Entering the home buying and selling industry the same way millions of others do, with no prior experience, Kinney single-handedly mastered the techniques and technologies that led him not only to become the top Keller Williams real estate agent in the state of Washington, but to develop the curriculum for an online course on real estate marketing that became a kind of “advanced degree” in the profession, abbreviated as IMSD, which stands for Internet Marketing Specialist Designation.
Ben’s marketing courseware has taught his fellow real estate agents how to generate customers from online advertising, SEO and pay-per-click, from video marketing and from social media, and how to convert prospective buyers into actual clients.
Two years ago, Ben sold his IMSD courseware to a company that was acquired by Trulia, but he still teaches classes and leads free webinars online. Kinney has also written a book, with Jay Papasan, entitled SOCI@L: Attracting Friends, Followers, and Connections to Your Business. It’s a free download at the following link: http://www.kellerink.com/products/social-attract-friends-followers-and-connections-your-business-e-book
Kinney is the king of a kingdom where the pendulum of power is swinging, like a Game of Thrones story arc. The real estate marketplace is the richest online environment imaginable for leveraging the power of the Internet and converting pixels into profits. Location targeting. Demographic profiling. User-personalization. Community interaction. Not to mention the capacity for an immersive photo and video experience. The Internet, it seems, was virtually tailor made for real estate sales.
And yet, while online real estate forums, portals and service networks are thriving in the digital world, the average real estate agent has been stuck in analog mode: overworked, underpowered and underpaid.
“The average real estate agent in Washington sells about three homes per year,” according to Kinney. “Do the math. If you sell three homes per year, how could you possibly afford the level of marketing that it takes to get a property sold in the market today?” Answer: “You can’t.”
Indeed, the “digital divide” between real estate supersites, brokerage firms and agents threatens to send the traditional real estate agency down the same rabbit hole as the travel agency — a path to extinction.
As technology takes over more of their day-to-day operations, agents will be hard pressed to be able to ask for, and receive, the same level of sales commission, unless, that is, things change.
“Consumers who are looking to sell their home and hire a professional don’t want a generalist,” advises Ben. “They want to hire a specialist! The only way for agents to become specialists is to give up the clerical tasks — the paperwork, the flyers, that sort of stuff, and focus on the real business of real estate sales — pricing properties, making marketing decisions, negotiating contracts.”
For the past several years, Kinney has been working to change all of that by investing his time, and nearly a million-and-a-half dollars, into a real estate marketing R&D lab developing the ultimate marketing software for home buyers, sellers and agents.
“The number one frustration we hear about in real estate today is a lack of communication,” he explains. “I attribute that to a lack of transparency in the transaction. Consumers usually have no idea what is being done for the fee that is being charged. As real estate professionals, we either need to start being more transparent and communicating our value proposition, or we need to be willing to be replaced with websites.”
So Kinney has invented two websites that have the power to transform real estate marketing as we know it, and on both the agency and the consumer side. The two breakthrough programs sound like the AKC names of two purebred border collies — Brivity and Blossor. What are they? Think real estate marketing meets CRM, meets marketing automation, meets incentive marketing and add a hearty round of gamification. Don’t just take our word for it. Take Ben’s…
Seattle24x7: Ben, we were amazed by the demo of Blossor, a very different kind of real estate search experience. Where does Blossor fit into the real estate marketing continuum?
Ben Kinney: Real estate consumers typically visit two types of websites. The first type is a brokerage website. Visitors can click and see how much their home is worth. They can also click on a property for sale to read all of the details. But once they click on a second property to view, they are asked to register. This is precisely what is wrong with the traditional model. It’s purely a lead generation system. What happens is that the user’s name is entered into a database where they are contacted by salespersons, emails and text messages until they buy or list a house.
In essence, the real estate search sites offered by brokerage firms are simply lead generation tools. They’re not tailored to elevating the consumer experience, just the opposite — making you, as consumer, a lead.
If you visit a national real estate portal site like Trulia, you’ll be presented with listing data from multiple brokerages. As a consumer asks a question, their information is given to three or four brokerages. Now you are not only a lead, you’re a lead four times over. Your information is being bought and sold to the highest bidder.
To create a very different kind of experience, we’ve developed a multi-faceted experience called Blossor which is currently in beta mode.
We imagined that Blossor was the result of what might occur if you put the Google founders and the Facebook founders in the same room and told them they had to create a real estate site.
Blossor is a very rich, real estate search experience where consumers are not converted into leads, their information is never sold, and there’s no banner advertising.
Most interestingly, it also features the first natural language search in real estate. Instead of typing in zip codes, you can search for exactly what you want. For example, search for [Bellingham from $400 to 500K with a pool] and Blossor will know exactly what you mean, and deliver results. Or you can type in the Boolean query [whale-watching], and [close to Thai food], and coastal view properties will pop up that are close to Thai cuisine. Blossor understands natural language queries. If you want a home with “white kitchen cabinets,” you can search this as well and land directly on the images of the cabinets, not the entire house.
Seattle24x7: You’ve also added a gamification component?
Ben Kinney: This is where it gets really interesting. Users can earn dollars, dubbed “Blossor Bucks,” either by typing searches in, by sharing listings, by inviting friends, or by enhancing property information. Blossor pays users to do these things with virtual currency. For instance, you could use the currency to get a free month of cable television. There are other incentives from dining and home repair to travel. The beauty of it is that you can invite local merchants to offer their products or services. So advertisers and users get connected and the search experience is improved by the users themselves. Simply put, Blossor rewards people for doing what they already do on other real estate sites and spreading the word!
Seattle24x7: It sounds as if Blossor is intercepting the real estate shopper very early in the decision-making process?
Ben Kinney: Our research shows say that Zillow gets 55 million users per month, and yet there’s only 5 million transactions in a year in the US. That says to us that a lot of people who are searching online have no interest in buying this year. They may want to remodel, they may want to build, or they’re just dreaming, they’re painting, they’re decorating, they’re renting.
Blossor is a friendly tool for people who want to remodel, decorate, sell, buy, whatever. Users can even create their own boards and organize their own stuff. Like a cross between Facebook and Pinterest, users can create a board for kitchen ideas or living rooms and then take the board and show it to their contractor, saying, ‘I want a kitchen like that!’ Even if you’re not a buyer, you can search for real estate, and you won’t be harassed. You have a place to explore, and even earn blossor bucks while you do!
Seattle24x7: On the flip-side you’ve created Brivity for agents. How did this get started?
Ben Kinney: About two years ago, and nearly a million-and-half dollars ago, my partners and I started developing software for real estate agencies. We had two things we wanted to deliver. First, was a tool for agencies that could create an entirely different kind of experience for consumers. And second, was a product for consumers to become more engaged in the activities of finding and buying a new home. The first product, named Brivity, is a hybrid tool. Real estate professionals can use it to manage their clients, leads, listings and pendings, to communicate to people who are at the front-end of selling their homes or in the middle of a transaction, and to keep their staff accountable. It’s remarkably cost efficient — just forty bucks a month for an account. We’ve had nearly five hundred agents sign up in the last thirty days.
Seattle24x7: How does Brivity work?
Ben Kinney: Before we created Brivity, I was paying for five or six separate software products to do everything that Brivity does in one. It’s a total agent organization and client relationship manager with a front end that home sellers can use to see what their agents are doing for them.
What we wanted to do was develop a tool that allowed agents to be well organized and communicate everything that they were doing for their clients. Brivity is possible the first transparency tool in real estate. For example, when the seller visits the site, they see a timeline, all of the things on the listing that have been completed and who on the staff has worked on it. They see a list of all the different places that the property has been advertised. If they want to visit Redfin, they’re directed to their listing on Redfin. The tool not only communicates to clients what’s going on but it allows agents to market the properties more effectively.
Seattle24x7: Customer Relationship Management seems like it would be a staple in real estate marketing?
Ben Kinney: You’d like to think so, but we had to invent the system from the ground up that could manage all of an agent’s clients, past clients, and leads, upload pictures, addresses, and contact info, and assign tasks to specific users. With Brivity, you can set up client’s events as reminders. Like calling a client a year after they bought a house to see how they like it. You can call them on their birthday or their anniversary. You can add notes, and this will pop up on a task screen as things that you need to get done. Yes, Brivity is a client relationship management tool, but it also does a lot more.
Below the surface is a powerful back office for real estate agents. When an agent logs in, they are presented with a task screen, a list of every activity that needs to be done today. That agenda exposes who is assigned to which tasks and when tasks need to be finished. The agent can create daily and weekly emails of task summaries to send to clients demonstrating to their clients the work that is being performed on their behalf.
On the front-end, home buyers can click on large photographs, not just thumbnails, to view the homes they find in their search. They can look up listing agents, or set up a showing. It’s a tool that solves several problems. The major one is providing a system for true client management with the tools to communicate more effectively about what they are actually doing for the fee they charge.
Seattle24x7: What are your thoughts about SEO and conversion? How do you advise marketers to look at their data? What’s most significant?
Ben Kinney: We look at a few things. Number one, when a user visits our website, when a consumer clicks on a property, what percent registers? We get about 11%. That’s a good way to measure success, the visit-to-lead number. Next, what is the lead-to-closing ratio? How many people on your website does it take to get an actual paycheck? 3-5% if you’re good!
1. Take more and better quality photographs.
2. Use video to tell the properties’ story to potential buyers.
3. The number one real estate search site in the world is Google. Learn how to harness its power!
4. Build a real estate team. Your clients deserve specialists.
5. Stage your listings – If the home is vacant use virtual staging.
6. Don’t spend money on marketing that you can’t track.
7. Use social media to “niche-market” specialty homes.
8. Over-communicate with your clients!
9. Respond to leads faster but never treat people like a lead..
10. Be transparent in everything you do for your customers. [24×7]