Connect the Speakers: Todd Sumney on how to engage customers with text messaging

HomeSmart CIO: "Time is becoming the most important commodity to our customers"

Todd Sumney has been helping agents work on their text-messaging marketing, including scripts and timing, for more than a decade. “The whole purpose is to get customers to engage,” he noted, and he’s been continuing that purpose through his work at HomeSmart International as the Chief Industry Officer (CIO).

Sumney will be tackling the evolution of texting in real estate at a panel discussion at Inman Connect New York, January 29 through February 1 at the Marriott Marquis Times Square. We asked him about how texting can improve the customer experience and win you clients for life, what you need to know to embrace a shifting market, and more.

Tell us a little more about your session. How will it address how the industry can embrace the shifting market?

Not only is technology changing and not only is the market changing, but even our consumer behaviors are changing. And the key for a panel on a topic like this is to share what is working currently and give them three to five sound bytes that they can take away and apply in their business today. That’s what I see our role as being panelists: Give them two or three things they can apply right away and in turn have confidence when they’re applying it, because we’re talking about top-producing agents who do 200+ years a day and can tell you this is what they do and these are the results. So if it’s working with someone like that, how hard is it to do that?

Sometimes I think agents overthink things, and we do need to understand the shift and the disruption, why people want to do iBuying vs. work with an agent. It’s because everybody makes it too difficult — so make it easier for your customer, put it at their fingertips, and do it through text messaging, and that gives somebody confidence. The No. 1 way you can differentiate is by engaging. Too often people just don’t engage or engage in the right way, and using a tool that people are very familiar with, it makes that easy.

What do you think are the biggest opportunities to focus on in the real estate industry right now?

The biggest opportunities for an agent to focus on right now — for me lately it has been a lot around engagement. There’s so much noise with information being thrown at customers, and the agents that actually are engaging at a personal and a social level, and at an advisory and service level, they’re providing information. It’s not that I’m trying to sell you a home right now; I’m trying to provide you value and information, and the biggest opportunity is more and more engagement when the customer is wanting to disengage.

If they just want information — this home just hit the market last night, do you want more info? They might not go search for it, but now I’ve got a response from them and can send them those details. I think the big opportunity is using everyday tools to engage with customers and help combat disruption.

If you have the MLS listing emailed to you and then text it to the client, you can weed out all of the homes you know that clients don’t want, and because it was text, 98 percent of text messages are read within 15 minutes. It’s more instantaneous, and that’s a way of talking about adapting to the market because speed and time is so important.

To stay competitive, agents, brokers and companies need to execute quickly. What do you feel are key areas where quick execution can vastly improve the customer experience?

Time is becoming the most important commodity to our customers, so anything that speeds the transaction up and takes less of their time makes a difference to the individual client. I’ve heard some agents talk about working with a client with multiple kids at home, and they’ll say “I want you to text me because my kids are in the background and I don’t want to talk on the phone.” Even though the agent might have preferred to speak to them, the customer told them their preference and told them why. You have to read your customer and know what they want, then follow their cue.

The big thing is that you take the heavy lifting, especially in this age of potential iBuyers — you need to do as much of the work as you can for your customer, take it off of them and do fast execution. So much of our business at HomeSmart is online and technology driven and inside a system. If you utilize the right technology, you can speed the process up. Give them the ability to do an electronic signature, get the documents to them where they are. Use technology to speed up the execution and the process — and to do that, the agent needs to know about the technology, which is a great reason to attend a conference like Inman. There will be lots more panels besides mine about how to speed up the transaction, and an agent needs to know all of that.

What are your hopes for the next 12 months, and what will you be working on?

My hopes in my role are to help agents dramatically increase their business; I’m doing that through a focus of education, sharing knowledge and bringing it to the entire market, no matter what company agents are working for, and I’ve started to do more and more of that. It’s just about helping all agents get better and driving that knowledge so they have the knowledge base they can pull from when they’re in a situation, and know how to apply it, and then they’ll end up doing more transactions. A specific goal for me is about the agents I’m involved with at HomeSmart — to increase their transactions on average system-wide.

Discover the opportunities in a changing market at Inman Connect New York, January 29 – February 1. Jumpstart 2019 with tactical takeaways, unlimited networking and thought-provoking speakers. Learn more.

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