Editor’s note: We scoured the industry in search of behind-the-scenes technology innovators driving change for real estate. In this special Inman News series, we share their stories, but the five people and companies we chose are by no means the only pioneers in real estate. There are hordes of innovators out there, and we’d like to hear all their stories. Drop us a tip if you have someone in mind. (See Part 1: Age doesn’t stop Baird & Warner’s innovations; Part 2: Neighborhood real estate videos come alive; Part 4: Bridging islands of real estate technology and Part 5: ‘Lazy’ investor turned tech pioneer.)

“The philosophy is not us taking technology and trying to apply it to real estate. It’s analyzing how real estate business is done and figuring out how technology can facilitate it,” says Jonathan Blood, vice president of sales and marketing for real estate design shop Delta Media Group.

Known for its pioneering lead technology, the Canton, Ohio-based company has reached the age of 11, an amazing feat for a Web design firm.

“We’ve always been a company that designed Web sites for real estate companies. In 1994 there wasn’t much of an Internet. It was more real estate on bulletin boards,” said Mike Minard, president of the company

Founded in Portland in 1994 as the Delta Group, the company managed to survive a move to Silicon Valley, a renaming as “Tigerfly” and a failed IPO in 2000.

Just as the company was going down for the third time, northeast Ohio’s Cutler/GMAC Real Estate intervened.

“One of the brokers at Cutler/GMAC was a client of Tigerfly in 2000 and didn’t want to lose his Web site, his technology,” said Minard. Jim Bray, president of Cutler/GMAC, bought Tigerfly along with Minard, Jonathan Blood and his father Ernie Blood.

“We purchased the company and moved it to Ohio where we were from,” Minard said. The firm was rechristened “Delta Media Group.”

Five years later, Cutler continues as one of the firm’s flagship clients, along with RE/MAX Properties in Southern Colorado. Delta created the RE/MAX Southern Colorado Web site, HomesColorado.com. The Web site designer has almost 150 clients overall, serving between 16,000 and 16,500 agents.

Online lead generation is a hot area these days, with competing firms such as HouseValues, which recently went public, Reply! Inc., which recently purchased Connecting Neighbors, a network of neighborhood Web sites, and RealEstate.com, a division of LendingTree.

Delta’s approach is to tailor its sites based on the practices and needs of each individual brokerage, Jonathan Blood said.

“Our system is that we build broker-centric Web sites,” he said. “We build a lead management system and other marketing tools, but the Number One thing our system does is that it helps drive the lead to whoever drove the traffic to the Web site.”

The system, Delta Doors, drives leads through three “doors.”

“There’s the company door, the agent door and the property door,” said Jonathan Blood. “If you go to the company’s site, that’s the company door. If you access the agent’s site directly, that’s the agent door. The agent can either purchase a domain or use “companyname.com/agentname” as his or her site.”

The property door, known at Delta as the home door, is “companyname.com/MLS number.”

The company can apply logic as to how the lead is routed back to the agents, he said. If a prospective buyer goes to the agent’s Web site, does a property search or reviews the agent’s personal listings, creates a portfolio, asks a question or schedules a showing, the agent gets an e-mail saying, “You have a lead.”

“We even have the ability to text message those leads,” said Minard. “I can get leads text messaged to my phone, so if I’m sitting at dinner I can excuse myself and go call the lead.”

The prospect also gets an e-mail saying, “Thank you for your request. The agent will be with you shortly.”

The system sorts leads not directed to individual agents by ZIP code. Agents with an interest in those ZIP codes then get a general message. Whoever answers first gets the lead.

“By introducing competition, this has taken response time down to minutes from hours,” Minard said.

“The quantity and quality of leads we’re getting from Delta is way beyond our goals and expectations,” said Jim Bray, president of Cutler/GMAC. “We project we will bring into the company in excess of a million dollars gross commission income from Internet-related transactions in this calendar year. It’s like adding another office without the overhead.”

Bray is also Delta’s chief executive officer, an overlap which he says helps the company’s awareness of brokers’ and agents’ needs.

“I probably could not have gotten this kind of customer system from another company. I was a part of building it, along with my staff,” Bray said.

***

What’s your opinion? Send your Letter to the Editor to janis@inman.com; (510) 658-9252, ext. 140.

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