May 21, 2009
Autoresponders are among the most powerful tools an email marketer has to build relationships with new subscribers and turn them into customers. Here’s a case study to show just how effective those messages can be.
Read how a real estate team used an email autoresponder series to make money in one of the worst markets in the country. Includes tons of creative samples and strategies to:
o Provide real value in autoresponder messages
o Segment lists
o Deliver targeted, relevant offers
Husband and wife real estate team Kurtis and Cindy Squyres had been successfully flipping houses in Southern California until the real estate market collapsed a few years ago. The decline was so sudden and severe they found themselves holding nine properties that needed repairs, but had no money left to invest.
Scrambling for a new business model, Kurtis Squyres hit on the idea of selling fixer-uppers to other investors trolling for deals among the wreckage. They would seek out distressed properties, such as bank-owned foreclosures, get the house under contract at a low price, then re-sell the contract to another investor in exchange for a finder’s fee.
“We needed to get buyers, and the more buyers we could get, the easier it would be to flip those properties,” Squyres says.
To do that, the team needed a go-to list of potential investors who trusted their expertise and wanted to see the latest deals they had uncovered. Simply listing properties online wasn’t enough to build those kinds of relationships, so they turned to email marketing.
The Squyres developed a multi-media online presence that included blogs and online video to attract potential buyers and sign them up for an email alert program. Then, they created an autoresponder series to establish their expertise, build trust, and segment subscribers for appropriate offers.
Here are five key strategies they employed:
Strategy #1. Drive traffic to homepage for email signup
The team first had to build an email list. To do that, they created a multi-media Web presence that would drive traffic to an email signup form.
Major initiatives included:
- A new homepage, www.FarBelowMarket.com
The team built a website to highlight their personal story and list properties under contract that were ready for other investors to rehab and flip.
The homepage featured an email signup form highlighted in a blue box, which asked for a minimum of information:
o Email address
o Status as a homebuyer or real estate investor
- A new blog, “Wholesaling Deeply Discounted Real Estate”
The blog focused on trends and opportunities in the troubled real estate market -- namely, the ability to purchase foreclosed properties.
Typical posts included:
o Data on foreclosure trends
o Educational posts about buying foreclosed real estate
o Inspirational posts for beleaguered real estate investors
o Announcements about property deals and educational seminars
- Video tours of properties
The team created low-cost videos of their featured properties, allowing potential buyers to see the neighborhood and get a sense of the potential return once the property had been rehabbed.
They hosted these videos on their own website, and on third-party real estate sites such as Zillow.com, where investors would search for deals.
- Craigslist advertisements
The team also posted their properties on Craigslist to attract requests for more information from buyers.
- Public relations
Through a connection with a real estate blogger, the team landed a front-page feature in the Los Angeles Times about “bargain hunters” in the troubled southern California real estate market.
That article led to television segments on Inside Edition and Fox News, as well as additional press coverage.
Each time the team got a media mention they included a link to the article or embedded a video on their homepage.
Strategy #2. Use autoresponder series to establish relationships with buyers
The team didn’t want to immediately blast email subscribers with sales offers. “First, you have to build credibility and a relationship, so they feel like they know us.”
Instead, they created a 21-message autoresponder series for new opt-ins. The program sent a new message on staggered schedule with the goal of introducing subscribers to the team and their business model, and to provide educational resources for real estate investors.
o New subscribers received a message once a day for the first few days
o After that, new messages were sent every two-to-eight days
They used text-only emails and wrote long-form copy, designing each message to fit two overriding goals for the program:
-> Goal #1. Tell a story
The first autoresponder was a welcome letter that gave subscribers a brief history of the Squyres’ real estate careers and explained their current business model, which they called real estate wholesaling.
The letter also told investors what to expect from the email series in the coming days, including:
o Regular updates on properties for sale
o A future email asking subscribers to specify the areas and types of property they are interested in
A follow-up email wove the story of the Squyres personal rise and fall into the recent history of the southern California real estate market, as a way to illustrate the opportunity now presented by bank-owned foreclosures.
Another explained the origins of the sub-prime mortgage meltdown and described how investors could profit from it.
- Goal #2. Provide value for subscribers
The team also included valuable resources in the autoresponder series, such as a downloadable Excel spreadsheet to help investors calculate their real estate investment returns.
“We’re giving people valuable tools in our email to show that we’re not just hype, we’re not just trying to sell,” says Squyres.
Another message invited subscribers to join a foreclosure-focused real estate forum on their website, where they could interact with other investors.
Strategy #3. Qualify email subscribers
The team also created messages for the autoresponder series to qualify subscribers based on their investment capacity and regional preferences.
- One message in the series asked subscribers to answer seven questions about themselves to help the team offer appropriate offers. Questions included:
o Location preference
o Whether they have cash to invest (some bank-owned properties only accept cash deals)
o How big a rehab project they were willing to take on
o Whether they’re interested in creating a wholesale real estate business of their own
- Another message asked subscribers to describe their investor profile:
o Career seeker, looking to make real-estate investment their full-time job
o Part-time investor, looking for extra income from real estate
o Retired or passive investors, looking for turnkey deals for immediate returns
Depending on how they answered the question, subscribers received one of three relevant autoresponders:
o A message pointing career-seekers to the team’s real estate wholesaling video training course and blog
o A message for part-time investors acknowledging their status as part-timers, but also pointing them to additional resources, such as the online training course
o A message for passive investors describing ways they can invest in one of the team’s sister companies
- The survey also allowed subscribers to opt-out of the full email marketing program, and only receive property deals.
Strategy #4. Segment list for relevant offers
Based on response to qualifying emails, the team created sub-lists within their house file. Subscriber profiles included:
o Cash buyers
o Preferred geographic area
o Investors interested in educational programs, such as workshops
o Property offer emails only
o Venture capital investors (passive investors, and those interested in financing future business ventures)
Those lists could then be used for targeted campaigns, such as:
o Cash-only deals
o Properties within a geographic region
o Workshop offers and online training programs
“If I know I have subscribers interested in Palm Springs, I can add a few extra emails to that list,” says Squyres. “You can get a little more pushy with people who are interested in a specific area without ticking off other buyers.”
Strategy #5. Market properties, workshops, and other offers to entire list
In addition to segmented mailings, the team also sent regular messages to its entire house list, including:
o New property offers
o Workshop announcements and other educational content
o Real-estate market updates
o Third-party offers from trusted investors who have properties that might interest their subscribers
“People bring us deals, we blast it out to our list, and we split the proceeds,” says Squyres. “We get a lot of people bringing us deals.”
The email strategy worked better than Squyres had hoped.
“We made great money through the worst downfall ever,” says Squyres. “Being able to move our properties saved us. We went from being a family of six having our lights shut off, to moving a deal, getting a $7,000 check to help us survive and continue moving deals.”
- The strategy helped the team turn a profit in 2007.
- 90% of their properties are sold to members of their email list, despite those properties still being listed on Craigslist and other real estate sites.
- Properties generally sell within a week, depending on the quality of the home and how quickly the team can follow-up with interested buyers and schedule site visits. A recent property sold in one day.
- Segmenting the list by investor profile allowed the team to market its paid educational workshop series, and its online video training course.
Squyres admits he has not had time to calculate and measure standard email metrics, such as open rates and clickthrough rates. But he believes he has developed trust among a solid list of potential customers.
“They know we’re for real when they see the deals keep coming out,” says Squyres. “We have guys that have watched us for over a year pop up and buy, so we know there are a lot of people in there, watching and waiting raise their hand.”
Useful links related to this article:
Creative Samples from FarBelowMarket.com’s autoresponder series:
The team uses Relenta to manage their email marketing program: