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By Craig Proctor

RISMEDIA, May 28, 2008-In past articles, I’ve explained how to easily and inexpensively generate an ongoing pipeline of excellent leads – prospects who have raised their hands and told you that they were moving. If you fail to follow-up promptly, professionally and systematically with these people, you will lose them, and for this reason, follow-up is an extremely critical step to get right. If you don’t properly follow up on your leads, you will have basically wasted all the time and money you invested in generating them in the first place.

proctor_craig.jpgI know this with certainty because it happened to me. In fact, you wouldn’t believe the wastage that occurs in our industry. I’ll illustrate this important point by telling you about my own personal experience.

Several years ago, when I was still trying to put all the pieces of the puzzle in place, I did some analysis on my business which shocked and depressed me. At this point in time, I had the lead generation part of my business working well. In fact, I had hundreds of leads coming into my business, and all these calls were dutifully entered into my contact management system.

However, because I hadn’t firmly put a foolproof system in place to ensure that these calls were followed up properly, I knew I wasn’t converting as many of these prospects as I could. The question was, how bad was it? I decided to find out.

I was devastated by the results . . .

I cross-matched my database of seller prospects against all new listings (by all agents) on MLS. Astonishingly, I found that 82% of my seller prospects listed within 12 months. Now understand, these were prospects who had called me first (i.e. they were prospects who had called me on one of my ads to request information from me.) In other words, these were people who had told me they were thinking of moving. They’d raised their hands and qualified themselves.

That part was good. After all, it helped me validate that the quality of leads I was generating was high. However, because my follow-up system was not yet fully up to speed, I only converted 17% of this 82%. In other words, I lost the balance of these prospects to other agents!

That was a turning point for me. That was the point when it became crystal clear to me that simply finding a better way to generate the lead was far from enough. In fact, by becoming so good at generating leads, I had inadvertently created another problem: i.e. too many leads to follow-up on . . . unless I found a way to automate this process.

To fix this problem, I needed (and you need) a follow-up system that would significantly improve the conversion of prospects into face-to-face appointments.

4-Step Follow-up System

Obviously, all your leads need to be followed up no matter where they come from. Whether you meet a prospect out in the field, or a prospect calls your office directly off a sign or property display ad, you’ll need to schedule regular follow-up with them in order to convert this lead into a face-to-face appointment.

For the leads generated through your non-property direct response ads, however, there are some specific additional steps you must take in order to convert this caller. If you’ve executed these ads correctly, your prospects will have been directed to an automated telephone hotline or website because these vehicles represent an easy and non-threatening way for your prospects to get the information they want without having to speak with an agent. When you call these prospects back, you need to structure your call in order to convert this prospect into a person who will be receptive to speaking with you about their relocation plans on a regular basis.

Depending on how ready-to-act the prospect is, the length of time and the number of calls or letters may vary, but the essence and order of the steps is the same no matter whether the prospect is calling for a free special report, a hotlist, or a property listing printout.

There are 4 steps to this process as follows:

1. Pull off the names, addresses and phone numbers of prospects who have left a message to receive information (e.g. free special report, property information etc.). Your hotline and website should offer prospects two different reports: #1 is for those who are moving in the next 6 months or less, and #2 for prospects who have a longer timeframe in mind. While there needn’t be an actual difference in these reports, this simple question will do some automatic sifting and sorting for you, so when you pull off the information, it’s important to note which report they asked for.

2. Send the requested report to both groups. If a prospect asks for both reports 1 and 2 (which sometimes happens), you can enclose another related report. The report must be sent with a cover letter, in a hand addressed envelope with live postage and within 48 hours of receiving the message

3. Enter the names, addresses and telephone numbers of each prospect into the contact management system, as well as which report they requested.

4. Call the prospects who requested reports/listings/print-outs. The purpose of this call is to establish top-of-mind consciousness with these prospects in a non-threatening manner and probe them with qualifying questions to help you understand the quality and time frame of the lead. You will do one of three things depending on how your call goes.

a. Now Business – set up a meeting to present your listing/buyer presentation to them
b. Future Business – put them on a follow up plan which will include a pre-set schedule of calls and letters.
c. Dud Lead – delete them from the system if they are working with another agent or if they have indicated clearly that they’re not moving

Relationship-Building Is Important

It is critical to note that communicating with a prospect (or a client for that matter) is not a one-shot deal. People are inundated with information – you may have to communicate with them two, ten, twenty times before they respond. Be careful to do this respectfully so you don’t become a nuisance, but never forget that-if you don’t have top-of-mind consciousness, your prospects will forget all about you.

More to the point, as I found out from first hand experience, they’ll find someone else who is paying attention (or who just happens to be in the right place at the right time, where you were in the right place at the wrong time) – like your competitor.

Regardless of what you’re mailing, there are two standard parts of either communication that are critical to get right: the outer envelope and the covering letter. Your outer envelope should always be handwritten (both the mailing and return addresses) with live postage (i.e. physical stamps vs. a postage meter). Why is this so important? Well, the fact of the matter is, people sort their mail over the garbage, only opening what they want or have to. Mail which looks like advertising or solicitation is quickly slotted into the “junk” category in your prospect’s mind, and sent to the recycle bin, unopened. By making your letter look like personal mail, you fly under your prospect’s advertising radar and get your letter opened.

Once they do open the envelope, they must find that the communication inside is personalized and full of benefits. Whether you’re sending out your prospect newsletter or fulfilling a request for a special report, you must accompany the information with a personalized cover letter which summarizes the benefits and importance of what’s inside. If your prospect opens your handwritten envelope and finds an obviously mass-produced mailing inside, they may decide to toss it out before looking at it.

The Unpredictability of Client Timing

In my experience, about a third of the prospects I speak with are honest and realistic about their moving plans. In other words, they are open to using my services (although not necessarily committed), and the time frame they give me is pretty accurate — i.e. nothing changes for them.

However, there is also a third of the prospects I speak with who are not so open to using me (i.e. they see me as a salesperson or some other negative, or have a relative in the business, etc. and would never use me anyway . . . and as a result give me an arbitrary date just to get rid of me.) And finally there’s another third whose timing prediction changes on them (i.e. they truly think they’ll move in six months but suddenly a transfer or something of this nature comes through and they have to move sooner than they thought.)

What I found is that in the latter two cases, I would follow up as scheduled and find that suddenly they were listed with someone else. Despite the fact that you’ve scheduled your call back based on what they told you, there’s always the possibility that something will go wrong.

As a rule of thumb, always schedule your next call back for half the time they gave you in order to decrease the chance of missing an opportunity due to the unpredictability of client timing.

“Fast and Consistent follow up is key in this business and can make or break you. Our philosophy is to keep following up until they say no. Also, if someone says they are not ready now, but will be in 6 months, call them in 3. Always, cut the time in half. We may be finding a lot of people who are early in the process of buying or selling a home, however, we are so persistent with our follow up that we recently closed on a buyer client that came to our website 5 years ago. We have actually tested this with our agents. We gave our best agents each 10 leads, they called all 10 leads, got one good one out of the bunch, got excited, ran with it, forgot about the rest and came back and said, the rest were horrible. When we went back and contacted the balance of the leads ourselves, we found that there were many good leads still there, however, the proper follow up was not done with the agents, and many of these people actually ended up buying homes with other agents.willie-miranda-cp-b-034.jpg

“The moral of the story here, is again, consistent follow-up.” – Willie Miranda, NY.

todd-walters-02.jpg“Nothing replaces the personal call. Send all the mail you want, send all the e-mails you want, video’s, CD’s, gifts and more – nothing replaces you picking up the phone and calling back the prospect as close to now as possible and offering them something they want so badly that they will be compelled to meet with you to get it. There is no better follow up script than Craig’s Universal Follow Up script. Becoming an expert at it will dramatically increase your results.” – Todd Walters, GA

To find out more about how to increase your conversion of prospects to face-to-face appointments, you can visit http://www.hypertracker.com/go/cp/a16a080528/ where you can learn about my 3-day SuperConference where I train agents on a specific and universal call-back script, and series of mailings, which vastly improve their results.

Billion Dollar AgentTM Craig Proctor has been in the top 10 for RE/MAX Worldwide for 15 years and is a real estate trainer who does what he teaches. Craig consistently sells over 500 homes per year to earn almost $4 million in commission. Over 25,000 agents nationwide use Craig’s system to make more money in less time. To receive free training from Craig with no obligation, visit: http://www.hypertracker.com/go/cp/a16b080528/. This Free Training includes free weekly teleconference training calls with Craig and some of his most successful agents where they discuss the cutting edge strategies they’re using right now, in this market, and explain how they work. You’ll also receive a free weekly e-mail newsletter that reveals the tested and proven marketing strategies that continue to make Craig one of North America’s top agents. By taking advantage of this free training, you’ll also get advanced notice of Craig’s free half day seminars that will provide you with the tools you’ll need to start implementing these ideas immediately. These seminars are held year round in cities across the country. To receive free training from Craig with no obligation, visit: http://www.hypertracker.com/go/cp/a16b08528