Jay Thompson is a former brokerage owner who spent the past six years working for Zillow Group. He retired in August 2018 but can’t seem to leave the real estate industry behind. His weekly Inman column publishes every Wednesday.
Like most (every?) human, there are certain things that annoy me. Some are significant; you know, things like hate, homelessness, racism, misogyny, war.
Some are less significant, but a royal pain in the posterior — the IRS comes immediately to mind. Some annoyances are relatively low-key and though unlikely to impact large numbers of people or have any real significant impact on society, they are nonetheless annoying.
Wouldn’t life be simpler if there were fewer annoying moments of all flavors?
What annoys me about real estate?
Oy, where does one start. There are the MLS pictures of bathrooms — with the agent in the mirror or with the toilet seat up. Then there ARE THE ALL-CAPS PROPERTY DESCRIPTIONS in the MLS — with tired language like, “HONEY STOP THE CAR!” and, “THIS ONE WON’T LAST!!!” (Ever seen that last one on a property that’s been in the MLS for six months? Think, people.)
The above are relatively minor aggravations — though collectively, I fear they send messages of unprofessionalism to consumers.
There’s one thing that’s bugged me since the ink on my real estate sales license was barely dry. OK, there is more than one thing, but this is a weekly column, not a Ph.D. dissertation. So we’ll focus this week on one long-term annoyance.
It’s the term, “leads.”
While there is a decades-long debate over what a “lead” is, it’s not the quibbling about the definition of the term that annoys me. It doesn’t matter if you define a lead as nothing but, “a full name, phone number, email address and who’s salivating to buy or sell a home in the next two days.”
Or if you buy into the, “If I have any way to contact someone, that’s a lead — phone, email, address, license plate, kid’s soccer team roster, smoke signals — any way,” definition of a lead.
This one time I heard a very well-compensated speaker proclaim, “My definition of a lead is anyone with a pulse, a wallet and a way to contact them. The higher the credit score the better.”
No, what annoys me is the word “lead.” More so than the word itself, it’s the labeling of people as, “leads.”
People shouldn’t be labeled. Period.
Here is the dictionary definition of the pertinent type of lead we’re talking here: “Someone or something that may be useful, especially a potential customer or business opportunity.”
As real estate agents, you are bombarded with the term “lead,” and the lumping of the entirety of humanity into that class. After all, there are “experts” that proudly proclaim, “every breathing soul is a lead.”
“Need more leads?” ads are omnipresent, across every platform. You see them 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.
“Where do I get more (buyer/ seller/ good/ legit/ real/ not crappy) leads?” is a question that comes up in every real estate group, conference or any gathering of more than one agent — anywhere.
We as an industry collectively discuss leads, lead generation and lead conversion to the point of obsession and exhaustion.
All the while frequently forgetting the simple fact that all these “leads” are human beings.
They are people with the same fundamental needs, wants and desires as you and any other human out there.
Hit ‘em with 10 days of pain
There are “lead conversion” programs than you can pay for that have titles like “10 days of pain,” I’ve seen some agents say that you have to, “pound on a lead multiple times a day.”
Once a prominent agent shared, “I bug the sh*t out of them until they call just to complain, then I convert ‘em to an appointment.”
Yeah, that’s exactly how I want to be treated — bug me incessantly until I answer the phone with, “What do you want?!?”
Perhaps, if we stop, take a deep breath and think about how others should be treated, we might try something other than “10 days of pain” to make a connection with a person.
Perhaps, if we humanize (and sympathize) with the person on the other end of the phone, contact form, or email address, then we can make real, honest, human connections with people.
Look, I get it. Real estate is a “lead gen” business. You’ve got to have a pipeline of prospects. Your clients have to come from somewhere, and we aren’t all fortunate enough to have been in the business long enough to rely solely on past clients and referrals.
But can’t we stop herding these people like cattle to the slaughterhouse? Stop painting them with broad-brush strokes of sameness? Stop hitting them with “10 days of pain” and “phone four times, text twice, send two emails” — and then have some other plan for what happens in the afternoon?
Can’t we just call them people?
After all, that’s what they are — people. Yes, we’re all different, thank goodness, but we also are strikingly similar, especially when it comes to our fundamental behaviors and desires.
And who wants to be herded like cattle, bombarded to the point of pain, treated like nothing more than a phone number with a wallet?
It would be incredibly short-sighted, Pollyannaish even, to expect that changing the real estate vernacular from “leads” to “people” is going to change the world. Of course it’s not. But maybe an attempt to at least think about changing the mindset, to stop to consider there is a person on the other side of that contact info, just might help.
It just might help improve the general public’s impression of the real estate industry.
It just might help you secure more business.
Stop going out there with an undying need to grab every “lead” you can generate and “bug the sh*t out of them,” hoping they collapse based on your sheer persistence.
Try prospecting instead, with the idea of reaching out to fellow people, offering availability, assistance and professionalism.
Pollyannaish? Probably. Could it hurt? Unlikely. I’ve been banging this drum for almost 15 years, I’ll keep wailing away. Maybe someday, everyone will understand that leads are people too.
Jay Thompson is a real estate veteran and retiree in Seattle, as well as the mastermind behind Now Pondering. Follow him on Facebook or Instagram. He holds an active Arizona broker’s license with eXp Realty.