Today, I’m really excited to have Steven Cohen on the call today.What I really want to point out today is that last year he did $3.6 million in GCI. That’s 160 million in sales volume out there in the Boston area, which equates to about a 115 transactions. Now, one-third of his business is coming from the lead generation source, which we’re going to talk specifically about today.
Hey, everybody. Welcome to today’s show. I’m so excited to have you. I’m Lori Ballen and I have a real estate team here that serves Las Vegas, Henderson, and North Las Vegas for the Lori Ballen Team. I also own a real estate marketing company called Ballen Brands. Our specialty over here at Ballen Brands is building WordPress powered, IDX driven real estate agent websites.
I’m excited because real estate leads are my passion, and so I know that I don’t know everything, and so I’m out interviewing fantastic real estate agents across the world really on what they’re doing special that generates a lot of leads that become a large part of their business. Everybody I’m talking to is specializing in something very specific.
Steven is a principal at Keller Williams Realty Boston. He leads the Steven Cohen Team and has been the top South End real estate broker for many years.
Over the past three years, Steven has facilitated thousands, thousands of transactions in all market conditions, which I think is so important to pay attention to.
Anybody that can succeed in a top market or a shifted market is somebody we need to listen to. He’s a recognized market expert and is regularly quoted in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Boston Globe, Boston Herald.
Steven Cohen: Thank you so much. It’s great to be on the call with you.
Lori Ballen: All right. Did I get everything right there? The name? The location? Anything you need to correct for us?
Steven Cohen: No. It sounds better than it often feels as I wake up in the morning, but that’s true of all of us as we slog through.
Lori Ballen: Isn’t that the case? It’s so funny, I was just telling somebody this morning, I’ve dropped 30 pounds, or what’s the better word? I shed 30 pounds this year, but I still look in the mirror and feel like a fat woman. I’m like, “Uh.” You really do. When you hear somebody else say what you’ve done and accomplished, it’s easier for us to recognize than us just looking at our own numbers or our own result.
Steven Cohen: 100% and congratulations on that. That’s impressive weight loss.
Lori Ballen: Thank you. Thank you. So. We have real estate agents that are in all kinds of areas of their business. Some are just getting their license. Some are new. Some are super experienced and we’ve got Megas on the call as well.
I was at your Keller Williams Family Reunion panel, and I only attended a few and I specifically chose lead generation subjects that have some things that are maybe outside of what I do that would complement the lead generation video channel. I recorded the panel, and I was blown away by what you are doing with your value propositions, specifically what you use to lead generate.
I took away tons of notes and the main one was that you claim to be the economist of choice in your area, and then you proved to be that when you continued on with the panel by showing us all of these amazing reports and direct mail and your website.
You were one person I heard that not only stated your value proposition, you proved it again and again and again and again. Tell us about what that means to you to be the economist of choice.
Steven Cohen: Well, it means that we have recognized a couple of things. Number one, that we and all of us as agents need to define our value proposition in some way that connects the dots between what we are good at, can relate to, are capable of mastering, and the identity of our particular market and our particular target market within our marketplace.
So, for us, that was the economist of choice. It made sense to us because we are in a high-end market.
So when they go to sell, the money that they’re looking to derive from their property is significant. Yes, emotions play in and, yes, it’s something deeply personal and in many cases is home, either that we’re buying or that we’re selling, but these properties also represent a significant portion of people’s portfolios, and we happen to be a market where people engage in portfolio speak, in yields management talk, discussion of returns, of risk management, things of that sort.
That particular niche felt like it made sense to us, but I think the broader lesson is for all of us to take a look at what we do and figure out, again, what it is that can position us as a specialist for the market we intend to dominate. Then we then turn our attention to considering what lead generation activities would allow us to support that position in the eyes of the consumer.
Once we determined that positioning ourselves as the economist of choice in our marketplace made sense, we then turned our attention to determining which lead generation activities would support that position.
Which came first? Did you already have these luxury clients and started realizing what their needs were or did you know you wanted to go into luxury and so you started that to generate that business?
Steven Cohen: We were succeeding. We’d been working many years and doing transactions at a high level. Then, actually, out of a mastermind with Gary Keller, a number of us were asked to identify the one thing that could move our businesses forward.
Of course, as Gary always puts it so well, whatever business you think you’re in, you’re in the lead generation business.
I began to think, “Okay. What is it that I can do that will enhance our position in the marketplace?” It was kind of a dual track idea. On one hand, I thought to myself, “Let’s put out a publication.” I’m getting so much direct mail, we all do.
It’s not of high quality and much is made in our company and throughout the industry about frequency, how often we need to be sending things. I don’t dispute the research behind that wisdom, but I also thought to myself there’s got to be room in the marketplace for direct mail that is of very high quality.
That is when the idea for the Stakeholder Report was born in our minds.
From there, what would we put in that report? I think this would be the takeaway for anybody who wants to maybe try to emulate what we do as we, in turn, emulate in many respects what our fellow agents do everywhere.
As strong agents, we’re borrowing and repurposing and using ideas that we pick up from our markets and other markets that we then said, “Gee, you know, what would resonate with our marketplace? What are the concerns? What are the pain points? What’s on the mind of our consumer?”
Finding a Niche
To us, it came to mind that our consumer is looking for an economist of sorts as we positioned it. It needs not necessarily have been that. For example, there are areas where, oh gosh, I don’t know, one could be, for example, in Atlanta where Fortune 500s relocate frequently and are located there, and maybe one is the agent for the Fortune 500, maybe that’s the position.
Some agents work in military towns and those in the military real estate business. That could be a niche.
Others perhaps are in a market where 10 buyers are making up a lot of the market because it’s a new area that people are moving to. Maybe they focus on first time home buyers.
Lori Ballen: It sounds to me like your primary activity, and I would assume there are others, is this direct mail that you’re sending out. Let me ask you, first of all, how did you determine what to put in this report?
Steven Cohen: It’s addressing a certain demographic in the marketplace because that I think the points I would make in terms of the wisdom that underlies the production of these reports is the following.
1. It need not be a publication that is mailed.
I’m at a point now in my career where I can do that, and we’re a little bit neutron bombing our marketplace with those reports and it’s working for us. But it’s not lost on us that electronic dissemination of those reports, especially in a wise manner, is far more cost-effective.
We don’t necessarily assume that even if we have the resources that that’s the best use of them to print thousands of them at great expense, and to mail them at great expense when frankly one could produce that report and disseminate electronically and/or have a very small run of them for a far, far less money. That would be point one.
2. One need not necessarily even be reproducing a report.
Yes, I do think it’s particularly impactful if you compile your thoughts into something that is a publication or has an identity because the content you’re producing hangs together, and there’s just an opportunity to do so many cool things, from covers to thinking about outreach to the stakeholders in your community, all of it.
But quite frankly, it’s the production of content, period, that is what really underlies our initiative.
You’re asking yourself on a granular level, “What could I put out that people will find interesting?” I often say to my team at meetings, “The idea bank is open,” because you know often, we’ll have an idea and we’re just spouting it off over a cocktail, and then we’re trying to summon it later and we’re like, “What was I thinking with the …”
We have a lot of thoughts, so on our team, we’ve created a culture where we’ll all just with no idea being a good idea, that will come out of what we think would be good ideas for content. I can certainly provide you with some example there.
3. It need not necessarily be a whole bunch of them put together.
It can just be one idea for content that you would then repurpose.
Getting into the content creation habit is what is going to produce leads for us.
I think if we think of how we are as consumers in the marketplace when we work with a particular company or we identify with a particular entity in any walk of our lives, something touches us.
We connect with something.
The ideas that we come up with, we want them to be the source of what allows people to connect with us and feel that what is the case is really the case, which is that we were thinking about them and we want to come from a place of contribution.
These ideas that I’m putting forth are really a way of saying you don’t need to be spending a pile of money to get going.
Because I have to say, even if five years ago somebody had said to me, “Oh, I know, you could do this really cool, huge publication,” I would just be like, “I’ve got a 2:30 listing appointment. I’m completely swamped.” Or like, “What?”
I think that would be the wrong messaging in terms of what might be actionable, or looking to just get going with putting together content and beginning to form the habits that you don’t know where it’s going to lead you, but it’s likely to be to a good place if you think in terms of your market, its needs, your strength, the position you want to support in the marketplace, and then the types of content that you could be able to produce, creating a habit that will begin to support your position within the marketplace.
Then you can get into the questions like, “Well, who’s going to produce the content? What will we do with it and how we will compile it,” and things like that.
Lori Ballen: I love that you said the habit of content creation because it really is true. While we’re specifically talking about an activity that you do, it’s less about the direct mail piece specifically and more about the fact that you identified your target market.
You’re solving their problems, answering their questions and informing them through consistent content. You just happen to be doing that through a newsletter super consistently and other publications that are working well in your market.
Are you guys putting these onto blogs, onto your website? Are you doing video around it?
Steven Cohen: Yes. We haven’t really gotten to the video. Actually not true. I’ve done some, you say vlogs. I have done some video. For example, I did a vlog on micro-housing, and all about the cities in the world where they’ve approved housing of less than 200 to 300 square feet, like Tokyo.
And all the cool things they’re putting in those houses. We’ve produced that content, and then I do a video blog on it as well.
Lori: I love that concept. My marketing brain goes immediately to who are you trying to reach with that? Is it just a real estate conversation to be interesting, or are people investing in those? What is your thought process behind that content?
Steven Cohen: Okay, so here’s the thing. We start with who our market is. Our market is primarily empty nesters moving into the city, they’ve raised their children, they’re of means, and stroller set 30-somethings, pregnant with their second, also of means, and wrestling with the decision of whether to really pay up and stay in the city and possibly have to pay for private school, or to go out to the burbs.
They are the baby strollers in the coffee shops and the cafes, and that’s our market.
This is the kind of discussion we want to have with ourselves regardless of what our market is. We want to ask ourselves, “Who are they? What’s important to them?”
A few of the things that we do to produce content address specifics of our market and a few of them address universal truths.
I’ll give you an example of both.
Specific to our market, they want to know that you are the expert on the numbers. I would say you don’t need to know, you just need to be able to push a few keystrokes and find out.
Economists are endlessly compiling information on markets forecasts of where markets are going. You’re quoting eight or nine of them, so you’re not relying on any one specifically. You can put it together quickly.
You can hire an intern from a local university to even do it for you.
All communities have nonprofits. The nonprofits function and serve the communities. By going to those nonprofits individually and offering to profile them, either in an individual piece or in our case, as part of a publication, you’re forging a connection with them. You are also building your image as someone who cares about giving back to your community.
For most of us, we’re tapping into the piece of us that really wants to do that.
We are, for example, every community has restaurants, new businesses of all sorts, so we will pick a class of business. We’ll pick restaurants. We’ll go to gyms, we’ll go to spas, and we’ll do outdoor cafes only.
We’ll do home furnishings, and we’ll go to every purveyor of that service in the marketplace and we’ll create a list of them and a chart that shows where they are, their address, the name of their proprietor and so forth. We’ll put that chart in the article that will otherwise give an overview of that sector operating within the community.
Now, if you are putting a publication together, all of those entities are happy to have you feature that publication in their place of business, which can be very, very helpful to you. Every community has residents, so if you find an interesting resident, a client you’ve worked with, someone with an interesting story to tell and you say meet a Fort Worth resident, meet a Roanoke resident and you run that as a recurring feature, as a standalone or as a publication.
You’re now doing a one-pager with a photograph. I mean, you think those people might list with you when they come down to sell their home, and they’re so thrilled and they’re showing their friends and they’re doing interesting things with their lives. You pick people who are doing interesting things with their lives, you profile them.
When you start putting these things together, you’ll realize you got a publication and all you really need to do is go around the table of your team or the kitchen table, if you have adult children or teenage children or a spouse or any paid or non-paid support and say, “Would you be willing to …” Someone you think can write, “Do a one-pager on X or Y.”
You put these things together and they all come under the category of that which is going to be very specific and custom to your community, and it’s going to blow away anything anybody can do by buying one of those magazines that they sell from a high, that just feels inauthentic.
You know the ones I mean, where they put your face on the cover it just feels like you landed there from out of space.
We take all of that and then we move over to the other question that you posed, which is, “Gee, what was the thinking behind the content on the micro-housing?” Now, I’ve come away from the first two legs of the stool. The first one being that I’ve got stats in there in my particular marketplace.
I’ve written a forecast for the coming period for my particular marketplace, and I’ve done it by just marinating online for an hour in like, “What are people saying? What’s Zillow saying will happen to the market? What’s Realtor.com saying about the forecast for the coming season? What’s the Bureau of Labor and Statistics saying?”
I’ve just put together some forecast, but we’re also just reprinting from MLS, what are the 20 most expensive homes sold in my market? List done. So you’ve got all these market stats, then you’ve got all of this connectivity with local institutions, with residents, with businesses, with people, with nonprofits. That’s leg two.
Leg three is the category you were asking me about just now, Lori, which is like what about micro-housing? This is, and please forgive the crude reference, it’s real estate porn. The whole world loves it. We don’t even know why we love it. You just start thinking about the kinds of things that people would think are really cool.
For example, I happen to be hearing, I don’t know, I might have been reading in the Wall Street Journal, I don’t even remember, about homes in London that they’re building by digging underground five and six stories. What a cool little article? Like okay, good. Then you just start poking real estate and real estate interesting topics, and you don’t need to think of much.
Like we saw one a couple of months ago on something called the Momentum Index. The Momentum Index is a list of cities in the world that are best positioned to move forward economically, short and long-term. They referred to it as short and long-term momentum. Now, if you Google that and find your city on the list, well that’s a 10.
But even if not, people love it. Or for example, we will regularly look at our city, wherever we are, it doesn’t matter if I’m in Philadelphia or Flower Mound, Texas, I’ll look at our property. I’ll, for example, look at what is the price per square foot that we sell for in average?
Then I look at world capitals everywhere, and we’ll start poking around as to what the average is in Tokyo, in Hong Kong, in this and that.
We start realizing that you can run a piece on expanding your worldview or a comparison between your community and the world, with cool pictures of the Eiffel Tower and the Great Wall. It just ends up looking interesting to people and you zoom in as local as you possibly can, and then you zoom out a little bit to your state or your country, and then you go international.
You’re zooming in and zooming out, and at a certain point, you just kind of start having fun with it.
I actually believe that someone said to me, “You know what? You’re not going to do any of this. You’re not going to produce any content. You’re forbidden to do so. You need to come up with a new trick.”
There are two things I know.
Number one, none of us can do everything. We pick one or two things to generate leads for our businesses and we go with them. I feel production of content is a pretty important one to our business, but I know as I sit and I listen to the various breakout sessions that we go to at Keller Williams and seminars.
Our industry is just filled with interesting people doing interesting things.
What you’re doing right now could completely occupy one, because it’s groundbreaking in a lot of ways to, as an expert, visibly be learning from everyone who’s doing things around you and you’re bringing them, elevating them and putting them in a certain light, and at the same time, elevating yourself, as you should be because you aren’t pretending to show interest in what’s cutting edge and going on.
You are, and you’re proving it with what you do.
There are so many ways to do it, and at some level, we all need to pick a focus, but we know that the purpose of that focus is going to be generating leads. I must say, I get lost in it a little bit because I so enjoy putting together the publication that every now and then I’ll just come up with an idea that is just like that’s fun, but can we pretend that the purpose here is still to build our business?
Oh yeah, right. We’re not frustrated magazine publishers. We really do want to make sure we’re on track.
The last thing I would say is when you have any group around you who know you and ultimately become involved with whatever you’re doing to produce leads, they become a really good filter.
Because I always say to my team, “Anytime all of you vote one way and I vote the other, I’m going to be outvoted, and even if it’s just some of you.”
A lot of times, we just have to recognize that the ideas are going to come, hopefully, from everyone around you, and then you’re going to mash them together and move forward in line with the plan of action that you fashioned.
Lori Ballen: I’ll tell you, I think what you’re driving home regardless of the fact that the material is printed, versus possibly digital or on some combination, is I love that you’re doing something you love. I mean, I do detect that. I have to tell you that when I watched you on stage, I felt that.
I thought Laurie Reader who was sitting at the end loves what she does with her open houses and whatnot, and you can feel when somebody is really passionate about their lead generation source.
I’m incredibly passionate about digital marketing and video and SEO, and those are my pockets. I think that we can adopt a lead generation source that isn’t necessarily something we’re passionate about if we follow this system and the process and achieve the goal, but it’s so much more fun, isn’t it, when you’re doing what you love?
Steven Cohen: 100%. The passion comes through in so many ways. That’s absolutely true. I mean, SEO could not one just dive into SEO and say, “That’s it. I’m going to build my business right there,” and people absolutely do.
I recall a mastermind Gary did a few years ago with eight of us around the table, and we were all asked to identify our lead generation sources. It was just amazing how everyone was different.
I mean, strong agents, sure you’ve got your referrals and your past clients. That we had in common. But as far as that sort of master status trait particular focus of a given agent, they varied so widely. Some were internet lead generation based. Some were a direct publication and/or direct mail focused. Others did radio ads and billboards.
Others were very event-based. A couple of agents were all about the kinds of events that they would hold that had swelled to 1,000 people attending kind of thing, and they became known for it and they platformed off of it as a means of building awareness.
There just are so many ways, and it’s interesting that there’s no one way.
Lori Ballen: I’m a real estate agent too, and any of us will tell you that we have probably three really strong lead generation sources, two to three.
That usually makes up most of the real estate businesses, but everybody has something specific that’s a little bit different or a little bit unique, or a lot different or a lot unique.
We all have past clients. We all have referrals. But then there’s this other thing, like you said, whether it’s open houses, pay-per-click marketing, special events, what you’re doing with your whole content marketing scheme.
I know people that are killing it on just Instagram, just Snapchat, just YouTube. It is absolutely amazing.
But the key is all of us that are successful at generating 20% or more of our business from one particular source, we all have something in common. We know our audience.
We identify their problems and what they need. We answer that and correct messaging and got it out to them in massive scale, and we’re consistent about it.
Those are the keys, and I’m hearing you say those same things over and over again that your printed material could be digital. It could be video, but it’s all content marketing. It’s a habit of content marketing. It’s done consistently, and you know it lands on the audience that you want to do business with. That’s really the takeaway in all of it.
I think I could talk to you for hours and hours and just mastermind. But tell me, for anybody that’s listening, what one piece of advice would you leave them with, as I let you go?
So, put together a group of people. If you have a team, it can certainly be your team. If you don’t, assemble the non-paid supports in your life, whether it’s your partner, best friend, husband or wife, a few people, write it down, brainstorm together, and see where it takes you.
Then make a plan that is sustainable, and sustainable over a period of a minimum of six months, and preferably a year in terms of cost without actually seeing a benefit from it. Because it’s very important not to make a foray for a very short time, and then retreat because you’re not seeing the results when the reason you’re not is because it takes time to build upon your efforts.
If you can sustain that first period of a year or so, you’re going to know if you’re gaining traction. Then obviously measure carefully your results so that you can gauge what’s successful and what’s not.
Lori Ballen: Make sure it’s sustainable and give it the time to see the results. That’s key in pay-per-click marketing, SEO, open houses, you name it. You’re probably not going to have any kind of instant sales that come from any kind of marketing, so you have to know that you can see it all the way through, six months to a year. Geographic Farming, what do they tell you? Even two years sometimes, so I agree 100%.
Well, thank you. It was such a joy. I really enjoyed your panel, and I loved getting to know you and I appreciate your time here. You really gave us a lot of takeaways and you got my mind spinning as well, which is always so fun and such a bonus for doing this, because I get to learn from all you guys at the same time. So, thank you. I appreciate it, and everybody remember, Steven Cohen and his team for any referrals out there at Keller Williams Realty Boston Metro. Thank you so much, Steven.
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