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Cover Story – Sales Innovations

by Chicago Agent

In a housing market that has been a bit challenging these days, Realtors and developers are thinking out of the box more than ever to close that deal. We checked in with local Realtors and other experts to see which sales innovations have changed the industry the most, and we discovered some brand new insight on how to make those sales happen.

By Michael J. Pallerino
You want to help prospective clients cut down on all that gas mileage in these dog days of oil? Has Comcast got a deal for you. Press 888 if your client is one of the 1.1 million digital cable subscribers in Chicagoland or northwest Indiana, and finding your client’s dream home is as simple as pushing a button. Real Estate on Demand – 888 – is available seven days a week, all day, at no additional charge. You can gain access to new homes, townhomes, lofts, high-rise condos and property listings without a problem. Pause, rewind, fast-forward and repeat the process over and over again as many times as you like.

In a market that continues to be the top story on the nightly news, Comcast is doing its part to help real estate professionals revolutionize the sales process. Thanks to the magic of television, armchair housing quarterbacks (Comcast’s definition, not ours) can flip through more than 600 property listings every week, sorted by neighborhood and price range. Housing video clips run about two minutes, while property listings run around 15 seconds.

“This is revolutionizing the way people can view real estate and receive compelling and relevant information,” says Steve Schwartz, Comcast’s real estate division advertising manager. “We found out through our audience that people were looking for new ways to search for homes and wanted to receive more information on everything from neighborhoods, building amenities, testimonials, sales centers, model tours, etc. We decided that our various platforms (Video On Demand, spot TV ads and Comcast.net) could give the consumer and advertiser a unique viewing experience in the comfort of their own home.”

Since launching Real Estate On Demand in October 2007, the service has generated about 40,000 to 50,000 views per month. Each spot features three photos of the property with relevant data, such as number of bedrooms, bathrooms, price, agent contact information with photo and MLS number. Each listing even has a voice over and musical background. To make it more useful for Realtors, Comcast created advertising print and DVD collaterals for the agents to distribute to prospective clients.

“The reaction from our developers and Realtors and potential buyers is very positive,” Schwartz says. “They had various platforms to receive this information and broadcast is a very influential medium that works. We developed various cost-effective programs across our platforms that are measurable and offer a compelling value proposition. Once we added content to our various platforms, many developers and Realtor companies came on board. On the average, a real estate development is receiving 1,500 to 2,500 views per month (a visitor stays for at least 30 seconds).”

“With a subscription base nearing 2,000,000 households, we thought this to be an exceptional supplemental advertising median,” says Scott A. Hoskins, managing broker of CMK Realty. “From the comfort of their home, subscribers can preview specific properties at their leisure any time of any day. We have received very positive feedback from prospective buyers.
“Prospective buyers who have viewed the Comcast program are typically far more qualified once they reach our sales center,” Hoskins adds.

TECHNOLOGY VS. THE FUNDAMENTALS
What happens when the development you have slated to pre-sell specs out to be spectacular, but the address turns out to be less than glamorous? Karen Biazar, agent for North Clybourn Group, recommends adding mystery into the mix, something that doesn’t require high-tech features.

“We had a project that had an all or nothing proposition,” Biazar says. “We decided to go for it. But we decided in order to create the most excitement and interest that instead of entering the project into the MLS with its address, we were going to borrow from the commercial aspect of confidentiality, so we entered the project as 1111 Confidential.”

The agents were overwhelmed with calls. Turns out that when the interested parties had entered 1111 Confidential into their GPS systems, the property came up empty. They had to call for directions.

Agents put direction signs that referenced 1111 Confidential all over their neighborhoods. “Buyer and agents alike loved it,” Biazar says. “We pre-sold the entire project in 21 days.”

Biazar says that signage is another fundamental way that agents and developers can innovate the sales process. “We personally have a lot of freedom in creating unique platforms for ever-changing signage specific to the unit or development,” she says. “We also have a twisted sense of humor, which creates for some interesting collaboration.

“Unique signage brands the product, your company and you as an agent,” Biazar continues. “It’s an investment that yields both short and long term dividends. It stands out and aligns you with the quality of your brand. Buyers and sellers can see that on the streets every day. It has impact. It creates pause. It results in contact. In the end, the relationship development – buyers, sellers and cooperative agents – results in more sales.”

In these trying times, Biazar says that knowing the product is still the most important ally a Realtor can have. Though it might not be an innovation, it is absolutely free.

“Buyers, sellers and agents alike are continually bombarded with tons of information, some more relevant than others,” she says. “[In the end] nothing is more impressive than an agent knowing his product inside and out.”

Tyler Lewke, of Prudential First Realty in Crystal Lake, agrees that it is the fundamentals that are important, and fancy technology may not always be the best tool for all agents. In fact, Lewke feels that sometimes new innovations can be overwhelming and distracting. “I love it when new stuff comes out that wow’s agents,” says Lewke. “Then I can quietly swoop in and do some good business while they are trying to implement the latest cool idea.”

Presenting accurate information that’s relevant, thinking through hypothetical scenarios in advance and being armed with answers is critical. Biazar feels that “with higher inventories and numerous choices, the management and presentation of good information and relevant marketing material reinforce the quality of your product, your services and help you stand out among the masses.

“I don’t consider this market a down market but a corrective one,” Biazar adds. “There is no trickery or gimmicks here. Sometimes, focusing on the fundamentals consistently wins out.”

“I believe technology needs to support us from the background, too many agents are allowing it to lead them,” says Lewke.

Janey Amidei, vice president of sales and marketing for Kirk Homes, also believes in a more simplistic approach. Amidei cites open houses and listings as a sales innovation that she could not possibly live without. “Without the listings, new home sales could not reach the Realtor community,” Amidei says. However, she does see the value in a little help from technology. “Being able to have a virtual tour of the models on the MLS listing helps create interest for the Realtor and their client,” Amidei shares.

WORKING TOGETHER
Roger Gerstad, president of Gerstad Builders, reports that the company is working more with Internet and billboard marketing to market and deliver affordable products. The company has been gaining valuable exposure on the Web by offering virtual tours that have helped give buyers an opportunity to be educated on the product before making a visit. The company is also staging inventory homes that enable the buyers to visualize themselves in the home. “It is hard for a buyer to imagine a home after viewing models, and the inventory home without furniture, etc.,” says Gerstad.

Another sales innovation that’s netting positive returns is shopping cart advertising. Gerstad has extended its reach into the local communities by placing ads on shopping carts in local stores. “It allows us to continually keep our name in the public’s eye,” Gerstad points out.

There is no denying that the ultimate potential of the Internet as a sales tool is still untapped. Just ask anyone from Belgravia Group. While the builder has been a long time proponent of using the Web, the company has undertaken a change in how it answers Internet inquiries.

Until recently, many companies, Belgravia included, would have their marketing personnel forward incoming Web inquiries to the sales centers. More often than not, the leads would come in after hours, which meant the lead was not addressed until the next day, or longer.

Even in the best circumstances, by the time the inquiry had been vetted by marketing, forwarded to the appropriate sales center and acted upon, the prospective client had moved on.

That’s why Belgravia decided to create a position for a person to strictly handle these inquiries. “No salesperson gets as excited about an e-mail as they are about someone they have already met, so we had to create a position for someone who only works with Internet inquiries,” says Cory Robertson, director of sales for Belgravia Group Ltd.

“The main responsibility of our Internet sales rep, Katie Grojean, is to respond immediately to any inbound inquiry, have a real conversation with the person about their needs, discuss what makes our development special and set an appointment up for the customer with a specific salesperson on our team,” he adds.

While this might sound simple, having a bridge between an impersonal Internet inquiry and a real live person makes all the difference in the world. “People who saw us online and who visit our sales centers on their own end up buying 10 to 15 percent of the time, but our salespeople are now closing 25 to 35 percent of the people that Katie sets up for us,” Robertson says.

How much of an impact has this meant to Belgravia? In just a few years, the Internet sales portion of the company’s business accounts for 20 percent of all sales. “We couldn’t function without her,” Robertson says of Grojean.

For Amidei, the innovation that she found has had the most impact since she entered the industry in 1979 is the relationship that new home builders and developers have with the Realtor community.

“The Realtors bring to the sales centers well-informed and qualified buyers. That is the most exciting innovation since I started in the business and it has really changed the industry in how new home sales obtains prospects and buyers and has increased sales for both Realtors and builders.”

Despite what people may say about technology, Realtors can’t deny the fact that it is the root of a lot of the innovations that have changed the industry as a whole. Lewke feels that e-mail and automated searching in the MLS and automated feedback have all changed the face of real estate.

“I love the flexibility and ease of communication (with automation) and I love the education I can provide my clients at a moments notice,” notes Lewke. “I am also very aware of how it’s very dangerous to allow this technology to stop the creation of a relationship. It’s so easy to hide behind an e-mail and stop making the hard phone call.”

Whether it’s an exciting new Web site, a flat screen TV in the conference room or a listing easily accessed with a remote control, there are always going to be new sales innovations at every turn. The most important thing is to find the ones that work for your business, and leave those that leave you baffled to someone else. There are no rules to what you should and shouldn’t use, so embrace the innovations that work, and toss the ones that don’t. C.A.

CONTACTS:

Janey Amidei
Vice President of Sales and Marketing
Kirk Homes
630.830.8300
JAmidei323@aol.com

Karen Biazar
Agent
North Clybourn Group
773.645.7900
Karen@northclybourngroup.com

Roger Gerstad
President
Gerstad Builders
815.344.1050
rgerstad@gerstadbuilders.com

Scott A. Hoskins
Managing Broker
CMK Realty
773.457.4078
shoskins@cmkrealty.com

Tyler Lewke
Realtor – Lewke Partners
Prudential First Realty
815.444.6790
tlewke@firstpru.com

Cory Robertson
Director of Sales
Belgravia Group Ltd.
312.751.2777
cory@belgraviagroup.com

Steve Schwartz
Real Estate Division Advertising Manager
Comcast Spotlight
312.327.5602
Steve_Schwartz@cable.comcast.com

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