Putting Together the Right Tools
If I had to start from scratch in a new market with no experience, I would start with only a few basic technologies, and in this installment, I’ll discuss those essential technologies that I believe every agent must have in this new age of real estate.
Want to hear the good news? The entire thing can be done cheaper than sending out a typical direct mail marketing campaign every month. I have virtually every piece of technology that I am about to suggest, and including the computer, I spend far less than my marketing budget for all of it! Let’s take a look at it piece by piece.
Client Management Application. There are several client management software applications or CRMs available for real estate professionals. Some of the more common ones are Top Producer, Agent Office, Market Leader, Salesforce.com (not real estate specific), and Pipeline. All of the applications above except Pipeline cost between $50 – $100 per month. Pipeline is free as part of the entire virtual office platform. By the way, our company developed Pipeline because we had used all of the others and didn’t like the functionality or the price. (See the advertisement at the end of this installment.) Running your business without a client management application to keep up with all your customers will keep you from ever growing beyond a minimal level of production.
LCM Web Gateway. According to the National Association of REALTORS®, the typical real estate website has a capture rate of of less than 1%. In other words, less than 1% of the total visitors to any website actually identify themselves and become a potential customer for the owner of that website. But by using an LCM Web Gateway you can start capturing between 30-35% of all your website visitors, allowing you to start effectively tapping that Internet market.
Here’s how it works. An LCM Web Gateway is a specialized mini-website module that is designed to be integrated to any real estate website. It’s sole purpose is to capture the maximum number of visitors. The first time through the gateway, the user has to register to use your website. But from then on, he or she can come and go freely without ever registering again.
Why does the LCM Web Gateway work so much better than the registration forms on most real estate websites? Because it’s specifically designed to maximize lead capture, while web forms are not. Online lead capture is a science. The reason it’s important to use an LCM Web Gateway is that the high cost of traffic on the Internet makes most online advertising ineffective. But by using an LCM Web Gateway, instead of costing over $100 for each captured lead, you can now generate your own unending supply of new customer leads for as little as $3-5 each.
LCM® Phone Gateway. The LCM Phone Gateway is a telephony lead capture solution. It is to the telephone what an LCM Web Gateway is to a website. You simply integrate it to any advertising where a customer might call in, like your yard signs, fliers, homes magazine or newspaper ads, or anywhere a customer might find you and want to call.
Here’s how it works: When a customer calls, regardless of whether he has caller ID block, his phone number is electronically captured. Meanwhile, he’s seamlessly routed to a pre-recorded message that gives him the option of choosing to speak to you for more information or to allow you to call him back later. And like the LCM Web Gateway, having an LCM Phone Gateway brings down the high cost of capturing those telephone leads.
Website. The website is probably the piece of the technology puzzle you already have. If not, you can either build your own (there are dozens of books telling you how to do it) or you can buy one ready-made for anywhere from $30 – $200 per month, depending on the bells and whistles. Remember, even the best real estate websites only capture about 6-8% of their traffic so you will need to install an LCM Web Gateway along with the site.
If I were you, I would use a free website like the Agent SimpleSite (free forever) that we give away for free to anyone who licenses our LCM Web Gateway technology. The thing to remember is that the website is not as important as the lead capture gateway.
Laptop Computer. I see agents wasting money on computers all the time. Having owned literally hundreds of computers, one thing I can tell you is that today’s latest and greatest will be old news in 6 months. I run a technology company and we have dozens of office computers. We have 500 mail servers, back-up computers, and hosting servers. I am writing this installment on last year’s latest and greatest laptop.
It is an HP Pavilion dv9000 widescreen computer with Vista 64-bit OS, 4G of RAM, 250G hard drive, an “N” wireless card, an Nvidia graphics card, an AMD Turion processor, built in stereo microphones, a web cam, hi-fi speakers by Altec Lansing, and a Lightscribe DVD and CD recorder. I paid $834 for it two months ago (July 2008) at Sam’s Club and it would have cost nearly $3,000 this time a year earlier.
My point is that there are later and greater models out there but this one will easily keep me current for a couple of years. You should be able to find last year’s latest and greatest for less than $1,000. If you amortize it over two years it should cost you less than $50 per month, an investment that is well worth it.
Auto-attendant and Call Routing System. If there is one thing that amazes me is watching agents being slaves to their phones. I personally think that is a sign of a low-producing agent. Top producers manage their phones — their phones don’t manage them. I use a system called Halloo for my company, but for a single agent or team, I would recommend Google Voice which is free.
My Halloo system is web-based, totally programmable, does call routing, voice mail, emailing of voice mail, logs calls, routes calls to my team in a rotary hunt group or simultaneously allowing the fist one that picks up to have the call. It tries one number, and if no answer, tries another and another until it ultimately goes to a voice mail or someone else. Their systems start at $10 a month and are well worth every dime.
E-Fax Machine. When I say e-fax, I’m talking about my faxes coming to me as an email document. That way I can read them, and respond to them from everywhere I am, be it my Blackberry, my laptop, or my home or business office. I use Faxaway and I don’t pay a dime. All of our local agents use Faxaway as well. The company also has paid plans but I use the free service. Check them out.
Handheld Device or Smart Phone. I use a Blackberry Curve, having tried a number of hand-held devices and Palm Phones as well as other “smart phones”. My Blackberry (also known as “Crackberry” because of the rapidly addictive properties of the device) handles my email (I use Gmail as my mail platform), my instant messaging, my texting, and allows me to have access to the Internet with a robust browser.
By the way, I also run Pipeline-i Virtual Assistant mobile application on my Blackberry, have about 500 MP3 audio files and about 10 movies for those times when I am stuck in a hotel at night and don’t want to watch TV. Oh, and I have a full featured GPS and 2.3 megapixel camera on the phone as well. What’s not to like!
You should be able to buy a new Blackberry with a national data package for less than $100 with a 2-year contract. I spend about $80 a month for unlimited inbound and outbound calls, unlimited long distance, unlimited texting, unlimited Internet access, and nationwide access. This tool allows me to conduct business from anywhere.
What a cool time to live in! What’s funny is that most of you reading this installment are already spending more money every month on technology than I spend on mine. You should easily be able to budget good virtual office technology and the advertising you need to drive the lead capture for less than the generally recommended 20% of gross commission income, and still have money left over. And that budget will produce more customer leads than you can possibly handle!
Well, that’s it for this week. In the next segment, I’ll talk about the practical side of running a virtual office real estate practice. Having the tools is important, but putting it all together in a way that makes you money is another thing altogether. You won’t want to miss the next installment.
View all articles in this series:
Take The Test Drive!Have you ever wondered what the best system for creating new business from the internet looks like? Want to see it in action? Finally, an interactive demo that allows you to sit in the driver's seat and check out the system that has revolutionized single agent lead generation for the real estate industry. Begin the Test Drive
Matt Jones is the founder and CEO of FavoriteAgent.com, nationally syndicated columnist, broker, and best selling author of LCM: The Secret to Success in the New Age of Real Estate, The Ultimate Listing Presentation, Traffic: How to Sell Fast and Net More, Becoming a Mega-Producer, The Science of Online Marketing, 10 Steps to Real Estate Success, 20 Questions: Everything You Always Wanted to Know about Real Estate but Were Afraid to Ask, The Virtual Office Model, Max-Bang!, and The NEW Ultimate Listing Presentation. Jones' North Carolina-based company has been profiled by major media outlets as an innovator and a pioneer in the industry, and CNN's Pulse on America claimed FavoriteAgent.com is "changing the way real estate is being done in America." This article is syndicated in the following locations: iTunes, YouTube, Stitcher Radio, BlogMattBlog.com, RealBlogging.com, NewsGeni.us, TheCommissionCheck.com, RevampedAgent.com, and now Amazon Kindle.