One of the most important aspects of running a successful estate or letting agency is being able to generate new business consistently.
There are now in excess of 25,000 estate agency business across the country, according to accountancy firm Moore Stephens.
With more onliners pushing down the average commission fee and a ban on up-front letting agents’ fees to come next year, it's arguably the most challenging market agents have experienced in recent years.
Increased competition and challenges means taking on new business becomes more difficult and even more crucial.
Passing trade, client referrals and print or leaflet marketing campaigns remain effective traditional methods of generating new vendor and landlord leads. However, it's increasingly important to use your digital channels to target prospective clients. Email campaigns, live chat and social media marketing are some of the most popular digital tools adopted by agents but providing instant online valuations on your website has arguably become an industry standard.
As you will likely know by now, instant online valuations act as traffic converters - they're not there to provide an actual valuation, that's for you to do at market appraisal stage.
Many agents spend vast amounts of their marketing budgets on generating website traffic, but if there's no way to contact the people visiting your website, then it's wasted money.
Prospective vendors and landlords will always want to know how much their property could be worth and that's why instant online valuations have become so popular in this digital age.
The growth of instant online valuation tools to become an industry standard on agents' websites is easily demonstrated. Here at The ValPal Network, as one of the pioneers of the marketplace, we now represent over 800 brands with more than 4,000 branches. What's more, since the start of 2018 our clients have generated over 97,000 sales valuations and over 37,000 lettings valuations - that's a lot of potential commission.
Simply having an online valuation tool placed on your website is not enough. You need to put it at the heart of your marketing and make it as enticing as possible to prospective clients.
Remember, the more people who come into contact with your offer of a free, instant online valuation, the more leads you'll generate.
With all of this in mind, here's four of our top tips to get the best out of your instant online valuation tool.
Prominence is paramount
There's simply no point investing in generating additional website traffic and paying for an instant online valuation tool if you're not going to promote it. If you want more leads, you need to make sure your online valuation tool is front and centre of everything you do.
You need prominent call to actions in several positions on your website - preferably in different colours to your brand (orange has been proven to be particularly effective). You can also incorporate these call to actions into your email signatures and other communications to increase exposure.
Generating leads from an online valuation is all about temptation - the more you cleverly tempt consumers to request a free online valuation, the more leads you're going to generate.
Mould your marketing around your tool
Making sure your tool is prominent on your website is an important first step, you'll then need to integrate it into your existing marketing campaigns to further improve results.
Think about it - if all your marketing material (both online and offline) drives traffic back to your tool, your chances of generating tangible leads for your team to contact is vastly increased.
Understandably, many agents' problem with traditional marketing is the difficulty in measuring Return on Investment. However, if you provide prospects with the opportunity and the means to give you their contact details, it's much more measurable and you're not just throwing hard-earned cash into the wind and seeing which way it blows.
Make contact to make new clients
Once you start generating leads, you have to make sure your team are getting in contact as soon as possible. I've heard stories from some of our members, whose staff were picking and choosing which leads to contact - and not contacting some at all! This is no way to get the best out of your instant online valuation tool.
If someone has taken the time to fill out their details in exchange for an online valuation, in my eyes they must be treated as a 'hot' lead.
Your team need to focus on explaining why the prospective client needs a market appraisal. Once you start booking more market appraisals from online valuations, you'll start to see the new instructions roll in.
Nurture should be in your nature
Another key element of the process - to make sure you are not wasting any potential opportunities - is to nurture your leads effectively. An instant online valuation is usually a prospective vendor or landlord's first interaction with an agent. Our research suggests, however, that it can take up to four months for some consumers to instruct an agent.
The majority of agents will convert a percentage of these leads in the first three weeks after the instant valuation has been requested. The leads that don't convert during this initial period will typically be dropped with the agent assuming the consumer is not interested anymore. Our insights inform us that taking this approach could be a mistake as some consumers like to take their time in choosing an agent and the fact that they have requested an online valuation in the first place, means they are engaged with the early stages of the selling or letting process.
It's therefore imperative that you have a nurture campaign in place over a four to five-month period following the initial valuation request. You need to provide the opportunity for the consumer to re-engage with your brand when they are ready to move forward with their sale or let. If you don't, they will likely instruct one of your competitors.
An online valuation tool will always generate leads, but it's how you use it which will determine whether it revolutionises your marketing strategy and has a positive impact on your number of instructions for years to come.
*Craig Vile is director of The ValPal Network, owned by Angels Media, the publisher of Estate Agent Today and Letting Agent Today.