More than 30 years after Gary Keller sold a plot of land to some customers in Texas, he wrote them a hand-written thank you note to say how much he appreciated their business — and how it had helped him achieve the success he has today.
For those of you not in real estate, you might know that I’m talking about Gary Keller of Keller Williams Realty, the largest brokerage by number of agents in the country in 2013. He wrote the note to his clients on the occasion of surpassing all other brokerages in the United States.
Here’s what’s so meaningful about Gary’s note.
First, he didn’t have to write it. He’s the founder of a huge — and growing — real estate franchise. He’s enormously successful, the author of two best-selling books (The Millionaire Real Estate Agent and The One Thing). It’s not as if he needs another real estate deal.
Second (and perhaps even more important), it’s that he genuinely values his customers, past and present. And we can all take a lesson from that.
Truth be told, Gary Keller practices what he preaches. Today, it’s called relationship management. It used to be called database management. But now, I think you could call it staying in touch — by being smart, relevant and thoughtful.
In my business, which is real estate, I find that most agents and brokers struggle with the basics of staying in touch with clients. They lose business right and left because they consistently lose contact with clients.
Maybe that’s because the average homeowner stays put for seven years between buying and selling, but that’s no excuse. It is possible to stay in touch with clients even when the sales cycle is long — but few real estate agents actually do.
Instead, many agents I know lament the fact that they haven’t set up the systems necessary to stay in touch with clients during the long, settled-in lean years, when their clients are happily living their lives and not thinking about buying another house.
The key word there is happy.
Nine out of 10 homebuyers say they’re so happy with their real estate agent at the close of their transaction that they’d happily buy or sell with them again. But only nine percent of homeowners actually do use the same agent again when they put their house on the market.
The result? Nine out of 10 satisfied customers are abandoning real estate agents in droves, simply because the person-to-person connection is lost.
It’s as if agents are saying, “forget you.”
You’re off the biz-dev list, and that’s that.
But is it surprising? I say, no.
Agents consistently chase new clients when they should be courting their existing customers. Even when 90 percent of agents say that repeat and referral clients are their most important source of business.
I think it’s because it’s easy to forget your existing happy customers. It’s not that you don’t care. But the crush of business and competing demands means that you’re always on the hunt for new clients, at the expense of old ones.
Even though every single study I’ve ever seen (regardless of industry) says it’s far cheaper to keep an existing customer than find a new one.
So what can you do to keep customers for life?
It’s actually so old-school it feels a little too simple: It’s called staying in touch.
Not in some contrived way, but by being relevant to your clients’ lives as they are — right now. That’s the beauty of social media, to be honest. Now you can know more so you can do more, and always be at the forefront of your clients’ mind.
In the old days, you might use a CRM to track things like birthdays, or follow LinkedIn to see if someone changed a job.
But today, you can keep up in real time with your clients, so that you are providing value at exactly the right time to the right people. It’s a marathon of small, meaningful touches, so that your clients don’t forget about you.
That’s where social CRMs like Nimble come into play. They enable you to see the context of your clients’ lives as part of your daily life — so you can interact with your clients in a regular, meaningful and honest way.
Now you can insert yourself at the right time and the right place, simply by paying attention to the social signals your clients are putting off. It’s not disingenuous. It’s called timing and care, helped by savvy technology that puts you exactly where you need to be: In your client’s head.
That’s not about automation, canned content, drip campaigns or SEO. It’s about paying attention to the needs and wants of your clients. It’s about staying in touch with the clients you also know as people.
What does that mean?
Simple. You need to connect with your clients, in person and in every social media venue in which they participate.
That means engaging with them (like a human!) on the social platforms they use to communicate with their family, friends and business associates.
You must pay attention to when they celebrate a new job, buy a new house or welcome a new dog into their lives.
To be frank, you must care.
You must foster a relationship with your clients. A real relationship, that’s built on shared values, conviviality and understanding.
Your customers want to know that the substance of their lives matters — to you. They want to know that you remember where they live, what they care about, and what they dream to be. They want to know that you have a genuine personal relationship with them, even if you’ve physically never met.
They’d like to know that you took the time to read their Facebook and Twitter profiles, and that they posted a really cool video to Instagram.
In short, they want you to be relevant to their lives.
That’s why the people who shine at social interactions on platforms like Facebook and LinkedIn use social media to amplify their natural curiosity and interest in people — and in so doing, create meaningful relationships with clients that are built to last
The truth is, you can have a giant social strategy and lots of killer content. But in order for all of that to truly pay off, you actually have to care about people. The ROI in social comes from being you, and staying connected to your clients no matter where they are in the sales cycle.