While you probably think of your friends, your clients and your business colleagues as nearly interchangeable, have you ever thought about them as your chief marketing officers? Grant Findlay-Shirras, CEO and co-founder of Parkbench, a real estate marketing company based in Toronto, developed his company to help agents focus on turning their market knowledge and relationships into referrals.
While real estate agents are known to be “people persons” with a natural inclination for making friends and strengthening relationships, Findlay-Shirras knows that local ties and an excellent reputation are also essential to a successful career.
“The backbone of a successful business and a successful marketing campaign is that people want to help you because you helped them first,” he says. “Realtors sometimes get stuck in traditional marketing and advertising and they forget that they need to give people something of value to earn their loyalty and their referrals.”
Whether you’re working with buyers who are looking at new construction or you want to establish a relationship with a builder in your area, Findlay-Shirras has suggestions about how to create a marketing campaign to reach your goals. While some of the work, including building a database of connections, is initially labor-intensive, he says the payoff can be years of referrals.
“The decisions you make today will have results in six to 12 months,” he says.
Sales and marketing are not the same
Real estate agents may think they are sales people – and they are. But while Findlay-Shirras defines sales distinctly as “the script you work from and the actions you take to get paid,” he says everything else is marketing.
“Marketing never stops,” says Findlay-Shirras. “It’s what makes people want to do business with you. Marketing is how you get builders to know you and want to work with you and how you get buyers to choose you as their agent.”
Good marketing establishes who you are and what you can do for builders and buyers.
“People need to know more than the fact that you exist,” says Findlay-Shirras. “They need to see you as the expert in the field.”
A simple route many agents take is to pay for ads online or in print, but Findlay-Shirras says his research found that it takes 16 to 22 times seeing an ad before it makes an impression on someone.
“When you have an experience with someone, even just a conversation, that creates an impression with just one interaction,” he says.
Neighborhood information and local business connections
Think about what people want when they are looking for a new home and then provide it, says Findlay-Shirras. He says you can do it with a website, a blog, a video, a podcast or a face-to-face conversation. All that matters is that you’re connecting with people and giving them useful information.
“When people are looking for a new home, they want to know about the neighborhood, about what’s there now, what’s planned, the schools, the amenities,” says Findlay-Shirras. “They also want to know about community news and events. Agents should become the ‘Digital Mayor’ of their market and provide community information on their site.”
To become the local expert and a source of information for builders and buyers, agents need to go into the community and have conversations with business owners and others in the community.
“Do something to get to know people before you talk about business,” Findlay-Shirras suggests. “Offer to interview people and feature them on your site, which will in turn generate more interest in your site and more leads.”
If you want establish ties with local builders, you can offer to profile them on your website.
Three ways to increase the scope of your marketing
While marketing can encompass almost any activity, it’s essential to align your messaging across all your efforts and to link everything back to a landing page where buyers and builders can connect with you. Once you’ve captured contact information for prospects, Findlay-Shirras recommends automatically adding them to an email campaign which is 90 percent educational information and 10 percent promotional.
A few creative marketing ideas from Findlay-Shirras include:
1. Co-market to reach new spheres of influence. The old-school method of creating flyers for marketing can be expanded if you share the costs with other businesses. For example, while the local deli promotes a meal deal and the barber promotes a special haircut price, a real estate agent can add information about a new community to a flyer. With several businesses sharing costs and distributing the flyers to different people, you capture the attention of more people.
2. Develop an interactive site for more exposure. Creating the local information site so that neighbors and business owners can comment, make updates and add news and events of their own can increase the relevance of the site and garner more attention. Keep your branding on every page and as the site gets updated and shared, you’ll reach more potential customers.
3. Run a referral contest. Findlay-Shirras suggests running a referral contest for a year with a valuable prize such as a trip or something that truly entices people to generate solid leads. You can limit the pool of possible winners to those who gave you a referral that turned into a closed transaction, which makes the odds of winning the prize even better and provides more incentive for genuine referrals.
Tracking your marketing efforts and tweaking them to see what works best maximizes the time and money you spend. Networking in your community online and in person, particularly with builders and new home sales consultants, can establish you as the expert for new home buyers in your area.