Closings should never be the end of your relationships. Try out these techniques to build on what you’ve already started — and turn your clients into your best marketing tool.

It’s a Sunday afternoon and people are coming from near and far to get a glimpse of the one-of-a-kind, 33,000-square-foot home. The enticing smells of hamburgers and hot dogs are wafting from a food truck, hired by the listing agent to provide free food. There’s even a videographer on hand to capture the event for Luz Abreu, broker of Home Miami Realtors.

Her over-the-top open houses are an ideal way to meet new prospects, but that’s just the beginning. Using follow-up skills that she honed through her training with Irvine, Calif.-based real estate coach Tom Ferry, Abreu then starts developing relationships. Her goal? To turn those prospects into customers and active parts of her referral network.

“My Contactually CRM helps me,” she explains. “Depending on the type of contact — new leads, buyers, sellers, agent-to-agent referral network or people I meet at networking events — the system will tell me how often to call, email or text.”

Closings should not be farewells

Follow-up processes like Abreu’s aren’t common, even after sales, says Larry Kendall, author of Ninja Selling and chairman emeritus of The Group, Inc. Real Estate.

He cites the most recent Zillow Group Consumer Housing Trends Report in which 74 percent of the 13,249 consumers surveyed said they never heard from their agent after the sale.

“It’s clear [that] most [real estate professionals] have a transaction focus instead of a relationship focus,” Kendall says. “[That leaves] consumers ripe for Internet lead generation, capture and conversion, even though they would prefer to work with someone they know or a referral.”

In fact, says Ferry, “The real estate industry is basically under attack by disrupters, disintermediators, hybrids and well-funded new companies that spend $15 billion on advertising designed to attract your prospects with a more compelling offer.” If you don’t step up your game, he warns, you’ll be “outpositioned, outmarketed and outspent by super-sophisticated data-driven marketers.”

Ferry’s advice? “Do something that really stands out.” That includes using a customer relationship management (CRM) system to store your prospect information and track your interactions to help automate follow-up. Then, categorize your contacts and assign them to a program that prompts you when it’s time to reach out. You can also keep notes about your conversations and refer to them the next time you call.

Here’s how four successful real estate professionals stay top of mind with their customer bases.

Idea 1: Pick up the phone.

Why it works: The de facto method of communication today is email, text or IM (instant messaging), but a live one-on-one phone conversation creates a sense of immediacy and warmth that is often missing in electronic messages.

Leon Abood, broker-sales associate at Premier Realty Group in Stuart, makes phone calls part of his daily routine. “After 30-plus years in the business, I have a robust database,” he says, adding that he schedules 15 to 20 hours per week for phone calls. “This helps me knock out 100 to 150 calls per week.”

He never knows where business may come from. “One call that sticks out is a conversation I had with the owner of an insurance company, with whom I’d been leaving voicemails for months. He answers one day and says, ‘Leon, I was just thinking of you because a friend of mine isn’t happy with his listing agent.’” The two men connected; Abood listed the home and sold it in 30 days. “Then, [the seller] bought a million-dollar home with my assistance,” he says.

Expert advice: Ferry recommends regularly calling your entire database and asking, ‘Have you had any thoughts of selling in 2019 or 2020?’ “Listen for the subtle ‘um’ because it usually means maybe,” he says. “Even if they say, ‘No, we love this place’ or ‘We just moved here three years ago,’ you need to call every six months because people get divorced, transfer jobs or change their minds. Another brilliant question to ask is, ‘Who do you know that tried to sell but it didn’t work out?’”

Idea 2: Use the FORD method in conversations.

Why it works: Talking about “Family, Occupation, Recreation and Dreams” (FORD) is a technique intended to help people feel comfortable speaking about themselves.

To get more than a one-time referral, you need to create trust like you would with a family member, says Roger Pettingell, associate broker of Coldwell Banker Residential Real Estate in Longboat Key, whose top contacts are placed in what he refers to as his “Aunt Sally” group. “We communicate with them the same way we would with our aunt, which is basically once a month—forever,” he says. “Our letters and emails are almost familial; we aren’t asking for business. For instance, we might remind them to [update] their home inventories and provide the name of a service that does it. There has to be some value when you communicate with these people.”

“In the course of every conversation, ask people about their family and friends, upcoming trips, their job or what dreams they have,” Abood says. “When you show genuine interest, you demonstrate that you’re not just somebody else chasing them for money.” The more people trust you, the more they will vouch for your professionalism and refer you when they hear of someone needing to buy or sell.

“The heart of the follow-up is knowing people and caring about them,” says Tansy Moon, who gets 100 percent of her business from referrals. “I do a lot of handwritten thank-you cards, which started out as me thanking people for being in my life. Being transparent has been the biggest key to this business for me. It builds relationships,” says the sales associate with Berkshire Hathaway Home Services Florida Network Realty in Atlantic Beach.

Expert advice: “Never underestimate the power of going deep with people,” Ferry says. “The ability to read people, connect emotionally or move them forward in their lives—with authentic empathy—are skills that get agents truckloads of referrals.”

Kendall agrees. “When sales associates stop doing their phone calls, they fall into a slump. The best slump-busting technique I’ve found over the years is to encourage sales associates to conduct 50 live interviews (face-to-face or voice-to-voice) in one week. Use the FORD method when speaking with them.”

Idea 3: Tap Into the power of social media.

Why it works: Moon is active on social media. “Typically, when a client buys or sells, I’m going to take a photo of something fun, like them jumping up and down in front of their new home, and post it,” she says. When the photo appears in her feed a year later, she can send a reminder. “I’ll say something like, ‘Can you believe it’s been a year?’ or however long ago. Knowing I remembered the anniversary of buying their house means so much. When I see that it’s somebody’s birthday, I will reach out via phone or text instead of just on Facebook.”

Expert advice: “You should be following all of your databases on the social sites that matter most to them and commenting, engaging, recognizing and sharing things that they are doing or saying,” Ferry says.

Idea 4: Invite customers out, socially.

Why it works: Being face-to-face in a social setting with your customers gives you another opportunity to understand them.

Each December, Abreu’s office hosts a client appreciation party. “We have live music, great food, Santa Claus and a photo booth,” she says. “I told [one of my customers] that it’s a way for me to say thank you for trusting me, thinking about me and sending me your referrals.

Abood’s office also holds annual customer appreciation galas during the holidays. “We’ve done this for almost 20 years,” he says. “About 200 invitations go out and usually 60 to 100 people come. It’s not unusual for someone to walk up to me at the party, hand me the keys to their home and ask me to put it on the market.”

Expert advice: “If being social is in your DNA, host at least two major events a year for your top 25 to 50 referring customers,” Ferry says. “You could do dinner at a hot restaurant they couldn’t get into, buy a couple of charity event tables or hire a thought leader to speak to your group.” He also recommends taking these loyal customers to lunch at least twice a year—and asking them to bring three or four of their colleagues. “The hook is that it’s not just lunch,” he says. “Tell them you want to get to know more people and, of course, you’ll cover the expense.”

Idea 5: Put sincere thought into gift-giving.

Why it works: Find out what matters most to people and give accordingly. For 18 years, Pettingell has given his best customers Thanksgiving pies. “We work with a local Amish bakery called Yoder’s that has amazing pies,” he says. “People count on it every year. It’s great for business because they have to come to the office to pick up the pie.”

Abreu takes gifts to her customers during the weeks of Valentine’s Day and Mother’s Day. Those who miss her holiday party receive a hand-delivered token of appreciation. “I took one woman a cake. When she opened the door, she said, ‘Luz, what are you doing here?’ As I handed her the cake and said I was sorry she missed my party, she had tears in her eyes.”

Expert advice: “I talk to America’s best real estate agents and one out of 10 asks what I recommend for closing gifts,” Ferry says in disbelief. Gifts are only effective if they’re tailored to each customer, he says, offering an example of the power of personalization: “Michael Ovitz, co-founder of Creative Artists Agency, [became a success] by taking detailed notes on what mattered most to literally thousands of people and making them feel intimately special. That got him 70 percent of the market share [in Hollywood].”

During your FORD conversations, take notes so you’ll have something to go on when deciding on an impactful gift. “When you make people feel important, the law of reciprocity kicks in and they’ll ask what they can do for you,” Ferry says.

Idea 6: Liven up emails with video.

Why it works: Abreu uses BombBomb Prompt, a service that lets her create video emails right in her Gmail account. “I can upload a video and say, ‘Hello, this is Luz. I just wanted to see how you are.’ It’s a great tool for situations where somebody met me at a conference and might not remember me—until they see my video.”

She says that it’s especially effective in multiple offer situations where she sends a video that discusses why the buyers want the home. “I send a BombBomb video and get a notification [when] they open it.”

Expert advice: “We are suffering from an epidemic of facelessness today,” Ferry says. “I get hundreds of emails and texts every day and thousands of direct messages, but when somebody sends me a video, it stands out.

BombBomb Prompt is technically an automatic drip campaign, but it lets you customize and personalize it. There’s a big difference between someone getting a ‘me-mail’ that says, ‘Hey Joe, it was super great to talk to you. Let me know if there’s anything I can do in the future,’ versus a plain email, even if it’s interesting and valuable.”

“The moral here is that once you get a client, you never let them go,” Abood says. “Always follow up. Show interest in their family and things other than real estate, and the real estate will evolve.” #

Leslie C. Stone is a Vero Beach-based freelance writer.