Staying in Touch with Past Clients without being a Pest

by Steve Crossland, REALTOR in Austin TX on September 27, 2011 · 14 comments

One of the toughest things to balance as an Austin Realtor is finding the right frequency and methods for staying in touch with our past clients. On the one hand, we have the National Association of Realtor (NAR) surveys of buyers and sellers showing that over 90% of real estate consumers never hear from their Realtor again after closing.

Wow! This, in an industry where repeat business and referrals are extremely important to succeeding, is amazing. Clearly most Realtors drop the ball on “after the sale” follow up.

At the other extreme are those Realtors who follow up too much. Consider the quote from this Inman article titled “Is your real estate client a friend?“:

“There are salespeople out there who have inserted themselves into my life with constant contact, and I don’t seem to be able to get rid of them. They put themselves into my online conversations and follow me everywhere. Once we get onto their mailing list we can never get off”.

As my teenage daughters would say, “Eww, creepy”. I know what the author means. I’ve met mortgage and insurance people at industry events such as “lunch and learns”, we exchange cards, and next thing you know I’m receiving regular automated email newsletters and junk mail, getting followed on Twitter and Friend Requested on Facebook and LinkedIn.

None of those “connections” makes me more likely to become a customer or referral source. And in these instances, I’m not even a client or past client.  That said, I do receive follow-ups and “just touching base” calls and annual birthday and/or holiday communications from various vendors, and I do value those follow-ups. But the weekly email newsletters from the mortgage gal I met just once at a Realtor lunch? Not valuable or useful in an way.

Sylvia and I don’t generally seek out clients online and try to “Friend” them or otherwise get connected. Many “Social Networking for Realtors” workshop classes encourage this as a lead building strategy and as a way to stay in touch and “connected”. No thanks. Feels too creepy. They should title those classes “how to be super annoying and bother people”.

The exception is for the clients who actually do become real off-line friends as a result of the real estate transaction, or for those who initiate the connection with us themselves.

So, for an Austin Realtor, what is the right mix and balance of staying in touch with past clients without bugging them or becoming a creepy Social Networking Stalker?

It depends. Let’s start with examining the reason for followup and why it’s important.

Remaining Top of Mind
This really is the one and only reason. People forget. Even highly satisfied past clients will forget who their Realtor was 5 or 10 years later when they need help again. Not all, but many. Even if they don’t completely forget, why should they reward with repeat business a real estate agent who has completely ignored them after the sale?

So, some sort of follow-up and “staying in touch” is absolutely required. It would be stupid not to. Therefore, we must.

By reminding past clients that we’re still around, still in business and still ready and able to help if needed, we make it easy for people to remember us and possibly use us again or refer friends or family.

I just spent the past month entering all mine and Sylvia’s past clients into a new contact database. The database allows us to track referrals and repeat business. I’ve always had a vague sense that about half our business comes from the internet, and the other half is repeat and/or referral business. But the new contact management system let’s me see the exact stats.

Crossland Real Estate Client Source Graph

From above, we can see that referrals are an extremely important source of new business for Crossland Real Estate. Each of these broad categories has sub-categories that I haven’t split out in our tracking yet. For example, most referrals are from past clients, but many are from other Realtors and non-client friends/family.

The “Internet” category includes internet searchers as well as long-time blog readers (who I suppose were initially web searchers). In the 1990s, when we were brand new, Direct Mail would have been the largest category, along with “Cold Calling”. As Realtors mature in the business and remain long-term, the percentage of Referral business should always be growing.

If Sylvia and I had completely ignored and never followed up with any past client, the graph above would look completely different and so would our productivity. The Referrals would be far less. Referrals are the most valuable type of new lead, as they usually come having already decided to do business with us.

So, how have we managed to create a solid referral base? Well, it’s not because we’re smart or have any secrets. Nor have we utilized technology or a brilliant follow-up plan with automated emails or “drip” campaigns. Mainly, Sylvia just tries to have some regular, genuine “touches” with past clients. Those “touches” (as we term any form of contact with a past client) are generally non-intrusive “hellos” or notes, gifts, birthday cards or other form of contact that serves as a friendly reminder that we’re still here and still thinking of you.

What we don’t do is what is considered to be most effective. That’s the phone call pretending to just say hi but with an eventual “who do you know that needs help buying or selling a home in the next 90 days” pitch. We’ve been to those seminars. That stuff actually works, believe it or not. And for the hard core, numbers-driven Realtor trying to rapidly increase production, it’s the most effective thing to do, whether it bugs people or not. You have to be on the phone talking to people and asking for leads every day.

But there is something about that direct approach that never felt right for us. We tried the scripts (pre-fab things to say on the phone) at one point but quickly stopped, as it felt phony and forced. Unnatural for us. For those who can pull it off without feeling like a pest, more power to you. You’ll probably sell more homes than us if you do it consistently.

We prefer the “soft touch” method over the direct and blatant asking for leads. It’s a tough balance, especially when business slows down as it has this year. If we had a real estate coach, she’d be hammering us to “get on the phones and start calling your database and asking for referrals”.

But, in the end, we have to like what we’re doing. Every Realtor has to find his or her way of staying in touch and asking for referrals whether it’s direct and to the point or passive and more subtle.

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