Serving Up E-Success

By Christopher M. Leporini, REALTOR® Magazine

What does selling real estate have in common with selling hamburgers? On the surface, not very much, unless you plan on asking buyers if they’d like to supersize their condo. But real estate practitioners can learn from the marketing strategies employed by Wendy’s founder Dave Thomas, to add the personalization and speed of response that the Internet marketplace demands, argues speaker, author, and former fast food franchise owner G. Liam Thompson. His book, E-Business to Go: Insider Secrets to Make Your Small Business a Big Business on the Internet (Appallaso Publishing, 2001. $17.95) uses Dave Thomas’s revolutionary fast food business model as a template for achieving e-business success.

Written in a light, accessible tone, the book outlines how such ideas as delivering products fast or not at all, giving free value-added services, and knowing your customers are transferable to any business. E-Business to Go is divided into two sections: the first describes the ingredients of a successful e-business; the second examines the role of outside vendors in creating Web presences.

Real estate salespeople will probably find the first section more useful because it focuses on delivering customer service over the Internet. The book takes a largely theoretical approach to the material, but there is some solid content that readers can use to gauge their site’s effectiveness. For instance, one of the book’s most useful features is its “Power Tests for Your E-Business.” Placed at the end of each chapter, these concise self-evaluations provide valuable questions that you should be asking yourself about your site.

For instance, a quiz titled “How Well Do You Fix Mistakes?” advises users to do the following:

  • Ask a friend to contact your site’s customer service or help desk and describe a fictitious problem. Then evaluate the response in terms of speed, personalized attention, process resolution, and follow-up.
  • Have a staff member analyze your site as a first-time visitor, and list every occasion where a promise or commitment is made. (For instance, that e-mails will be responded to by the end of the day.) Periodically test these areas to see how effectively these promises are being carried out.

The author launches most chapters with an anecdote from his fast food days, then explains how the story applies to e-business. To explain the value of one-to-one personal marketing, Thompson relates how Wendy’s servers took the time to learn customers’ name and to remember their regular orders, building customer loyalty. “Here’s the way I like to put it. If you know my name, AND you know my preferences, you know I’ll be back,” he says. Real estate salespeople can implement personal relationships through such tools as membership clubs and other permission-based marketing. Membership (or loyalty) clubs, in which practitioners form alliances with local businesses and offer discounts or free products to customers who join, create a sense of belonging among clients.

The book’s second section takes a look at application service providers and their effect on e-business, particularly the Internet site builder programs he describes as “apps on tap.” These Internet programs build, host, and maintain user’s sites. For instance, it might include templates for building a site and 24 hour site maintenance and tech support. This has allowed users who otherwise might not be able to create a web site, due to lack of time, resources, or experience to create workable e-businesses. The book concludes with comprehensive reviews of these sites, including ratings on pricing, features, and design options.

Overall, the book serves as a solid introduction to the principles behind marketing over the Internet. And the light tone and offbeat fast-food stories the topic easier to digest. Experienced e-marketers will probably find the book too basic, as if they had ordered a Whopper and came away with a kid’s meal.

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This post was contributed exclusively for REALTOR® Magazine.

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