Archive for the ‘Real Estate Training’ Category

Powerful Technology Tools

April 14, 2011

This is the fourth article in my series on powerful listing presentations, where we’ll be covering pricing, communication, technology, marketing, and home presentation & photography.

This week I want to discuss powerful technology tools and the importance of these tools in your listing presentation.

Regardless of whether technology is important to you in your personal life, you must step up to the technology plate when it comes to your business. In today’s world, providing the widest possible array of online marketing tools is critically important to your success as a listing agent.

Here’s why: Sellers are hiring you to expose their home to the largest potential group of buyers available. Online marketing is a very important part of this process. Gone are the days when can you simply rely on flyers, yard signs, newspaper and magazine ads, the MLS, and other agents.  I’m not saying to stop using these traditional methods, just trying to make sure that you’re integrating technology into the mix.

Yes, there are buyers who likely only look for houses through print media, or only with their agent. And there are also buyers who rarely look at houses online, and would rather spend their weekends attending open houses. However, many buyers today are completely plugged into online real estate search sites, as well as Facebook, Twitter and other social media outlets. It’s part of your job as an agent to understand the value of technology, embrace it as part of your overall business plan, and apply it to get results.

And your listing presentation is the perfect place to show that you “get” technology. According to the National Association of REALTORS® 2010 Profile of Buyers & Sellers, more than 90% of sellers today expect enhanced online marketing. The message is clear — online marketing is extremely important to sellers!

While there are lots of technology tools to choose from, and even more opportunities for online marketing, the way you present your technology plan to sellers is immensely important to meeting their needs and expectations. If you can show your expertise in this area, you’ll immediately increase the likelihood of walking out with a signed listing agreement.

So just how do you articulate your value to today’s tech-savvy seller? You create visual tools!  Remember those? They are the ‘props’ I’ve been talking about in my recent Zebra Reports. Use your props to show sellers how you will expertly market their home online.

Below is my list of the technology “musts” for today’s successful agent.

1. You must have a custom website: It would be hard today to find a real estate company without its own website. Since the late 1990’s, real estate companies around the world have built websites that: 1) help buyers search for homes, 2) help sellers market their homes, and 3) act as a marketing tool for the company itself. Some are amazing … and some leave a lot to be desired. Regardless of how robust your company’s site is, you need your own custom website.

Often an agent will say, “My company offers nicely done template websites at very low cost. That’s good enough for me.” I disagree! Imagine this: you work in a market where you and many of your company colleagues are competing for the same listings. Each of you shows up at your listing presentations with the same basic template, and very, very similar online tools. OK, so maybe there are a few changes – your personal photos are obviously different, and maybe a couple of you have changed a background photo on the site — but it really is the same website.  Who stands out to the seller? Nobody. Remember that statistic above? Sellers are telling you that they want more – they want to know that you have stepped up your technology game to a whole new level. They are looking for technology that meets their expectations, and exposes their home to the largest number of potential buyers.

They also want your website to showcase their home – not simply advertise their home as one of the many listings you may have. Just as you want to stand out from the agent crowd, your sellers want to know that their home stands out from all the other listings on the market.

There are hundreds of features available, such as simple map searches, common-feature searches, school-proximity searches, and pre-mapped neighborhood searches. You don’t need them all, but you must have enough custom tools on your website to ‘wow’ your sellers with your ability to reach and engage buyers.

A custom website allows you to do all of that.

Take a look at John Hurlbut’s website, below.  John was in my EVOLVE coaching group last year, and is part of this year’s ENCORE group. We developed John’s website for him in 2010.  A tech-savvy agent, John knew that a website was a key component in building his business. John’s website utilizes an IDX (Internet Data Exchange) service to pull in listings from the MLS and display them front and center on the website. Visitors have the ability to perform as simple or complex a search as they desire, can save search queries and favorite listings, make notes on listings, receive updates, plug numbers into a mortgage calculator, and so on. In addition, a custom website allows you to include other helpful pages, such as details on your client services, an area resource section full of information for anyone who might be new to the area, and a blog.

While you’re building your custom website, consider including a private client area as well. This is a username and password-protected area where your sellers have access to a wide variety of information about their individual listing.  The private client area is the perfect spot for feedback reports, showing reports, local and neighborhood market data updates, your marketing calendar, and – once there is an offer – your pending-to-closing calendar. While this doesn’t replace having person-to-person discussions with your sellers, it provides them with another layer of service that few agents provide.

2. You must engage in social media: Gone are the days when posting your listing to a website is good enough. Long-gone are the days when every evening an anxious buyer sits down at his computer and weeds through all of the new listings. Today’s buyer is instantly plugged into the latest information on new listings. Even though real estate is still about building relationships, and those relationships need to be personal and face-to-face, sites like Facebook and Twitter have fast become the communication tool many people use on a daily basis.

If you’re not engaged in the conversation – and talking about your listings and real estate – other agents will be filling in the gap. And their listings are being put in front of thousands of potential buyers every single day. Your sellers deserve the kind of global marketing that social networking sites offer.

3. You must syndicate your listings: It’s not enough to have a website and use social media to market your listings. There’s one more step you must take – and it’s listing syndication!  What is listing syndication?  It’s a way to is a way to promote your listing in a national – or perhaps – global way.  When you “syndicate” a listing, you post that listing on a large number of websites … and in turn, those sites share their website content (a part of which is your listing) with other websites.  Syndicate strategically, and you’ll be able to promote your listings to hundreds of thousands of potential buyers searching online for real estate.

Listing syndication is a terrific tool, but you need to do a little research before syndicating. Take care to only post to sites that accurately represent your listings, and which provide a way for you to quickly and easily update pricing information or additional photos.

Look for websites that offer you the widest amount of buyer-friendly tools, including the ability to add multiple and virtual tours. Determine who their online partners are (who they syndicate to), and the depth of the exposure your sellers will receive. Create a visual ‘prop’ that indicates not only where you post your seller’s home, but where those posts are syndicated and the number of visitors that each site has every day. There is value in numbers – and your sellers will instantly understand how that value impacts their goal to get their home sold.

If you want to syndicate, but you’re not sure where to start, look no further than your real estate company. Find out where they post your listings. Then look at regional and national sites. There even companies that will syndicate your listings for you. You simply post your listing information once, and they do all the work for you.

Many of the agents I work with tell me the sites below are ones that they regularly use to take advantage of listing syndication. You should do your homework, however, to find websites that offer you the most benefit.

The technology board below is a terrific example of a listing syndication ‘prop’ that one of our clients uses during his listings presentation. This allows him a visually compelling way to explain what listing syndication is, and the considerable benefit it brings to his sellers.

I know this focus on technology may sound a bit daunting at first blush.  It will take you some time to do your homework, determine the best ways for you to market your listings online, and learn how to articulate that value to your sellers.  But I promise you it will be well worth it in the long run. Listing competition is tough these days, and if you want to successfully build your business (and increase your income!)  you absolutely must use technology to your advantage. If you do, your listing presentation will have yet another layer of expertise that will dramatically set you apart from the competition. And that means sellers will look no further than you when hiring their listing agent.

The fifth topic in our six-part “Powerful Listing Presentations” is marketing … and we’ll be unveiling that next week.  Be sure to watch for our next Zebra Report!

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Where Will Your Business Be Four Weeks From Now?

April 13, 2011

Without intervention, it will probably be exactly where it is today.

Now, if you’re exactly where you want to be … great!

But if you are searching for more success, or you need a jolt of inspiration, you need to join us on Safari to learn how to make business-building changes that will carry your forward.

Are you ready to set aside your belief that “the market” will dictate your success?  (Hint: we are coaching clients who are having their best year EVER!)   Do you love the synergy that comes from a room full of people focused on making a positive change in their business?  Is it just time to plan for a better business – one that you’ll love for years to come?

If you answered yes to any one of these questions, we want to see you at one of our upcoming Safari events.

Need more details?  Click here to learn more!

Does Your Business Deserve Some Attention?

April 5, 2011

Like a garden, your business will flourish only if you seed, feed, and water it.  And we believe the best way to do that is to step away from your business for a couple of days to really focus on where you’ve been … and where you want to go.

We also believe your business deserves a commitment to nourish it.  Today is the day to commit to spending two days with us to revitalize your business!

We want to see you at our next Safari event.  What is Safari?  Simply put, it’s a two-day revitalization plan for your business.  We’re going to look at where you’ve been, what you’ve brought on the journey, and where you want to go.  And then we’ll provide you with tools, tips, and techniques to help you get there.

You’re probably thinking five weeks is a long way off … and that you’ll decide in three or four weeks whether you’ll attend our Safari event.  But we believe your business deserves more of a commitment from you than that.  That’s why we encourage you to click here today – right here, right now – to enroll in our next Safari event.  Seating is always limited for this event, and we sell out each time we offer this opportunity.  Don’t hesitate – enroll today!

Powerful Pricing Tools

March 31, 2011

In last week’s Zebra Report I talked about the importance of having a powerful listing presentation that covers five critical areas: pricing, communication, technology, marketing, and home presentation & photography. This week I’m going to look at the first of those categories – pricing – to illustrate how powerful pricing tools can enhance your listing presentation.

What pricing tools do you take to your listing presentation? Most agents take a CMA … but I actually believe that a CMA doesn’t provide the right information for your clients to get a good idea of how to price their home. Successful listing agents understand – and provide to their sellers — data far beyond the CMA, including absorption rates, appreciation rates, list-to-sales price ratios, listing-to-pending ratios, and assessed value ratios. All of this data can help you predict a home’s sales price.

Not familiar with these terms, or why they are important when pricing? Let’s take a closer look:

  • Absorption rates: The absorption rate shows how many months of listing inventory exist in the market, based on how quickly listings are being purchased, or absorbed, by buyers. This is a key concept, and I’m going to talk more about it below.
  • Appreciation rates: Even if they knew how to calculate appreciation rates, most agents don’t like to talk about appreciation with sellers – especially when looking only at the short term. However, according to the National Association of REALTORS® 2010 Profile of Buyers and Sellers, even with several years of price declines, the typical seller who purchased a home eight years ago has experienced a 24% percent equity gain. Calculate local appreciation rates, and share this information with your clients.
  • List-to-sales price ratios: You need to know this number!  What is the ratio of asking-to-selling prices in your market area? Even more importantly, know your personal list-to-sales price ratio. If it’s higher than the market average, it’s easy to explain to sellers that you are more skilled than most agents at pricing homes closer to their selling price (which often also equates to a shorter days-on-market time).
  • Listing-to-pending ratios: Think of listing-to-pending ratios as a measure of demand. The higher the number, the more demand. In order to get a feel for when buyers are buying, and what price range(s) they are buying in, use listing-to-pending ratios. Tracking this number consistently will give you a strong case when determining the right time to put a home on the market, and what price will likely attract the most potential buyers.
  • Assessed value ratios: Some clients have a hard time digesting “market” numbers and believe their home’s market value is similar to the values provided by their local assessor. If you measure assessed values of recently sold homes in any given neighborhood to their sales prices, you will discover the ratio between the two – and you can apply that ratio to your client’s home based on their assessed value.
  • “Optimistic”, “realistic” and “now” pricing: We’ve all had sellers who were overly optimistic about their home’s value, and we’ve all had challenges with the price-reduction discussion. Using a graph that plots “optimistic”, “realistic” and “now” prices helps sellers see where the market truly is, versus where they would like it to be. Have this discussion at your original listing presentation, and the seller will be prepared to lower their price when faced with the reality of few showings and no offers.
  • Price-per-square-foot: This is a very good tool if you work in an area where there are a lot of comparable listings on the market, and enough sales to give you accurate data. It’s hard to argue price when it’s clear that buyers are buying based on a lower price per-square-foot. Your chart should show the per-square-foot prices of recent sales, active and pending listings, and expired listings.

Remember I mentioned absorption rates above? Let’s talk about that a little more. This is by far one of the easiest pieces of research to do, and one of the strongest ways for you to illustrate the need for accurate pricing.

In order to calculate absorption rates, first determine how many active listings there are in a given price range. There’s no magic to the price ranges – you simply determine which ones best represent your marketplace. Next, count the number of pending sales there have been in the past month in each of those price ranges. Then simply divide the number of active listings by the number of pending listings … and you’ll have the absorption ratio! Here’s what it might look like:

You then round the ratio number up to the nearest “whole” number, to give your clients an idea of how long it will take their home to sell.  This rounded number is the absorption rate.

You can use the absorption rate to help manage sellers’ expectations for market time. It’s also a great tool to help sellers price for the ‘now’ market. If they need to sell quickly and there is an abundance of homes on the market in their price range, they need to be extremely competitive on price in order to attract a buyer. If they can wait a few months for inventory levels to reduce, they might be able to be a bit more optimistic in terms of price. However, waiting can quickly backfire!  If more listings come on the market than there are buyers who are buying, the seller may not be able to meet their timeframe of a quick sale.

When you use absorption ratios, you also need to explain to your seller that there is currently x number of month’s supply of homes on the market in their price range … and the absorption ratio assumes no new inventory coming on during the month. Additional homes coming on to the market in that price range will most definitely impact the ratio, which in turn impacts expected market times.

In order for you to provide the best possible service to your sellers, you absolutely must have a comprehensive listing presentation that includes the data that allows potential sellers a way to truly understand where the market is and how it affects their ability to sell. To provide the level of expertise sellers deserve from you, you must do your research and provide tools that will relate that information in a manner that the seller will understand. Having “props” (charts, graphs and visuals) allows you to clearly articulate what your research is telling you – and provides a way for sellers to understand what it means to them.

And of course, you know from my previous columns that all of your pricing research should be presented in an extremely professional manner. That means listing appointment materials that feature your personal brand consistently through the presentation, from agenda to research to marketing materials. You should continue to develop the sense of expertise that you’re creating through research with every document and detail of your presentation.

Regardless of whether you have the beginnings of a “pricing tool box” or you need to begin building your tools today, you’ll have a huge advantage when competing for listings when you can understand and articulate market data in a visually powerful manner.

It’s an Education Extravaganza!

March 24, 2011

We have some amazing upcoming opportunities to share with you. First, our SAFARI is on the move!  Our signature event, SAFARI was developed for the agent who truly wants to make a significant change in their business. We’ll look at the challenges you face, recommend activities that take into account your work style, and help create action plans to move you toward success.

We have two SAFARI events planned for spring. You can join us at the SeaTac Holiday Inn, just south of Seattle, on May 11th and 12th. Or catch us on June 15th and 16th at Bothell’s Hilton Garden Inn. As the curriculum for both programs is identical, all you need to do is select that location most convenient for you!

Select a date to register for SAFARI:
May 11th and 12th | June 15th and 16th

Not sure if SAFARI is right for your business? Join us for a free, informational call on Friday, March 25th to learn more. The call will begin at 1:00 Pacific Daylight Time, and we’ll share the details of this great event. Click here to reserve your spot on the call. And be sure to bring your questions!

BUT WAIT … THERE’S MORE!

Are you unsure about the state of today’s real estate market? Do you struggle to answer your clients’ questions about the future of real estate? Are you looking for a positive point of view? If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, you need to hear what Denise Lones has to say! Based on national, regional and local data, Denise will share her insights and information about the cur­rent market, how we got to where we are today, and what’s in store for 2011. And we’ll include updates on where we are as the first quarter of 2011 draws to a close.

If a fresh perspective, based on market knowledge, is of interest to you be sure to join us from 9:30am-1:00pm on Wednesday, March 30th, at the REI store in Seattle for a 3.5 clock hour class.  Contact Michelle Gates of Old Republic Title at 206-441-2978 to enroll in Market Trends 2011.

We’re planning even more educational events for 2011. Be sure to watch your email for details!

Polish Your Presentations!

March 24, 2011

Gone are the days when you can simply show up at a listing presentation with data from your MLS that shows comparable homes. Today’s savvy sellers require much more information. They expect an in-depth analysis of their local market. They want a customized marketing plan, tailored to their home and their needs. They want to know they are hiring an expert. And if your listing presentation isn’t one of your most powerful tools, you’re going to lose the listing.

One of my new coaching clients recently shared her frustration with me.  She simply isn’t converting listing appointments into listings.  The questions I asked her were: “Tell me what you have in your listing presentation, and show me what tools you use.”

Before she answered, I knew what the answer would be. Like most agents, she doesn’t have a structured listing presentation. Yes, she prepares a CMA, she has information about herself and about her company, she has sample flyers, and she talks about her website. But very few agents have what I consider a powerful listing presentation.

Here are my ten tips for success at your next listing presentation:

1. Get organized! The better prepared you are, the more confident you will become. Do your research. Prepare your tools. Put everything in order. When you know you are as ready as you need to be, your confidence will come through.

2. Always follow an agenda. Let potential clients know you are organized. Show them that you have a system and that there are important items that must be discussed. When you have an agenda, everyone will be ready for a comprehensive discussion. The beauty of an agenda is two-fold: you won’t forget to cover key issues, and you can involve the sellers by allowing them to determine where they want to begin the discussion.   Their answer will provide you with valuable information about their needs and concerns.

3. Grab a potential client’s attention early. Use visual “props”! Props are simply visual tools, but they are an essential (and often neglected!) ingredient in a powerful listing presentation. I know lots of agents these days think that their laptop is all they really need. While it may seem cool to show your “stuff” on a laptop, even today in our tech-savvy world most people still want something they can see and touch. Visual props will absolutely grab their attention.

4. Have a “toolbox” of props and use them with care. There are five essential categories you must cover in every listing presentation. You need tools for each one, based on what today’s sellers care about. Those five categories are:

a. Price

b. Communication

c. Technology

d. Marketing

e. Photography and Home Presentation

When your toolbox has several tools that cover each of the five essential categories, then you will have the beginning of a powerful listing presentation.

5. Let your clients know how you work. With few exceptions, we humans are not mind readers. We make assumptions based on past experience. Potential sellers may have preconceived notions about how ‘every’ agent works (or doesn’t work, as the case may be). Tell them exactly what you are going to do, when you are going to do it, and what systems you have in place to make sure you do what you say you will do for them.

6. Speak and present to everyone at the appointment.  I cannot tell you the number of times I have observed a listing presentation where the agent focused on one person, and ignored everyone else in the room. It’s natural to focus on the person you have the best rapport with; however, you must focus on others as well.  Part of your success will depend on building rapport with everyone in the room.  Regardless of who the final decision maker might be, you must connect with all parties.

7. Adjust your presentation based on “signals”. Communication is more than just speaking words to each other; body language plays a huge role. If you sense that someone is impatient, you may need to speed up so you don’t frustrate them. If you sense that someone is confused, or is asking a lot of questions, you absolutely have to slow down. A truly good presenter is skilled at reading non-verbal clues, and responding accordingly.

8. Keep your presentation short and to the point. I’m often asked, “But if I have a lot of props, won’t that increase the presentation time?” The answer is a resounding “NO”. It takes less time to explain things when you have visual tools to refer to. Just as illustrations supplement a book, your props will help potential clients understand your point more quickly than words alone.

9. Choose your tools carefully. While I want you to have several tools or props for each category of your listing presentation, I don’t necessarily want you to pull out each and every tool at every listing presentation. You wouldn’t expect a plumber to bring in his entire truck full of tools into your house, just to fix your leaky kitchen sink. Determine ahead of time which tools will be the most appropriate for each presentation, based on factors like the clients’ personality, the market, and the property.

10. Practice makes perfect. I am constantly amazed at how poorly agents present when they’re not prepared. I am equally amazed at how well an agent will present when they are polished, confident and professional. Agents who understand the value of role-play, and who practice their presentation regularly with others, are the agents who will ultimately be hired by a seller.

If you find yourself competing for listings (and who doesn’t!), the way to get hired is to confidently and professionally articulate your value through your listing presentation. Remember this: a powerful presentation will win every time.

This is the first Zebra Report in a 7-part series about successful listing presentations. In the coming weeks I’ll break down each component of a presentation, including Pricing, Communication, Technology, Marketing, and Photography & Home Presentation. I’ll explain exactly what information you must include in your presentation, and what “props” you must have in your tool box. Look for Category 1: Pricing next week!

Out of Sight = Out of Mind

March 10, 2011

There’s nothing harder than running into a past client and learning that they just bought or sold a home … without you. It wounds your pride, it shakes your confidence, and it hurts your pocketbook. What I’ve learned over many years is that when someone tells me their story, I’m rarely surprised after I hear the full story. Here’s a hint: Out of sight = out of mind.

One of the most important truths in real estate is that you need to stay “top-of-mind” with your clients. You must be confident that when the people you know need real estate services, you are the first person they think of.

People today are busy. They have busy jobs, busy lives, and often they are juggling the activities of several family members – and everyone’s corresponding calendars. When they are ready to buy or sell property, they don’t have time to search for a new agent. If they have one who is already top-of-mind, that’s who they call. People call the agent who is in their mind, at the exact moment they decide to pick up the phone, look a house online, or send an email.

Are you that person?

Agents ask me all the time: “How do I cram one more thing into an already hectic business?”  My answer is simple: You have to.

It’s not your sphere’s job to remember to call you – it’s your responsibility to make sure they call you.

Another question I often get asked is: “What’s the best way to stay top-of-mind?”  My answer is always the same – and a bit frustrating for some agents. There is no magic formula, and there is no one “best” way. The truth is, you have to match your communication format with the way your sphere wants (and sometimes needs) to be communicated with.

Remember this: deciphering their communication code takes a lot of time! But it’s absolutely worth it in the long run.

First look at your database. Then determine the best way to stay top-of-mind with each of them. Is it in person? Is it by mail? Is it by phone? Is it via email? Or are they happiest when they see you at the grocery store?

Here is why this is so frustrating to some agents. It’s hard to put together a follow-up plan – a strategic and effective top-of-mind campaign – when you have so much to consider and not a lot of time to build a plan.

So, what’s the answer? Here are some things to think about.

  1. A great place to start is by thinking about how you are going to communicate. I firmly believe that for most agents whose client base includes a wide variety of age-groups and an even wider variety of communication preferences, a very high-quality, content-rich piece of mail is critical. It’s important that your clients get something they can touch and feel, and that reinforces the fact that you are their best resource for real estate expertise. A high-quality piece also says that they are important to you not only on a professional level, but on a personal level.
  2. Determine your message. Always send real estate-related information. (Note: If you have a sphere that really appreciates the college football schedule you send in August, that’s fine. But I consider that an “extra” mailing piece, not your August top-of-mind piece.) Top-of-mind mail needs to update your sphere on the real estate market. It needs to speak to the trends and news and also provide insight into the market. This piece needs to address the factors that impact your sphere’s ability to make wise real estate investment decisions. For example, you might include important changes to real estate laws. The content needs to include the kind of information that any buyer or seller wants (and needs) to have.

Some agents send a newsletter, and some agents send an oversized postcard. Again, the format should meet the needs of your sphere – which may be different than the format a colleague of yours sends to their sphere. And it should always be designed using YOUR brand. Remember – your sphere may be getting information from other agents in your area. If everything they get looks eerily similar, the reader will think the content is the same too. You have to stand out – and you must provide relevant content.

If you want to make your mailer more personal, consider sending out a quarterly neighborhood review. Collect data on every active, pending and sold listing and provide commentary on what the market is doing right now. One note of caution – do not just send a chart or a graph or a list. You have to also tell your reader what the data means, and why that is important to them as potential sellers and/or buyers. People like to know what’s happening in the real estate industry. They like to be kept up to date so they can feel ‘in the know’.

I often get asked about sending out an online newsletter. My answer is this: If you are very confident that your sphere is best served by an online newsletter, or a blog that you write and they follow, then that’s a good option. However, as I said earlier, most agents have a very diverse sphere. Some folks may not be connected to the online world. Or they are bombarded by email every day and what you send will get deleted along with every other email they aren’t reading. If you have a tech-savvy population within your sphere, by all means customize an online piece just for them.

The bottom line is this:

  • To stay top-of-mind with your sphere, you have to have a strong follow-up plan.
  • To have a strong follow-up plan, you have to take the time to determine exactly who your sphere is, and what your plan looks like.
  • Once you have everything mapped out, make it easy on yourself by setting up a regular schedule that ensures your sphere hears from you each and every month.

Want to go from out of sight and out of mind to top-of-mind? A strong follow-up plan will get you there.

The Evolution of a Brand

February 17, 2011

In case you haven’t noticed, the Zebra Report has been given a makeover. Even zebras need to be freshened up from time to time! Basically, this is called a branding update. It’s not changing the components, or the message, or the primary colors – it’s giving our brand a tune-up. A makeover. Our zebra has enjoyed a day at the spa.

Companies do this all the time. Two companies in particular – Coca Cola and Pepsi – have done great job of brand evolution over the past 50 years. Their marketing gurus know how to take a look at what’s happening in the market and what’s happening with the consumer, and then rework their brand to better suit the needs of their ‘now’ customers. It’s very interesting to look at the evolution of their brands over the years. The elements stay the same. There are just subtle changes. But they are important changes.

So why did we freshen up our Zebra Report? For many reasons.

A major concern of ours has been that our readers – you – are busy people. They have a short amount of time to read articles online. Because our Zebra Report is sent out each and every week, we didn’t want it to get lost in the weekly communication shuffle.

We also wanted you to have a new, fresh, and better experience when you open up the Zebra Report. We wanted to continue with a similar look & feel, but also develop an easy way for you to remember our articles. So now, each week, our zebra – and other elements of our Zebra Report – will have a distinct color, which is drawn from the Design Spotlight section of the report. This gives the Zebra Report a pulled-together, cohesive feel, and will help you when you’re trying to remember an article. You’ll be able to say to yourself, “Oh, I know. It was the blue zebra from two weeks ago.” We want you to have an easy memory marker.

Note that we didn’t divert from our main color scheme: black, white, and shades of gray. We simply added a flexible accent color to create a memory marker.

Lastly, we felt that it was time to bring in a more elegant element to our zebra and our brand. We all know that zebras are black/white and can look somewhat harsh. We wanted to better match our zebra to our product line. We are not a mass-marketing company; we offer customized high-end solutions and very effective custom training. We want our brand – and our Zebra Report – to truly reflect who we are and what we do.

How does all this apply to you?

As a real estate agent, your branding says a lot about how your services will benefit potential clients. Let’s say you have personalized branding and marketing tools which were created for you ten years ago. Your brand fits you, it reflects your personality and your business, and yes, it worked wonders when you first implemented it. But how does that brand speak to clients in 2011?

Buyers and sellers in 2011 are more media and tech-savvy than ever before. They’re looking for agents who not only know their market, but who are current with the tools and marketing platforms that the most successful agents – and companies – are utilizing. You may be at the top of your game when it comes to technology, but if your marketing materials look like they were crafted ten years ago, your potential clients may not be so sure. Before you’ve even had a chance to introduce yourself and explain your services, they may have already made an assumption about you that is quite inaccurate.

Ask yourself this – does your look, or your brand, need refreshing? Does it need a day at the spa?  I want you to really think about it. I want you to think about how your sphere and clients have changed over the years, and make sure that your brand is still relevant to them.

Our Zebra Report needed an update – and we couldn’t be happier with the final results! We’ve had fantastic comments, and we’d love to have you let us know what you think. Does it give you a strong memory marker? Is our new format easier to navigate? You can offer your input by taking our short survey, below.

One last thought: this week’s Zebra Report topic is so near and dear to me, that I’d like to share a recording of a presentation that I gave about branding. If you’d like this free recording, click here to download.

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Ask Denise: Template vs Custom Websites

February 16, 2011

Q: My company has a template website available for me. It’s nice looking and is very inexpensive. I’m wondering if I’m better off creating a custom website?

A: Yes, absolutely. I use the analogy of taking the bus or driving a car. With a template website, it’s similar to being on a bus with a whole lot of other people. You take a predetermined route, with limited options on where you can go and when you will get there. But with a custom website, just like when you’re driving your own car, your options are wide open.

Here’s another thing to think about. What if you want to generate leads? Many templates can’t do that for you. What if you want to have custom programming? What if you want to incorporate very distinct photography that doesn’t fit into the predetermined boxes in a template? You can’t.

Custom sites are very powerful and can enhance your business in so many, positive ways. The only real limitation you have is your budget. If you’re happy riding the bus, ride the bus. If you want to take your business on a special journey that you plan out, then a custom site is what you need.

Connect the Dots

February 10, 2011

Let me tell you my newest story about customer service. Or in this case – the lack thereof.

It began during the holidays, with my entire family at my house. My family members are hockey fanatics. They live and breathe hockey. On this particular day, there is a very important hockey match on television and they are desperate to watch it. The problem is, the only way to watch this match at my house is if we have purchased the cable package that includes the NHL channel. Which we have not.

My husband, wonderful man that he is, disappeared for a bit. He has decided to call Comcast and see if he can special-order the NHL channel so that our family can watch the match. He reappears to tell us he has just ordered the NHL package. Everyone is thrilled! He is our hero!

However, the enthusiasm is short-lived because we quickly have problems with the connection. The picture is not clear. The sound comes and goes. The screen goes black and then comes back on. We are all frustrated fans with a hockey match to watch!

So my wonderful husband disappears again to call Comcast. He is on the phone with them for at least 30 minutes, trying to get our problem solved before the frustrated fans in my house decide to revolt.

The good news is – he gets the problem solved and everyone gets to watch the match. The family is happy.

The bad news is – the problems didn’t actually go away.

Over the course of many days, we tried to continue to watch the NHL channel. It was on, then it was not on. It was clear, then it was not clear. The sound would come and go. Finally, we decided it was not worth the hassle. We decided to discontinue the NHL channel.

At which point, I called Comcast. “Hello, this is Denise Lones. This is a simple situation – we ordered the NHL channel to be added to our cable package. However the channel is still not working so we’d like to remove it from our package.” What I thought was a fairly simple request turned out to be a nightmare.

I first talked to Person #1. After I told her want I wanted to do, she said she had no authorization to remove the package or refund my money. But I’m persistent. If she is my customer service representative, shouldn’t she be able to help me with my simple request? This is the answer I got: “It’s above my pay grade. I cannot do that for you.”

I asked to talk to Person #2 – who perhaps could help me. That person sent me back to Person #1.  I was on the phone for 1 hour and 27 minutes. At one point I talked to a supervisor – Person #3 – who couldn’t help me either. Person #1 got back on the phone to tell me she had talked to someone in the sports department who refused to help, but said a ‘change-order ticket’ would be necessary. At this point, she was authorized to turn off the programming, but she couldn’t do anything about refunding my money without this ‘ticket’. Exasperated, I said, “Please. Just write up the ticket.” But get this – Person # 1 and Person #2 were so overwhelmed by the entire situation that they didn’t even know what to write. I literally had to tell them what to write on my ‘ticket’. I had to tell them how to do their job. There is something so very wrong about that.

At the end of 1 hour and 27 minutes, I was assured the channel would be removed and my refund was in process. That was 4 days ago.

I called Comcast again today because nothing has been taken care of. The person who took my call today said, “It looks like the ‘ticket’ was filled out, but it was sent back. So I’ll have to send it in again. That’s going to take some time, so bear with us.”

I have a right to be frustrated. But here’s the bigger disconnect for me. Comcast’s advertising is all about customer service. We’ll take care of you. Twenty-four hours a day, 7 days a week. We’re there for you. The Comcast ad is on my television screen every night. What I’m hearing in their ad does not match the experience I’ve just had. Really. Big. Disconnect.

Regardless of who a company is, or what product they sell, they had better back that product up, and make it right for the customer when things go awry. As a customer or client, I’d better be able to connect the dots between what they tell me and what I experience.

My disconnect with Comcast right now is so big that I have decided to take action. Not only am I cancelling my Comcast cable service, I am cancelling my entire package. Which includes internet and phone service as well. So, over one NHL cable channel problem, Comcast is now losing a 3-product customer. That’s not good business.

Why is this story important to you? Because your clients must be able to connect the dots between what you tell them, and what they experience. When you say you provide unparalleled customer service, you’d better provide it in everything you do. When you say you provide the highest level of honesty and integrity, you must do exactly that.

Here’s another way to think about it. Your clients – your buyers and sellers – have expectations. They have expectations for what they want and need from you as their agent, and they have expectations for the real estate they are buying or selling. They expect that you will listen to their needs, or help them solve their problems. If you don’t, they will move on to another agent.

Let’s say you have talked to a seller with an expired listing. This seller expressed serious concerns about the level of service they received from their first agent. You promise to offer a much higher level of service – service that you think solves all of the problems they had with their first agent. If that’s the case then you must address each of their concerns with a solution, and you must follow through.

The title of this Zebra Report is Connect the Dots. That makes a whole lot of sense to me. Just like I have expectations about my Comcast service based on their advertising, your clients have expectations about you, too. I want you to carefully examine what connecting the dots means in your business, and what that means to each of your clients. If the dots aren’t connecting the way they should, I want you to figure out why they aren’t, and then determine what you need to do to make sure they connect every single time, with every single client.

By Denise Lones CSP, M.I.R.M., CDEI

Not subscribed to the Zebra Report?
Sign up today to receive our free weekly electronic newsletter that will keep you up-to-date on sales, provide essential marketing and business building tips and articles as well as technical, internet marketing information and advice. You’ll also receive special offers and discounts on featured products and services.


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