If you’re tired of the "You-have-to-be-on-Facebook conversation," today’s column is a great reminder that having a successful real estate practice is much more than just interacting on social media.

Old-fashioned real estate skills seem to have fallen by the wayside in favor of search-engine marketing, tweeting and blogging. What few people seem to realize is that Web 2.0 tools are nothing more than another way for agents to meet and to interact with potential customers.

If you’re tired of the "You-have-to-be-on-Facebook conversation," today’s column is a great reminder that having a successful real estate practice is much more than just interacting on social media.

Old-fashioned real estate skills seem to have fallen by the wayside in favor of search-engine marketing, tweeting and blogging. What few people seem to realize is that Web 2.0 tools are nothing more than another way for agents to meet and to interact with potential customers.

Working with social media is not that much different from door-knocking, holding an open house, or cold-calling. When you make contact with a live person, you still have to convert them from a prospect to a client. Rather than "location, location, location," today’s mantra is "connect, connect, connect." To strengthen your business, you must first strengthen your connection and trust with your clients. Here’s how to do it.

1. By-referral strategies still work
According to the National Association of Realtors 2009 Profile of Home Buyers and Sellers, 44 percent of all buyers and 53 percent of all first-time buyers found their agents through a friend, neighbor or relative. To make sure you receive referrals, you must always be top of mind with those you have done business with in the past. Do this by communicating with them regularly, providing information about homeownership issues (not just purchase and listing information), as well as keeping them posted on legal or other changes.

"Keep in touch" is the strategy that worked 10 years ago and still works today. In addition to whatever digital means you use to stay in touch with members of your referral database, contact them either by phone or in person at least four times per year.

2. Inventory knowledge never goes out of style
No matter what your experience level is, maintaining a strong knowledge of the inventory is critical for real estate success. Top agents can rattle off comparable sales and correctly price properties without ever having to look at a computer. This gives the agent a huge advantage when working with either buyers or sellers. Clients want to know that you are an expert in their area. Having a strong knowledge of the inventory is one of the best ways to demonstrate this expertise.

3. "Enough about me, let’s talk about you"
How many questions did you ask the sellers on your last listing appointment? How much time did you spend interviewing your last set of buyers before you took them out to look at property? I was training a question-based listing presentation and a 20-minute buyer interview back in the early 1990s.

Get in the habit of interviewing prospective buyers and sellers to learn what is important to them about their lifestyle, not just about the property they will be buying or selling. Focus on discovering what is most important to the client rather than focusing on how great your services are. …CONTINUED

4. Use a Seller Guarantee of Services
This proven strategy is still one of the most powerful ways to make sellers feel secure about signing a listing with you. Many large companies already use this approach, although agents may not always discuss it with their sellers. The way it works is that the agent commits to provide a specific set of services.

If the agent does not deliver on that commitment, the seller can contact the agent’s manager and have the agent replaced with someone else from the same company. (Please note that this does not cancel the seller’s listing with the brokerage.)

5. Conduct a post-close survey after every transaction
This approach works hand-in-hand with the Seller Guarantee of Services. It is also an excellent way to increase customer satisfaction. Companies using post-closing surveys have approval ratings that hover in the 95 percent range. The surveys help both agents and companies discover how to provide better service in the future.

Post-closing surveys also reduce litigation. When a client is unhappy with the company’s or the agent’s service, a post-closing survey allows the issue to be addressed before it escalates into litigation.

6. Be the go-to resource for the best service people in the business
Back in 1997, the company I worked for launched a "concierge" program that allowed our clients to find the best-qualified contractors, mortgage brokers, title officers and other service providers in our area. If you (or your company) have not already done so, create a list of qualified contractors and other transaction support people who provide quality work at a competitive price.

If you need help, AngiesList.com and ServiceMagic.com prescreen their vendors and post customer reviews. Make this available to both present and past clients.

7. Honesty is still the best policy
According to the 2009 NAR Profile of Buyers and Sellers, 98 percent of all survey participants said that honesty and integrity were very important in terms of whom they hired as their agent. In fact, 31 percent ranked "honesty and integrity" as the most important, followed by another 23 percent who ranked the agent’s reputation as being the most important.

This means being completely honest and forthcoming with your clients. When there’s a problem, contact them immediately to resolve the problem rather than waiting and hoping it will disappear.

Real estate is still a face-to-face business where service, honesty and integrity are the difference between closing a transaction with a raving fan vs. losing that potential client to a competitor.

Bernice Ross, CEO of RealEstateCoach.com, is a national speaker, trainer and author of "Real Estate Dough: Your Recipe for Real Estate Success" and other books. You can reach her at Bernice@RealEstateCoach.com and find her on Twitter: @bross.

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