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The Story of Rufus: Why Internet Leads Are a Money Pit

Posted by Isabel Affinito on Wednesday, June 26th, 2019 at 12:41am

A few years ago, I got a secondary cell phone number. My primary cell is a 973 area code, which is North Jersey. I went onto my husband's family plan about a decade ago, and decided to keep the number even after we moved out of North Jersey and to Austin, Texas.

As a salesperson who makes lots of outgoing calls, I found that my North Jersey area code confused the heck out of everyone.

I'd get this: "So... I almost didn't answer because of your area code. Are you actually in Austin, or... what??"

I figured it might be hurting my answer rate, so I got a 512 number, an Austin area code, to see if my answer rate would go up.

What I didn't bargain for was that the number was recycled from a ne'er-do-well. His name was Rufus.

Soon after getting the new phone number, my phone began ringing off the hook. Rufus had won a free cruise! Rufus was in collections. Rufus forgot to pick his daughter up from school. Rufus was invited to a night out with the boys to play tummies. (Which sounded creepy as all get out.)

Rufus had an interesting friend group. Rufus had also signed up for everything under the sun. Coupons, sweepstakes, home flipping seminars, male enhancement pills and devices, and real estate ads to name a few. And Rufus had also wracked up a lot of debt that he wasn't paying.

All of this presents a big problem for real estate agents.

As an industry, we're chasing internet leads. We're told that they're the wave of the future, that we need to work them to say in business, and that we should pay Zillow and Google Ad Words and Facebook marketing experts to get them.

If you haven't really worked internet leads, allow me to deliver a piece of bad news that will save you thousands of dollars.

They're mostly Rufuses.

If you have worked internet leads, you already know this.

I worked cold leads for years as the main source of my business. I started in Hoboken, New Jersey right out of college when my peers had no money. Then we moved to Austin and I started over with no sphere. So I'm here to tell you that you can, in fact, convert internet leads into closings.

It's just hard. And you're going to get a lot of Rufuses.

For every hundred leads you get, you'll get about 60 Rufuses with time on their hands, a "why not?" attitude to every online offer, and a credit score so low you'll think it's a suggested cooking temperature for casserole. On the bright side, they'll never answer your call, because their cell phone got cut off when they didn't pay the phone bill.

You'll get 30 people who have completely forgotten they opted in in the first place.

You'll get 5 people who never signed up. They are being pranked by a friend or punished by a disgruntled ex-employee who is getting revenge by enlisting people like me to spam their personal cell phone and email.

The last 5 might answer one of your many calls and emails, might be a real person, and might actually be a buyer or seller. If you're lucky, one of the hundred will sound vaguely promising, and won't hang up on you or yell at you.

At that rate, you might as well cold call right out of the phone book. I've done that too with similar success rates. Sometimes better.

These days, I don't pay for any online leads. I know I don't have the time, money or energy to commit to really figuring it out. I focus my efforts on staying in touch with past clients, asking for and nurturing referrals, throwing parties, doing open houses and socializing with my sphere who, luckily, are not Rufuses. That I know of.

One reason, of many, that I moved to Spyglass this year was because of their internet leads. That probably sounds like quite a head scratcher, so allow me to explain. My broker, Ryan, has spent years figuring out how to nurture and convert online leads. He uses blogs, and email drips, and re-targetting and call centers and all kinds of things I don't even understand nor do I want to. He is constantly paying attention to which leads sources work, and which don't. Should we spend more on Facebook ads, or Google Ad Words? Which ISA company is best for us? How many times do we need to call and email these people before they convert? I find these questions exhausting, and I'm grateful he finds them exhilarating.

And I don't have to pay for any of it.

So any time my existing sphere of influence isn't returning as much business as I'd like, I know I can dive into our database of 18,000+ leads, make a few calls, and hope I get lucky and land on a person who isn't Rufus.

Last week, I set a listing appointment that way by making 12 phone calls. It was awesome.

Getting lots of internet leads is very easy, so be wary of any lead service or broker who pitches lead volume as their main offering. If you're talking to someone who is willing to admit that their leads are mostly Rufus, and displays a passion for converting internet leads anyway, then pay attention. That person is onto something.

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