Success Story: Prudential N.J. Properties
Prudential New Jersey Properties and WhereToLive.com: Partnering for a Winning Real Estate Web Solution
From her first days as the new head of marketing for Prudential New Jersey Properties, Michele Giordano knew the company’s consumer website and intranet-based back office needed a major makeover.
“It was the poster child for web 1.0 and reflected a template-style approach that was common at the time,” Giordano explains, describing a website that was little more than a colorful online brochure. “There was no interaction, there was nothing engaging to inspire consumers to return, and the online back office wasn’t helping our agents grow or respond to consumer behavior and a changing business model.”
PrudentialNewJersey.com: High-Tech and High-Touch
Today, consumers who visit PrudentialNewJersey.com discover a website that Giordano calls “the perfect blend of high-tech and high-touch.”
Home-shoppers have instant access to best-in-class map-based search capabilities and detailed property thumbnails from the 11 counties served by more than 600 Prudential New Jersey Properties agents. Consumers also can access individual agent websites, comprehensive community and neighborhood information and real-time market data and trends, property showcase and video tours, and a mobile-optimized site at m.PrudentialNewJersey.com. They can plan and map their open house tours, compare up to 10 properties in a side-by-side chart they create, evaluate active vs. sold listings, and connect via email or text with a Prudential New Jersey Properties agent to request a showing or obtain more information.
Agents, meanwhile, can enter a secure OnlineOffice agent portal and gain exclusive access to a wide range of website creation, lead generation, lead management, inventory management, customer relationship management (CRM) and other business tools and resources designed to help them better serve their clients and build their business. The platform also serves Giordano and her colleagues at the brokerage’s administrative offices in Somerset, N.J., providing an entirely new way to attract, train, recruit and retain sales associates. Online video and rotating banners and billboards within the OnlineOffice enable the management team to communicate important news and other information to agents every time they sign in.
“From the contemporary feel, functionality and features of the consumer website, including its exclusive SmartMap search, to the comprehensive back office experience and CRM tool in OnlineOffice, this new platform is everything we wanted and needed,” says Giordano.
The results have been nothing short of spectacular. Since the company shuttered its old website and launched PrudentialNewJersey.com three years ago, website traffic is up by more than 100 percent and the number of leads generated in 2011 jumped 66 percent year over year. Agent retention, meanwhile, has dramatically improved.
Prudential New Jersey Properties is a full-service residential real estate company whose 600-plus agents in 19 locations serve consumers across northern and central New Jersey. Established in 2000 with the merger of three of the state’s largest and most successful independent Prudential Real Estate Affiliates, Prudential New Jersey Properties specializes in resale, new homes, fine homes and relocation services and offers a comprehensive menu of mortgage, title, home warranty and insurance products. Today, it is the largest Prudential Real Estate Affiliate in New Jersey, among the top 20 companies in Prudential Real Estate’s national network, a top 100 brokerage in terms of sales volume, and the second-largest independently owned and operated real estate company in the Garden State. The company is headquartered in Somerset, N.J.
Director of Marketing
and Career Development
A Partner for the Long Term
Behind these impressive results is WhereToLive.com, a Minnesota-based real estate technology and marketing solutions consultant provider and Prudential New Jersey Properties partner since 2008.
Giordano refuses to call WhereToLive.com a “vendor.” In her mind, vendors deliver a product or service and little else. “Partners,” however, strive to become an indispensable thread in the fabric of a company’s culture, mission, vision and value proposition. They deliver innovation and top-notch, highly personal service – often without being asked. The result is a relationship that lives and breathes and grows stronger over time. “That’s what we found with WhereToLive,” she concludes.
The team at WhereToLive.com first met with Giordano not long after she came to Prudential in 2005. She was immediately impressed with their strategic approach and knowledge of the real estate business. But Giordano and the company had other pressing priorities at the time. By early 2008, those priorities had changed.
“I knew we were nowhere near where we should be [with their legacy website] and at that time we were beginning to see the turn of the market and a major shift in consumer behavior,” says Giordano. “I also knew we really had to change up who we were and reinvent ourselves, because the model was changing.”
“Having a fabulous-looking site is wonderful, but if it doesn’t generate leads and help agents convert them into business, it’s just marketing.”
There were plenty of web development firms able to create an attractive page design and occasionally hit the “System Back-Up” button. “Having a fabulous-looking site is wonderful, but if it doesn’t generate leads and help agents convert them into business, it’s just marketing,” Giordano advises. “We needed to partner with someone who really understood who we were and what our competition, which has an extraordinary online presence, had at that time.”
The management team at Prudential New Jersey Properties had seen the platform WhereToLive.com created for CENTURY 21® Canada and appreciated its functionality, not to mention its impact on consumer traffic and agent satisfaction. “We really saw that as the flagship,” Giordano recalls. “Whenever we would bring up the possibility of recreating our website to our management team, we would show them their platform and how unique it was.”
With budgets already being cut, Giordano suggested a controversial way to fund the new platform by redirecting funds allocated to the company’s annual awards celebration. Despite the popularity of the event and the importance of agent recognition, management eventually agreed. “Because the agents were beginning to feel the difference in the market in their own pockets, our owners recognized that money might be better invested in our agents’ future rather than in a single day,” she explains.
By April 2008, the two partners had a signed contract and a planned launch date in late 2008 or early 2009.
Lessons Along the Way
It isn’t unusual for there to be “challenges” during development, testing and launch of a complex new system. Giordano is candid about the hurdles she and the WhereToLive.com team faced during the nine months it took to define the look, feel and functionality of the new platform and incorporate business, MLS and other processes.
“WhereToLive literally had to rebuild our site from the ground up. They weren’t going to be able to leverage any past online successes because, frankly, we didn’t have them,” she explains. “Nine months really is not very long at all when you consider you must deal with several multiple listing services – and that integration is where it all really begins. It’s a huge thing to deal with some of the rules our MLS systems present.”
Even so, when the new platform went live at midnight on February 17, 2009, the transition went exactly according to plan. “It was seamless, really – which is amazing when I think back on what could have happened,” she recalls. “WhereToLive was there to ‘train the trainers’ and provided step-by-step instructions so agents could make an easy transition of their information from one system to the other. Things went according to plan because they knew us so well.”
Thrilled with the new site, Giordano immediately demonstrated it to her Prudential marketing colleagues and others in the technology and marketing community. “I was just bursting, and I sent out an email telling everyone, ‘Hey, you’ve got to check this out!’ The rave reviews that came back one by one were amazing. Anyone who was a techie just loved it!”
Making the Unfamiliar More Familiar
However, less tech-savvy agents in the field were not as effusive in their praise of the unfamiliar system.
“The platform was very different than what was in the marketplace at the time,” Giordano explains. “That was a positive, but it also was a negative, because our agents and their clients initially weren’t comfortable because it was so unfamiliar. Our search functionality in that initial version was delivered visually – it was all map-based – so it didn’t give them the typical thumbnail list of search results that they were used to getting at the time on Realtor.com or even on our previous site.”
Back in Minnesota, the WhereToLive team immediately went to work to address agent concerns. “Instead of coming to the table with ego, they came with ears wide open and the attitude, ‘What can we do to make this work for the agents?’” Giordano marvels. An upgrade to the system featured both the map search feature and the customary property thumbnails agents wanted. “I thought that was pretty fabulous, because it responded to us as the client and identified real needs while preserving the other features that distinguished the WhereToLive platform in the first place. That was a great learning experience for both of us.”
As the system developed its “sea legs,” other needs emerged. “Our competition was hyper-local, so WhereToLive knew we also needed to drive hyper-local content and took accountability for providing content for 116 different communities and key markets,” she explains. “That was extremely important, because as an agent you can identify a market and get pretty granular. But from the perspective of a brokerage handling all of northern and central New Jersey, I’m never going to get as granular as I need to be and could never afford a staff of writers or engage my agent population with me in this. WhereToLive stepped up and rose to a level that I had not anticipated, and it improved our traffic considerably.”
Brokers Score Success With Unique Motivational System
One of the challenges many brokerages face when they launch a new consumer website is convincing agents to use it.
That’s why WhereToLive.com created WebScore, a proprietary system within OnlineOffice that motivates agents to fully utilize and regularly update their company-provided websites and automatically tracks agent and office participation for the broker.
WebScore constantly reinforces the value proposition we’ve created for our agents.
Here’s how it works. Agents score points for peppering their personal brokerage web pages with information that attracts consumer traffic: multiple pictures of listings, the agent’s photo and biography, regular blog updates contributions or other custom content, for example. Agents who achieve or maintain a certain score receive special incentives courtesy of their broker, like a free personal website or property domain name, or a complimentary Google AdWords listing.
“WebScore constantly reinforces the value proposition we’ve created for our agents,” says Prudential New Jersey Properties’ Michele Giordano. “Our agents learn what it takes to serve their business, create hyper-local content, really identify their market and engage in the activities required to manage a website. And they absolutely love competing against each other to see who has the best scores.”
“Over time, we’ve learned there is a direct correlation, for example, between the number of photos and the amount of traffic a listing gets,” says Ed Kohler, WhereToLive.com’s director of Strategic Marketing. “Through WebScore, our broker clients are able to reinforce behavior that we know correlates directly with more effective lead generation efforts.
The Bottom Line: High-Quality Leads
Since then, almost 81 percent of consumers enter PrudentalNewJersey.com at the “property details” or “community” level, up from 64 percent just a year ago. “We now know that performance of our website home page doesn’t mean as much, because consumers are hitting our site at the exact point where they want to be,” says Giordano. “From there, they can make the choice to take one of several calls to action.”
That’s quite an improvement from where things stood when Prudential New Jersey Properties and WhereToLive.com began their partnership a couple of years ago.
“We no longer invite consumers to our home page and then leave them on their own to find the information they really want,” Giordano concludes. “They now have a point of engagement at PrudentialNewJersey.com. They don’t need to go anywhere else.”