When the real estate market is flying high, many agents give little or no thought to the task of prospecting for potential new clients. But when the market is slow, you may find you have to return to the old-school basics of client prospecting, say a number of Chicagoland real estate professionals. By K.K. Snyder
Where are all the clients? Finding clients in today’s market is difficult, because the buyers just aren’t out there, says Pam Van Witzenburg, an 18-year industry veteran and owner of Van Witz Real Estate in three Chicagoland locations.
Van Witzenburg is a firm believer in agents prospecting by immersing themselves in their own communities and farming for new clients. By being involved in area organizations, attending community festivals and celebrations and being active in local government and the social scene, agents have endless opportunities to get their names and faces before scores of potential clients. Through farming and drip marketing, once the agent’s name is a household name, he’s likely to receive a call when someone in the neighborhood is ready to buy or sell.
“I farm all the time. In fact, I just received a call about a postcard I sent out over a year ago. You’ve got to keep in touch with the community and every person that you can touch,” she shares. “That way you’re putting out ads for yourself, not just for the company.”
Rich Aronson agrees. Managing broker-owner of Camelot Realty on Chicago’s North Side for the last 10 years, Aronson grew up in the city and has made it his duty to familiarize himself with all of Chicagoland, keep up with real estate statistics and be aware of everything happening in the city. He has civically, socially and politically embedded himself in his own community of East Rogers Park, where he serves as VP of the Community Development Organization. The return on investment is worth every minute he devotes toward those efforts.
“On a cost-benefit analysis basis, it’s a low-cost prospecting tool,” Aronson says. “It’s community service, doing good within your own community. It’s work I would be doing anyway, and it’s not costing me anything. Getting yourself out there is more important than anything else.”
One of the easiest, least expensive tasks you can perform is servicing your clients after the sale by constantly working the relationships, adds Aronson. Waiting until the market is slow and calling a client after two or three years expecting him to give you a listing just isn’t practical. Also, being incredibly responsive and available by phone and email is another way to keep from losing prospects.
While many new agents don’t have the “sphere of influence” of more established agents have amassed, it becomes more challenging to get listings, says Sheila Rugege-Dantzler, an agent with WEICHERT, REALTORS — First Chicago. “When you don’t have listings early on, you have to put yourself out there with information people can use so they’ll keep you in mind when buying or selling,” she says, recalling her early days in the industry, when she did a lot of “floor time” at the office, answering phones and helping walk-ins.
“I was drumming up business any way I could,” she says. “I did a lot of open houses for developers in the beginning of my career.” She notes that, while the open house may not have netted a sale, it did bring a lot of walk-in traffic that she was able to convert to new clients and new listings.
Another prospecting method Rugege-Dantzler uses is bringing up real estate as a topic of conversation with everyone she talks to. “I’m not putting myself out there like a used car salesman, but somehow I’m directing the conversation to let people know I’m an expert in the field.”
Being more aggressive with marketing tactics is another option for prospecting in today’s market. Rugege-Dantzler says WEICHERT offers one of the most thorough, comprehensive listing presentations that she’s ever seen. It’s important, however, to couple the aggressiveness with marketing materials that are also attractive and user friendly. “The key to prospecting is to be consistent, to be creative and think a little bit outside the box in creating a brand for yourself and being an expert in the field.”
Like many of his industry peers, Aronson admits his team didn’t expect to see a lot of business this year, but they got aggressive with Internet and media campaigns anyway, assuming everyone else would be cutting back while the market was slow. Local advertising generated prospects for Camelot, but Aronson returned to his network of family, friends and business associates as a means to generate potential clients.
“In a tough market, you really gotta work the network,” says Aronson, who, in addition to being an attorney, was a developer prior to the purchase of Camelot.
While he has implemented software programs such as eCampaignPro to ease marketing tasks, Aronson says many recipients tend to discount the messaging over time and, eventually, stop opening the emails he circulates. The trick is to reach potential clients on a variety of levels with a variety of messages. Because 95 percent of Camelot sales are agent-to-agent, Aronson says advertising in trade publications such as Chicago Agent is a profitable expense.
“Everything is target marketed, and we really study our product so we know who our buyer is and tailor our message accordingly,” he says, with regard to how he advertises different types of property to different potential client subsets.
If it’s property in his stomping ground of East Rogers Park, he can sell himself as the best agent to serve the clients needs because of his association with the community. A second home buyer client might perk up to a message regarding investments and financials, whereas a first-time homebuyer is reached through a more emotional message.
Another demographic to consider for advertising and messaging purposes is the age of the potential client, or what Aronson refers to as “life-stage marketing.” A younger client may respond best to straight facts and figures reaching him via Internet technology, and will prefer to make his own personal, emotional decision about purchasing property. But an older client may require more hand holding and personal attention. That’s where Camelot’s philosophy of “old-world service and new-world technology” is a plus across the life-stage board.
Also, depending on the particular audience for a proposal, Aronson and his team rely on their winning record and push their statistics from past sales, such as number of days on the market and the selling prices garnered. “Clients really do care about the details,” he says.
Similar to Aronson’s eCampaignPro, John Mayfield, who specializes in technology for the real estate industry, says the best software he’s found for direct mail prospecting practices is HP’s Real Estate Marketing Assistant. Easy to use and affordable, the program includes hundreds of templates for producing professional-looking postcards, flyers, reports and other documents. Users can upload databases for mail merging purposes, and MLS versions of the software are also available, says Mayfield. He generates leads by using direct mail to drive people to his Web site for free reports.
“For just-listed, open houses and price-reduced postcards, you can export a file from MLS, and it will bring the information right into the software,” says Mayfield, a speaker and author. “With just a few clicks, I can do a little editing, change the photos, print and send out thousands [of postcards] in a matter of 10 or 15 minutes and have a nice professional postcard to generate leads.”
Another prospecting tactic Van Witzenburg shares with her 260 agents is direct mail to owners they find on FSBO sites. “I utilize the Internet continuously, sending out emails to keep people informed,” she says, noting that while she doesn’t subscribe to many of the lead-generating services available “because I feel like everyone else does,” she does take every opportunity to drive traffic to her Web site.
Van Witzenburg’s main market is moving people in Chicagoland from east to west. So, if she were advertising a condo, for example, she’d prospect for clients in a heavily senior demographic area, with messaging that targets that specific age group. Sitting on nearly 400 listings, Van Witzenburg says money for advertising is an absolute necessity for potential clients to become familiar with her name. Existing clients will know she’s still marketing their property, even during the market slowdown.
“In today’s world, with the way the market is now, it’s hard to generate business in any area so you advertise in anything you possibly think will work,” says Van Witzenburg.
The state of the market has led many developers to tighten their belts and even let their sales staff go, she continues. So working with developers has become even more crucial for agents and brokers as they lend help with marketing or even provide assistance in the sales office, another opportunity for prospecting for clients.
Relocation is yet another market where Van Witz Real Estate prospects for clients. Among the agents in her three offices, 13 languages are spoken, providing a diversity that continuously proves beneficial to the company and its clients.
Unfortunately, many new agents too easily throw in the towel, because they are unfamiliar with the benefits of old-school prospecting, she adds. “A lot of agents, unless they’ve been in the real estate industry since the 1980s, really never saw anything that could be so potentially hurting if they don’t work it. If they’re working it, they’ll be okay; they’ll get through it,” she says.
Van Witzenburg says that, above all, agents should keep a positive attitude and not listen too much to media messages about real estate industry market trends. A positive attitude, hard work and genuine effort will go a long way toward successful prospecting for new clients. C.A.
John D. Mayfield
The Real Estate Tech Guy
WEICHERT, REALTORS — First Chicago
Pamela Van Witzenburg
Van Witz Real Estate