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I’ve spent the better part of the last four months at our U.S. headquarters in Austin, Texas. In addition to the invaluable opportunity of spreading knowledge across our growing team, I was fortunate enough to spend a lot of time with the wonderful people across the real estate industry in the U.S.

Being back in Melbourne, Australia, now, I’ve spent considerable time pondering the parallels between the industry across both countries, as well as the differences.

One standout area common to both countries is the billions of dollars being invested in upfront lead generation without any commensurate or supporting investment in lead nurturing and management.

Using a fall analogy, lead management is much like an acorn dropping. For every acorn (sold home) that drops, it’s accompanied by hundreds or thousands of falling leaves (leads).

Most organizations celebrate the acorn without measuring or grouping the cost of the fallen leaves. Additionally, most of these leaves are allowed to rot on the ground or be blown by the wind—often into a competitor’s yard. Our understanding is that in the U.S. alone, some 120 million leaves fell last year, for 5 million-odd acorns at a cost of approximately $6 billion across the industry.

With these numbers expected to keep growing year-over-year, it’s imperative that investment is made in tools that help harvest these falling leaves in order to ensure that they don’t rot or blow into someone else’s yard.

For every lead, there’s a “kernel” of specific interest. It may just be a “first exploratory” into the market pending a much longer period of discovery, or it may be a genuine and immediate need to “plant or replant.” Regardless of the lead’s stage, to generate a meaningful return on investment, every lead should be embraced, nurtured and guided through a funnel that results in a transaction across the short or long term.

The required nurturing and guidance have been made easy by the advent of technology. Automated systems now act as your personal gardener, raking in the falling leaves and assessing their imminence along with the degree of nurturing required so that they may become an acorn in the future (scientifically impossible…but for the sake of this analogy we’ll let it slide).

With so much data being generated, it’s extremely unlikely that any particular lead is unique to your database. Those with systems that provide “first-data insight” to the imminence of a lead moving into transaction mode will have a distinct market edge, along with a means to accurately measure the ROI of lead generation—whatever the source.

But the work isn’t done there. The gardener frees up your time; however, they’re still your leaves—and an agent or broker is still accountable for the results that they deliver. Systems are essential as they reduce the need for a lot of manual work, but when the time comes and the system identifies someone as being in real estate mode, you’ll need to realize the opportunity and close that acorn.

Ashley Farrugia is the CEO of ActivePipe, a leading marketing automation platform built specifically for the real estate industry. For more information, please visit