A lesson in push(y) marketing.

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“Who is Erma Bombeck?”

This was the only reaction I could elicit from my oldest daughter, a too-cool-for-the-room teenager who is certain I was born during the Ming Dynasty. She’s not far off. But with age comes wisdom… or does it?

She is about to make her outmigration to college, and this college, in her mind, is a place where they will teach her everything she needs to know to be a successful (in her case) journalist. I’ve been there, and I know better. A diploma doesn’t necessarily signify that you have been trained; it says that you are trainable. Your degree doesn’t assure your future employer that you have learned what you need to know, but that you have demonstrated the capacity to learn.

In my college, I was taught a lot of stuff, some of which I still remember. I learned about Budding and Fission in Botany and the Yanomamo in Anthropology and Open Channel Hydraulics in Fluid Dynamics. Rarely have I found the need to watch my staghorn fern reproduce in a culvert while fending off violent Amazonians, but that’s not the point. The point is that after demonstrating that I could figure out this stuff, I was prepared to live in the real world and figure out that stuff.

I noticed that your home has recently come off the market.

Uh, oh! Somebody has completed their Broker training!

Last week, we let a listing expire. We did this because it was a short-sale situation, and the seller was able to renegotiate the terms of her loan with her lender. This was wonderful news, of course. So, we did what we always do when a home is withdrawn from the MLS – We removed her phone number from the listing before it expired.

If you aren’t an agent, you might not get this, but agents understand. An expired listing is like carrion, and the circling starts almost instantaneously. Agents are taught that “working expireds” is an excellent opportunity to procure new business. What’s more perfect? Instead of beating the bushes for potential prey, an expired listing represents someone who had the desire to sell but didn’t. And, when that listing disappears from the MLS is when agents move in for the kill.

First, I have to give the back story. In the case of our expired listing, we had initially (months ago) entered the wrong phone number for the seller in the MLS. Ironically, the number we did enter led to the cell phone of another area agent. This error was corrected during the first hours of “active” status but, unbeknownst to us, the damage had been done.

I guess I need to get out more. Apparently, there are hundreds (thousands?) of agents out there subscribing to a service that grabs these listings at birth and banks them for future sale, a work-around to the old deleting-the-number-at-cancellation practice. Consequently, we received a midday call from our poor, frazzled agent who, having spent his entire morning fielding calls from Top Producers in a position to help him sell the home he didn’t own where the agent he hadn’t hired had failed, was begging for mercy.

Forget everything you learned.

If our agent training focused more on developing critical thinking skills and less on delivering prescriptive methods to achieve success, I argue we would all be better off. Take “working expireds” (please). As both an agent and a consumer, if I fire up my frontal lobe for just one cup of coffee, I recognize this practice as spamming at its worst.

Let’s think about reasons why the owner of a property which “failed to sell” might not heed my early morning agent call to action:

  • They are busy on the other line accepting an offer to save money on their long-distance phone bill;
  • They knew in advance that their listing was going to expire, where you did not, and have already made arrangements to relist;
  • They ultimately decided not to sell, for whatever reason, and therefore the “lead” you are chasing is not a lead at all.
  • In the event that they do intend to relist and have not decided with whom they will do so, you are the 894th person to call them this morning, and now they are really pissed off – at all of you.
  • They asked that their phone number be removed from the MLS so agents wouldn’t be calling them, and you just did.
  • They hate spam.

The proponents of the expired listing game claim that the key to your success will be in making a distinction. How about this? Distinguish yourself by not calling, and use that valuable time to consider a marketing approach which might actually appeal to your audience, not turn them off. Spam, just because it comes from you, is still spam.

Whenever I consider a marketing approach or piece, I ask myself one simple question: Would I respond favorably to this approach if the roles were reversed? Where calling expired listings is concerned, unless you are someone who just accepted one of the forty-seven offers you received in your mailbox last week to refinance your home or transfer your credit card balance or lower your auto insurance payments, I suspect you would not. Sure, someone along the way may bite, but in the process you have left a wake of destruction, and our image just might be found among the debris.

I know, I know. There are a lot of agents out there who are not going to agree with me, agents who have had much success finding business through approaching “expireds.” That’s fine. Every agent needs to generate business; having business is how we make money. Over time, we each learn to apply our own unique strengths in finding our own unique approaches to success. What works for me won’t necessarily work for another. Yet, if working expired listings is one of the ways in which an agent attempts to grow their business, maybe mailing a compelling case for their services will be better received than hosting the 7:00 AM telethon. It is still “push” marketing, but it’s a little less pushy.

For me, there has to be a better way. I would rather spend my energies doing things that might inspire people who want to sell and have failed to call me – or, gasp, call me in the first place. But, then, what do I know?

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