This article was originally featured in REALTOR® Mag
It seems like there just aren’t enough hours in the day to finish all your transactional work and keep up with your past and prospective clients. If you find yourself scrambling to send follow-up emails, posting a picture to Instagram of a closing that happened a week ago, or sending out a rushed tweet as you run out of the office, it might be time to try marketing automation.
Marketing automation has become popular as more and more tech companies create tools that make the task easier. Moreover, it appears that such tools are making a difference in performance. According to Salesforce’s 2016 State of Marketing Report, successful marketing teams are 6.7 times more likely to be using marketing automation than underperforming teams.
But it can also be scary to give up control over your online presence. For those on the fence, here are five things to know about how automation can help advance your real estate business.
1. You still control the message.
Use social media automation tools like GAIN, Buffer, or PropertySimple to queue up your social media posts at the beginning of each week or month. These programs don’t stop you from posting spontaneously, but being able to set it and forget it will mean you won’t have to worry about keeping your social feeds active. This will allow you to focus more energy on interacting with customers and growing your business.
With these tools, your social media copy is still in your hands; you just don’t have to worry about stopping what you’re doing to post it.
2. Email can reinforce website engagement.
When someone signs up for your newsletter or gives you their email address to download a white paper, you have the opportunity to connect with them via email. Use online tools like Hubspot and Mailchimp to send emails automatically as soon as a prospect enters their email address on your website. You can craft different messages, such as sending a white paper or completing a newsletter signup, based on where your prospect enters their email or even what your prospect’s behavior flow was as they clicked through the website.
If they signed up for a newsletter or white paper, the automatic confirmation email can help bring them deeper into your sales funnel by offering more value that brings them back onto your site. Recommend some related blog entries or offer a quick phone call to talk about their needs.
More powerful tools will be able to tell if your prospect lingered over a certain page or considered a purchase that they did not complete. You can schedule emails to remind them to return to where they had been looking, in case they got distracted. Automating this process allows you to pop back into a consumer’s inbox with a friendly reminder to continue what they were doing, or to check out related content that might be of interest.
This is an opportunity to re-engage someone who has already left your site by providing more value. Instead of reaching out with a salesy approach and pushing them with a buy or sell message, you can send them content related to where they are in the buying or selling process to help them along. With these powerful tools, you can plan the email flow ahead of time and allow your CRM tool to do the work of nurturing your lead through the marketing and sales funnels.
3. Planning ahead means more regular engagement.
Although it may seem like a lot of work to prepare all your social media content ahead of time, you should already be planning to maintain reliable messaging throughout the month. If you are individually posting updates to Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest, and your website, it’s easy for one of your channels to slip through the cracks.
Writing all your copy ahead of time allows you to maintain a consistent voice online. A social media content calendar (like this one my company put together for real estate agents) can help you plan ahead. If you blog once a week, try writing four blog posts the first week of the month and then scheduling them to publish automatically each week. The “set it and forget it” method makes sure your followers have content to look forward to on a regular basis, which increases the likelihood they’ll look to you for fresh insights. According to a survey from marketing company Adestra, 68 percent of marketers say they saw increased engagement by planning and automating content.
4. Personalize your message with an automated email campaign.
When your email lists get into the thousands, it’s nearly impossible to get the right message to the right person at the right time if you’re managing your system manually. But sophisticated CRM tools allow you to segment your email lists by hundreds of different factors so that you can deliver information directly to the customers that most need it. For example, instead of sending out information about a new listing to your entire group—which likely includes people who are not currently interested in buying a house—you can set your email to send to people who have recently perused listings on your website.
Email marketing automation allows you to filter your prospects based on metrics so that your emails only reach the people that need the information right now. Both buyers and sellers want content tailored to their needs, and marketing automation allows real estate pros to deliver that personalized content.
5. Use AI chatbots with caution.
Big brands like National Geographic and Starbucks are already using chatbots on Facebook Messenger, Slack, and Kik to provide customers with a sense of immediacy that email cannot (while Slack is often used internally, it can also connect to apps like Drift, a chatbot tool that allows you to chat with website users in real time). Many marketers have noticed that communication over direct messaging apps can increase click rates when compared with email engagement. However, the biggest hurdle real estate pros face is how to avoid sounding like a robot when implementing a chatbot.
We’ve all seen the chatbot that pops up as soon as we reach a website, asking how it can help us with our real estate needs. There are already a number of chatbots focused on helping real estate agents source and nurture leads through the power of artificial intelligence (here’s one example). These tools can analyze prospects’ interests and provide them with similar listings or answer simple questions about the purchasing process, while looping you in when the customer is ready to talk to a real person. But the real secret is to allow users to interact first. Let the customer send the first message, so that the chatbot can become a useful tool instead of an intrusive annoyance. Another important rule is to ensure you’re always honest about when someone is talking to a bot. Program a message that kindly greets your prospect and tells them how to reach out to a real person, once that step becomes necessary. Otherwise, the conversation may seem downright creepy.
Nothing can replace the personal, human touch that you add to your brand. When it comes to direct customer engagement, you should answer messages and comments personally, rather than sending automated content. Remember, your marketing automation tools are meant to be an extension of you, not a replacement. But as long as you monitor your content’s performance and tweak it as needed, marketing automation can drastically expand your reach, deliver more sales-ready leads, and delight your audience.