While at the NAR midyear meetings I had some great conversations with attendees about my recent “Future of MLS Features” article, and I was prompted for some of the additional “incremental change” ideas that I had referenced in that article. I provided a few ideas to those industry colleagues that asked, and here’s one of those ideas: how prospecting should be improved.
Prospecting, for those who don’t deal with it all the time, is the capability for an MLS user to add a contact (usually a consumer, known as “the prospect”) and perform one or more searches based on the prospect’s property search criteria, the results of which would be sent to the prospect on a regular basis so that they can interact with the real estate professional and let them know what properties are of interest. In some systems, an HTML email with the property information is sent to the consumer, in other systems just a link to a search results web page is sent to the consumer. Different MLS systems provide differing prospecting workflows, as well as a great number of options and additional functions around this core, but basically they all do the same thing.
The assumption made when this feature was created was that real estate professionals would use it to work with consumers with whom they had an established relationship in order to show the consumers properties more efficiently than they had in the past by driving them around or meeting to show them properties in the book, MLS, etc.. Unfortunately, some users started using the feature to send repeated unsolicited emails to people they have no relationship with. I’ve heard that some brokers have people that do nothing but set up such problematic prospecting searches – and such users are sending out thousands of emails a day that should not ever be sent out. The result of these activities is that MLS systems run slower with the extra load and MLS providers’ email servers are heavily taxed and put on SPAM blacklists, which in turn results in legitimate users’ prospecting emails to clients being rejected. The scale of this problem is large, and MLS providers spend significant resources trying to maintain their “white list” status.
How can we solve this problem by making changes to how prospecting works? The answer is two-fold.
The first part is to stop automatically sending out unsolicited emails day after day. This can be accomplished by having the first email sent from an MLS system user to a prospect be more of a generic introductory email, the purpose of which is to encourage the prospect to either opt-in or opt-out. If the prospect does not opt-in, then the system does not perform the regular prospect searches and send them additional emails. The MLS user could be allowed to manually re-send the invitation email, to address issues with emails that have gone awry. Various additional features would need to be put in place to prevent “gaming” of this system (e.g. prevent the user from sending to one email address [that they control] to accept the initial invitation, then change the email address to the prospect’s and send without additional opt-in confirmation) – but I am confident MLS providers could be smart in their implementation. But still, this step alone is insufficient to address the whole of the problem…
The second part is to track, on a user-by-user basis, the percentage of prospecting invitations that are never responded to (possibly because people are afraid to click on any link in a SPAM message), those accepted, and those opted-out of. MLS staff should be able to access a report showing the percentages and numbers of each within a time period, sorted by those users with the highest percentage of opt-outs and non-response, with the ability to see the statistical break out and drill down to review all prospecting activity. Those users with exceptionally high percentages of opt-outs and non-response must not have an established relationship with those to whom they are sending prospecting invitations. If the MLS put rules in place regarding prospecting use, this type of reporting capability would allow MLS staff to put appropriate practices in place to provide the monitoring needed for rule compliance.
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