Businesses create personas to place the consumer at the center of decision-making. Customer personas work when designing products and services, yet do they still serve a purpose in marketing and sales?
Marketing, the process of identifying, anticipating, and satisfying customers’ needs and wants, essentially matches what you’re selling to the people looking to buy. On a fundamental level, we all share the same basic needs and wants. Moving beyond the basics of buyer personas opens up a world of possibilities.
With everyone as a potential customer, creating personas may help marketing feel more manageable. Putting a face, age, and fictional name to your customers’ traits, personality characteristics, and pain points kicks off your digital strategy, but then what? Where do you go from there? Customer personas, in theory, work to attract leads, yet treating each customer in a generalized manner may actually move your brand further away from connecting with prospects.
Technology now provides valuable information beyond the type of customer interested in your brand (married with two kids and a mortgage); it delivers details on their online behavior (searching for distressed dining room tables to seat 10).
With the right software and CRM, collecting valuable online data generates insight into the customers’ specific needs and wants. Real information, captured in real-time, directly from the people interested in your products. From there, you can use the data to personalize the follow-up and lead-nurture process for more prospect engagement and brand loyalty.
More than Just a Customer Persona
Technology allows for a deeper understanding of consumers. Not only do you learn more about your customers through their actions, but you can also create a better experience online to stand out from the competition. Give website visitors the opportunity to interact with your brand, while also providing the information they need.
Understand what customers want while shopping. Offer interactive engagement opportunities like quizzes and assessments, live chat or online financing pre-qualification. Even better, with AI-driven software you can ensure your website remembers the customer’s previous visit, suggesting options and incentives based on prior behavior. These personalized, guided interactions will shape how the customer views your brand and build a feeling of welcome and value.
Buyer personas may attract shoppers to your website, but leverage personalization to move them along the customer journey toward a purchase.
Customer Data Helps You to Focus on Personalization
Not only does personalization benefit your customer, but it also translates into customizing your company’s operations. Your customers’ behavior and data should drive your business decisions.
If your target consumers continually search for specific products or services you don’t currently offer or do offer but don’t prominently market, demand exists and justifies expanding your offerings or adjusting your ad and website copy to meet the need. If prospects routinely drop off the website after reviewing pricing on your website, it may be time to run some competitive intelligence.
Analyze and use data from your CRM to help your sales team nurture leads and convert them into sales. Generate automated and personalized emails with AI-driven technology to get shoppers back to your website or in the door. Track the average number of touches necessary to result in a purchase, and adjust your approach based on the analytics.
It may feel counterintuitive to rely on technology to build personal relationships and really get to know your customers, yet with more than 80% of shoppers beginning their shopping journey online, the power of personalization makes it possible — and imperative.
In today’s reality, social distancing has become a part of normal business. Brick and mortar stores have closed storefronts or have limited business hours, forcing customers to shop online. How do you make the consumer feel important when you can only interact through a screen?
Providing a personalized, top-class shopping experience should not only happen when the consumer enters through your front door. Building any kind of relationship takes time and effort. Start building that relationship online the moment the consumer visits your website. Utilizing an AI-focused website and personalized lead follow-up approach gives the online consumer an experience similar to what they would receive during an in-store visit. Here’s how your business can create a VIP customer experience.
Personalize your lead follow-up while selling remotely
Utilize data when it comes to personalized lead follow-up. Retailers should be relying on tools on their website, such as assessments and quizzes to collect as much information as possible from their customers. You can learn what style of furniture they like, what room they are looking to furnish, or how soon they are going to buy. You are also able to collect basic information such as name, phone number and email address.
With that information, your sales team is equipped to personalize the outreach. If your customers are looking for a new bedroom set, leverage targeted content through email with a catalog of this year’s hottest bedroom trends. If you’ve already been in contact with them, send a picture through text message of the new set you just got in. This is also an easy way to send incentives or discounts of products to encourage them to buy.
Personalizing the marketing experience for your shoppers is an easy way to make them feel valued and continue to shop your products.
Communicate with the consumer through text messaging
Allowing the consumer an option to ask a question via a chat tool online, which gives your sales team the opportunity to follow-up with that customer immediately by text. From there, they are able to send pictures and videos of products in the showroom that the shopper isn’t able to see. This is an effective tool because unlike a chat box, the message is delivered directly to the customers phone as opposed to a chat bot online.
Text messaging helps build the relationship with the customer before they enter the store. By being intentional and personalizing the message, shoppers will be more inclined to respond and be engaged later when they are ready to buy.
Prioritize video calls over phone calls for the VIP customer experience
When shoppers were able to go in the store, video follow-up and video appointments were nice to have. Now, video appointments are essential and will likely be a preference for shoppers to save time in the future.
Instead of just a simple phone call, video calls bring an extra level of personalization to the conversation. Shoppers are able to see the face of the person they are speaking to much like they would in an in-store visit. Through video calls, you are also able to give tours of the showroom and let the consumer see the product for themselves as you are speaking about it. Tools like Skype, Google Hangouts, FaceTime and Zoom are all platforms you can use to host video appointments. Follow these tips to ensure you host a successful video appointment.
Using these tips to treat the shopper like a VIP will ensure they choose you over another brand. Making someone feel important goes a long way in building consumer trust. Good luck!
Let’s face it. Most of us walk around with our phones in our hands or at arms-reach the majority of the time. Don’t overlook the easiest way to connect with your customers, text messaging. But, easy doesn’t mean you should do it without forethought and planning.
Make Texting Personal
This is your chance to really connect with the person. Plan your first message out in advance and make it memorable.
Just because you are using technology where you can’t see or hear the customer, don’t forget you are still talking with a person. Make it personal. Use their name, suggest information based on previous conversations. Don’t be a robot!
You aren’t texting your friends. While it’s important to sound friendly and connect with the customer, you need to be sure all texts are professional.
Try not to use texting abbreviations when communicating. Spell out your words and phrases. Write complete sentences and punctuate. All it takes to turn off some customers is a misspelled word or an incorrect phrase. Not sure you have everything right? Run it by a colleague or spell check it on a computer.
A tasteful emoji here or there is fine, but don’t overuse them. Limit them to a thumbs up or smiley face. Your texts shouldn’t look like an 8-year-old got hold of your phone.
Offer VIP Deals through Text
Texting is a great way to offer VIP deals.
Special discounts or deals make your consumers feel special during this time and like you’re taking care of them. The pleasant feeling VIP deals give customers may just be enough to close your own deal.
No amount of automated marketing or AI technology will change the fact that customer service must remain at the top of your company’s priority list. If you’re not providing a quality shopping experience from start to finish, it won’t matter how many leads you generate or how much organic traffic you attract to the website. Unsatisfied customers will bust your bottom line over time.
“Customer service is No. 1 for us. Making our customers happy and excited about their purchase is what we are here for,” says Kelly Mullins, who oversees Marketing & Online Sales at Railway Freight Furniture based in Georgia. “And, we want them to come back and shop with us again … and send their friends and family! People want to feel like you truly care about what they need.”
Mullins says delivering that level of customer care starts on the website, where most people begin their shopping. They expect instant yet personal responses when reaching out to a business.
“It’s so important to be engaged digitally, because that’s where most start their buying decisions,” Mullins says. “They will have questions and want to talk to someone, and you have to be ready to help get their business.”
Create a Concierge Website Experience to Service Customers
Helping the customer starts with maximizing your company’s website, often a customer’s initial interaction with your brand, so it’s engaging and delivering information that’s relevant to each individual shopper.
“It’s important that your first touchpoint with the consumer, you’re getting across the information you want to, because that first touch sets the stage for everything else,” says Michael Norris, Chief Marketing Officer at Youtech, a full-service digital marketing and advertising agency with offices in Chicago and Scottsdale, Arizona. “It’s important to have a really good digital footprint, since that’s where people start their search, and then a really good response time after that.”
Make it easy for them to window shop and collect information on your products until they’re ready to visit in person to make a purchase. Create a concierge experience that serves customers with personalized, targeted content and leads shoppers to the next best step in their buying journey, based on where they’re at in the process. Offer appointment scheduling tools so they can book a tour or in-store consultation and receive VIP treatment. Then, be sure to follow up quickly with online leads or have a system in place to automate the initial response so they feel acknowledged.
“In today’s digital world, if customers want/need help or have questions, they want answers now! On their time!” Mullin says. “PERQ has helped us tremendously with this. We already talk to our customers on social media and email, but now we have a way to talk to the customer while they’re browsing on our website. It takes a lot of time and effort, but is a great way to engage with our online customers.”
As they shop around and interact with the website, put in place software to capture data about each online lead, so your sales team can use those personal details to close the deal. Knowing things like what kind of pets they own or their favorite pastimes helps you better understand what they need, and subsequently provide the customer with better service.
Your Customer Service Reps and Digital Sales Teams Drive Your Business
Customer service representatives and those who staff your digital sales teams will likely be the main people who directly interact with consumers before they come in to visit in person. Make sure they’re prepared to adequately answer all questions that come their way and appropriately direct shoppers to the right next person, because those initial interactions often determine how a consumer views your company overall.
“The people who they talk to are ultimately going to be the people who drive your business,” Norris says. “That customer service is so important, because customers now go and leave reviews online based on their experience and what they felt. It’s so important to make them feel good every step of the way, that they have a positive-enough experience they want to go and leave a review. People only leave reviews if they’re really happy or really mad. There’s really no in-between.”
Utilize AI Technology to Improve Your Customer Service
With consumers accustomed to getting an immediate response when online shopping with big brands, technology helps smaller companies meet those expectations and give leads the instant gratification (and the information) they seek.
Once a lead comes in or a consumer submits an inquiry, it’s critical for your sales team to provide an immediate response acknowledging their request and quickly follow up with additional information.
“People are used to very snippy-snappy results nowadays,” Norris says of consumer expectations across the many industries his digital advertising agency serves.
Businesses use technology to not only instantly respond but also personalize the response through automated email or text messaging. By capturing customer data as they engage with a website’s AI-powered experiences, like a chat-to-text Q&A tool or interactive quiz, lead information can be funneled directly into a CRM through a marketing cloud.
From there, schedule personalized email or text nurture campaigns to continuously nurture the lead that shows you care about their search for the perfect purchase. Cater to their needs based on what they look at on your website and the data they hand over as they shop around. Provide helpful content, offer a scheduled meeting with an expert on your staff or include an incentive to get them to take action — and to buy from you when they are ready.
“Getting all of that information into your CRM and then into an automation system is important, because that will allow you to follow up in both an efficient way for you and in an effective, personalized way for the potential client,” Norris says.
Meet Customers Where They Shop
Consumers now have more ways than ever to communicate with companies they do business with, from online chat and messenger apps to emails and text messages. To provide top-notch service, you must communicate in the customer’s preferred format.
“People are going to have issues that extend beyond just an FAQ page or what your website can answer,” Norris says. “Having different channels of communication are important. If a customer wants to email you, they are going to expect their response to that email. Same thing, if a customer reaches out on social media; or if they call, then they want to talk to a real person.”
Norris says consumer expectations remain steady across all of the various industries his digital marketing agency serves: they want quick, helpful customer service when they have questions or encounter a problem.
“I mean, in the end, people are all people,” Norris says. “Generally speaking, people buy the same ways.”
Gayle Elliott is thrilled to be named the winner of the $25,000 FATWIN Sweepstakes sponsored by PERQ. Elliott of Gladys, Virginia, was presented with a ceremonial check at Schewels Home on March 4. She was randomly selected from a pool of nearly 996,000 people who registered for the sweepstakes in 2019 on websites that leverage PERQ software. The clients, like Schewels, use PERQ to improve the consumer shopping experience online.
Photos by Scott Allen | Matt Schewel of Schewels Home (left) and Zach Naylor-Cook, a client success manager at PERQ (far right), presented Gayle Elliott with the $25K check in Lynchburg, Virginia. Gayle’s daughter Britny Clark joined her to celebrate.
How Elliott Won
Gayle says she’s been shopping at Schewels for years, buying a swivel chair most recently, and fell in love with a tall table on the store’s website. During her website visit, Gayle clicked on a link to enter the FATWIN sweepstakes and entered her information.
“I got one email and a few phone calls to say I’d won,” Gayle says. “First, I thought this is a scam. Things like this don’t happen to me. I called the store and said that I was getting calls from this lady saying I won this sweepstake. The woman who answered told me to hold and a man got on the phone. When I started to explain why I was calling, he stopped me and said ‘Are you Gayle Elliott? Congratulations, you won!’”
Matt Schewel, director of store operations at Schewels, says this is a great moment for the business. Schewels Home was founded in 1897 and has been owned by the family for five generations. “We’re so excited for Gayle and for our whole company to be part of this life-changing event,” Schewel says.
“I went from thinking this couldn’t be real to ‘this really is real!’” Gayle adds. “I’m very excited and very thankful for this opportunity.”
Plans for the Sweepstakes Money
Gayle says she plans to buy a Zero-Turn lawnmower, a new clothes dryer and the table she had been eyeing on Schewels’ website. “I kicked myself for not getting it,” she says. She expects some of the money to go toward her daughter Britny Clark’s wedding.
Gayle has this advice for anyone asked to enter a sweepstakes when visiting a website. “I can tell you I’ve never won anything like this before, but I kept putting in for them,” she says. “Keep doing it! There is that one chance of winning and it could be you, so just fill it out!”
Most PMCs have an established process for how they handle their leads. Just because that’s the way you’ve always done it, doesn’t mean it’s the best way today. The pandemic changed a lot for consumers. The need for isolation meant more needed to happen online, and consumers became more digital; embracing technology in new ways to research and purchase everything from groceries to cars. With so many people spending more time at home, a great many of them decided to relocate to a more suitable home, leading to a surge in leasing activity unlike anything we’ve seen before. With more young renters and those that are new digital buyers all looking for apartments at the same time, leasing activity began to shift to be more online.
As the volume of renters in the market rose, supply and demand changes forced those renters to begin exploring their options earlier. In fact, a recent PERQ study indicated nearly half of renters begin looking online 3 or more months in advance, a change over prior years’ result.
To compete today, you need to be very good at generating leads digitally and very good at nurturing those leads the way today’s modern renters wish to be engaged.
In our experience, it’s best to approach apartment rental lead generation and nurturing through experimentation and observation. But know that not every customer will react the same to the same marketing touch. Lead follow-up and conversions depend on where the customer is at in their buying journey and their personal communication preferences (more on that later.)
It’s time to remove the guesswork and apply these 20 creative techniques for rental leads.
1. TREAT YOUR WEBSITE LIKE YOUR TOP MARKETING CHANNEL
Recognize that your website is your greatest asset. When a website converts leads to leases, you get new lease revenue at a low cost, so having this perform well for you is paramount.
To get the most out of your website, you need to be able to engage in the ways that consumers now expect. Since today’s apartment shopper is looking months in advance and doing considerable research on their own before they are ready to tour, we need to be able to engage with them the way they want. They want to explore multiple properties, understand neighborhoods, compare floor plans and rental rates to develop a short list. And they want to do it 24/7/365. But multifamily teams are not equipped with the staff to engage with these shoppers in this way. It’s simply more than lean teams can handle.
Platforms like PERQ are designed to engage today’s digital renters. It’s natural language chatbot gathers info from the prospect and uses it to personalize the automated nurture messaging. PERQ can help guide the prospect in their shopping journey by showing them floor plans in their budget, units with amenities they are looking for, and answering their questions 24/7.
2. CREATE COMPELLING NEXT STEPS FOR THE PROSPECT
With AI technology, you’re able to create personalized interactions for the prospect based on their online behavior. Do they respond better to touches in SMS vs. email? AI software can proactively determine the next best touch.
By making the consumer journey more personalized and easier to follow for the prospect, they will become endeared to your brand.
3. INTERACTIVE TOOLS THAT INFORM
Signing a lease is a big financial and emotional commitment. Committing to paying a fixed rate every month and moving to a new location makes the decision to sign a lease with a property one that takes a lot of thought. Multifamily properties can help prospects in their decision-making process by having interactive online tools such as a rent calculator to give them an idea of total costs, including utilities, and a community-fit assessment so they can see upfront if the area has what they’re looking for without having to visit.
These sorts of interactive tools also help weed out low-intent leads from those that are serious and qualified to apply.
4. ENGAGE LEADS WITH VIDEO
Draw the customer in with a customized video on your website or in follow-up emails. From a tour of the community to a tour of the specific floor plans they were looking at, video increases traffic and interest.
“Prospective residents or shoppers can gather information online, engage with a video tour, and, for a growing number of consumers, that’s enough to make them convert or sign a lease. Video is the way to do that,” says Matt Weirich, Co-Founder and Chief Executive Officer of Realync, a video-leasing platform company that partners with PERQ to embed tour videos on our AI-powered website platform on multifamily property websites. Weirich goes more into the importance of video below:
5. SPECIAL PROMOTIONS
Build in special offers on your company’s website or in follow-up emails, but be sure those promotions are geared towards the floor plans and specific amenities the person is looking for in their next lease.
The goal is to entice a prospect and make them walk through your doors and say, ‘Hey, I have this offer I received on your website.”
6. AI CHATBOTS
Chatbots have become popular in the multifamily industry these past few years. Not only does an AI chatbot make your website more interactive, it can offer support and answer questions 24/7. Prospects don’t need to wait for the leasing office to open and can get what they are looking for much faster. The conversations a prospect has with the chatbot are also typically available in their guest card in the CRM, so leasing teams know what not to ask and can enter the initial conversation more prepared. With so many chatbots geared towards multifamily websites to choose from, knowing the main differences in how they “chat” is important.
There’s natural language chatbots and rule-based chatbots. Natural language chatbots are also called AI chatbots and they talk to prospects in a more natural way. For the prospect, they are having a real conversation, similar to that with a human, and can get their questions answered faster. With rules-based chatbots, prospects go through prompts that are set as “rules” and may or may not get their initial questions answered. Have you ever called customer service and got a robot menu telling you to “Press 1 for x, press 2 for…”? That’s the same logic as a rule-based chatbot except instead of a phone, the prospect is typing the answers on your website. This can be more frustrating. When looking between the two, a natural language chatbot gives a better user experience and therefore better customer service.
7. QUALIFIED LEADS ONLY
Not all people who visit your property website are ready to tour or even sign a lease. How they interact with your website provides insight into where they are in the leasing journey. Your messages to them need to appropriately match where they are in the leasing process.
PERQ’s lead generation and nurture platform uses AI technology to automate the management of your leads. It understands where a prospect is in the funnel and handles all the follow up, until your leads are ready to speak to a member of the team. Using this kind of technology helps to save time for your team. No more sifting through leads and hoping that the ones you’ve picked are serious and qualified to rent.
8. INTERACTIVE FLOOR PLANS
Prospects love a 3D interactive floor plan. It allows for them to fully picture the unit without having to visit in person. Whether it’s health or being located out of state, there are lots of reasons a serious prospect might not be able to come in and tour in person.
Above, we mentioned engaging through video in follow-up. The interactive floor plan models take this a step further to keep them engaged on your property website longer.
Prospects look at multiple property websites before deciding which ones to continue to engage with. The longer a prospect is on your website, the more data you can collect on them, and the more memorable your property will be. Having 3D floor plan models will help you stand out in a crowded market.
9. QUICK RESPONSE TIMES
Respond quickly to renter leads who are in the market rent now to increase your chances of catching the consumer while they’re still engaged. Immediately connecting with a qualified customer who is already on your site and engaged, decreases the chances they’ll go to a competitor’s website. One way to do this is with an AI leasing assistant solution, like the one in the PERQ platform. It keeps apartment rental leads engaged and answers their questions 24/7, so they don’t have to wait for business hours.
10. RESIDENT TESTIMONIALS & BLOGS
Having a blog for any kind of business is a good move. Sending outbound communications with resident testimonials and/or links to your blog posts about what it’s like to live in your community is a great way to personalize your multifamily outreach and give it a more human touch. While consumers expect automation now, it’s important to remember that there is an emotional aspect to renting.
These blogs and testimonials don’t need to be sent out with every touch; they can be added in when the prospect is closer to talking to a leasing specialist to help solidify their decision.
11. CONVENIENT SCHEDULING
Include scheduling tools on your website so serious prospects can easily arrange a tour of your apartment community.
Getting them to visit in person is more than half the battle to convert online leads. Let them make the first move, and conveniently do so on their own time. Talk about instant gratification!
12. A CLEAN CRM
A crowded and cluttered CRM is bad for any business. In multifamily, it leads to leads being lost or overlooked. A messy CRM takes up a lot of the leasing team’s time and gives them more work than they need. Having lead generation and nurture tools allows for only the high-intent apartment rental leads to be stored in your CRM.
A less crowded CRM that only has good leads in it means that leasing teams can do their jobs more efficiently and properly.
13. EMAIL, TEXT, OR PHONE?
Each customer prefers a specific way to communicate — phone, email, text, chat or in-person. To build trust, follow up with your customers via their preferred method of contact.
With the preferred method also comes a preferred time of day. Contacting serious leads during a time they have stated they are most likely to respond is equally important. According to PERQ data, nationally, renters prefer email follow-up in the morning. Read our article to learn other tips for effective text communication.
14. AUTOMATE LEAD FOLLOW-UP CAMPAIGNS
Use automated nurture campaigns tailored to the various stages of the leasing journey, so your team can dedicate their time where it counts – in person relationship building.
The best nurture approaches use more than one channel, like SMS and text and adjust the scheduled emails or text messages to automatically arrive at a cadence appropriate for each prospect.
15. INSIGHTFUL DATA TO BACK FOLLOW-UP
When the team is crafting a unique email to a prospect, be sure to include some personalized customer information. Leveraging in-depth customer data garnered from your website platform or CRM creates an instant connection with prospects and helps your salespeople start the conversation from a position of insight.
16. PAY ATTENTION TO INDUSTRY TRENDS
Smart website technology gives your company valuable consumer behavior insights. By regularly analyzing that data, you can spot trends and anticipate the evolving wants and needs in your market. Proactively sharing valuable content that highlights the latest trends in your industry or helpful advice can reignite their interest in your property by giving them a reason to think about you and helping them with research. Content such as “5 tips for hiring a moving company” or “What you should ask on a property tour” are great examples.
17. THE RIGHT CRM
The right CRM is of utmost importance when trying to collect, track and analyze large sets of consumer lead data. A lot happens in the digital space and it continues to evolve. Look for a data management system that provides valuable information you can sort and prioritize and works as an extension of your team.
“We utilize our CRM to leverage our data as best we can,” says Marcella Eppsteiner, Vice President of Marketing at Mission Rock Residential. “We overlay our website insights in terms of prospect engagement with a series of other data points, from our property management software and Google Analytics, just to better understand the activity of the consumer.”
18. LEVERAGE DATA TO INCREASE HIGHER QUALITY LEADS TO YOUR WEBSITE
As we discussed, you can capture a lot of data about a consumer, when they’re in the market to rent, for example, what amenities they want the most in an apartment; what they want in the community; and the activities they enjoy most. Leverage the most common answers in your digital engagement efforts to help you make decisions on site improvements and rental rates and use these to attract higher quality website visitors and retarget leads who already visited your site.
19. IMPROVE THE CONVERSATION
Your sales teams can learn a lot about leads on your website. Have them leverage the data in the CRM so they are more likely to close the sale, either by phone, chat, text, or email. Again, if a visitor told you they prefer a text, don’t make your first outreach a call. A text might start: “I saw you were looking at the two-bedroom floor plan with two-baths on our site, (Insert first name). Did you have any questions I can help you with? Being personable and helpful can go a long way.
20. DON’T FORGET TO SAY THANK YOU
In these times of advanced technology and digital messaging, people still appreciate when a company takes the time to send a handwritten thank-you note or follow up with a phone call after an initial in-person interaction. Connecting on a personal level is the touchstone of any creative lead follow-up strategy.
“Use emotional intelligence to handle interpersonal relationships with knowledge and care, while factoring in and understanding different circumstances impact lead follow-up,” says Catherine Azar, Director of Property Management for Barratt Asset Management. “Good salespeople are really important.”
PERQ integrates with your existing website and lead sources to engage, nurture and convert every lead, improving the multifamily leasing journey for everyone. Learn how PERQ it works or request a demo.