Apr 19, 2017 by - jim emilson

The Truth About Kaizen and The Relentless Pursuit of Excellence

We each have a choice in this business:  status quo OR KaizenWe all know what the status quo is in our market area.  It’s what everybody else is doing.  Kaizen, on the other hand, is a Japanese philosophy that promotes striving for continuous gradual improvement.  The truth is, Kaizen is all about the relentless pursuit of excellence. 

I now apply Kaizen to every area of my business, but that wasn’t always the case.  Early in my career, I was lulled into embracing the status quo, and I didn’t even realize it!  In this months article, I will make a confession:  My print marketing 18 months ago was literally on life-support! It would have been a kindness to all humanity to pull the plug and put it out of its misery.

If my print marketing sucked, what did that say about my business as a whole?  After all, a Realtor® is a negotiator AND a marketer.  We need both skills sets to flourish.  On the negotiation side I felt pretty strong, having spent many years in an earlier career negotiating multi-million dollar, multi-year contracts with the likes of Wal-Mart.  But my marketing needed a whole lot of Kaizen!  A little Kaizen never hurt anyone, and with time and patience, it can lead to huge business gains.

But here’s the thing:  The status quo is (terrifyingly) comfortable.  It’s like a sign I once heard about that was posted at a cemetery.  The sign said “We let you down so slowly, you won’t even know you’re dead.”  Sometimes we get lulled into inactivity, and before we even realize it, our business is dead!

In my market (Toronto – Canada) status quo includes the basics, like mailing out just-listed, just-sold postcards.  Sending out (very drab, boring, robotic) monthly mass-produced keep-in-touch letters.  Talking to listing prospects about how we use the MLS system, and professional photographers (do we really need to talk about this anymore?) to market the prospects home and get top dollar. Offering free staging consultations.  And the list goes on.  What do sellers hear?  Blah-blah-blah.   They’ve heard it all before.  Just like their parents did.  And their grandparents before them.

Now, it’s not that there’s anything wrong with any one of these things.  But when everybody in a market area pretty much works with the exact same play book, listing prospects can’t see the forest for the trees.  Embracing the status quo has led the public to assume that Realtors® are all “pretty much the same”.  It’s no wonder that sellers are pressuring agents to lower commissions, or offer inducements.  We have collectively done a pretty lackluster job of communicating genuine value!

But like they say, things have to get bad, before you can become great!  At a critical point, after losing (yet another) listing to another agent that promised exactly the same things I had, plus an unrealistic bait price, to a seller, I looked at my business critically, and asked “What really IS my value proposition?   Would I deal with myself?  Why would sellers listing a $900,000 home choose me over the other agent(s) they interview?”

What I saw in the mirror scared me, and at the very same time I had a eureka moment.  If I didn’t stretch beyond the comfortable sleepy status quo, my future in real estate was going to be lack-lustre at best; or at worst, I would be among the 90% that don’t even make it to their fifth year.

This is where Kaizen came in for me.  In this article I’ll share with you how improvements made to my print marketing has been one key (among several) that has contributed to doubling GCI in 2016 (versus 2015) and has me on track to increase business by another 50% – 100% in 2017.

PRINT MAGAZINE (FOR DUMMIES)

In the Toronto market, the standard feature sheet used by most Realtors is a 2 to 4 pager.  And real estate agents often brag about how beautiful their feature sheet is.  I used to too, lol.

Feature sheets are typically black or grey to convey luxury, with a dozen full color pictures, plus the agents branding.  These feature sheets can cost as little as $1 or $2 per piece.  So you could say they are cheap like borscht.  But we want our clients to believe they are the end-all and be-all of home marketing.  It’s kind of funny[Symbol]

(A little context:  In Toronto, the average home is selling for 900k, and the average detached home is selling for $1.5 million.  You do the math on what that type of listing is worth to the listing agent.)

I knew I could do better than this.  Then one day, a Lab Coat Agent post featuring an agent’s SOLD magazine came along, and it was exactly the inspiration needed.  It became the foundation for a complete overhaul of my listing materials.

Instead of the boring predictable 2-4 page feature sheet, we began to feature our clients’ homes in a unique 12 page magazine.

Of course, the home is prominently featured on the front cover.

Pages 3-5 are all about the neighbourhood.  After all, isn’t the real estate all about LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION?  Here we attract buyers with information on hyper local attractions, a history of the neighbourhood, information on the schools, hospitals, bike trails, and anything else we feel positions our sellers home most positively.  Since we have built a template on Canva.com, it’s pretty easy now to put together a magazine for each listing.  We simply copy and paste relevant neighbourhood info, plus local photographs.  Every magazine is custom and unique to that seller.   Initially it took a few hours to create one magazine, but now, we can knock one off in 15-20 minutes. 

Pages 6-9 feature home photographs.  In Canada, you may have heard that we get our fair share of snow.  So when listing a home in winter time, we try to obtain pictures from the home seller highlighting the beautifully landscaped yard in spring/summer/fall.

Page 10 is used to show laser measured floor plans.  Are you offering these?  We are paying $200/house to have precisely measured floor plans created for each listing.  Their value is priceless.  Speaking from personal experience, every time we’ve looked at purchasing a condo or house off plan, my wife spends the evening figuring out where to place the furniture.  Emotionally, she’s already moved us in.  Providing a tool that fosters a buyers emotional connection to the home is a powerful tool when used for the benefit of a seller.

Page 11 of the magazine is a teaser to pull prospects to the property website.  Our standard service here includes drone photography (where permitted by local by-laws) and Matterport tour, plus a life-style video featuring the neighbourhood.

And last but not least, page 12 features the agent biography.

The cost/magazine is $5, printed on a heavier card stock, in full colour, with matte finish.

Our average open house sees 50-100 visitors over a 2 day weekend.  So typically we print 100 magazines, for an investment of $500.00.  That’s not cheap.  So what are the results?

RESULT NUMBER ONE:  Back in the old days, our 2-4 page version would typically see 1 in 4 open house visitors taking a feature sheet home.

The 12 page magazine?  We average 3 out of 4 taking home the magazine.  And many of these return the second day with the magazine in hand.  (We rarely noted this with the status quo version).  The high qualify feel of the magazine makes it a little harder for someone to throw it in the trash.  Plus the content is actually meaningful, so buyers tend to keep it.

RESULT NUMBER TWO:  The listing magazine is a referral business magnet.

Here’s a recent example.  A few weeks ago we sold a house for a 72 year old lady.  The home was her pride and joy.  Selling was one of the most difficult decisions she’s ever made.  But the time had come.   In meeting with her to present our value proposition, she was especially impressed with our listing magazines.  It was one key reason she chose us versus the competition.

What do you suppose happened when we presented her custom home listing magazine?  She loved it!  She asked “Can I have 20 copies for my friends and family, if that’s not too much trouble?”  What would you say?  Our answer:  Absolutely!  You can have as many as you like!

To her, it’s an amazing keep sake.  To her friends and family, it’s a concrete expression of the value my team created for their dear friend.  And over time we won’t be surprised to see business come our way as a direct result.

But some will say “Yeah, but print is dying.  Look at all the commercial magazines folding these days.”  In fact, in my market, many agents provide no print material for their listings, instead relying exclusively on digital.  I believe this to be a mistake.  There is something about the tactile nature of place a magazine in a buyers’ hand.  Plus we need to serve prospective buyers the way they wish to be served.  And for many print is still meaningful.

But at the same time, it’s a fact that we are seeing millennials push away from print in favour of the digital world.

And here again, the value of the listing magazine transcends this shift.  Using issuu.com we are able to convert the pdf version of the magazine into a digital magazine.  Then we can use the magazine as a digital tool.  We push it out through our Facebook business page, we embed it in our website, and at the open house we offer to send a magazine link via text message.

We are able to easily satisfy the digital needs of an important real estate demographic.  And what makes this even more powerful?

The Digital Magazine opens up important data unavailable from print.  With issuu.com, we are able to view magazine viewing statistics, how long are prospects in the magazine, which page sees the most views, and more.

So over time we are learning what works AND what doesn’t work, and slowly improving the way we do things.

We’re still not content with our current listing magazine format.  With each new listing, we tweak it a little.  We adjust colours, fonts, and the front cover style.  And one thing I know for sure:  we will never, ever, have it perfect.  And that’s ok – it’s exactly what Kaizen is all about.

Because whether its print marketing, video marketing, managing open houses, or any other element of our business, the truth about Kaizen is that it’s all about the relentless pursuit of excellence.  And as we pursue excellence, we will stay laser-focused on what really matters: elevating the experience for our clients.  If we do that, we will prosper.  

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