Randy Hollister and Roy D. Rainey Jr., the brains behind Cendant’s new online lead generation technology, are real estate brokers, not cyborgs. But they do have a knack for integrating new technologies with the business of real estate.
Over the past few years, Hollister and Rainey have worked to develop several new products for industry professionals that can route Web-based leads to an agent’s cell phone and keep agents in compliance with the federal do-not-call rules.
In late November, real estate giant Cendant Corp. announced that it had purchased exclusive rights to the team’s LeadRouter product, which uses a system of broker and agent rules to quickly route Web-based leads to agents, whether they are in the field or at their desks.
With LeadRouter, Web data entered by a consumer is immediately converted to an automated phone call to an agent, and a digitized voice reads relevant information about the nature of the query and the consumer’s contact information.
The announcement was no small step for an industry that has been internally criticized for failing to respond in a timely manner to Internet-based communications sent by consumers. All of the brokers in Cendant’s five real estate brands – Century 21, Coldwell Banker, ERA, Sotheby’s and Coldwell Banker Commercial – can choose to implement the system.
A group of 38 Cendant franchisee brokers, with 250 offices and 7,000 sales associates, participated in a pilot program for the LeadRouter product from April to November. And in the first two weeks following the product’s launch, 250 more Cendant-affiliated brokers have signed up for the product.
The announcement was the culmination of an exhaustive entrepreneurial effort by Hollister and Rainey to develop a system that improves agents’ response rate and response time to consumers’ Web queries.
“We have lived and breathed this thing for the last couple of years,” said Rainey. “It was at least a year’s worth of 100-hour weeks. It’s been rather intense.”
What makes their effort more impressive is the fact that Rainey and Hollister rarely met in person to build this comprehensive lead-management platform. “When we got together in May, it was after 18 months without having been in the same state at the same time,” said Hollister. “I’m in Pennsylvania, Roy’s in Arkansas.”
Rainey added, “We are the virtual real estate company – and this is working in an industry that really believes in hands-on. We live on instant-messenger and unlimited phone-call lines. We’re huge believers in technology and we live by it.”
There are multiple computer screens on Rainey’s desk, and his office has been dubbed “the bat cave” (a la “Batman”) for all of the technological toys it contains.
Carolyn Arick, also a real estate broker, is also a member of the team and is responsible for customer training and service, and all three members of this technology team formerly worked for the National Association of Realtors-affiliated Homestore, which operates home-search site Realtor.com.
“Several years ago it was becoming very clear that brokers were clamoring for some solution to deal with responsiveness issues they were dealing with, particularly with Web leads,” Hollister said. “We wanted to make sure that if a consumer goes to the trouble of filling out a form on a Web site – they got a response from somebody who was qualified to answer it.”
A study by Realtor.com found that about half of Web-based inquiries from prospective home buyers and sellers do not receive a response within 48 hours. Cendant reported that 82 percent of agents who participated in a test of the LeadRouter product responded to Internet leads within the first 24 hours, and 52 percent of those responses were within one hour.
In the fall of 2002, the Rainey, Hollister and Arick technology team launched LeadPhone, a product that converts Web leads into phone calls to agents for $15 per month. In October 2003, the group launched DNC Sentry, a product that helps real estate offices keep up with federal do-not-call rules.
LeadRouter, which builds upon the LeadPhone product, disseminates Web-based leads to agents based on a series of rules, and allows brokers to monitor agents’ follow-through with the leads and to study the sources of the online leads. Those agents who pass on a lead do not lose their place in the rotation, they remain at the top of the list for the next lead.
Brokers can set the hours during which the Web leads are phoned-in to their agents, and the leads are matched with agents based on the type of query, the geographic area and a regular rotation. “This takes into account the needs of the consumer,” Hollister said. “It is very consumer-centric.”
Cendant brokers can sign up for the program with a $1,500 set-up fee, and in-house training is available for an additional charge of $5,000. In addition, brokers pay an annual licensing fee to use the LeadRouter system.
It hasn’t always been easy to nudge agents and brokers into adopting new technologies, Rainey said. “The biggest challenge we had – this business has been the way it has been for a long period of time, and change is difficult for any of us.”
Having a deep background in real estate brokerage has been useful, he said. “We didn’t have to go out and ask a bunch of brokers what they were looking for – we knew what they were looking for. Tech guys can talk bits and bytes but they can’t necessarily talk business and vice versa.” Rainey said that his team, meanwhile, has a footing in real estate business and technology.
Rainey said that with LeadRouter, the goal was to develop a product that was sophisticated and complex “behind the scenes,” but was simple for the end user. “The neat thing about it – the cell phone is so ubiquitous to our industry.”
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