You may agree that real estate leads sourced online are a waste of time and money for any number of reasons. Perhaps your past marketing efforts support this belief.

You’ve invested in online lead generation and found it doesn’t work. Perhaps NAR’s 2013 claim that only 9 percent of homebuyers find their agent via a website has you convinced Internet leads are worthless. Or maybe your gut tells you that, in a relationship-driven business like real estate, it is irrational to expect technology channels to be a source of quality leads.

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Lead image via Shutterstock.

Whatever the reason, choosing not to pursue Internet leads hurts your chances of growing your business. While it is true that word-of-mouth leads (just like word-of-mouth marketing) will always be your best bet from a quality standpoint, it is also true that Internet leads can more easily be generated in bulk and can significantly increase your transaction volume when handled properly. This article discusses what I mean by “proper handling.”

Consider the following from the recently published 2014 California Association of Realtors (CAR) Home Buyer Survey:

Sixty-five percent of homebuyers who used an agent found their agent online.

The CAR report paints the plainly obvious picture of the Internet as a key driver of homebuying behavior:

  • More than half of all buyers (59 percent) found their home on realtor.com or Zillow.
  • More than 75 percent of buyers used social media in the buying process (compared with just 52 percent in 2011).
  • More than 9 out of every 10 buyers are receptive to receiving communication directly from their agent via social media.

In light of these stats, why isn’t your Internet marketing working? The answer for most agents is that they respond too slowly to lead inquiries.

An astonishing 49 percent of buyers reported that they expect an INSTANT reply from an agent upon inquiry — up nearly five times from 10 percent in 2007. An additional 29 percent have generously tapered this expectation to “within 30 minutes” (see Exhibit 11 from the CAR Home Buyer Survey).

So, approximately 8 out of every 10 buyers expect you to reply right away.

As the Exhibit 11 chart demonstrates, agents are massively failing to meet this expectation.

Even so, the report comes to the following conclusion:

When it comes to selecting an agent, a previous relationship and being most responsive are important to buyers.

Based on this conclusion by CAR, in the absence of a prior relationship with a lead, you can assume responsiveness is the most important characteristic for you to convey as an agent.

At Zurple, responsiveness is one element of what we term “effective lead engagement.” In this narrowly defined instance, effective lead engagement means immediately following up with Internet leads as soon as they’re generated.

Obviously, you can’t always be expected to immediately reply. You have a life, after all. But you can be expected to hire assistants and/or purchase inexpensive software that immediately replies for you. If you fail to do so, you have severely limited your commission potential.

In addition to speed, we’ve found that the quality of your follow-up matters a great deal. Consider the following example, which we may trigger on an agent’s behalf based on numerous variables coming together to create a specific condition:

Hi Roger,

I know that you’re currently exploring both condos and detached homes. So I went back, ran numbers and found that if you look at the last 10 years in Coronado (92118), condos have appreciated 11.89 percent while homes have appreciated 42.88 percent.

I thought you might find this data helpful as you narrow your search. Are there any specific questions I can answer for you at this time?

Best,

Your Agent

This level of depth and insight — which software can automatically achieve for you, 24/7 — adds huge value to your lead communications. In turn, this quality engagement increases the likelihood that you’ll be the agent the buyer chooses.

By focusing on speed and quality through assistants or software, you’ll position yourself to convert Internet leads and significantly grow your business. You’ll also simultaneously eliminate the stress of needing to personally monitor Internet leads.

Ultimately, Internet lead generation represents the shortest path to business growth for most agents. The difference between wasting your marketing dollars and getting the most from them lies with your lead engagement strategy.

Eddie Earnest is the director of inbound marketing at Zurple, a real estate Web lead service. Zurple’s software focuses on only one thing: starting conversations between Realtors and leads that culminate in closed transactions.