Successful sales organizations are relentlessly focused on one thing: the consumer.
They resist the temptation to worry about competitors, and they target every action and innovation to creating customers who:
- Refer them to their friends.
- Come back in the future.
The key to doing this well is to adopt a culture and infrastructure that listens and learns from consumers every day. We call this having a “consumer mindset.”
This article originally appeared on the Women’s Council of Real Estate website.
Today, studying the consumer is easier than ever before. The explosion of dialogue marketing techniques (social media, text-message polling and instant “thumbs-up” feedback) allows companies to learn so much about their clients. Your real estate service can be positioned to virtually sell itself. This new marketing can prove dramatically more effective when agents and brokers implement tools that let them listen – not just broadcast – to past, current and future clients. After one-sided monologue marketing dominated real estate for years, it should come as a refreshing change for consumers, too.
Nurturing a consumer mindset, however, is just the start of the process. Doing something about what you learn is the ultimate goal.
Whether you use formal research, such as that available from NAR, or informal feedback from your blog and social media presence, the true mark of the consumer-centric organization is engaging the consumer. And it’s one of the most common traits amongst high performing companies in real estate today. To put this in perspective, consider three well-known consumer trends and whether or not your organization is listening to the consumer’s mindset as you promote your value proposition in the modern market:
Video. YouTube has become the second largest search engine, beating Yahoo and Microsoft’s Bing as the destination of choice for consumers to learn about virtually anything. Not surprisingly, YouTube is most popular amongst Gen Y consumers, who were educated in a “visual” manner and value speed of information over depth and accuracy.
For years, NAR research has tracked the rising preference of buyers to see videos of properties, with video ranking third behind pictures and comprehensive property descriptions. Overall, consumers are spending more time watching online video than ever before – an average of 2 billion views a day worldwide. Online TV and on-demand video usage is soaring for education, entertainment and product sales in virtually every industry. It’s not surprising that real estate brokers and agents with a consumer mindset have integrated video into sales and marketing.
At one time, forward-leaning companies upped the ante by requiring minimum numbers of photos on their listings. Now leading-edge organizations are doing the same with video, positioning listings with videos higher on their Web sites than those with only photos. Some companies have created YouTube channels featuring their properties, companies and local agents. Should the consumer need more text-driven info, they can click from the video to the traditional “read-me” site.
Innovative real estate companies have responded by developing a variety of apps, which can be downloaded to virtually any wireless device the consumer might carry in purse or pocket.
Consumers can search and save listings, neighborhood content and videos easier than navigating traditional Web sites, in many cases. When it comes to video, many agents and brokers are forced out of their comfort zone. Creating video entails a different set of skills than uploading photos or producing a print flyer. It places the salesperson front and center of the selling process (often right in front of the consumer’s eyes), demonstrating the product and actively encouraging the consumer to make an offer.
It’s sales of an entirely different type, focused on the personal connection that video makes possible. Yet consumers clearly prefer it. Gen X is highly skeptical of most flat-page marketing claims, and Gen Y is seeking the personal connection that only comes from being “present” in real life or virtually on the video screen.
Mobility. Today’s consumer is less likely to be tethered to a personal computer. Smartphones and tablets like the iPad have made full-experience mobile the norm. From the consumer’s viewpoint, the smartphone is the new printout. There’s no need to receive an e-mail attachment, let alone print it out, when their portable device can receive and display anything they need to know. Whether it’s reading the “newspaper” by flicking fingers across a touchpad or video-test-driving a car from a park bench, the modern consumer expects their take-away content to come in bits and bytes, not bits of paper.
Innovative real estate companies have responded by developing a variety of apps, which can be downloaded to virtually any wireless device the consumer might carry in purse or pocket. Consumers can search and save listings, neighborhood content and videos easier than navigating traditional Web sites, in many cases.
Moreover, they can access listing info wirelessly – instantly – which changes the potential for on-the-spot info to do more work with prospects. An electronic listing sheet might feature a video by the agent pointing out key benefits and features, neighborhood information and maps and searchable tax, utility or traffic data that no paper-based listing sheet could provide.
Consumers can save and review electronic listing sheets later or share them with family and friends through social networks. Companies who drive information distribution by wireless applications empower the consumer to do more with their listing, agent and community information than even the glossiest brochure could achieve.
Speed. Remember the days when the greatest challenge in real estate was getting agents to check their e-mail frequently – perhaps hourly – to respond to inquiries in a timely fashion? Hard to believe, but it wasn’t long ago when studies showed that it took the average agent 57+ hours to reply to an e-mail question on their own listings. Smartphones and leads management technologies have done much to change that, helping agents respond in minutes, not days, to consumer communications. Yet customers haven’t stood still, waiting for the industry to catch them. They have continued at warp speed into the communications frontier. Minutes have become seconds, as consumers send text messages and post to social media streams looking for instant feedback.
There’s a reason why it’s called “instant” messaging! The mindset of the modern consumer is instant gratification. Countless technologies have evolved to accommodate this attitude: text messaging and Twitter are the best examples. Consumers can reach out and speak their mind – asking for help, expressing frustration, praising great service – to millions and to one-person at the same time.
More interestingly, such speed-based methods have become the preferred communication tools of younger consumers. The days of waiting on hold for customer service or leaving a voicemail to receive a call back are gone for good. Modern consumers expect to express their request and hear back right away.
Real estate professionals must be ready to engage consumers at this level of speed as well. Empowered customers don’t have to wait for an agent to get back to them or even to answer the phone when their tweets for help might be seen by hundreds of competing brokers. Whoever responds first wins, in most cases.
Existing clients will also raise the bar for receiving a steady flow of information from their agents. Weekly updates by phone or e-mail are insufficient to a consumer who’s used to constantly updated feeds from social media. Monitoring instant-communications technologies by wireless device isn’t cutting edge but rather entry-level service in the minds of millions who text at the dinner table.
Each of these examples features new technologies as solutions to their challenges. Yet it would be a mistake to think the technology created the changes in how consumers act today. Rather, it merely reflects what had already shifted in their view of the world. Successful real estate professionals of the future will keep an eye on the consumer, making it easier to integrate new tools into their business, positioning their listings and services in the right place – in the right way – in the minds of the customer.