(TheNicheReport) --If there is one Achilles’ Heel of the professional salesperson in any industry, it’s the extreme focus the best of these professionals place on the outcome. Great salespeople are great because they focus on the sale. They make the close and move on swiftly – that’s their mantra. When they find out they’re spending time with someone who is not going to be a buyer, they move on. This tends to leave consumers with a bad taste in their mouths.
That’s not just my opinion. J.D. Power and Associates released its annual customer satisfaction report recently, which revealed that home buyers and sellers are not pleased with the quality of service they receive from real estate companies. J.D. Power has been surveying consumers in our industry for about 5 years now, and this year (2012) national real estate companies fell to a record low.
Now, we’re not talking low like mortgage-lender low. Real estate companies fell to a rating of 789 on the 1000-point scale, down from 797 last year. And, in fairness, not all companies fared so poorly. Keller Williams, according to the report, enjoyed high ranking in both buyer and seller categories for both agents and salespeople. Prudential was second and Coldwell Banker third.
But, in general, J.D. Power said the real estate industry was a poor performer. It makes sense to me. Great salespeople in the real estate business do not get that way because they focus much attention on customer service. After all, a customer is someone who buys real estate. Close the deal and move on.
And yet, in today’s market, with home financing harder to find and qualified borrowers few and far between, it might be time to turn our best performers onto something new.
How consumers gather information
There was a time when people would go to a newspaper for information, or turn to the Yellow Pages in the telephone book (Google these things if you’re young and unfamiliar). Sometimes people would ask their friends at work or someone from their church for a recommendation. People don’t have to go to that much trouble these days. They just go online.
More than 80% of all homebuyers go online first to find out about home financing, according to one study. And they’re not going to the lenders’ or real estate brokers’ websites. They’re turning to their friends through social media channels, getting referrals and then drilling deeper – still online – to get more detailed information.
In response to this behavior, both real estate companies and mortgage lenders have stepped up their online games, creating better, more interesting websites and using them to give prospects the kinds of information they know they’re looking for.
In the process, they’ve become very good at quickly deciding whether an online visitor is just a lurker or skimmer, or whether they are actually a buyer. If the website contact isn’t a buyer, the company doesn’t spend any resources on it, returning instead to the watch for real prospects. In other words, they are working online the same way they have always worked offline in the real world – acting like great salespeople and tossing away many, many leads in the process.
Thinking like an Olympian (sponsor)
A related message was brought home to me in a powerful way during the recent Olympic Games. I looked at the giant corporations that had become “official sponsors” of the Olympic Games and wondered how many of the tens of thousands of people who attended the games would be real prospects for them. Could it really be worth the millions they were spending to be an “official sponsor”?
After some thought, I concluded that it probably was. Most of the firms were large consumer-focused firms with offerings broad enough to serve a large portion of the target audience. In addition, they knew that their advertising would last long after the games were over, with celebrity gold-medal winners standing up for their brands. It didn’t really matter if every single person who saw their ad during the Olympic Games was a customer for them that day; they might be later – and they surely knew someone who was. It was a long-term play that probably paid off well for all the sponsors.
What if our industry thought long-term, or at least longer-term, than we do today? What might happen?
What if instead of being the official real estate agent for the next person who is willing to buy a house, you decided to be the Official Real Estate Company for the Grant family, or the Phillips family, or some other family? What if it became your job to serve every member of that family and all of their in-laws when they are ready to buy a new home?
Now, I already know a few real estate agents who think this way, but they approach it mainly from the angle of trying to get everyone they work with to refer them to family members. Then when those consumers aren’t quite ready for a house, they treat them like every other non-buyer they run across, turning their backs and ignoring them completely.
That’s not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about looking at your real estate business in the way that USAA approaches the insurance business. They don’t look at each insurance buyer –at least not in their advertising. They look at the entire family. They’ve made it desirable to hand down their insurance from parent to child and set restrictions on who can buy their products.
What would happen to your business if your response to someone who wanted to hire you was, “Well, let’s see. Who do you know?” What if you set a requirement that to find the perfect home for them, you have to have been the agent who helped one of their parents?
Okay, that’s probably taking it too far, but that’s how you get to the best ideas. Being the official real estate agent for a family, a community or a town doesn’t mean you have to work with every single buyer within it, but it does mean you have to accept the connections between people in that group and treat them all like customers, even when the only transaction is a new lead.
Making yourself seem more valuable by implying that there are limitations to those you will serve could put you in higher demand. Acting like you are dedicated to serving every member of a given group, just because they are members of that group, will make it easier for you to attract business from them. Try it. It will work – until the first time you turn your back on a member of the group because they can’t buy from you right now.
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Rick Grant is a freelance writer and editor with over 15 years of experience writing about real estate and home finance industries. He can be reached at email@example.com and followed on Twitter at @nyrickgrant.