By Kristy Esch
Remember the days when prospective apartment renters showed up at your doorstep, relying on a leasing consultant to guide them through the rental process? Maybe they did a bit of research ahead of time; maybe they didn’t. Often, they’d come with little knowledge of what to expect, leaving the bulk of that discovery for the on-site visit.
For one, today’s renters are better informed and more impatient than ever, screening options and making decisions long before they contact a leasing consultant as the last step in the buying journey. They’re jumping from website to website, diligently taking in community info, floor plans, pricing, reviews, and so it goes.
In fact, potential renters are going through your website right now, making a series of decisions based on what they find and your online experience. If yours is a typical property management website, we can safely guess only one in a hundreds (if not thousands) of visitors will submit a form or give you a call, which brings us to what many multifamily property managers don’t realize: the massive number of leads left untouched and wasted on your website.
It’s a problem, yes, but also a tremendous opportunity.
Below we cover seven obstacles keeping prospects from saying “yes” to your multifamily property—common barriers you can turn into a competitive advantage:
Not Viewing the Website as a Revenue Source
Your website should be a money-maker, not a glorified sales brochure. There’s no good reason why property management companies (PMCs) shouldn’t employ the same strategies as Amazon, Facebook, Netflix, or your favorite online store: constantly capturing your preferences and intent, customizing your experience, and displaying back content you’re most likely to act on.
Adding to the urgency of online experiences, eight out of 10 apartment seekers rent from the first place they physically visit, reports the National Apartment Association. It’s a sharp reminder of the level of competition you’re up against, and the fact that buying decisions are made, in large part, on the web.
Your consumers’ unresolved pain becomes your pain. Failure to alleviate your prospect’s pain is guaranteed to hurt your revenue goals.
Heavy Reliance on Third-Party Listings
Property management companies (PMCs) invest heavily in internet listings, displaying their properties right alongside their competitors. We’re talking about searchable directories like apartments.com, forrent.com, apartmentguide.com, and the like.
Perhaps you even pay extra for listing enhancements in an effort to outshine competitors. Still, your property is one of many filling the screen, and potential renters can’t help but notice competing listings appearing below, above and beside yours.
“Internet listings can generate a lot of leads,” said Leah Brewer of Full House Marketing, a firm that specializes in marketing and staffing support for property managers. “You’ll find, however, lead quality can be poor.”
A better investment: your own website. Because visitors to your website are focused on you—your properties, message, offers, brand “vibe” and overall experience—leads from your own website tend to be much higher quality than leads coming from a third-party directory.
Failure to Convert Traffic Into Actionable Leads
It’s a common predicament: You spend a small fortune to get visitors to your website, yet don’t know who those visitors are, and don’t capitalize on that traffic.
If you manage to attract a potential renter to your website, find ways to convert those visits into leads, rather than letting them slip through the cracks and onto a competing property’s site.
Expecting Warm Reactions to Cold Experiences
People have high expectations and little patience for online experiences. If they can’t find what they want in seconds, they’ll move on to a competing website.
What’s more: apartment seekers want content that’s compelling and relevant to their needs and wants, without having to talk to a human.
Think of how often you shop on Amazon. How many times have you emailed or spoken to an Amazon employee? “Today’s shoppers crave the ability to self-guide with ease,” said Crawford.
“Give customers the ability to control their journey and handle most of the process themselves before having to reach out to a leasing consultant,” added Brewer.
What frequent questions can you answer without forcing a visitor to contact you? Brewer recommends sharing property pricing, availability and virtual tours on your website. Crawford also recommends pre-qualification assessments, special deals, and other interactive experiences, collecting intent and behavioral data as you go, then using that data to personalize your visitor’s journey.
By the time you connect in person, it should feel like the next step in an existing relationship—not a cold introduction.
Wasted Opportunities to Capture Leads
If you walked up to a stranger, introduced yourself and asked them to call you, chances are they’d give you a side-eye or flash a fake smile, then excuse themselves, and (shocker) not call you. Similarly, online visitors need to feel comfortable and compelled enough to contact you.
The flip side of that problem is another problem—on many websites, the “Contact Us” form tucked away on a footer or Contact page is the only way to capture contact info from would-be renters. Not exactly a warm, easy way to sway a prospective resident to get in touch, eh?
“Most websites are focused on ‘call or email me’ instead of letting the customer guide their own buying journey,” notes Brewer. That rarely leads to fruitful conversations. “How do I help you find the right apartment when we’re just emailing back and forth? The renter needs interactivity to better gauge whether the community is a good fit.”
Lack of PMC Metrics, Attribution and Benchmarking
Many PMCs couldn’t tell you where their web traffic comes from, how visitors behave on the website, or even what metrics are good or bad.
Many use Google Analytics, which is a good start, but it’s limited to all visitors to your website rather than those who sent a lead. Others access more insights with a custom phone number, called a DNI (dynamic number insertion), but that’s about it.
“To make the most of your digital marketing spend, you need to know what brought visitors to your website, and what those visitors are doing while on your website,” urges Crawford.
Failing to Engage Through All Phases of the Consumer Journey
More often than not, people calling your leasing office are people who’ve completed preliminary research and are ready to lease now. That means if you want more people to call your leasing office, you’ll need to engage them through earlier phases of their buying journey that precede that decision to call (or not call).
For a typical renter, that journey starts with research, followed by consideration, then purchase.
Let’s tackle research first: today’s property searchers increasingly replace physical visits with online research, screening properties based on what they learn online, without having ever set foot on them. As covered earlier, you can help steer those shoppers from Research to Consideration by providing helpful guidance including floor plans, online tours, special pricing, qualification assessments and more.
Speaking of consideration: most PMCs don’t cultivate renters during this phase—a big mistake considering it’s critical to the buying decision. “One mistake we often see is limiting rental options to 60 days from now, ignoring prospects who are 90 days out or longer from moving,” said Crawford. “In reality, people who spend more time looking are more likely to live in the property longer.” That’s reduced turnover cost, longer residency and higher profitability—not an audience you want to neglect.
Let’s recap key points covered above, but from your prospects’ perspective—specifically, what turns them off from buying or renting your properties:
- Website isn’t personalized. Information isn’t relevant to their interests, and the experience doesn’t match custom experiences they’ve come to expect from the likes of Amazon, Facebook, Netflix or Google.
- No opportunity for two-way communication (e.g., scheduling a tour) without having to call someone.
- Limited or unclear information about floor plans, pricing, imagery, additional costs/fees, specials, etc.
- Insufficient info about the surrounding community.
- Clumsy or inconsistent transitions from the website to the leasing office (e.g., being asked for info they’ve already provided online, or encountering info that contradicts the website).
- Confusion about where to start, or why a website makes them start over to complete a task.
- Lack of understanding about the tools available on the website.
- Forced to talk to a leasing specialist to continue their research.
“You’ll get warmer leads by letting prospects access information and serving up dynamic and interactive online experiences before talking to you,” said Brewer. If you’ll allow us one last metaphor, your first in-person meeting should be less like a blind date, and more like the continuation of a rich, satisfying conversation that’s pre-sold your prospect on a potential relationship with you.
By transforming your website from a static brochure to a helpful concierge, you can deliver the kinds of experiences that result in more “yes” and money in your pocket.
Kristy Esch, senior marketing manager at PERQ, educates the multifamily industry about improving their digital marketing strategy to engage prospects online and increase tours. Learn more at www.perq.com/multifamily.