3 Simple Questions That Will Keep Your Clients Coming Back for More

Knowledge is power in most arenas of business and this is particularly true in the real estate industry where home prices and real estate data are becoming more widely available for little or no cost to consumers. The more real estate agents and brokers can understand and even anticipate about potential and current clients, the more likely real estate professionals can thrive and succeed in business by offering personalized consultations beyond the generic, sometimes confusing data readily available online.

In a responsive generation, realty firms can seek to shed images of being “behind the times”, indifferent and unreceptive by gaining insight into client wants and becoming more proactive in meeting those preferences by becoming “students” of their clients. Marketing research, which is defined by Malhotra (2010) as “the systematic and objective identification, collection, analysis, dissemination, and use of information for the purpose of improving decision making related to the identification and solution of problems and opportunities in marketing”, is often times the bridge to help real estate brokers and agents connect with would-be buyers and sellers as well as retain past clients (p. 7).

Real estate practitioners for varying reasons (i.e. cost, time, manpower, facility space, etc.) may not choose to devote resources to conducting extensive mall-intercept surveys, focus groups, mail surveys and the like but real estate professionals have a vital, often underutilized resource at their disposal to elicit significant marketing research – their network. Many real estate firms have a wealth of in-house data collected about home sellers, property buyers and even their real estate sales agents but may not collect key data or review and analyze such data to assist in strategic, short-term and long-term business decision making.

This post will examine vital questions that every real estate broker (and agent that may not have active broker support) should ask to collect critical marketing research to better empower decision-making and sales strategy development, keeping clients coming back for more.

Marketing Research in Real Estate

Fast-changing technologies, social media mania, internet-savvy home sellers and real estate buyers, and clickable real estate data have all created opportunities for real estate brokerages to improve and develop further their service offerings (Dimaculangan, E. & Aguiling, H., 2012). However, these dynamics coupled with sales agent turnover can become a taxing, even crippling combination that leaves a real estate broker floundering to find solutions to keep up with industry trends while recruiting sales leaders (Dimaculangan, E. & Aguiling, H., 2012).

One tool to better carve out a marketing niche that is underutilized by realty firms (particularly those of a smaller size) is that of effectively understanding their network of buyers, sellers and agents through marketing research of internal data – this is evidenced by only fifty-one percent of real estate practitioners using a customer relationship management (CRM) database of any sort, with even less using the complete tools available within their chosen CRM (Mariko, 2013).

Internal data is easily available for many real estate brokers since most brokers in order to comply with licensing and taxation laws maintain some sort of database (Malhotra, 2010, p. 106). Furthermore, internal data are usually the most affordable source of marketing research data despite it being fairly under-used in comparison to other sources of marketing research data (Malhotra, 2010, p. 106). Moreover, with the advent of databases that track the social media presence of contacts, the data can stay relevant, useful and current with real-time updates as is desirous and crucial to effective marketing research (Malhotra, 2010, p. 104).

Realty brokerages can more effectively use the data collected from its clients (both consumers – such as home sellers and buyers – and real estate agents) by asking strategic questions that enables them to collect the appropriate content to make better business decisions going forward (Malhotra, 2010, p. 104).

Well-thought out questions that use “special attention to the definition of key variables, the units of measurement, categories used, and the relationships examined” can lead to useful market research data that can help the real estate professional make and take more savvy, forward-thinking business actions (Malhotra, 2010, p. 104). Correspondingly, real estate practitioners should ask clients the following questions when collecting data based on the various research cited below.

How Can I Stay in Touch with You?

Real estate agents and brokers that have been selling homes for a while may be well-acquainted with the term “SOI”, which stands for sphere of influence (and is commonly defined in the real estate industry as the network of acquaintances and associates a real estate professional may have and should connect with to grow business relationships and sales) (Cliff, 2014). It is often recommended that real estate practitioners keep in consistent, regular contact with their SOI in order to avail themselves to potential business opportunities and this is commonly done in this technological age through database marketing (Cliff, 2014) , which Malhotra (2010) defines as “the use of computers to capture and track customer profiles and purchase details” (p. 106).

However, real estate professionals typically do not harness the power of their networks and databases (if they even create databases at all) by ascertaining trends of client preferences, details and tastes to have more meaningful and strategic interactions and business growth although it is recommended that they do more of this effective database marketing (Sullivan, 2014; Kalia, 2013). Data may be collected but it may never be reviewed even a second time due to many agents being understaffed and overwhelmed by the day-to-day management of the current sales transactions in the process of closing.

Therefore, real estate brokers and their agents should ask real estate buyers and sellers, “How can I stay in touch with you?” and ideally offer those clients communication methods popularly used today such as social media contact, email,  and texting. Social media contact (such as through Facebook or Twitter) is particularly vital, with seventy-four percent of home sellers using social media to find their real estate sales agent and ninety-three percent of all social media traffic being on Facebook (Mariko, 2013). Therefore, using social media-based customer relationship management (CRM) tools such as Contactually will better allow brokers and their agents to collect data and monitor and analyze in real-time the desires, preferences and other details of potential clients, repeat clients, and even referrals (Mariko, 2013).

Interestingly, top-producing real estate professionals (specifically those with the REALTOR® designation earning over $100,000 in annual income) are twice as likely to use CRM systems then real estate brokers and agents that earn less than $35,000 per year, which is significantly less than the average income of REALTORS®, who earned on average $47,700 in 2013 (Mariko, 2013; National Association of REALTORS®, 2014).

Beyond keeping a database of home buyers, real estate sellers and apartment renters with whom to consistently stay in touch, real estate brokers should go one step further and capture a database that profiles local and national real estate agents with whom it is desirous to keep in contact, since real estate brokers are responsible for recruiting and retention of top-producing real estate sales agents.

In my personal consultation business, I frequently have to work with brokers that are befuddled with both how to attract and keep highly-motivated real estate sales agents. I have found that the same database marketing techniques that agents must use to garner buyer and seller clients are the parallel activities that brokers most demonstrate to stand-apart among other realty firms in the eyes of sales agents.

Database marketing is a powerful tool for brokers to use to differentiate their offices and customize their services in an ever-increasingly personal industry before both the general public looking to buy and sell real estate and among real estate agents looking to partner with a thriving, responsive and cutting-edge realty office.

What Would You Like to See Us Offer and Why?

“What would you like to see us offer and why?” is another key question every real estate broker should ask of its sales agents (both current and prospective), real estate buyers and home sellers in order to establish a competitive advantage of being an industry leader and innovator while working to diminish costly and interruptive turnover and fallout since “it takes a minimum of almost 18 months to recover when a [top] salesperson leaves” (Dimaculangan, E. & Aguiling, H., 2012).

Asking current sales associates, “What would you like to see XYZ Realty offer and why?” allows real estate brokers to get a glimpse into an agent’s underlying drivers and even possible turnover intentions if the agent in question is significantly dissatisfied with the present working conditions.

Additionally, collecting data for such questioning of agents can convey a servant-leader/ transformational leadership quality that has been documented by salespersons as a desired trait in sales managers prone to cultivate career longevity:

Transformational leaders create a positive work climate in which salespeople feel a stronger sense of shared organizational values resulting to enhanced fit with the organization, become more dedicated to the firm, and thus articulate a more passionate desire to stay… Salespeople who feel a stronger sense of shared organizational value with supervisors practicing transformational leadership behaviors under a positive work climate will have higher levels of organizational commitment… transformational leadership has a direct positive effect on salespersons decision to stay with the company. (Dimaculangan, E. & Aguiling, H., 2012).

This questioning can also position a realty firm as a local leader among other firms both great and small. Repeated responses from buyers and sellers to this question can give keen insight into the psychological trends that can be associated with the population at large, helping brokerages to better serve the preferences of key, targeted clientele.

Commercial real estate and hospitality firms such as Marriott International have been effectively implementing since 1982 forward-thinking research that more effectively identifies the underlying drivers for one’s choices (as known as conjoint analysis) to serve customer needs and preferences better than its competitors by innovatively offering product and service advancements when other companies were not ("Conjoint analysis," 2013; Marmolejo-Duarte & Ruiz-Lineros, 2013).

Specifically, Marriott created the Residence Inn hotel line (a brand devoted to the extended stay customer) after analyzing internal data gathered from its patrons who stayed in the Marriott hotels for several nights, even weeks, at a time and then doing further exploratory research using focus groups to identify the needs of such extended stay travelers (Malhotra, 2010, p. 749). Marriott at the time, like many real estate brokers and agents do today, surveyed customers about their satisfaction but, unlike a fair share of real estate practitioners, effectively used the data that had been consistently repeated in feedback and represented an under-served demographic and clientele to better serve patrons that no other company was then doing. Likewise, more real estate brokers can begin to distinguish themselves among a saturated market of realty firms through proactively questioning clients about their needs and taking steps to implement corresponding solutions.

I personally recall interviewing real estate agents to join the big-name real estate brand I was a managing broker for at the time and many of the interviewees, particularly those leaving other big-name realty franchises, had specific features and services they desired in their new company, such as a high-quality, customizable website that could effectively generate real estate sales leads, functional CRM systems, fee-free direct deposit of commissions and paperless office resources (such as e-signing programs and the like).

The owners of the realty office that I was a part of at the time were myopically and reactively focused on the day-to-day operations without regard to anticipating the future needs of their agent clients. Thus, despite the repeated sentiment in interviews of what agents desired in their new realty firm, those firm owners unfortunately did not avail themselves to proactively evaluating such vital and progressive marketing research data that would have actually made their offices more attractive to top-producing agents, allowing for better offerings in their recruitment packages, aiding in agent retention and leading to an overall better financial bottom-line.

It is imperative for realty firms to understand that “[t]he true value of a market offering can only be evaluated through the lens of the customer,” meaning that being content with the status quo offerings (i.e. “this is what we offer so deal with it”) should be a sentiment of the past (Witell, Kristensson, Gustafsson, & Löfgren, 2011).

What Attracted You to This Home?

“What attracted you to this home?” a question that real estate brokers and agents should ask of buyers that have completed a purchase and of sellers as a home is being listed for sale. Actually, this is the simplest question that most agents know the answer to but may not take a closer look at what the answer indicates.

The home buying process is not a “cut and dry” exercise to just find a place to lay one’s head but rather it is an opportunity for a buyer to enjoy a particular lifestyle and community: “Generally people are attracted to residential areas, not only because of material needs but also because these areas reflect their lifestyles and values. The community within their suburb of choice help maintain a sense of self and identity, and thus one feels comfortable with self” (Levy & Lee, 2011). 

By identifying why someone is attracted to a home, brokers and agents are better able to anticipate future homes to sell to that client as well as future residents of that home and community through strategic, poignant marketing that conveys the identified leading attraction if the broker desires to become a leading sales generator of that particular housing community.

In summary, marketing research is a vital yet underutilized player in the real estate industry to help practitioners understand and anticipate how to best serve and meet the needs and preferences of its current and future clients. To make marketing research an organic, inexpensive facet of a real estate firm’s toolkit, it is imperative that brokers begin to collect more strategic data from clients, which should include three specific questions: What attracted you to this home?, What would you like to see us offer and why?, and How can I stay in touch with you? The consistent collection and review of this data can lead to real estate brokers and agents having sophisticated data analysis, critical for better competitive positioning, expansion and longevity, ideally leading to more clients (including home sellers, real estate buyers and even sales agents), both new and repeat.

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  • Cliff, M. (Aug. 18, 2014). As a rookie real estate agent, sell your sphere of influence on how you can benefit them. Inman News. Retrieved from http://www.inman.com/next/how-to-determine-your-sphere-of-influence-as-a-rookie-real-estate-agent/
  • "Conjoint analysis". (2013). Dobney.com. Retrieved from http://www.dobney.com/Conjoint/Conjoint_analysis.htm
  • Dimaculangan, E. D., & Aguiling, H. M. (2012). The effects of transformational leadership on salesperson's turnover intention. International Journal of Business and Social Science, 3(19) Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/1115580774?accountid=143980
  • Kalia, M. (2013). The factors that influence customer behaviour in housing market in Tirana. Journal of Marketing and Management, 4(1), 93-106. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/1530372090?accountid=143980
  • Malhotra, N. (2010). Marketing Research: An Applied Orientation (6th ed.). Upper Saddle, NJ: Pearson Education Inc.
  • Mariko, O. (Nov. 13, 2013). 15 Statistics Every Realtor Should Know. Contactually Blog. Retrieved from http://blog.contactually.com/2013/11/15-statistic-every-realtor-know/
  • Marmolejo-Duarte, C., & Ruiz-Lineros, M. (2013). Using choice-based-experiments to support real estate design decisions. Journal of European Real Estate Research, 6(1), 63-89. doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.1108/17539261311312979
  • National Association of REALTORS®. (2014). 2014 NAR Member Profile. Realtor.org. Retrieved from http://www.realtor.org/reports/member-profile
  • Sullivan, M. (2014). Being a Real Estate Agent: Turning Contacts into a Referral Stream System. Idiot's Guides. Retrieved from http://www.idiotsguides.com/work/job-advice/being-real-estate-agent-turning-contacts-into-referral-stream-system/
  • Witell, L., Kristensson, P., Gustafsson, A., & Löfgren, M. (2011). Idea generation: Customer co-creation versus traditional market research techniques. Journal of Service Management, 22(2), 140-159. doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.1108/09564231111124190
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