Property Marketing in a Downturn (Law Society Property in Practice - June 09)

So judge today, not by the number of conveyancing clients that come through your door, but by how many potential clients and introducers you contact – as they will yield your harvest in the future. To achieve a successful new business pipeline, it is important to feed it every day, by adding new contacts and deepening relationships with existing ones.

If you entered the recession without a systematic approach to developing new business, then you will undoubtedly be suffering more than someone who is an accomplished rainmaker, with an established network of referral contacts.

However it is not too late to start and there are opportunities in a recession.  In this article we provide some practical tips to ensure that your team makes it through and is in pole position for the eventual upturn.

Set SMART objectives

Set yourself some Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Timely objectives for the coming month.  Be as specific as you can so that you can measure your success at the end of the period. Examples might be:

  • Each team member to visit at least 1 estate agent and one IFA each week
  • Telephone all the clients who moved three months ago to see how they have settled in
  • Arrange a meeting with the property editor of a local paper or magazine
  • Contribute an article to your firm’s web site
  • Attend one external networking event with a solicitor from another department

Don’t forget to make a note in your diary to review your performance, and set the next set of objectives.

Schedule time for business development

Get everyone to schedule a regular slot for business development into their diary.  You need to find a way that suits you.  I know some people who like to block out a half day each week and others who schedule an hour each day.

This is “investment time” and should be treated like any other appointment.  Whilst some days you will have to move, reduce the time or cancel the slot altogether there is more chance that you will spend some of this time if it is actually planned.

If you commit to attending a networking event – make sure you schedule two hours in your diary the next day to make any follow up calls.

Prioritise your business development activities.

You are most likely to get specific new business opportunities from face to face meetings – so your top priorities should be securing meetings, preparing for forthcoming meetings and following up.

Phone calls are also vital for just keeping in touch with clients, contacts and intermediaries.  Resist the temptation to bury yourself in research and preparation – and delegate this where possible.

Gather intelligence

Always ask clients and people making enquiries how they came to hear of your firm.  People never mind answering this question, and it can be a good way to break the ice.  More importantly it will help you to understand which of your marketing activities yield most new business – which will be invaluable information as the marketing budget comes under more and more pressure.

Look out for opportunities.  Certain sectors of the economy are slightly cushioned from the effects of the recession, for example agriculture and healthcare and there is still a level of activity.  Properties are being sold at auctions – do you know any of the auction houses?  Find out what is happening locally in terms of planning policy and regeneration activities, if appropriate. 

Get closer to the people involved in local economic development as this may uncover opportunities.

Stay close to clients and contacts

Develop good habits in looking after the contact details of your clients, referral contacts and prospects – remember that your competitors would love to get their hands on this data so don’t let it go to waste.

Make sure you know referral contacts well enough that they will stay in contact if they move on or lose their job.  Take action, if you only know the people at your nearest estate agency as “the girls at….”, as was the case at a firm I visited recently.

Other property professionals will be losing their jobs and will appreciate you keeping in touch through the tough times.  If you are able to introduce someone to a new position in this difficult time, they are likely to be extremely grateful in the future.

When you do receive business referrals – make a point of always showing your appreciation and think about how you can help them.  If you have work to give out, then make the most of it.

By having a strong network of connections and regular contact, you will be in the best position to hear about those green shoots of recovery when they start to appear.

Use time productively

While the team has a little more time on its hands, schedule some internal training for everyone to improve sales skills and client care.  Update systems and procedures to iron out any customer care issues that have occurred frequently in the past.

Negotiate hard for advertising bargains.

The advertising industry is suffering too, so make sure you negotiate hard for advertising space and keep your eye out for bargains.  However, make sure you only advertise according to your proven strategy which is based upon client intelligence mentioned above.

Check your web site is working hard for you

The recent article in the Law Society Gazette gave statistical evidence of the growth in the proportion of customers using the internet to find legal services.

Take an hour to look at your web site with a fresh pair of eyes.  Is it easy to see the range of services that you provide and get in touch?  Are the news items up to date and relevant?  How do you rate in a google search?  Review the SEO terms and pay-per-click adverts that you are paying for and focus on the most productive ones.

Move from hard copy to email

If you produce hard copy marketing material, such as a newsletter or regular updates, think about moving to email marketing.  This way you can continue to increase your profile, whilst saving money in reduced print, postage and fulfillment costs.

Work as a team with colleagues

Your colleagues in other departments are vitally important as referral sources, yet I often see business go elsewhere due to internal politics and an unwillingness to cross sell on behalf of colleagues in other departments.

The obvious relationships are with the matrimonial and wills and probate teams who may be able to introduce you when their client wishes to sell a property.  If your firm has an insolvency team, then there will be commercial property disposals.  If you do not have a good working relationship then start by thinking about how you could help them.

Remember to “give before you get”.  Do you systematically call all your conveyancing clients a few months after they have moved to see if they have settled in and if they have thought about their will now that their situation has changed?

Remember your competitors

If you are struggling to make the time to pick up the phone and call your contacts, spend (only) a minute thinking about your main competitors. It is important to remember that in between your business development approaches, your prospects are probably also receiving approaches from your competitors.

How do you compare? Are your approaches

  • More relevant? 
  • More interesting? 
  • More attractive? 
  • More enthusiastic?

When times get tough, the natural instinct is to batten down the hatches and keep your head down.  However it is also a case of survival of the fittest, and this is the time for pro-active and marketing-savvy firms to steal a march on their competitors.  Relationships forged in the downturn are most likely to blossom when things start looking up and clearly a firm that invests more time and energy (not necessarily hard cash) will emerge stronger in a stronger position when the good times return.


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