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Generating Real Estate Leads through the Power of Social Networking

Bob Parks in Louisville, Kentucky has built his business on handing out his personal brochure and turning personal relationships into successful real estate results.

A recent blog post on Agent Success shared Bob Parks’ emailed testimonial of his personal marketing success story from simply “hanging around” his local Starbucks and building a social network, almost by accident. Here is a more involved feature story about his ongoing and “brewing” success story.

Around Hobbs/Herder, we’ve always referred to our personal brochures as “cup of coffee” biographies. In other words, they contain stories, anecdotes and personal information that you might share with someone over a cup of coffee.

Well, Bob Parks of Louisville, Kentucky, has taken this concept to a whole new level. In fact, most of his business is literally done over a cup of coffee at his local Starbucks. It’s an approach Bob likes to call “relationship selling” and he can attribute almost all of his business to simply talking with people and handing out his brochure personally.

Now don’t get us wrong. Bob is not waiting in the corner of his Starbucks and pouncing on people as they walk through the door like a car salesman. His approach is much more delicate, and it helps to go back to the beginning in order to explain how his own style of personal networking evolved over the years.

Bob spent many years working for American Woodwork, one of the world’s largest cabinet manufacturers. He would travel the country making sales calls and training other salespeople. Bob became known as the ultimate “problem solver” and he went wherever he was needed to help the company be successful. Through this experience, he honed his sales skills and learned the value of building positive relationships. “The more you talk with people, the more you learn and the more you are able to help them with what they need,” he says.

During his travels, Bob also became quite a fan of Starbucks. Wherever he went, he would go the local coffee store and get his favorite brew, a venti Pike.

When the time came to set down his career roots in Louisville, Bob settled on a career in real estate because he knew his ability to build quality relationships would suit him well in this business.

Not long after he started in real estate, Bob’s personal life took a turn for the worse. He was getting divorced, and the experience took quite a toll on him. His regular morning visit to Starbucks then became more than just a routine. It was a social escape from everything that was going on in his life—a place where he knew he was always welcome.

Then one fateful day, Bob ran into an old friend at Starbucks, who was there with one of his friends. He joined them at their table and the three began to chat about life, business and anything else that was fresh on their minds. They decided it would be fun to meet up on a regular basis every weekend. And so, Bob’s “Starbucks Group” was born. More friends started joining them week after week and the group continued to grow. Before long, there were 10-20 regulars that met up every weekend—people from all walks of life and various business backgrounds. They got together, talked, shared ideas and built a strong network with one another. Meeting with this group even introduced Bob to his second wife, Beth, who was also going through a divorce and was brought to Starbucks by a friend. “We were introduced, started talking and before we knew it we were married!” Bob says.

Then in 2008, Bob attended a Hobbs/Herder Gateway seminar in Chicago. The light bulb went off in his head. “I saw the brochures they were presenting and I thought to myself, ‘how can I integrate these into my daily life?’” he recalls. “And what do I do every day? I go to Starbucks!” The idea struck Bob like a bolt of lightning. He knew a personal brochure was exactly what he needed to start turning his Starbucks network into serious business.

Bob immediately signed up with Hobbs/Herder to develop his personal marketing campaign. By January of 2009, he had his brochure printed and was ready to start utilizing them. At the time, he didn’t have much of a budget to do a full-scale direct mail campaign, so he put all of his focus and energy on handing out the brochures as much as possible. He put a box in the trunk of his car and even gave a box to his wife, Beth. She’s a local attorney and he knew she’d have plenty of opportunities to hand them out through her work.

The key to Bob’s success is taking the time to talk with people first before handing them a brochure. “I never want to force it upon them,” he says. “I prefer to let the rapport build naturally and then present them with a brochure only when the time is right.”

As the Starbucks Group grew, so did Bob’s business. Currently, the group has more than 50 regulars. Bob can directly attribute nearly 30 closed transactions directly from this network. Whether it’s people within the main group or referrals they provide, it has become a great source of leads for Bob. “A lot of times, people bring friends to me,” he says. “They will bring someone to the Starbucks because they know that’s where I will be.”

Bob goes to the Starbucks every morning around 8:00 or 9:00 (although every once in awhile he’ll take a Sunday “off”). To see him in action is like watching a grass roots politician at work. He knows pretty much everybody who comes in and has great relationships with all the baristas behind the counter. Bob makes his rounds, chatting with everyone he knows. Sometimes he doesn’t even get to the counter to place his order, but usually one of the workers will spot him and bring him his usual drink.

Bob doesn’t carry his brochures with him. He keeps them in his trunk and only brings one out when the time is right. “The key is to establish the relationship and rapport first. I listen carefully to them and find a comfort level,” he says. “Once it’s an appropriate time, I’ll run out to my car and grab a brochure to hand them. Then, I’ll sit down with them as they look at it. I’ll show them pictures of my family and myself and point out specific parts of the story that might relate to what I know about them. It helps make a better personal connection.”

More recently, other top agents in his market have joined Bob in his Starbucks Group. It’s not a competitive thing, though. He’s built strong relationships with them, as well. When they talk, they discuss market trends and share business ideas in a collaborative way. One such connection eventually led to several referrals from one of these other top agents, including a $1.6 million dollar sale in the best part of town.

Though his brochure has been the primary source of his success, Bob is taking more steps now to grow his marketing approach. He recently began sending regular Powerkards to his past clients and sphere of influence. However, rather than boiler-plate messages and templates, he hand-writes every card. Whether it’s a reminder to get their AC unit tuned up for the summer months, information about the local market (interest rates, sales trends, etc.) or just a friendly note to say “hi,” Bob believes the personal touch is worth the extra time and effort. “I feel very strongly about making and keeping personal connections,” he says. “The relationship is everything to me.”

Bob also started a mailing program specifically for expired listings in his market, using both his brochure and follow-up Powerkards (also hand-written) to try and convert those expired listings into business.

For Bob, it all starts with having a strong relationship. That’s how he generates business and ultimately how he gets more referrals and repeat business. At the end of every transaction, he doesn’t buy his clients a closing gift. Rather, he gets them a “beginning gift” to welcome them into their new home. It’s usually a more personal gift based on what he’s gotten to know about them during the buying or selling process. It’s just one more way Bob is evoking his philosophy of “relationship selling”—one cup of coffee at a time.