In the Newport, Rhode Island, area local real estate agents fiercely compete to be the official listing agent for million dollar properties.
Newport RE/MAX Agent Connor Dowd frequently finds himself pitched by sales reps from Internet lead generation companies who claim to have the best pipeline of names of local home owners who might be looking for a listing agent.
Dowd is willing to pay a pretty high price for the right leads. But he turns most lead sales reps down flat. "There are a lot of lead generation companies out there," he says. "But a lot aren't that great."
Turns out the problem is leads generated from Internet forms are a mixed bunch. Some are curious homeowners who never intend to sell, some are consumers who won't sell for a year or more, some are folks wondering about valuations for refinancing purposes ... and only a few are ready to sell their house right now.
Naturally the Web forms ask "When are you thinking of selling your house?" but it's been Dowd's experience that consumers don't always answer that question correctly. With dozens of incoming leads to handle, he would only buy leads from a company that also gave him an automated triage system.CAMPAIGN
Dowd decided to buy leads from a Web-based firm that offered him a complete templated, automatable email system. That way the system could follow up with leads and save him time.
Email #1. Automated hand-off
This text-only note from the branded site where the consumer had registered did the hand-off work of telling the consumer they would be contacted soon by a local realtor with their free house value evaluation.
Email #2. Dowd's intro email
After quickly reviewing a lead's information, Dowd added his rough estimate of what their house might be worth to a templated HTML email that contained two response-generating elements:
o A grey response button (looks like a classic form "submit" button) under the consumer's name at the top of the note. The button was labeled: "Get a More Detailed Home Evaluation".
Consumers ready to take the next step with Dowd could click, and then find themselves on an ultra-simple landing page containing little more than a small grey boxed form into which they could type their question and submit it to Dowd.
(Note: If you're a marketer doing any sort of lead generation follow-up for your sales team, take a look at our samples of this email and the landing page -- link below -- and then consider stealing this idea!)
o Dowd's smiling headshot was in the upper left corner of the email, along with his complete contact information, which was also repeated at the end of the note.
Postal mail #1. Fat white envelope
Dowd loved the follow-up email, but worried that some people might not keep track of it, or not print it out to have it handy when they were ready to respond to him. So, he printed out a color copy to mail to them the same day as he sent the email.
Plus, to give the envelope the "heft value" of an important communication, he also included a one-page cover letter that clearly explained where he'd gotten their contact info. He also included a business card, several letters of reference from local residents, and a 2005/06 Football Schedule fridge magnet with his contact information printed on it.
Email #3. "Drip" campaign
Next, Dowd allowed the automated system to continue sending a series of emails to the leads. If a lead indicated they were ready to sell in under six months, they got an email every two weeks. If the lead had a longer close time, the email frequency dropped to monthly.
Key: Dowd *only* used this drip campaign for names that had pro-actively signed up for email at the Web lead gen form. Initially he had also entered emails of other contacts into the system but discovered prospects found that approach to be slightly "spam-like."
Now he never puts any email names into the system unless they've signed up online with a clear understanding they'd be getting email.
Postal mail #2. "Drip" campaign
Dowd sends a monthly print postcard -- usually with a colorful picture on the front and his contact info on the back -- to everyone in his file. "The key to success in this business is to remind people you're in the business because they forget."
A solid 10% of the leads generated by the Internet click on the grey button in Connor's first email to them and fill out his form asking for more details, thus proactively qualifying themselves as the hottest leads. In addition, some people pick up the phone and call instead of clicking the grey button.
So that first email has become an effective triage system for Dowd who otherwise wouldn't know which leads to follow up with aggressively. In addition, it allows the consumer to maintain a feeling of control in the process ... which is especially important for Internet-generated leads who tend to have a strong "don't call us, we'll call you" mentality.
"It's not like I'm going to hound them. They can get more information from me and I haven't set one foot inside their house. They'll contact you when they're ready."
Dowd definitely feels the drip campaigns are effective, noting that, "I just had a meeting with a mother and son selling a house in Newport who I'd had on my list for three years when they contacted me."
He's very clear on one point though - you can't rely on email alone as a "drip." In fact, Dowd feels his print postcards are as effective or even more effective as the email drips. Plus, having a print series means he doesn't have to force leads to take email when they don't raise their hands specifically for it.
"Print direct mail seems to work."Useful links related to this article:
Creative samples from HouseValues.com's emails for Connor Dowd: http://www.marketingsherpa.com/housevalues/study.html
Connor Dowd: http://www.connordowd.com