Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Managing customers for success

Inman News published a great article today about prospect management best practices, with lots of great tips from HouseValues as well. Agent CEOs who already use Market Leader to manage their prospects will recognize manyof these tips, but every agent should be using some of this advice to manage a wider pipeline of future business. If you're not effectively planning for the business you want to close months from now, how will you ever get there?

Read the article for free the rest of today, or use your Inman subscription for access tomorrow (Wednesday) and moving forward. I've included some of the key sections below:

"You want to be the first agent in contact with the home buyer or seller. You want to follow up quickly. And you want to stay in touch – frequently."

Since the average person researches real estate online 12 to 18 months before closing, managing customer relationships is a key element of success for brokerage companies and sales agents.

HouseValues also offers a customer relationship management tool, Market Leader. Agents who subscribe to Market Leader also have access to training sessions, teleconferences and coaching sessions.

"If they (the prospect) are not buying for many months, they still want to hear from you," Heinz said.

One of the best practices his company teaches is to send useful information, not sales pitches, to prospects, the marketing director said, echoing comments made by many real estate agents.

Market Leader sends e-mail messages to prospects at regular intervals as directed by the agent, Heinz said. "You want to put yourself in front of someone and be direct – 'I am ready to help you put your home on the market when you are ready.'"

However, Heinz cautioned, it's important not to be intrusive. Another best practice: Let the consumer stay in control.

"Let them drive the timeline," Heinz said. As prospects do their research and amass the information they need to make decisions, they will decide when it's time for action.

Another best practice: "Make yourself an expert on the neighborhood," Heinz said. Advice about local businesses, local vendors, schools, nightlife, weather and any number of things can make an agent stand out, he said.

In addition to sending out e-mails to prospects at regular intervals, the Market Leader system provides templated letters for follow-up via U.S. mail and call scripts for telephone calls, Heinz said.

Also, HouseValues subscribers can create their own Web sites with a template, he said. "Agents can offer mapping, directories of local businesses, where the parks are, restaurants, on a Web site that features their name and contact information. It's very easy for agents to set up. We do most of the work for them," Heinz said.