The Graham Seeby Group was recently named the number one Keller Williams team in the South East region.
I was able to sit down with Justin Seeby, one of the group’s founders, to learn about how they went from starting the company in 2013 to 4 years later having completed 2016 with over $90 Million in sales.
Their story is an interesting case because so many agents out there think you need to spend gobs of money on marketing and lead generation to have 8 figure years, but in this case study, Justin shares how they built this entire business from a list of just 279 people.
Table of Contents
- Understanding the Power of Your Past Clients and Sphere of Influence
- How to Hire and Manage a Growing Team
- Expanding Beyond Past Clients to ‘Non-Mets’
- Using reviews to generate 100 transactions in 2016
- What’s Next?
Justin launched the Graham Seeby Group in 2013 with his cofounder Ryan Graham and built the business from just a very small personal database of contacts into highly profitable, 30-person, full service company in just 4 years.
It all started when Justin was working on a project with another well-known name in Atlanta real estate, Mark Spain, and he noticed that all too often he seemed to be giving other agents his own personal database of previous clients and friends because he didn’t have the time to reach out and help them himself.
“A past client would call me and say, “Hey, I want to list my $800,000 house.”and I’d refer them to somebody because I was so busy with my other project.
“I started to recognize that I was ignoring all my past clients, my whole database,” Seeby says. “I’m just basically pushing them off because I don’t have time for them.”
This realization led to Justin partnering with Ryan Graham in January 2013. Ryan initially came on board just to focus on both his and Seeby’s personal contacts, “the Mets,” as Seeby calls them. “A Met is anyone you know personally, or have sold houses to in the past.”
After whittling down their lists, removing any contacts that were missing the phone number, email, or mailing address, the original database consisted of just 279 contacts.
“Our goal that year was simply for Graham to run our combined lists of past clients and spheres of influence under the umbrella of The Graham Seeby Group and to grow the database organically and, if all went well, hire a buyer agent by the end of the year.
But we didn’t reach our goal……..We blew it out of the water!”
Seeby and Graham’s new real estate business grew so fast they needed to hire an agent before the end of the first quarter of 2013. Two months later, they hired another agent. By the end of that first year, the Graham Seeby Group had a five person team and a hundred new contacts. It was a cash cow and they spent almost nothing on marketing.
So how did they grow so fast and with such a small list of contacts?
“It’s about prioritizing where your leads come from, Seeby says…….. You shouldn’t try to do it all at once and there’s no need to come out of the gate buying ads everywhere. Instead, focus on the people you already know and start with your personal sphere of influence.”
Understanding the Power of Your Past Clients and Sphere of Influence
Why do so many new agents launch their new business by investing in ads and other marketing that targets strangers? Seeby believes it’s due to a heightened fear of rejection when reaching out to someone we know.
“If they say no, if they decide not to work with you, that hits you in the gut a little bit stronger, than maybe someone you had no previous relationship with. That fear is probably a little bit bigger to overcome for a lot of people, even people who’ve been in the business for a long time.”
As absurd as it may sound, the fact is that most people hate feeling they are being an imposition on people we know. Most people find it easier to reach out to people we have no pre-existing relationship with.
The approach of focusing on their personal contacts and ignoring the temptation to market to a wider audience, originally came from their coach, Eric Jordan, who Seeby describes as more of an accountability coach than anything else.
“He focused us in on our sphere and our past clients. He said, ‘We’re not going to spend any marketing dollars on anything except people that you’ve worked with and people that you know. We’re not going to go run Zillow ads, Trulia ads, Realtor.com ads. We’re not going to do billboards. We’re not doing radio. We’re not doing anything except past clients and sphere of influence.’
With the list we started with, the past clients probably represented about 40 percent and the sphere was 60 percent. At that point there were people on my lists who I hadn’t talked to since they were my clients 15 years ago.”
This fact is a very important to understand, especially for newer agents. 60 percent of their list were just people they knew personally and had never completed a transaction with before. Meaning you don’t need a huge list of past clients to start with this approach.
But just because they didn’t spend money on ads, doesn’t mean they didn’t have a marketing strategy. For this small, personal list, the Graham Seeby Group opted for a four-part campaign to get the attention of potential clients.
- On the 15th of every month, they sent a postcard to everybody in the database.
- Then, on the 7th of every month, they sent a short video email (90s)
- And on the 21st of every month, an email.
- Then, once a quarter all contacts on the list would receive a phone call.
By implementing this strategy, and with just 279 contacts, the listings started coming in.
“We had clients from 10, 15 years ago coming out of the woodwork. Most people think that you need a 10,000 person database. You don’t.
If you go into any meeting with a group of seasoned Realtors, and ask what’s the number one source of your business? Just about 99 percent of them are going to say, referrals.
But new agents always market to people they don’t know, versus marketing people they do.
We focused on and marketed to the people we knew……… the ‘mets’ in our database and it was amazing the volume of transactions we started doing right out of the gate!
For example, we did $2 million worth of sales to one couple I hadn’t talked to in 13 years. I mailed them a postcard, because I was afraid to pick up the phone and call them. I didn’t know if they’d know who I was. When they got the postcard they called me. They ended up spending $1.2 million on a new house, and selling an $800,000 house.
Imagine if I hadn’t sent that postcard! Because even though I had been in business for a long time at that point, I was still afraid to pick up the phone and call them, for the fear of rejection that they might not remember me.”
Not only did they remember Seeby and want to work with him again, they asked if he wouldn’t mind helping them out.
Happy clients are eager to repeat a good buying or selling experience, but they aren’t likely to put a lot of work into tracking you down. The NAR 2016 Profile of Home Buyers and Sellersfound that 85 percent of people didn’t go back to their previous agent simply because they didn’t know how to get in touch with them.
Just think about that for a second. 85% of people, who you KNOW have a home to sell as well as the need to buy a new one, end up going with a different Realtor simply because they didn’t have your contact info…
Your network is more valuable than you realize, all you have to do is remind them that you’re ready to help them whenever they need you. The response will surprise you.
How to Hire and Manage a Growing Team
The response certainly surprised Seeby and Graham. Their original goal, to hire their first agent by the end of the year was upended when they realized before the end of the first quarter that they needed to expand. And from there, it just gained in momentum.
“In the first quarter we ended up hiring our first buyer agent. She begged us within two months to hire another buyer agent because she was so busy. Within two months of that we had our third buyer agent. So before the end of the third quarter we had three buyer agents that were just swamped.
Graham was just doing listings at that point. We also had an operations manager. It was a five person team. That year we grew so rapidly, so fast, we almost couldn’t manage what we had. It was all from marketing to our database of 279 people.”
As they expanded, Seeby and Graham carefully created their own unique approach to team building, particularly for real estate. And the core part of their strategy is the seemingly unimportant 15-minute stand-up meeting.
“We meet every day at 9:00 a.m.,” Seeby says. “ If you’re not there, you’re not on leads. If you’re not on leads, you’re not being productive.”
The daily meeting is a way of gauging seriousness and accountability. Seeby says, he even uses each prospective new employee’s reaction to the rule to measure their interest.
I tell them to go home and talk to their family about it and let me know if that’s something they can do. Really, what I’m looking for is how quickly are they going to come back to me. If they take a week and a half, they’re not going to get hired. If they call me that night, then the next step is we do lunch.
Lunch is a conversation about who they are. By then I’ve already decided to hire them. I ask them about the ups and downs, the great points in your life, the successes, how you got through the terrible times. After that everybody is on a 90 day probationary period, and then we go from there.
Though they’re now a team of 25, Seeby says the culture is still that of a small company because of regular events that keep things light and fun like their infamous Chicken Biscuit Friday!
Getting hired at The Graham Seeby Group is a three step process, something they take very seriously and approach carefully. Seeby says 90 percent of applicants don’t get past the second step.
“The culture is still there. This is 25 awesome people that I love to be around. That’s important to us.”
Expanding Beyond Past Clients
At this point in their growth, the Graham Seeby Group wasn’t using any kind of lead accountability. They weren’t applying ‘speed to lead’ and 88.5 percent of the business was still coming from the database.
“At that point we were 81.5 percent profit margin, which is ridiculous.” Conventional wisdom will tell you not to expect more than 30 or 40 percent, says Seeby. Yet by focusing their energy on nearly cost-free marketing and only marketing to the individuals most likely to respond, the Graham Seeby Group managed to blow those numbers away.
From their launch in 2013, through the end of 2014, they held steady with five agents, as if in a sort of holding pattern. Seeby says they’d hit the ceiling of what they could reasonably expect from a list of several hundred contacts.
“If you’re only focusing in on past clients and sphere, you’re capped out about thirty million dollars in production. It’s really hard to get above 30 million dollars when you’re just working at sphere. What we looked at, at that point, at the end of ’14, we realized 88.5 percent of our business comes from people we know and people we’ve worked with: Mets. We’ve got to start focusing on non-mets.”
In November of 2014, they got a website in order to start getting them in front of the ‘non-mets’ through Pay Per Click ads on Google and Facebook. While previously 88.5 percent of their leads came from PCSOI, as they began to market to a wider audience, that number went down to closer to 58 percent because they were doing so much more business with the new contacts they were reaching.
The reason we got way above that $30 million number that we did the year before is because we started spending money on non mets. Once you get the 30 million is when you should start spending money on non-mets. At that point, you’ve been very resourceful with your past clients in your sphere. They have continually been advocates for you and kept driving business, but there’s only a certain amount that a database of 390 people can give you. It’s right at that $30 million number.
At the Graham Seeby Group the ISA manages inbound leads, acting as a sort of lead manager on a day to day basis. From 9:00 to 5:00, when she’s in the office, all the leads go to her and she’s on the phone with potential clients within seconds. Who gets the lead is based on who’s there, who’s ready. Whoever is in the office gets the lead.
All our leads during the day are handed to people who are in the office. After hours, it’s sent to the entire team at once via text and email. Whoever claims it first gets it. The agents know if you’re going to a movie with your wife, you don’t accept a lead. You don’t claim a lead because that lead is not going to get called. You only accept it if you’re truly available. If you claim that lead and don’t call it back, 30 minutes later, you’re never going to get them on the phone.
So speed is critical. But patience is too. Seeby and Graham learned the value of lead tracking and the importance of patience in 2014. In real estate, there’s an unfortunate misconception that leads are quick to appear and disappear. That you shouldn’t bother with old leads, but that’s not what the Graham Seeby Group has found.
Most agents think a lead is someone who’s ready, willing and able to buy in the next 30 days. Where, in fact, the average lead takes 183 days to convert to a conversation and then an average of 45 days to close. Most agents look at leads and if they’re not what we call ‘the low hanging fruit,’ ready to buy right now, they think that’s not a lead worth pursuing. Well, that’s incorrect, because it is a lead. It’s just they’re not ready to go see homes yet.
Now, we’ve got 5,500 leads in this database and we have people who are calling us that we haven’t even spoken to, that we may have sent 150 emails to, who we texted 50 times and called 50 times. Now, they’re picking up the phone calling us and go, ‘Hey, thanks for staying in touch with me. I’m ready to go buy a house.’ So many agents think that that’s a dead lead. The average agent would have never hung onto that lead for a year and two months.”
These days The Graham Seeby Group has 17 buyer agents and a lead who manages the buyer agent team. There are also four listing agents and an inside sales associate which, Seeby says, is more of a lead manager.
The calls, we try to call between six and eight times right in the beginning but there’s a law of diminishing returns. That is that you only have the capability of making so many phone calls. We try not to call more than seven times. After we still stay in touch. They still get an email from us once a month saying, “Hey, just touching base to see if you still need help on real estate.”
Every lead that hits our database goes into Follow Up Boss and gets set up on an action plan. It’s almost five years long. Every lead gets grouped by price range, location, area, what they’re looking for, and where they came from.
The minute the lead comes in, three things have to happen. They need to be added to our Real Estate Webmasters website. Every lead goes through Follow Up Boss, then gets automatically added to the website. They’re immediately set up on a search so they get ongoing listing notifications in their area of interest. We try to figure out their criteria by looking at what they searched for. But we set them up on a search even if we don’t know their criteria. Then they’re called and texted within 90 seconds.
Through increasing their volume of inbound leads with their website, the Graham Seeby Group was able to nearly double their production, to $58 Million in sales.
Then, in the following year, Seeby told me they added an additional $30 Million in sales, to get to over $90 Million, because of the systems and processes they put in place to focus on 2 key metrics for their Internet leads – Speed to Lead and Number of Follow Ups – using Follow Up Boss.
What motivated Justin to focus on these two stats was a study that Forbes did on small businesses and the way they handled their Internet leads.
“Forbes went out and did…they for a five year period, they did a test on over 10,000 companies where they would submit their name, their phone number, their email address and their home address and ask for help on the product. 71 percent of those leads were never ever followed up with, ever.
The 29 percent that were followed up with, were followed up with an average of 1.3 times. The average time it took for them to get a follow up was 47 hours and 54 minutes. Almost two days.
What I learned there is that tracking your leads and long term plans to stay in front of that lead is important. Speed to lead is important. Speed to lead is everything. What they figured out is if you respond to a request like that in the first five minutes, you’re 9,000 times more likely to get them on the phone than you are if you call them after 30 minutes.
This triggered a big “a ha” moment for me. Wow! Agents aren’t following up with leads. If they do follow up, it takes them two days. If they do take two days to follow up, they still only do it one time, really.
Justin closely follows the methodology that Mitch Ribak uses to convert his Internet leads.
“Then you go in and you start applying those numbers to numbers like Mitch Ribak. Why is Mitch so successful? You know, in 2014, he had 1,600 closings. Well, 800 of those closings were leads that were a year or older. And 250 of those 800 leads were leads that were two years or older.
So you start looking at, holy crap, if you’re not on the phone immediately with them, and you don’t have a consistent follow up plan that goes for years, then you’re losing opportunity. You’re not planning for the future. You’re grabbing the low hanging fruit and dealing with that right now.
I started building systems that if you are lead on Zillow or Trulia or Realtor.com, Yelp, anything. And you come through our system, someone’s on the phone with you within 90 seconds. And the response we get it is, “Wow!” We have people who go, “I’ve been online all weekend. I’ve asked 50 agents for help. I literally just hit the “enter” button, and you’re on the phone with me.”
Usually what we say is, “Well, you interviewed 50 agents over the weekend, and I’m the only one that called you back.” They laugh at it.”
Using Reviews to Generate 100 Transactions in 2016
At Follow Up Boss, we work with a ton of agents who are spending a lot of money on leads from Zillow, and many of those agents do in fact have a solid profile and review presence, but it’s rare to hear about someone focusing on their Zillow profile as a core part of their strategy.
But with close to 100 transactions in 2016 being driven from online reviews, you start to see why Seeby has made this a core component of their growth strategy.
“Really by the end of ’15 and the beginning of ’16 is really when the machine went into action. A big catalyst of that was we did the hard push for reviews for all of ’15. We had 270+ Zillow reviews.
A big benefit to this is when you search for agents in Atlanta or Decatur, Georgia, we come up as the number one team based on reviews.
And that doesn’t cost us any money.
Millennials make up a third of the buying population. A millennial goes to 8 to 12 different sites before they pick up the phone and talk to an agent. What do they do when they get 8 to 12 of those sites? They read the reviews.
I watch people coming to my site in the analytics — they log in, and then they go to the review page and read every one of my agents reviews before they even pick up the phone and call. We start by educating agents that this is something that has to be forefront of their minds. The conversation on getting reviews starts on day one when you meet the client.
The challenge with Zillow reviews, and also the reason many agents don’t have as many as they should, is how hard it is for the client to create them. Seeby shares what it takes to increase the number of reviews they get from their clients:
“First and foremost, it’s really getting the agents that are on the team to understand the value. We have glass doors in our office, and on my glass door, before you walk into my office, there’s a sign that says, “Have you gotten your review today?”
And then, with the team bought in and understanding how important it is to the business, they then follow a process all the way through the client experience to help ensure the reviews get done when the deal is completed.
Generally, what we do with a buyer is we do a buyer presentation. We have them come in, and we do a little seminar for them and we talk about reviews there.
We say, “Hey, as we go through the process, I’m going to remind you about how important reviews are to us, and by the time we’re done, I’m going to ask you to write a review. When we’re done and we close, do I have your permission to bug you consistently until you write a review?” They agree to it upfront.
As they go through the process with us, they put something under contract. My operations manager sends out a notice of important dates in the copy of their contract and in that we link to all our reviews, and say, “Hey, if you’ve enjoyed the process and working with us, please leave a review.”
The other thing you have to remember is when people are most happy in the home buying process.
They’re very happiest right when they go on the contract. We ask right then, “Hey, if you’ve enjoyed the process, do you mind going online and writing a review?”
But the process doesn’t end here. The reality is that you can ask someone once or twice to write a review, but it still doesn’t get done. Especially because of how difficult it is in some cases for the client to submit the review.
At Zillow, if you have a couple and they buy or sell a house from you, the husband and wife both can’t write a review from their home computer, because if Zillow picks up the IP address and only allows one review per IP address.
You have to create an account and you have to validate your email address, you have to leave your account open for 72 hours. If you go in and write a review and delete your account then, the review never gets posted.
Then our closing agent asks for it again, and then after closing, my operations manager sends out another copy of the pack of the contract asking for reviews again. We just stay on top of the agents to get back in touch with the clients about leaving a review.
But sometimes, all the reminders in the world don’t get it done, so Seeby came up with a way to incentivize clients to leave reviews as well.
The big catalyst that we figured out about two years ago, is we do an iPad giveaway every quarter. We give all our clients and you get an entry for every review you write. We’re focused on Zillow, Realtor.com, Yelp and Angie’s List right now.
What we say is you get one entry for any one of the four that you write a review on. If you go to Zillow, and write it and copy and paste it to Yelp, Realtor.com and Angie’s List, you get four entries. If you do all four, we’re going to double it and give you eight entries into the iPad giveaway. We do a giveaway every quarter.
It’s the agent’s job to inform the clients of that. We also do postcards about the giveaway, and emails to our database. All our past clients will get an email about the giveaway. We put it in front of them. We worked really hard to get the reviews.
Again, looking back, 24 percent of our business comes from these reviews.
It costs us four iPads a year now. For $2,000 a year, we get 100 sales.”
It’s so important to their business, that Seeby will even call clients directly to help ensure the reviews happen.
I’ll pick up the phone and call my buyers I just worked with and say, “Hey, it’s Justin. I’m one the principals at Graham Seeby Group. I know you just closed with Tracey. I want to know how the process went.”
They rave about her, so I say, “The best thing you can do for us, the one thing you can do for us that absolutely would validate Tracey and everything she did for you is write a review for us. Plus, we’re going to put you on an iPad giveaway.”
This complexity though is what makes getting reviews from your clients such a huge opportunity…because other Realtors aren’t doing it!
If you look at a lot of the top agents and teams in the country, they don’t have 270+ reviews because it’s hard! We stay on top it and we explain the process to the client all the way through.
We say, “Hey, we understand this is difficult, but it means the world to us. That’s what you can do to make us our lives happier.”
**Interesting side note – while I was finalizing this article, I opened up their Zillow profile and it showed 287 reviews. Then when I went to take a screen shot to include in the article a couple of hours later, the total count was 291. Seems like what they’re doing is working!
Seeby looks at the business as a series of building blocks.
They started by focusing on past clients and sphere, and building a repeatable process to generate business from that segment of their database.
Once that was firmly in place, they added Internet leads.
Once the Internet leads were coming in steadily, they build the systems and processes to help convert those leads with maximum efficiency.
Then they built a process to ensure they show up EVERYWHERE by incentivizing client reviews.
The next building block they’re adding right away is an outbound sales associate to start calling on For-Sale-by-Owner listings, expired listings, and circle prospecting.
And then for Seeby, the final building block they’ll add is what he refers to as ‘farming’.
Farming, to me, is going to be billboards, radio, TV, and mailers to people we don’t know. Mass media. That’s the most expensive thing to do. And that’s why we’re focusing on it last. The least amount of return is there.
Profit margins have been lowered too. While The Graham Seeby Group started out with over an 80 percent profit margin, as they grew, they intentionally brought that down as their net increased in order to continue expanding the business.
Currently, they hover around 50 percent, but plan to bring that down even more to the 40s as they increase spending on radio and begin venturing into TV.
When they started the Graham Seeby Group, they had no intention of building it to what it is today. The tactics they used were more effective than anticipated and suddenly they found themselves with a thriving, growing business and an excellent example of everything you can achieve if you take the time to set up smart processes and approaches.
Seeing how the business is built on rock solid foundations, with a very well diversified portfolio of new business sources, it looks like number 1 team in the South East region is just the beginning!