The underlying philosophy of inbound marketing dictates that being hyperfocused on building relationships with your future clients is what wins. As such, it doesn’t take a visionary to see the beautiful overlap between being “inbound” and being a real estate agent.

Inbound marketing is not a turnkey solution to growth. It requires persistence and dedication to a certain way of doing business to realize significant results. The long-term inbound marketing payoff is perhaps its largest barrier to adoption— particularly for commission-based businesses with lengthy sales cycles.

But it’s worth pursuing nonetheless. Consider the following from HubSpot’s 2014 State of Inbound Marketing report:

  • 54 percent more leads were generated by inbound tactics than traditional paid marketing across a number of industries in 2014.
  • Leads sourced through inbound practices are consistently less expensive than outbound leads, regardless of company size.
  • Half of marketers in business-to-business, business-to-consumer and nonprofit sectors ranked inbound marketing as the primary lead source, exceeding the average (42 percent) of all other channels combined.
  • Marketers who emphasize blogging (an inbound tactic) are 13 times more likely to have increased return on investment (ROI) year over year.

To be sure, measuring the collective ROI of your inbound marketing activities is difficult. The same applies to many other “trust-building” initiatives that don’t yield tangible short-term benefits. (For example, how do you measure the actual cost and return of your first 1,000 tweets?) What we do know, however, is that there is a growing mountain of data suggesting that inbound marketing is worth the investment.

Here are three steps to help any agent get started:

Step 1: Invest in targeted content creation and distribution.

Goal: Generate leads at various stages of the transaction journey.

In practical terms, “building relationships with your future clients” means providing educational resources and tools to your target market as a method of discovery.

You must truly invest yourself in the success of your future clients, knowing full well that you won’t do business with every person you help along the way.

As you formulate your content strategy, consider your customer personas and the following questions:

  • What are some of the most common questions I get from prospective clients?
  • What general advice or information do I have that would be most helpful to individuals considering buying or selling a home in the next 12 months?
  • What are some of the biggest pain points in the transaction process — and how can homebuyers overcome them?
  • What local market knowledge do I have that can provide value to homeowners?

Publishing a blog is a very practical way to host and centralize your content in its various formats. As such, blog posts are a popular way to package and deliver content (400- to 600-word posts are relatively cheap to produce and easy to consume).

Here are some other popular content formats to include in your mix — some of which you’ll want to consider hosting behind a lead capture form:

  • E-books
  • Webinars
  • Podcasts
  • White papers
  • How-to guides
  • Videos
  • Email newsletters

When you commit to an online-friendly format for delivering your expertise, you’re not only optimizing your content for scalable consumption and social media sharing, you’re also positioning yourself to readily complement each and every one of your face-to-face interactions, as these leads will inevitably go online to learn more about you.

Of course, no content strategy is complete without a plan for getting it into the hands of consumers, so spend time learning how to get the most out of search engine optimization (SEO) and social media platforms as modes of discovery.

What you’ll need (in the absence of comprehensive inbound marketing software):

  • Blogging platform (a content management system)
  • Lead capture landing pages
  • Content creation
  • SEO
  • Social media

Step 2: Nurture leads with context and personalization.

Goal: Optimize communication strategy for conversion of leads into clients.

You’re generating leads via your content. Now what?

The most active lead-nurturing campaigns work to establish awareness (of products or services) without engaging in trust-eroding activities (like sending spam).

Every new relationship needs to be cultivated and allowed to grow in its own, unique way; something that is easily achievable when we think about each lead’s individual journey, and treat our leads accordingly. The difficulty lies in executing such an approach in a fast-paced, dynamic online world — one where leads often start off as perfect strangers. And this is where technology plays a critical role.

It’s probably unreasonable to expect every blog subscriber or webinar attendee to be a prospective homebuyer inquiring about a particular property — and your communication strategy must reflect this. But given the unreliable nature of such assumptions, every communication touch point should be designed to gather the critical pieces of information you need to escort that person effectively during their journey toward a transaction.

The key to effective inbound communication is context — context in the sense of how and where you communicate and in the sense of what you communicate.

Context gives you the ability to turn permission you generate into trust that can evolve into a relationship — or to develop a stranger into a lead, and then ultimately into a client. It’s also probably the thing most often missing from real estate lead follow-up and communication strategies.

What you’ll need:

  • Context-driven follow-up and nurturing
  • Email marketing and automation
  • Customer relationship manager integration (optional)

Step 3: Exceed client expectations with every interaction.

Goal: Build an organic referral channel by acquiring and leveraging positive reviews and ratings.

As any real estate agent knows, the best form of marketing will always be word of mouth. And inbound marketing certainly aligns well with word of mouth as an end goal. But the proliferation of online ratings and review platforms has introduced a “next best thing” opportunity in the form of organic referrals.

For word of mouth to be effective, the person espousing your abilities as a real estate agent must have personal credibility with the referee. It’s also typically a one-to-one, or peer-to-peer, process. By contrast, it’s the responsibility of the review or rating platform to carry the bulk of this trust when it comes to organic referrals, which are inherently one-to-many propositions.

Provided that consumers trust the major players in the agent review arena (Yelp, Zillow, and so on), you have an opportunity to use these platforms to leverage the brand currency you’ve built throughout your career, as this currency continues to rapidly increase in value.

Delighting your clients to the point of generating referral business likely does not require a significant shift in strategy. The client who provides you with a five-star rating today is the same client who will refer you to friends and family tomorrow. The challenge is rising client expectations. To succeed going forward, you’ll need to embrace the review and rating mechanisms in use by consumers as part of your inbound strategy.

What you’ll need:

  • Agent profiles on rating and review sites.

Inbound marketing requires an almost insane devotion to each of these steps and, more generally, to the mantra-like practice of “always be helping.” The good news is that being hyperfocused on building trust and relationships is a sound short- and long-term strategy for any real estate agent.

Eddie Earnest is the director of inbound marketing at Zurple, a company that offers lead generation and nurturing software solutions to real estate agents. 

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