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 chatbot, 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 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.
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 it works or request a demo.
We all have that friend, co-worker or family member you call and email without success. Yet, text them and they answer right away. You’ve most likely figured out the best method and time to reach the important people in your life, and it’s probably not the same scenario for each one. This holds true for very important property rental leads in the multifamily space.
Technology allows us to bank, buy and browse at any hour every day of the week. Your prospects are looking for their next home when and how it is most convenient for them. Meeting your customers on their terms and timeline will build the trust necessary to close the deal. Sounds like you may be working around the clock? Not with the right technology, process and product.
What Technology Tells You About Customer Preferences
With the right technology, your prospect will leave a digital footprint. You know what area they are looking in, what size of living space they are looking for, and what amenities interest them. Most importantly, the way they engage with you indicates their preferred communication style, the time and day their search is top of mind, and it provides insight into how close they are to making a decision. An AI chatbot is an online chatbot that can live on your website and work around the clock so you don’t have to.
“With social media, chatbot software and artificial intelligence, prospects don’t want to wait for office hours or phone calls anymore,” says Catherine Azar, Director of Property Management with Barratt Asset Management, headquartered in Indianapolis and specializing in the acquisition and management of multifamily apartment communities. “They can immediately go onto your site and start selecting what they want. What’s important to our leads is that instant gratification and personalization tailored exactly to what they are looking for. Have an apartment home pop up for them that fits their needs and they are immediately engaged. They’re spending more time on your website and you become top of their list very quickly.”
Offering a wide range of communication and viewing options for your prospects keeps those high-priority leads engaged. “We make so many buying decisions using research tools online and consumers appreciate the convenience of not having to come into the office to fill out forms,” says Katrina Greene, Senior Regional Manager at Sheehan Property Management. “Virtual tours or video footage of the unit allow us to be more effective with our prospects who are out of state or even out of the country. They can make a confident buying decision without physically being on-site because they have seen the amenities, neighborhood and the unit via video.”
Matt Weirich, Co-Founder and CEO of Realync, a video-leasing platform company, believes prospects who view videos of the property will be closer to making a leasing decision by the time they come to visit the community. “After they watch the videos and go through the PERQ experience, they’ll be more qualified and more buy-ready,” Weirich says. “The leasing agent is still an important part of the process, because they instill trust in the property where the prospect will live.”
Barratt Asset Management embraces whatever platform the customer prefers. “The new communication channels have vastly impacted lead nurturing,” Azar says. ”We can do FaceTime calls and tours, and it’s really a game-changer. People from out of state can see your face and it provides comfortability and starts building that trust.”
Variety of Follow Up and the Lead Nurturing Process
Did you know that almost half of rental prospects prefer you reach out to them in the morning? PERQ analyzed national, regional and benchmark data from nearly 320 properties across the U.S., along with 93,000 consumer responses with 328,000 data points, and captured the latest renter insights in their Multifamily Field Guide.
“We are definitely seeing the same dynamics as what was found in PERQ’s prospect survey,” says Lisa Harris, Regional Manager for W3 Luxury Living, a property management company based in Colleyville, Texas. “Of course, you have to find out what they are looking for, which locations and what spaces are reflective of who they are and fits their budget.”
Azar finds that Thursdays are a good time to hit prospects who are close to making a decision. “The weekend is coming and they have a little more free time. You want to follow up at a time the prospect won’t be extremely busy.” Azar schedules her communications with prospects during their preferred time, even when it may be after regular hours.
Her lead nurturing process includes implementing a customized system to track their rental prospects. “Being consistent is paramount. It’s where we continue to build a professional relationship,” Azar says. She adds that prospect documentation is key to connecting with customers. “We work with a lot of people and it is important for us to remember everything specific to that prospect.”
Prioritizing your prospects helps when allocating time and deciding who to reach out to first. Prospects who have taken virtual or in-person tours, filled out an online pre-qualification application or utilized an expense calculator feature on the property website provide valuable information about where they are in the customer journey. Take advantage of automated lead nurture emails that include information personalized to the prospect based on their previous engagements on your website. Lead nurture emails will not only drive customers back to your website, but they will also help them connect with your company.
The best AI chatbot and the best chatbot software in general can handle these other tasks for you as well. Instead of just answering prospect questions 24/7, the best chatbot for website are the ones that can handle automated lead nurture and follow-up. PERQ’s AI chatbot handles all of this but also does it through your brand voice. This way prospects have a better experience with your follow-up messaging as it feels less robotic and uses the data it collected about them to know when to send a message and when to pull back. Chatbot software, like the one at PERQ, only hands of qualified leads to the onsite team that are ready to talk, tour, or lease, the AI chatbot handles the rest and manages your pipeline more efficiently.
In addition to technology, Azar stresses the value of emotional intelligence. “You have to be able to handle interpersonal relationships with knowledge and care, while understanding that each prospect has different moving circumstances — there’s never a one size fits all.”
When the Furniture Mall of Kansas website switched from live chat to the online “Ask a Question” text tool, the home furnishings retail store immediately noticed a difference in the type of shopper who engaged and experienced a spike in the number of leads ready to talk to a salesperson.
“It has went very well,” Internet Specialist Joey Weathers says of the change. “We’re getting actual inquiries that are more in-depth questions, so it shows that guests are more interested.”
Since introducing the Ask a Question chat-to-text tool online, the percentage of web leads requesting more information and engaging with the sales staff has nearly tripled for Furniture Mall of Kansas — jumping from 7% to 19% of online leads captured.
Text Messages Sent to Shoppers Get Better Response
Weathers says he thinks the texting tool is more effective because the store’s answer is delivered directly to the shopper’s phone, versus an online chat option that requires users to stay logged onto an internet browser in order to get a response or continue a conversation. Once a shopper leaves a live chat platform, the store often lacks a way to follow up with that consumer, who must start the process all over when they initiate another online chat session.
“I think people prefer text messaging. The responses go directly to their cell phone, which everyone has in front of them all of the time,” he says. “They see it immediately. They don’t have to search for it, and they respond better than with just an email or live chat.”
Before, the live chat feature on the Furniture Mall of Kansas website mainly attracted questions related to service, whereas the new Ask a Question feature engages shoppers who are ready to buy and have questions for the sales team. Since launching Ask a Question toward the end of July 2019, Weathers says the number of questions they receive each month keeps growing.
“A lot of them are further down the funnel,” Weathers says of the leads collected through Ask a Question. “Now, we can keep the conversation going a lot easier and for much longer. It’s a real positive for us.”
Bryan Scott, President of Big Sandy Home Furnishings Superstore, agrees that Ask a Question targets the ideal low-funnel shoppers who visit the store website. While Big Sandy gets fewer requests than when they used live chat, Scott says the newer chat-to-text tool is “much more effective.” It’s doubled the percentage of online leads who indicated they’re ready to speak to a Big Sandy sales representative.
“We’re not getting just one question and then disengaging,” Scott says. “They’re further along in the buying cycle. When they have interest and are actually engaging, those are serious shoppers and we’re actively closing those sales.”
Texting Interface Tied to Marketing Cloud Tracks Sales, Staff Performance
Each consumer who interacts with the texting interface automatically enters the store’s lead management system, which is connected through an AI-powered Marketing Cloud. The smart CRM system remembers details about shoppers and recognizes them every time they visit the website or engage with the store in any way, no matter what platform or digital device they use.
That level of tracking delivers powerful data analytics that show which digital marketing efforts convert best and at what cost, as well as measure the performance of the sales staff.
“We’re actually able to track how many questions we get a month, a week, etc. For example, we received 134 Ask a Question leads in one month,” says Tim Whitaker, Sales Manager at Furniture Mall of Kansas. “I can go back in and see 15% of those actually purchased. Anytime you can directly measure how something’s performing, that’s very valuable insight.”
The cloud-based CRM automatically assigns returning visitors to the last salesperson they interacted with, providing customers with a personalized experienced that can continue in the store’s showroom with the same sales specialist. The sales team appreciates the opportunities that continuity provides as they work to close the sale and build a relationship with customers.
“I think that’s just a fantastic tool,” Whitaker says. “Joey and I are able to make sure all of those guests are assigned to certain sales specialists at either location. And we’re able to make sure the specialists are actually following up with those guests, so we’re able to oversee all of their communications via Ask a Question as well. It holds them more accountable.”
Ask a Question Offers Sales Specialists Tools to Better Nurture Leads
Texting gives the sales team an easy, quick way to engage leads and answer their specific questions, which improves their odds of converting those online leads into in-store purchases. Each sales associate logs in to the store’s CRM through a mobile app to see assigned leads, along with all of the consumer data gathered on those shoppers as they engage with the interactive website features like Ask a Question.
“It helps us build that relationship before they come in the door, because we know all about them,” Scott says. “It’s a powerful piece to get them to engage and keep browsing, and it gives the in-store salesperson powerful ammunition.”
Sales specialists can then conveniently send leads relevant pictures or video of inventory with text messages right from their mobile phones to add value and personalization to the conversation. The Ask a Question text tool also gives the sales department more time to do some research or check inventory for an inquiring consumer — versus a live chat platform that requires an instantaneous response by someone glued to the screen until the conversation ends.
“It’s made our sales team and stores more efficient,” Scott says of the texting tool and cloud-connected CRM system. “They’ve got to feel like there’s somebody on the other end. These are hot consumer leads. They want an instant response, and then we filter them to our chat team, which we can now more efficiently staff with a higher level of agent.”
The AI technology that powers Ask a Question automatically sends a customized response to an inquiring consumer to acknowledge receipt of the question. The store staff follows up by text (or whichever preferred communication method the shopper picks when submitting a question, including email or phone) to deliver a more in-depth, thought-out response to their question.
“It gives us time to get back to the guest, to do our research and make sure we give the correct answer,” Weathers says.
Weathers and Whitaker emphasize to their sales team the importance of responding quickly and accurately to online inquiries in order to create a great first impression and establish a connection with consumers, before they move on to a competitor’s website. Once they’ve captured their attention, it’s time to present a call to action and entice the online shopper to come into the store. Ultimately, Whitaker says, the No. 1 goal of the internet team is to inspire shoppers to visit the showroom in person.
“More people are shopping online prior to going into any store,” Whitaker says. “We’ve got to respond efficiently and get all of their questions answered in a timely manner. That’s key, because if we don’t do that, they’re already on to some other website.”
Building any kind of relationship, personal or professional, takes time and effort. With the vast majority of consumers starting their research online before investing in a big-ticket purchase, it’s more important than ever to find new ways to start building that trust and commitment to your brand from the moment they click on the company website.
Upping your website game as well as upgrading the internal tools your team uses to analyze and organize online consumer data will help you stand out from the crowd and close more sales. An AI-driven website paired with personalized lead follow-up gives your online customers a shopping experience that’s comparable to the dedicated service they’ll receive when they finally visit in person.
To unlock a top-notch consumer journey for your online leads, keep in mind these 4 keys to forming a successful relationship from the get-go.
1. Prioritize Leads and Important Information
Improving the lead follow-up process starts with collecting better data on each online consumer who visits the website or clicks on a digital ad. Add interactive web experiences to increase engagement with your brand and also gain opportunities to learn more about each consumer who engages with the quizzes, incentives and digital tools you add to the site.
By tying an AI-driven interactive website to a marketing cloud and aggregating all online consumer data in a CRM system, companies can store all consumer data in a centralized spot for better analysis and lead organization. A quality CRM can help your sales team sort leads and prioritize consumers ready to take action right away, and track every touchpoint along the way.
“We utilize our CRM to leverage our data as best we can,” says Marcella Eppsteiner, Vice President of Marketing at Mission Rock Residential, headquartered in Denver. “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.”
2. Personalize Lead Follow-Up
Knowing exactly which experiences a lead interacted with online and seeing what they’re searching for on the website gives your team a leg up on the lead follow-up process. The sales team can personalize their responses and tailor the information they provide the consumer to prioritize what features they indicated online they’re most interested in. Feeling like you already know them and their preferences helps establish a relationship with the consumer before you ever meet in person.
“It helps be more personable in our responses,” says Chris Berry, Senior Regional Manager at First Communities based in Atlanta. “We’re able to tailor our response, whether it be in an email or a phone call. I encourage my team to use that information gathered on the website, and don’t just send a cookie cutter response telling them something they already know.”
To eliminate the extra work for your sales team, consider automating email or text nurturing through a marketing cloud and CRM database. When connected to an AI-driven CRM, automated emails and text messages are personalized based on each consumer’s information and timeframe for purchasing.
3. Communicate with Consumers on Their Terms
Do you know what time of day your customers prefer to be contacted and their preferred method of communication? That’s valuable lead information that’s unique to your industry and market, so be sure to collect that data whenever possible.
For the multifamily industry, PERQ online data shows 48% of prospects prefer to be contacted in the morning hours and 54% like emails from properties over other forms of communication. Emails tops the list for the majority of home furnishing customers PERQ surveyed as well, although the data shows text is quickly becoming a favored form of communication for consumers across all industries.
However, every person is different. You know that friend who always responds to texts with an unwarranted phone call and leaves voicemails you never check? Don’t cross that miscommunication line as a company trying to connect on a personal level with a consumer.
To increase your chance of successfully building a lasting relationship, offer a variety of communication avenues for consumers who wish to reach out to your company with questions or to gather additional details, such as an online chat-to-text tool in addition to email and phone options.
4. Manage Leads Through Entire Consumer Journey
Consumers who divulge personal information and devote significant time when researching on a company’s website expect you’ll reciprocate in the relationship, giving them something in return. Reward their commitment with relevant incentives to entice them to take the next step, and offer them your team’s industry knowledge and personalized advice to make them feel like they have a friend in the business.
“That’s where customer service and a more tailored leasing experience — and resident experience — becomes crucial,” Eppsteiner says. “That’s the only way you can compete with a new build or a bigger company with a bigger budget.”
Utilize technology to follow leads throughout the consumer journey, touching base every step of the way to offer helpful guidance. Continue that commitment to concierge-type customer service beyond the lease or sale and build long-term loyalty that only comes with time and consistent work.
Scott says being able to track the entire buying journey online makes all the difference when trying to connect with a customer. “It helps us build that relationship with the consumer before they actually come through the door,” he says. “We know all about them and we’re able to build trust.”
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 it works or request a demo.
Home Furniture retailers trying to fight Wayfair or Amazon at their game is poor business strategy. Good strategy: look at your advantages and try to bring those weapons into the battle. For the brick and mortar retailers, those weapons are local stores and helpful salespeople designed to win the fight for the larger and more complex furniture purchase.
Let’s agree that brick and mortar stores shouldn’t be looking at their website and trying to compete against the giant players in e-commerce. If the consumer is looking to spend less than $200 for a table lamp to throw into the guest room before company arrives the following day, the battle to win this definite e-commerce purchase is a losing game.
Wayfair’s average ticket price is $250, and we know the normal brick and mortar PERQ client averages $1,500+. Why? Because the consumer WANTS to take advantage of the built-in advantages of a local store and salespeople when they’re making a larger purchase.
The key is to bring your “weapons” into the process when a consumer is still at home researching a purchase online. Every brick and mortar retailer should look at their website and ask: “What can I do to leverage my website to help the consumer decide to purchase from me in-store?”
Below are my top 5 tips for how to bridge the website to in-store shopping process and have your website lead to more revenue:
1. Generate sales opportunities for your staff through your home furnishings website
The pictures of your products, details and price are just initial steps in the digital to in-person transaction process. These are the normal website tips. But, you must have a way to turn anonymous website visitors into actionable customers with real information about them. These are “Digital Ups”. With tools and quizzes you can learn a lot of information about each visitor: what they’re interested in, when they’re in the market to buy and much more.
Your sales team can now reach out during down times and build actual relationships with “Digital Ups” leveraging that unique shopper data. This is what you do in your store when you greet each in-person — you greet each person and ask them questions to get to know what they’re looking for. You must do this on your website as well. It works and it is a way to let salespeople produce more sales versus complaining there isn’t anyone in the store on a 10 a.m. on a Thursday.
2. Use your website to facilitate an easy conversation between the consumer and your home furnishings sales team
E-mail and Live Chat used to be the way to communicate with consumers online, but that is no longer the case. We highly recommend to our clients that they have text communication in place. Texting a consumer is a much more natural way to communicate now.
Scott Hill, PERQ co-founder Texting a consumer is a much more natural way to communicate now, and you want to communicate with consumers the same way you would a friend. When is the last time you were e-mailing or in a “live chat” box with one of your friends?
Make it easy for shoppers to engage in a deeper and more prolonged conversation with your staff that can help them make decisions prior to coming into the store. Texting makes it easier on the consumer and your staff to get the help needed and build a relationship that can lead to an in-store visit.
3. Leverage lead scoring and personalized automation
Your sales team will not be able to have an actual conversation with every “Digital Up” you generate from your website. You need to have a way to prioritize Digital Ups into which ones will receive follow up from your staff and which ones will receive automated email messaging personalized to the consumer.
With today’s technology, there is no excuse to just be sending blast e-mails once a month. When someone has engaged on your website, you now should have everything you need to set up the right personalized automated email messaging designed to nurture them into being ready for a conversation with a member of your sales team.
4. Create a “VIP Appointment” process
With all of these conversations your sales team is having with prospects before they come into the store, you need to have a way to make it easy for them to take the next step and visit.
Allow shoppers to set a “VIP Appointment” where they receive special treatment and a faster experience. Let them know you will be waiting for them, have some recommendations ready, drink of their choice, financing approval already done, etc.
5. Take advantage of a CRM to handle the organization/ communication of all the sales opportunities from your website
Everything mentioned above will require a quality CRM. For pure in-store customers, you might have been able to handle the potential buyers, but to efficiently handle a high volume of “Digital Ups” and help shoppers come into the store, you need a better way to organize and keep track of leads.
A CRM platform helps you determine which prospects to reach out to first, gives messaging recommendations, enables text messaging, gives performance reporting, etc. It becomes your Digital Sales Manager, making it easier for you and your sales team to follow up with shoppers.
The process of how to take your website to be a great tool to get consumers to come into the store was solved by the automotive industry first (and where these 5 tips originally came from)! They created the technology and process to help their staff connect to consumers on the website looking for help when making a purchasing decision. Take advantage of tips to make your website the best it can be for consumers so you can win the online to in-store battle.
See How Much the PERQ CRM Costs Home Furnishings Retailers to Manage Leads: SEE PRICING
Texting customers became a business norm almost overnight, with more consumers than ever saying they prefer a text over a phone call. When PERQ recently surveyed thousands of home furnishing shoppers searching retail store websites, 13.5% picked text messaging as their preferred method of contact and only 7.5% chose phone calls as their top choice.
Email remained the clear winner, with 79% of online furniture shoppers choosing that option in PERQ’s survey. However, digital marketing experts predict marketing emails will soon saturate consumers’ inboxes and spur a surge in the use of text messaging to reach leads. Text is already proving to be more effective than emails.
Recent marketing studies estimate that at a 90% open rate, SMS (short message service) performs nearly 5 times better than B2C emails, which average around a 20% open rate. Those same studies found text messages sent to customers get 7.5 times more responses than emails, with a 45% response rate for SMS versus 6% for email.
A couple of years ago, it seemed intrusive if a salesperson texted you. By being one of the first in your market to offer SMS, online chat or text conversations, your home furnishings store can capitalize on this accelerating texting trend, making it easier for customers to immediately connect with your knowledgeable staff and quickly convert into an in-store sale.
“Monitoring and engaging through text requires a resource investment for retailers, but the choice is either to engage it or make peace with the fact you’ll lose that customer to a competitor who is willing to invest in it,” says Dave Weiss, Marketing Manager at Sherman’s, a furniture retailer in central Illinois who uses a variety of text messaging platforms to communicate with customers.
If you already talk to your customers via text or plan to add the option in the near future, here are 3 tips to make sure you are effective as possible when communicating with text messaging.
1. Don’t Assume All Shoppers Prefer Text Messages
While texting is blowing up in the world of digital marketing and B2C communication, not all consumers prefer text over email and telephone, and some only like it for certain parts of the sales process, like setting up a delivery. Don’t make assumptions and start sending unsolicited text messages to every lead you get.
Shoppers Adam and Angela Wire say they personally prefer to shop local at a store that specializes in what they’re seeking and rarely buy from generalized online e-commerce sites like Amazon. Born at the tailend of Generation X, which witnessed the digital revolution and remember a time without smartphones, internet and home computers, they’re the shoppers in their late 30s and early 40s who straddle the technology divide and still find value in simpler sales methods. They still start their search for big-ticket items online, narrowing down their options before visiting a handful of retailers to make a final decision.
The Indianapolis couple recently bought a new couch, recliner and dining room set. “We looked at options online beforehand, comparing various local furniture stores. I always do this for larger items like a car or appliances,” Adam says. “We communicated with the furniture store on delivery set-up via text message and that went well, but I’m only OK with that if I tell a retailer to communicate with me via text. I have no desire for a company to ever try to sell me anything or initiate conversation with me through texting unless I ask them to do so.”
Weiss advises retailers to follow that same philosophy. “At this time, we don’t use text as a promotional outbound vehicle like we use email,” he says. “Texting is far more personal and disruptive, so we view it as more of an inbound lead channel or for customer service inquiries.”
2. Ask Online Shoppers Which Communication Method They Prefer
Start where shoppers start, online. By integrating AI software on your website, you can discreetly ask online shoppers which communication mode they prefer along with other personal information your sales associates can use to better nurture and convert the lead.
Find out how they prefer to communicate with your sales team, and respect their response by using that mode when initiating the initial contact with an online lead. “It’s our responsibility as retailers to adapt to however customers wish to communicate with us, and they have certainly shown that text is now a preferred channel,” Weiss says. “More broadly, I don’t think texting is great for all customers, but there are many who find it the most convenient way to get quick answers to simple questions.”
Sherman’s uses a mix of web chat, Google text through mobile listings, and Facebook Messenger to communicate with customers who initiate contact through those inbound streams. “We text review invites after delivery, and see a much higher response rate with text than we used to with email alone,” Weiss says. “Many customers choose to keep that review invite text thread open and ask follow-up questions after the sale.”
3. Use Marketing Automation and Templates for Text Nurture
John Neal Jr., Vice President at Neal’s Furniture in Oklahoma, says his stores also experience a much higher customer interaction rate when utilizing text messages as opposed to emails and phone calls, and successfully convert many of their text leads into store sales.
“A text message does not demand your attention so it’s naturally less obtrusive than a phone call, but still just as personal. A customer can respond if and when they decide to,” says Neal Jr. “A sales associate has the added benefit of tracking past conversations and referencing them as needed.”
Neal’s Furniture developed templated responses for responding to specific kinds of customer text messages and simply add a new template if they encounter a new scenario without a proper response saved in the system. “That automation allows for quick and efficient responses, while not demanding much time or mental strain,” says Neal Jr. “If we receive a message after hours, the customer will receive an automated message letting them know we are closed and that we will get back with them as soon as possible.”
His staff can see incoming customer texts from their phones, and can even choose to respond to a request when the store is closed. A Neal sales associate recently converted an online lead into an in-store sale in less than 24 hours by immediately responding to a consumer’s question sent by text message after hours on a Sunday.
“As a whole, text message conversations used for follow-ups and initial conversations have been received by our customers and sales staff as a benefit, if not a preferred method,” says Neal Jr. “Conversations, pictures, receipts, quotes, reviews, emojis, etc. can be sent directly to the device that the customer uses all day and lives in their pocket! Why wouldn’t that be the way businesses talk to their customers?”