Touting – Nuisance or Necessary?

What’s your take on touting? Do you do it? Does it work? Is touting a sleazy underhand way to get business, or a vital and lucrative element of your marketing mix?

Most agents consider touting to be an essential part of their marketing strategy. Some see a competitor’s board as an implicit invitation to try to poach that instruction, and in certain high property value areas, vendors often get bombarded with touting literature, especially when stock is low.

I asked a few agents about their thoughts on touting as a credible marketing strategy.  Some said that if you really believe you can do a better job for the vendor than their current agent is doing, it’s in the homeowner’s interest to approach them, explaining how they could improve their chances of selling with you:

“Touting can be really effective if you have a sincere marketing plan and genuine belief that you are the better agent who can maximise the price for them in the timescale they want. People tend to be happy to pay your fee if you do what you say you will and present yourself as someone who can help. I find it successful because I genuinely believe we’re the best in our area at customer care and selling houses! 

 Seeking more business and keeping your own vendors happy aren’t mutually exclusive though. And there’s no limit on the amount of stock you can have. I call people to check they’re happy and are getting the most out of their agent, but also to help them find a property moving forward.”

 Andy Simpson, Horncastle

Whilst some agents, like Paul Bradley, felt it wasn’t a question of whether you should tout, but how you go about it:

“I suppose it depends on what an agent considers touting. (And a question of degree). Targeted leaflet drops are acceptable for most agents – but most find door knocking a step too far. 

What about an agent speaking enthusiastically about their services to a vendor who has contacted them to look for a home but has already got it on the market with a rival? I doubt any agent wouldn’t pass up the opportunity to explain the virtues of listing with them if and when the sale agreement ends?“

Paul Bradley, Chelmsford

Steuart Saunders from Taunton feels strongly that touting creates a bad impression and damages the industry’s reputation:

“It’s one of the main reasons the industry has a bad name. I’d estimate that 98% of touters run a negative campaign that runs down the instructed agent rather than a positive one. It reinforces the perception that all agents dislike each other, which makes it easier for savvy vendors to play one off against another, resulting in lower fees.  It also disrespects the agent’s instruction and undermines the decision of the vendor. Most of the agents who have a systematic touting process do not target old instructions; they start immediately the new instruction comes to market and before the instructing agent has implemented their marketing strategy. I believe estate agency is unique in this regard. How many times have you analysed an agent’s portfolio? They may have 50+ unsold instructions yet want to pinch someone else’s.

They should spend their energies keeping their own vendors happy.

Steuart Saunders, Taunton

In the US, touting of any kind is not just frowned upon; it’s illegal. Agents must wait until the vendor contract has come to an end before they make contact with the homeowner and offer their services. However, as all contract end dates are a matter of public record, accessible by rival agents, this is a more transparent process, and not considered underhand and aggressive, as it can be here in the UK:

“We run a bespoke, small, independent agency, and have benefitted from other agents touting, rather than touting ourselves.  Client feedback has told us that most people find touting intrusive and aggressive and have come to us because we don’t partake in rivalry. 

Really, it all comes down to trust, and truly trusting an agent is a difficult step to take.

I agree targeted marketing is very important, but door-knocking and attempting to directly contact a vendor who is already on the market is underhand and unnecessary. It is also bad practice, I believe.”

Rex Siney, London

A challenge agents face with touting, is the tendency to over-promise, under-deliver, and often, under-charge too. Promising a vendor that you’re going to do a better job of selling their property than their current agent is doing, then failing to deliver on that promise, can damage your reputation more than not taking it on in the first place. Especially as in my experience, touting agents tend to also under-charge, offering to beat the current agency fee as an added incentive to the vendor to switch.

“Touting is not good if you cannot sell them. We often get competitors touting our clients but we find a great customer service is rewarded by loyalty. Plus be honest and accurate in your valuation and you should be able to sell swiftly anyway.”

Russ Smith, Wallasey

When every agent is trying to portray themself as different from their competitors, and to prove that differentiation in their marketing activities, how does touting help or hinder with that aim?

“I’ve spent a long time in corporate agency before setting up my own business and one of the very first things we decided at Madison Oakley was never to tout other agents properties. Along with many other things we don’t do…. we have always taken the stance that we should be seen as different to the rest and we know that the vast majority of clients can’t abide touting letters and cards through the door. We are surrounded in Bath by large corporate agents who spend a goodly portion of their lives bombarding people with badly designed literature and our properties are constantly targeted (at last count, we had seven different cards or leaflets through one door in a week). Supply levels in Bath are ultra low at present (and have been for a while) so I see the cheap suited lot hustled out onto the streets by their managers almost every day. However, in 5 years, we have only lost one property to touting.

I know touting works to a point – I spent over a decade doing it – but I really don’t think you get quality business from it. Harassing an owner into changing agents doesn’t, in my opinion, start off the relationship on a good footing and reinforcing the general public perception of our profession in this way is never helpful. I know we stand out from the crowd because we don’t do it and I when I mention this on valuation, I always get a hugely positive response.  

I’m mostly underwhelmed when I examine the products some agents tout with – we have seen the usual..…“Call Me” fake business cards again recently and the majority of others are badly phrased in house printed “We have noticed your property is still for sale” letters. We do have a couple of agents locally who deliver decent glossy leaflets and, in one case, a brochure pack you could choke a horse with but most of it still ends up in the recycling bin anyway.

The type of client I want is one who has chosen their agent for good solid reasons, trusts us to do our best and values our relationship. In my opinion (and based purely on my local experience), agents that tout do so because they are a) desperate, b) told to and/or c) haven’t got enough selling points to stand out any other way.

Carey Gilliland, Madison Oakley, Bath

Ok, so the jury is generally against touting, but are there any circumstances in which touting is acceptable, and even, desirable?

 When touting is ok

When a vendor first puts their property on the market, they are going to view any touting letters they receive as an annoyance.

‘How dare they target me just because I’m on the market with another agent?’

is a comment made to me by a friend whose flat is on the market.  But things change once their property has been on the market a while, without a sale. In fact, the fewer viewings they have had on their property, the more interesting a touting letter could be to that frustrated vendor.  Once my friend’s apartment had been on the market for 6 months with viewings few and far between, he changed his tune about the validity of this approach:

“I started opening the letters and wondering if a change of agent would be a positive step to help me sell more effectively. Eventually, I instructed a new agent, chosen on the basis of the professionalism and enthusiasm of their letters to me.”

Clearly, there is a tipping point when that contact stops becoming an intrusion, and instead starts offering welcome hope that your agency could actually do things better.

When you’ve been invited out to a market appraisal, but failed to win the instruction, perhaps touting is more palatable to the homeowner. These ‘lost instructions’ merit a nurture campaign, to keep that seller warm and therefore much more likely to come back to you if they don’t get a good, early offer.

What do you think of touting?

Love it or loathe it, it’s very much part of the industry these days. You don’t have to participate, but if you do, make sure you’re acting in a professional manner, remaining above reproach and criticism, and not just trying to poach the business at any cost to gain market share for the sake of it.

 

Touting – Nuisance or Necessary?

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What to read next: Why your canvassing isn’t working and how to FIX it

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