When a potential buyer is looking for a new place to live or a seller is considering offloading his or her home, they want immediate answers — for these consumers, the concept of “responding too fast”simply doesn’t exist.
But in an era when real estate agents are expected to juggle not only sales transactions and marketing listings but also evaluate products to help run their business, market themselvesand keep up with past clients, responding immediately to an online lead that might or might not be serious can be construed as a waste of time.
After all, you don’t know that buyer, his qualifications or her living preferences. Why strain yourself scrambling to answer a query that might never pan out as a client?
Because to be successful in real estate sales, you always need to keep your real estate sales funnel in mind.
Like any good funnel, it’s broader at the top than the spout for a reason — you need to capture so many people in your funnel in order to guarantee yourself a specific number of clients weeks or months down the road. And it’s no secret that more and more buyers (and sellers!) are starting their real estate sales journey online.
So it’s dangerous to ignore online leads entirely, but you’re also far too busy to respond to everyone who pings you every few minutes. It seems like a conundrum without a solution … until chatbots enter the mix.
“Agents can’t really afford to go out and hire their own ISA (inside sales agent) but they still have a really dire need to follow up with leads,” explained Nate Joens, CEO at Structurely, a real estate chatbot company, “and most of the time busy agents are running around with their heads cut off and they really don’t have time to sit at their computer and follow up with leads.”
That’s what a chatbot is for.
A chatbot is an automated program that can hold a basic conversation with your clients. Not so incidentally, it can also collect information from your clients that can help you figure out where they are in their sales journey and how you can best support their needs at any given point in time.
Real estate chatbots are typically used to converse with potential clients at the very top of the funnel — people you don’t know and who might or might not be ready to move on to the next stage of the process. The bots get basic information from the prospect and then immediately generate appropriate responses. Often, they’ll also issue invitations for the consumer to learn more via an email capture form or a way to contact the agent directly, or even transition the conversation to an agent or a sales assistant.
Trulia has an active Facebook Messenger chatbot that sends rental listings to message recipients after they ping the bot. Consumers can ask it for specific bedroom or bathroom counts, include price ranges and ask about rentals in the cities or ZIP codes where they’re seeking to move.
The rental-seeker gets an instant response and the ability to follow a link to learn more about any specific property or save a summary of the search; there’s also an option to receive daily updates on the city or ZIP code in question.
Like many robots, the Trulia bot isn’t foolproof — it can’t follow a conversational “thread” to add context to previous searches, for example.
However, the appeal for a rental-seeker with a serious time crunch is clear: There’s no way a human could respond to a query this quickly.
Besides the Trulia rental bot (which will likely show sales opportunities sooner or later, too), there are dozens of chatbots today helping real estate agents manage their time, get more leads and understand their prospect funnel more thoroughly.
Nick Kljaic’s product, Apartment Ocean, is available for both brokerage firms and property management firms; its goal is to automate the initial conversation with a lead in order to qualify that lead and send it to the right person.
Apartment Ocean sets up the bot according to its clients’ specifications — they can decide where they want it to operate (via a chat widget on a website or text message, for example), and the first step is to capture the lead by asking for a name and email address.
The client can also specify what kind of leads they’re trying to capture (renters, buyers or sellers) and then ask a series of questions about where the lead wants to live and how much he or she is willing to spend.
“We are making it very simple for the user to answer so we can gather as many data points as we can for the human agent or property management firm,” noted Kljaic.
At some point, the chatbot will transfer the conversation to a human.
“The basic questions that customers have — FAQs like ‘what is your commission,’ ‘how long does it typically take to sell a property’ and so forth, the chatbot can answer,” he added. “So immediately user engagement goes up, satisfaction goes up and people stay longer on the site. It’s instantaneous response.”
Automabots is another chatbot company with text, Facebook Messenger and web chat bots that can qualify buyer and seller leads as well as nurture and manage the leads in your pipeline already.
Much like Trulia’s bot, the Automabots platform can give potential buyers a rundown on what properties are available in their area, then asks the buyer to rate the homes available so that the bot can gather details about what they like and don’t like.
“One of the next stages we’re building in is the ability for the bot to engage leads from other sources,” explained Grant Gould, CEO and founder of Automabots. “So if they get a Zillow lead, for instance, the bot can actually engage instantly the minute that lead hits the agent’s platform.”
Beyond getting a sense of a buyer’s preferences and needs, chatbots can also ask questions about salary and loan qualifications to help the real estate agent understand where the prospect is in the sales journey.
Another real estate-specific chatbot built by Structurely also helps nurture leads at the top of the funnel, whether it’s a seller or buyer, by asking a few general questions and then narrowing its focus to whatever makes the most sense for the prospect in question. It can handle both buyer and seller leads, and it can transfer the conversation to a real estate agent at any point.
Joens says that the bot asks nine to ten qualifying questions to help funnel the buyer — or seller, or seller who’s also looking to buy — to the right place, “and it’s a really flexible and empathetic experience,” he explained.
Structurely’s bot, like many others, also plugs into MLS data. “Oftentimes we see — even 25 percent of the time — that the lead’s initial inquiry is because the lead wants some information from the MLS that the agent has,” he said. “So we answer that question and then go through the prequalifying. And we have some indicators to show that the lead isn’t prequalified and is not ready — or is ready — for your time. At that point we’ll always pass it off to the agent, and they can take over the conversation at any time they feel like it.”
Joens said that oftentimes, leads don’t have any clue they’re talking to a bot instead of a human.
“That’s the big thing we hear from broker and agent clients — we’re essentially giving them a very inexpensive employee,” he added. “It does the same job that a typical ISA would but for a miniscule fraction of the cost of a salaried employee.”
Aisa will “try to get an appointment conversation started,” Joens said, but “she” doesn’t go as far as scheduling them herself — agents prefer to do that, he said.
Using chatbots can significantly streamline the initial back-and forth with a lead, and they also encourage the use of real contact information by each lead. When a lead has been given high-quality information about the state of the market, the potential listing price of his current home or a rundown on what home are available in the area where she wants to move, that lead will be much more willing to give up some real contact information — especially if he or she thinks that more high-quality information will be delivered as a result.
Online brokerage Open Listings uses chatbots and other automation tools to manage more than just the top-of-funnel conversation with buyer leads. “The point at which someone on our website interacts with an agent is when they’re ready to make an offer,” explained Kevin Miller, Director of Growth at Open Listings. “That’s why we believe it’s more efficient.”
The company manages the search experience for buyer clients as well as helping them book tours online that will populate on your calendar.
And it has tools (like Structurely) to help suggest new listings or neighborhoods to leads, ones they might not be familiar with at all.
“We try to do a good job with our recommendations,” Miller noted, “showing leads, ‘here’s a neighborhood right next to the one you flagged that’s a little cheaper and it’s up-and-coming.’”
Leads can also specify a number of features, including square footage and other factors, so that it’s working with “a high level of granularity.”
Open Listings works with both in-house agents (in Los Angeles) and partner agents (in Seattle). “It seems to be very well-received from an agent perspective because they get to make more money but they get to skip the upfront 75 percent to 80 percent of the process — driving people around, seeing what they’re interested in,” Miller noted.
And even if the lead isn’t ready to make a move just yet, Eli Hurwitz, Open Listings’ director of digital marketing, noted that the company is leveraging email drip campaigns and segmentation to add clients to different lists, sending them information relevant to them right now instead of blasting them with market updates. So they’re continuing to fill the top of the funnel, too — using bots.
“When someone follows us on Instagram, we can thank them for the follow and invite them to see a feed of homes,” he said. “If we can get to a place where we get 100,000 followers, we can sign up thousands of people using that bot. We’re looking for any and every application; it’s all based around trying to get people to sign up and get them into our funnel.”
Any real estate agent who wants to jump on the chatbot train first needs to figure out what medium will make the most sense.
If you have a robust Facebook presence, lots of followers and engagement on your page, then a Facebook Messenger bot might be the best option. Facebook Messenger’s API allows developers to program chatbots that can reply to just about any query, and the social media giant has a ton of resources for programmers to peruse before they jump into the deep end of the pool.
There are step-by-step instructions for bot-building on Facebook’s developer resource pages if you have the time and energy to read and apply them. Facebook is far from your only option, though: Other bot mediums include automated email, website chat and text messaging chatbots. So if you already get a lot of traffic to your website, then maybe a chatbot that pops up and offers to assist visitors is the way to go. Or if you’re a master of networking on your phone, a text-message bot could be the best choice for you.
Once you’ve decided on your medium, you’ll need to figure out what you want your bot to do. Chatbots are most effective at saving time when you can deploy them to answer your most frequently asked questions — “what homes are available in this ZIP code” is only one type of question that a bot can be trained to answer. Others might include:
A decent place to start would be to gather together your most frequently asked questions — the ones with easily automated responses — and use that as a jumping-off point for your chatbot strategy.
Now that you’ve established the platform where you want to deploy your bot and have it programmed to answer whatever potential clients might ask, you’ll need a solid follow-up strategy. After all, you went to the trouble of building a real estate lead generation bot so that you could capture targeted leads and turn them into lifelong clients — so you’ll need a way to get back in touch with the person your bot courted and warmed up. (That’s why it’s essential that your bot is able to integrate with your existing real estate CRM).
As we become more comfortable with the concept of virtual assistants like Siri or Alexa that can answer our questions and look things up for us online, it’s inevitable that consumers across every industry will get used to talking to bots before they reach a live human.
And that’s not a bad thing! By using chatbots wisely, real estate agents can assess how serious any given lead is, prioritizing their sales pipeline accordingly — all while delivering high-quality information that prospects seek. The explosion of chatbot platforms in 2017 and participation of such media giants as Facebook are indications that these handy virtual assistants are here to stay.
The only question is: How long will it take you to botify your sales process?