Marketing to real estate agents and their offices can be one of the most rewarding ways to grow your home inspection business.
Agents are the ones who drive the real estate market, no matter where you are. And it’s a sizeable market: Realtor.org reports that there are about 2 million active real estate licensees in the United States, who are working for about 86,000 real estate brokerage firms, and who are selling some of the 115 million occupied housing units in this country.
Obviously, Realtors make good referral partners for home inspectors, but how do you reach out to them?
There are four key strategies for developing mutually beneficial relationships with agents and brokers.
Before we get to the strategies, it’s important to note that two challenges often stand in the way of home inspectors tapping this lucrative referral source. One is simply a difference in mindset between practitioners of the two professions. Real estate agents are typically very social people – the constant contact with people in their daily work life is often what draws them to that industry. Inspectors, on the other hand, are typically much more analytical, which is what helps us excel at our work. This difference of worldview can lead to friction, although it doesn’t have to, if you put yourself in the real estate agent’s shoes when doing outreach.
The other obstacle to referral success with Realtors® is simply inertia on the part of the inspector. It’s easy to keep doing whatever you’ve been doing to get new business and not try new marketing strategies. But the time to plant crops is not when you’re hungry, to use a farming metaphor. The time to plant those marketing “seeds” is when your field (the real estate firms) are the most ready to grow with you.
The 4 Keys to Real Estate Sales Meeting Success
The first, and by far most important, principle to keep in mind while marketing to agents is to:
I. SHOW THEM RESPECT
As with home inspections, the process of assisting clients in buying and selling property is much more complex than it appears at first glance. Real estate agents are very perceptive (there’s that social intelligence I alluded to earlier!) and it is very important for them to know that you respect them and what they do.
One of the easiest ways to show respect is to do your homework, so that you truly know your audience. Before you meet with agents from a particular firm, take a look at its agent rosters, whether you find them online via Multiple Listing Services (MLS) or simply examine data about them collected by your business management software system. Robust custom reports, such as those offered by Inspection Support Network’s system, can tell you which agents are your top referral sources. You can also discover if specific agents who used your services in the past are no longer doing so.
When you’re doing your market research and determining which real estate firms to work with, select a small group of offices or franchises that are considered respected (in terms of sales and customer satisfaction) in your area. By focusing on these top firms in your area, you will be getting referrals from only the best types of agents to work with: those who are both professional and productive.
Once you’ve done your homework and gathered enough information to show your audience respect, the second key is to:
II. USE A MULTI-FACETED MARKETING APPROACH
Developing brand recognition among your referral partners requires that they receive consistent, positive interaction with you on a regular basis, through different kinds of platforms.
One of the most effective ways to gain exposure in the real estate market is to make presentations at sales meetings within a specific company or office. Connecting with agents in their offices has become especially important, as more and more real estate offices are limiting contact with outside service providers to those who are on a “preferred vendors” list developed by the company or franchise. Typically, some kind of fee is charged to attain preferred vendor status. It can be a very significant part of an inspector’s marketing arsenal if it exists in their area and they choose to take part in it. Understand, also, that paying a fee to a brokerage to gain access to agents is a very personal choice.
For it to be successful, there must be a good ‘fit’ between what the preferred vendor program provides, and the needs and level of participation of each individual inspector or inspection company. Brokers have various methods of allowing you access to their agents and what support they expect in return if you become a part of their preferred vendor list. Monitor the amount of exposure to agents you get within a firm – if it doesn’t meet your needs, look for another firm. If you are able to find a good ‘fit’, the results received can far outweigh the costs of being in the program.
Once you can make a presentation at a sales meeting, set goals in terms of your network within that firm and identify which agents you wish to further your relationship with. Go to sales meetings early, and be professional in your appearance and demeanor.
The third key to reap the benefits of sales meetings is to:
III. BE APPROACHABLE AND FUN
Marketing is a chance for you to mix, mingle, and allow the agents to see your personality. Show your human side at the sales meetings.
Don’t take yourself too seriously, and use a little ice breaker or inject a little humor into your presentation to help agents relate to you. Tell a funny (and relevant!) story, ask a question about their work, or find a compelling quote that frames what you have to say. Have fun, and think of it as “show time” if that helps switch your mindset into performance mode!
Here is the most important thing about presenting at sales meetings: stay for the entire meeting! In my experience, most other marketing reps will leave immediately after their presentations. Staying for the entire meeting demonstrates your respect for the firm, and allows you to learn more about their side of the business. Understanding some of the challenges they face, changes in regulations or operating procedures, and just being more in tune with the market all help you to provide a better foundation to be perceived as a true expert in your field. Additionally, by remaining until the end of a meeting, it allows the people who don’t want to ask questions in front of their peers to see you one-on-one afterward. It also allows you to network with others throughout the office afterward.
Showing up at sales meetings on a consistent basis is crucial. Attending meetings once a month or (at the very least) once every quarter is recommended.
The fourth key is to:
IV. PROVIDE AGENTS WITH HIGH-QUALITY, CAN’T-DO-WITHOUT INFORMATION
Become their source for answering questions of any kind relating to property inspections, construction, condition issues, etc. Some real estate agents think they just need to get a property inspection from you, but with increasing professional liability of Realtors®, more and more they really need a professional who can consistently provide them with accurate information about the inspection process, to help protect them from a negative outcome.
Focus your presentation on topics that are directly relevant to agents, such as energy efficiency, new construction techniques, new legislation, or environmental concerns. Don’t let the sharing of your expertise be limited to sales meetings, or even the inspections you perform for your agents. Assist them in any way you can. You will become the expert in their eyes, and referrals will follow.
If you’re able to utilize these four strategies and demonstrate respect at sales meetings by attending the entire meeting, visiting the same offices on a regular basis, being personable and approachable during your visits, and becoming their primary source of information about property inspections, you will set yourself apart as THE inspector to ask questions of, and refer clients to, for many years to come.
Now is the time to make appointments to visit real estate agent sales meetings.
Many inspectors are extra busy now as the market has strengthened, but to keep your referral pipeline full, you must make time to create and maintain relationships within the Realtor community. This work is an ongoing part of being a successful business owner.