitive Atlanta market, his company upgraded its own Web technology, and is outpacing company goals.

“Our ability to drive leads to our site, and get them to register is producing enough leads for our operation.” Liebross said, adding that internal lead management for a boutique operation is a lot easier than for a big player like Weichert.

Qualifying their own leads organically also benefits New Homes America which markets about 80% of its business in new construction.

“Walking in the door, the consumer knows what we’re about,” Liebross said. “We have the advantage in that area.”

In the case of the HAR, Cook had the foresight to lead a migration of its MLS system to the Web concurrently while integrating lead management systems through the association’s Web site – and then hammering the marketing campaign for that new Web site to the tune of $1 million annually.

Is it Working?

“Our 10 year anniversary was this year and we’ve had a billion hits with 920,000 unique visitors,” Cook said. “We gave out 577,000 free leads in 2006, and made a lead-connect click-through to the agent built into their membership.”

Tyler reminded the audience that buyers and sellers don’t see themselves as leads, and that obtaining the lead is the easy part.

“It’s not just (getting) the Internet lead, but converting and incubating them over a long period of time,” Tyler said. By handling the long-term lead effectively, she is not only building a client relationship for life, but cultivating important value-added information and an instinct about when to deliver it.

In closing, the panel resolved that no matter what size the company, if brokers are looking for next day business, they need automated systems with support and management to drive it, capture it, incubate it and route it to the right parties.

“If you do not have a Web site that is able to do something with the traffic you are generating, I wouldn’t spend very much money generating traffic to go there,” Tyler concluded. “If you do not have a Web site that is able to turn traffic into customers for you, you probably want to look to third-party generators.”