Editor’s note: This three-part series explores what’s happening in the rental market, how the industry is connecting with online consumers and what technology is helping them stay in touch. (See Part 1 and Part 2.)
The apartment industry has long grappled with troubles in tracking the behavior of apartment hunters. These prospective renters might call up rental offices, visit Web sites, view apartment guides, stop by rental offices and call property management firms before they make a decision to sign a lease.
While industry players have employed technology for several years to help track leads and gauge success from different types of marketing, there are typically holes in the data and some potential renters fall through the cracks during the process.
Lead Tracking Solutions, a company based in Costa Mesa, Calif., has launched a lead tracking and management system that is designed to integrate information from prospective renters into a digital guest card that logs contact information and other details that can help apartment firms to keep in touch with them and to quantify which lead sources are paying off.
Apartment owners and managers have been using lead-tracking technology for about seven or eight years now, said Bill McCullough, president and CEO at Lead Tracking Solutions and a veteran of the apartment rental industry who has previous experience in publishing and lead-tracking companies.
But with traditional lead-tracking technologies there has been a disconnect in managing leads and tracking lead conversions, he said, and he found this out first-hand while trying to track lead-conversion rates for his publishing company. The real estate brokerage industry, too, has been working to improve its lead-tracking and lead-management tools in order to get a better grip on how to spend its marketing dollars.
“What we found in our industry and in most industries – (the tracking process) always got lost between the call, the guest card on site, and from that point into the computer system,” he said. “It was a constant battle. Very frustrating, too.” Often the guest cards at apartment offices did not specifically list all of the possible sources that renters might have used to find the apartment that they leased. “You’re generating leases for people and you’re not getting the credit for it,” he said.
McCullough sold the apartment publication about three years ago but kept his tracking company. “An idea came to us from one of my partners … who said, ‘What if I could actually take this (lead) information and automatically populate a digital guest card – put that right into the customer’s software in one seamless deal.”
And for the past 2 1/2 years McCullough and his team have been building the system that they envisioned. “We’ve automated the phone call and e-mail process and we’ve automated the follow-up process.” As a part of its service, which requires a monthly subscription and a software download, the company offers unique toll-free phone numbers and e-mail addresses to help companies track the source of incoming leads.
The system uses caller-identification technology to log the phone numbers and addresses of incoming calls, when possible, and records and logs all contacts with prospective renters. Apartment offices can use scanners or card readers to automatically read information from renters’ driver’s licenses, and all of this information is compiled and merged electronically to form a growing database of information on each renter and prospective renter.
Basic lead-tracking technology can show how many calls and e-mails are generated from various publications and Web sites, which sources lead to actual in-person apartment tours, and which rental offices and agents have the best conversion rates.
Steve Mensinger, president of Arnel Management Co. in Southern California, a tester of the Lead Tracking Solutions tools, said, “It’s a technology that’s long overdue. It tracks your prospects and does it in a very efficient manner. There is a lot of tracking software out there for certain numbers. There wasn’t one for both the phone call and onsite visit. It replaces the guest card.”
Arnel Management Co. has an inventory of about 6,000 apartments, and the company plans to go live with the Lead Tracking Solutions system in about three to six months.
Mensinger related the new system to Apple’s music player, the iPod. “It’s the iPod of tracking software.” Just as the music player melded music and technology, the new lead tracking system bridges the gap between apartment site visits and telephone calls.
“The apartment industry is 20 years behind other industries. We’re kind of a wait-and-see group of people. We don’t do things real quickly. We have (historically) relied upon onsite people to track their own guest cards manually,” he said, while the Lead Tracking Solutions system has digitized the process and made it more seamless. “In sales your prospects are everything – the only thing that separates you from competitors is follow-up.”
The Lead Tracking Solutions electronic lead-tracking and management system is based on a product called the PopCard – an electronic form that stores an array of information on each prospective renter. Leasing agents, apartment managers and marketing staff can all access PopCard-related information, though they may have different access privileges in the system.
“All transactions and customer communications are archived and become a permanent log of the customer,” according to a Web description of the system. The PopCard “integrates information from the Internet, e-mail, and in-person interactions. All notes, e-mails, phone calls, and follow-up activities help illustrate a history … from the beginning to the end” for each incoming call that is received, the Web site also states.
If renters move from one apartment unit to another that is owned by the same apartment management company, Lead Tracking Solutions can update its PopCard information on those renters.
The information that is collected system-wide can also be used to produce detailed market reports, McCullough said, such as the total number of one-bedroom apartment requests for the city of Anaheim, as an example.
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