Reaching Tomorrow’s Customer Today
Prospecting and Building Relationships in a Virtual World
Finding new clients and prospecting is the lifeblood of the real estate industry. How have social networking and Web 2.0 affected the business?
Well, nothing has changed…really. Prospecting in the real estate business has always been about reaching tomorrow’s customer today.
Even though it is precisely the approach taken by successful licensees since I entered the real estate business in 1975, it is not usually expressed in this way. So important is this thought -- this phrase -- that you should write it down and make it something that you hang on your wall as a reminder. Look at it every day.
Constantly ask yourself:
How do I reach Tomorrow’s Customer Today?
It is what you have always done.
Building the level of trust and confidence required for a homeowner to list with you the most valuable possession they own takes time. You do not usually list a house the first day you meet the owner. In order for people to give you their business or refer you to their friends and family, you must win their confidence and that is usually something that takes place over time. Consider also that the average term of home ownership is some 5 to 8 years and it is easy to see that you are constantly in search of Tomorrow’s customer today. You more than likely met today’s customer yesterday and have been building that relationship over time.
Part of the job description of a real estate professional is to open lines of communication with as many people as possible, and then to keep those lines of communication open. Traditionally this has been done by making real life appearances everywhere you can. We refer to it as “networking.” It has often been said that the real estate business is a “people business” and that it is all about “networking.”
The Network of Networks – The Internet
Some things have obviously changed. We have the Internet, e-mail, text messaging, instant messaging, I-PODS and I-Phones. The rate of technology adoption is accelerating and it is in large part generational.
Who and where are the real estate buyers and sellers of the future, the buyers and sellers of 2010? 2015? 2020? How can you meet them today to get a jump on your competition? Is your competition already working to gain the competitive edge in the future?
If you plan to be in the real estate business in the future, then tomorrow’s buyers and sellers must be part of the vision of your business and your career. You need to begin prospecting now.
Who are the real estate buyers and sellers of the future?
They are the “Net Generation,” those born between 1975 and 1996. They are the future homeowners, the buyers and sellers of tomorrow. They can’t remember a time when there was not an Internet. They are also the generation that will inherit the accumulated wealth of their parents and grandparents in unprecedented amounts.
Where are they and how can you meet them? They’re active in social networking sites such as MySpace, Facebook, Linkedin, Flickr, Twitter and others. In addition, there are “Virtual Worlds.”
Virtual Worlds are for Real
A growing number of people today (millions) are spending time on the Internet in "Virtual Worlds" creating and leading "Virtual Lives." This includes, among other things, buying "Virtual Clothes" for their "Virtual Selves" and buying and selling "Virtual Real Estate," and running "Virtual Businesses."
On another level, some companies are using this technology to develop real life solutions in a virtual environment.
People are learning business and even real estate concepts by “playing” in these virtual worlds.
Before you write this off as trivial and inconsequential, know that MTV, IBM, Reuters and other major players are investing time and money into the emergence of what some are calling the "MetaVerse." But don't take my word for it, check it out for your (virtual) self. You may want to set up your virtual real estate office while virtual real estate is still affordable (at least while the good "locations" are still available and affordable). Last time I looked, there was a Coldwell Banker Office in Second Life and an “OpenMLS.”
An old way to learn, a new way to learn
In my youth, I loved to play Monopoly. At the time, I really didn't relate the game of Monopoly to real estate…to the business of real estate in general, and specifically to real estate as an investment. It was not until later in life, as a real estate broker and real estate educator, that I realized Monopoly was a real estate game and that it taught basic real estate principles such as title and deeds, assemblage, plottage, plottage increment, rent collection, risk and yield, mortgaging, exchanging, taxation, bankruptcy and much more. I thought I was just having fun. I did not know I was preparing myself for the future, in a collaborative way, with my friends and other game players.
Likewise, many of the participants in virtual worlds do not realize the skills they are acquiring by their participation online, just as I did not realize the understanding of the real estate business I was gaining by playing Monopoly.
Back then, we played Monopoly at most a few times a year. There was always the problem of finding enough kids (and/or parents) who could take the time to play a game of Monopoly...and many games went unfinished because Monopoly is a game that takes a long time to play from start to finish, and it was important to put the game back when you were done playing so it would be there, with all the parts, when you wanted to play again.
In Virtual Worlds, people are free to develop new social and business skills as they meet, dance, and create with their "Virtual Friends," who, in many cases, are people they have never and will never meet "in the flesh." You can leave a virtual world at will...and you will always find people and things to interact with when you return. “Putting it away” is as simple as closing your browser and turning off your computer. In reality, your virtual friends can become your virtual customers and some day your real life customers...or at least learn about your real life services from their interaction with you in a virtual world and becoming part of your virtual network, making virtual referrals to you. Far fetched? So is the thought that Monopoly is an exercise in real estate investing…and if you think about Monopoly, that is clearly what it is
In the process of this new type of "play," many young people are learning...increasing their knowledge, honing their skills...and spending "Virtual Money" ("Lindens" in one of the Virtual Worlds, a virtual currency that has a US Dollar conversion rate). There are many lessons one can take from buying real estate in a virtual world and apply them to the purchase of real estate in the real world.
Virtual worlds are not perfect "worlds" and in fact, have some of the negatives of the "real world." But they offer the ability to merge information and creativity in a new way.
By now you might be scratching your head and asking yourself what in the world I am talking about.
No....the question you should be asking is what in the Virtual World am I talking about?
You have to experience it to understand...and at this point in the evolution of virtual world research, it also takes a little vision and imagination to get beyond the concept of "play." What is being created is an easy to use interface with immense expressive power, where people can share, collaborate, and create new kinds of information, allowing the interaction of people, information and ideas in a new way. The potential is enormous.
Who would sit in front of a computer screen for a half hour or even hours at a time? The same question was once asked about the radio, and the television.
Today, kids are spending time in virtual communities. I read where http://SecondLife.com just went over eight million users, 50,000 online at any given time. Another popular location is http://There.com. There are many more and there is a lot of research money that is going into the continued pursuit of a truly "interactive web" in general, and this concept in particular.
Real Estate is a People Business
You think that this will never work. After all you reason, real estate is a people business and the Internet is not personal. Personal relationships cannot be built on the Internet. Tell that to all the people who met on eHarmony.com…and then got married.
Web 2.0, the New Web, Mass Collaboration, Wikinomics, it is all real, and it is people connecting with people…and that my friends, is what the real estate business is all about.
See you online...let me know if I can help you with your virtual real estate needs.
Noah Boardwalk (SecondLife.com)
If you are a broker or office manager and you think you will need to continue to recruit new talent to your business…where can you find tomorrow’s agent today? Same place…get there ahead of your competition. Work with your younger agents (and the older ones who still want to define and build their future business) on building a virtual world presence for your company and for themselves.
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