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Google discovers what computing is actually for: “In short, we’ll treat you as a single user across all our products which will mean a simpler, more intuitive Google experience.”

Across all products is important. Across all devices is vital.

Drudge and the privacy geeks are going typically apeshit, but Google is playing my tune:

“If you’re signed in, we may combine information you’ve provided from one service with information from other services,” Alma Whitten, Google’s director of privacy, product and engineering wrote in a blog post.

How might that work?

For instance, a user who has watched YouTube videos of the Washington Wizards might suddenly see basketball ticket ads appear in his or her Gmail accounts.

That person may also be reminded of a business trip to Washington on Google Calendar and asked whether he or she wants to notify friends who live in the area, information Google would cull from online contacts or its social network Google+.

Hell, yeah! Those are the kinds of jobs I want from Sarah, your software secretary, but I can show you a very cool Constance the Connector connection here, as well.

How about I start a music service that seeks to sell you music that you will probably like and don’t already own. “Don’t already own” is an easy database from iTunes or whatever. But “will probably like” requires analysis — algorithm as art — and that’s what makes my business model work. To you-as-end-user, it feels like I know you, like we’re high-school buddies whose friendship is built around grooving to the same tunes.

How could I do that? Let me see your YouTube history, not just what you picked but how many times your replayed particular songs. Let me see your Amazon.com shopping history — especially the things you come back to again and again but don’t buy. I don’t need to know you. You already know you better than anyone else ever could.

That’s what we’re actually talking about, you collecting facts about yourself for future reference. Like a bad comic, Google can make anything sound dirty, but there is nothing wrong with you getting more of what you want — better, faster and cheaper.

Do you understand? Your fears, assuming they are real, are misplaced. The U.S. Government now has the lawful authority to assassinate you at will in your home with a Predator Drone. Google just wants to help you find a more effective hemorrhoid cream.

So: I’ve got the formula for the all-time perfect one-size-fits-you-and-you-alone internet radio station. How do I get the data?

Here’s a way of thinking of Constance, purely as software: She is an extensible database of extensible databases. YouTube or other music or video services might elect to create databases of your uses of their software, making that data available to other software services. If your Constance profile contained your YouTube history and your Amazon shopping history, a music service like mine might pull that data in order to program your radio station. But Amazon.com might pull my software’s database of your interaction with it, too, in order to try to figure out what music to suggest to you.

Having the software and hardware you use make your usage and performance data available to Constance — and hence to other software services — will promote the optimization of your software experiences everywhere you go. Instead of data distributed across hundreds of sites, apps and devices, Constance becomes a unitary, unified user-profile available to enhance your user-experience anywhere.

Google can deliver some of that experience across its own software services. But Constance can be seen as a central piece in an entirely new way of thinking about the end-user experience of computers — which by now means with everything electronic.

You’ve heard this all your life, uttered as a profundity by some smug asshole whose job it was to stunt your growth: “Computers do what you tell them to do, not what you want them to do.”

Here’s the news: That’s 100% entirely wrong — or it will be very soon.

 
Our story so far: Lately, I have been tap-dancing around an idea for a new kind of computer-user operating paradigm. I haven’t explicated the central thesis yet, but it should be easy enough to infer from the essays I’ve written so far:

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  • 10 comments

    Product idea: Constance the Connector.

    It’s been a few weeks since I started talking about Constance, and since then I’ve come up with a completely different way of thinking about operating systems. There are three players who could profit from my thinking — Apple, Google and Amazon — and I would be more than happy to share my thoughts to the first one of those three who salutes.

    Meanwhile, I give you Constance, which is in some ways the logical counterpart to Heidi, the self-maintaining CRM system I started talking about last August. Constance the Connector is a server-based service that maintains your handle — a topic we have discussed before.

    So: Here are ways you can know of me:

    • By name
    • By street address
    • By phone number
    • By email address
    • By Twitter handle
    • By social media profile
    • etc.

    For now, if you want to address me by one of those means, you have to know the specific proper noun to be used — my actual name or my current email address. You are responsible for maintaining that information, and everyone who wants to make contact with me must do the same redundant and error-prone maintenance.

    A Heidi-like CRM can do some of the maintenance by means of assiduous, arduous data-base mining. But if I don’t make my new street address public somewhere, your of-course-I-haven’t-forgotten-about-you greeting card is going to bounce.

    There’s more: The way things work now, I have no control over who addresses me or how. I’m not just bitching about spam. I want cold-calling salespeople to go straight to voicemail — and when I have determined that I don’t want to hear from a particular caller again, I want never to hear from that person ever again.

    So think of me this way, instead: @gswann. That’s my handle: @gswann. Sending em an email? Send it to @gswann. Want to try to get me on the phone? Dial @gswann. Snailmail? Send it to @gswann, you dinosaur. Want to pull my LinkedIn profile? It’s @gswann.

    That much is just the handle idea — but with a twist. What we’re doing with the handle @gswann is sending a request to the Constance server for the current mission-critical contact information associated with the @gswann handle.

    So I can change my email address three times a week and never miss a missive. When you’re addressing that mailing label, Constance can look into my calendar and note that I will be in Las Vegas for the rest of the week. Your package will go to where I really am, not to where I am usually to be found.

    There’s more: The Google+ idea of circles is beyond useful: If you’re in my circle of friends and family, my street address is my home. If you’re a client or a vendor, your mail will go to my office. If you’re not in my CRM data-base, your first phone call to me is going to go straight to voicemail — and Heidi is going to start digging for information about you, pulling your Constance profile among other things. If you’ve hit my spam circle, you’ll never get anything but a busy signal from me.

    That’s empowerment: Until now, any sort of message has been in some respects a weapon: The sender has all the control, and the recipient is very possibly an unwilling victim. Constance gives the sender very high quality contact information, but it gives the recipient complete control about how to react to an incoming message. If I want to hear from you, the path is fully cleared. But if I don’t want to hear from you — not now or not ever — I get to decide how to use my time and resources.

    I’m not done. The social media world has you leaving footprints all over the place. Constance should curate your social graph, so that hard-chargers like Brian Brady can subscribe to an RSS feed that includes your contributions to every site you visit. But Constance should also give you instant-autofill for each new user profile you are asked to fill out.

    You are maintaining this, after all. Constance can do a lot of Heidi-like chores to make it easy for you to maintain your contact information, but it’s still up to you to keep your addresses up-to-date. But why should you ever have to do this more than once? The Constance API will not only auto-fill new profile requests, it will auto-maintain your existing profiles. Practically speaking, my Facebook or Tumblr profile should be @gswann. In other words, the apposite web site should send a Constance request when my profile information is queried. Even if it is maintaing a local copy of its particular data fields, it should revise its records with a Constance call whenever my profile is requested.

    I can do more: Why not sub-handles, faux-handles, phandles? In other words, demi-anonymous identities you can use where you don’t want to reveal your full details. Where might that be? Games, dating sites, pornucopias, etc. Using a camouflage handle and a circle that is very limited in the information to be shared, you can exert that much more control over how people are able to contact you.

    This is the software-as-a-service idea, the real payoff from cloud-based computing. Constance is a web site to you, the place you go to maintain your contact information and your circles of contacts. But Constance is an API to sites like Twitter or LinkedIn: An API call with @gswann as the parameter results in an XML payload of contact/profile information. The receiving site does what it wants with the data it understands and ditches the rest. And Constance is also a limited-context API for your existing software clients. A request from your email client yields my email address, but your Twitter client would get my DM handle instead. Typing @gswann into your phone would call me, but the call would be handled according to which of my circles, if any, you are to be found in.

    We are organizing every bit of information you might want to share with other people, with web sites and with software clients, and then we are delivering it, upon request, according to the controls you have put in place. The amount of information you might share is potentially infinite, but each data request yields only the mission-critical data that you have elected to make available to that recipient.

    Though my names might be legion, you need only remember @gswann. Whatever you send, however you send it, Constance the Connector will get it to me in the way I want it.

     
    Our story so far: Lately, I have been tap-dancing around an idea for a new kind of computer-user operating paradigm. I haven’t explicated the central thesis yet, but it should be easy enough to infer from the essays I’ve written so far:

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  • 6 comments

    Product (category) idea: Antoinette the anticipator.

    I first thought of the idea of an anticipator as hardware, I kid you not. The early 1980s? Software was dear in those days, but early computer-on-a-chip chips were cheap and abundant. There still would have been a software component to an anticipator, of course, but not much.

    Here’s what I thought about then: Anything that could be monitored by signal processing — as, for example, the communication between a micro-computer and its peripheral devices — could have an anticipator in-line, monitoring all the signal traffic back and fourth. By maintaining a probabilistic database of past events, the anticipator could, over time, evolve strategies for anticipating resources likely to be called for in the near future, and, using otherwise dead time on the computer’s data bus, cache that data in advance, eliminating time lost on fetch requests made in real time.

    Wow! How kludgey our world used to be! In the bad old days, there were pre-fetch routines built into operating systems, but they were a brute-force solution to a vast array of very small, fussy problems. An anticipator would strive to be optimally efficient and mission critical by dealing only with the specific data most likely to be requested.

    An example? If a font required for a document is not stored on your printer, the printer must fetch the outline data from your hard disk. It’s a small job, on its own, but you could maximize your productivity from the printer if those fetch calls in real-time were ameliorated by intelligent pre-fetching. The anticipator could both maintain the most-often used outlines in the printer’s memory as well as anticipating exceptions to the everyday rules — for example, by keeping the boss’s favorite Christmas font on the printer from Thanksgiving through Christmas. That implies real secretarial smarts, but it’s simply probabilistic database mining being perfected over time.

    So what about now?

    Antoinette the anticipator harkens back to Heidi and Sarah, and to Constance, which I haven’t gotten to yet.

    Imagine an anticipator function in Sarah that, when Sarah figures out that you are going to be late for a meeting, sends out all the appropriate notices, all on her own. What if Sarah knew how to gather all the information necessary to initiate a new for-pay job in your systems — creating the accounts, copying in the CRM data, issuing the work orders, generating the PERT chart — whatever. In my world, opening escrow for a new home-sale transaction entails a lot of (now mostly virtual) paperwork and a host of arcane details. I want for Sarah (or someone!) to do that work without my involvement, except for oversight and quality control.

    How would she do this? By watching you and generating, over time, probabilistic rules for highly-repetitive functions. Let her talk to you and she can learn that much faster by asking you what you are doing. Data does not know what it is, and data-processing software does not know what the data it processes is. But signals are real — both digital signals and real world events — and kinds and qualities and quantities and frequencies of signals can be collected, measured and analyzed. In the example above we had one anticipator watching one printer connection, but Sarah watches everything. She can not only cache fonts better than anything I imagined in the 80′s, she can watch the toner levels and order consumables on a just-in-time basis.

    Any data that can be collected can be analyzed, pattern-matched and acted upon. This is how your dog’s brain works, in essence. But software can be so much smarter and more productive than a dog. A long time ago, I wrote about spell-checking as a crowd-sourceable phenomenon. I was making jokes, but that turned out to be humor-for-one. But imagine if the text editor in your operating system used an anticipator as part of its spell-checking and auto-correction. Over time, it could adapt itself to you uniquely, correcting virtually all of your errors in real time. Signals are signals, and most of what you do, by now, consists of generating measurable signals. The kind of software I am describing could be incredibly productive, in your own unique life, in just a few weeks of working with you.

    Now: Who wants to hear about Constance, a software idea that ties all of these ideas and some others together?

     
    Our story so far: Lately, I have been tap-dancing around an idea for a new kind of computer-user operating paradigm. I haven’t explicated the central thesis yet, but it should be easy enough to infer from the essays I’ve written so far:

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  • 4 comments

    Product idea: Sarah, Heidi’s helper in the real world.

    The big buzz in the mobile computing biz is augmented reality, your phone or tablet takes in a scene and then echoes back to you what it can infer from an image and its GPS coordinates, compass direction, etc. This may be cool, or it may be cool like a QR-code, an idea whose time will never come.

    Augmented reality will be that much cooler when it’s like Arnold-the-Terminator’s eyes, but that illustrates the key defects of the idea, as it is currently implemented:

    Augmented reality is not done continuously but only on demand, and only in static and affected ways.

    And, in consequence, it’s not doing anything terribly useful, except possibly in vertical market applications.

    But reflect that an iPad can run continuously for 10 hours without recharging. Next year’s models may double that number. Soon you will get reminders to plug in, or your devices will find ways to provide for themselves while you’re asleep.

    So instead of a truly amazing augmented reality presentation on the Black Hills of Dakota, how about a piece of software that watches you and your life all the time, and augments your activities however it can.

    This harkens back to an idea I’ve brought up before, a hypothetical self-maintaining CRM called Heidi:

    An email comes in over the transom. The spambot says it’s not spam and the sender is not already in your CRM database, so let’s extract as much information as we can from the email. With a name and an email address we can probably get the sender’s full contact information, and possibly a whole lot more.

    Make that first contact a phone call instead. Caller ID is lame, but Google is not. From the phone number, can you get back to a name? A location? From those, can we effect the same kind of searches discussed above?

    There’s more: Once your CRM knows a name, it should be watching for any changes in publicly-available databases that should be reflected in your private CRM database. That is to say, your CRM should be maintaining itself.

    Sarah’s going to monitor every phone call, of course. She or Heidi should be doing all the cloud-mining discussed above, but Sarah should also be listening for names, appointments, addresses, contact information, etc.

    Now that Sarah is listening in on your phone calls, why shouldn’t she listen in on — or even save audio or video of — every person you come into contact with? It’s CYOA for honest folks, of course, but Sarah should be augmenting your life in real time every which way she can. Not as Siri-like requests, but simply doing all that database mining all the time. You should not be able to have a factual question raised in your dealings with other people that Sarah has not already sought to answer, as soon as the question comes up. If she can’t answer the question herself, she can at least build smart links — into the MLS, Realtors? — to make your work easier.

    I actually thought about this while watching television. Cathleen had a question about a commercial that had just ended. I hadn’t watched it, but Sarah could easily have monitored the commercial, identified the product, found the best on-line and brick ‘n’ mortar deals, etc. Mostly you would never need this information, but you would always have it when you did.

    You live your live in a vortex of factual data. A piece of software like Sarah should be watching all of it and making sense of everything she can. Even if you ignore 95% of what she comes up with, she will significantly augment your life with the other five percent.

     
    Our story so far: Lately, I have been tap-dancing around an idea for a new kind of computer-user operating paradigm. I haven’t explicated the central thesis yet, but it should be easy enough to infer from the essays I’ve written so far:

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  • 7 comments

    Let’s Be Clear About Social Media

    I keep thinking I’m going to stop posting here.  I keep thinking that I’m going to get sucked into the vortex of rancor that BHB can be.   And then we get these gems of conversation from Brian, Jeff, Al & Greg.  And I’m drawn right back in.   Nothing’s perfect, everybody’s crazy, right?  Life goes on, and the closest I will get to a rebuttal of Greg’s impractical rancor is that it’s wallet-foolish to criticize someone that competes for some of the same business you do. Saving my rancor for when it matters has doubled my income. Your milage may vary.

    I digress. Circling back to my take on Facebook.   I post there often, it’s in my opening tabs as I start my computer.  I look around and peruse.  I make some money from it, mostly in the form of the zombies.

    Zombies?  These are the strangers that add me randomly on Facebook.  I consider that an “opt in”, so I add them back and put them on a “social media” list in Heap.

    And then I send my new pseudo-friends a torrent of spam and calls.  They cry uncle with an Amex.   They are mostly realtors.

    I process my queue about once a month and I wind up with 75-80 “leads”.  This generates about $3500 in new business.  $50 bucks a friend, y’all can add me all day long.

    This is what most Realtors that are hustling do on Facebook. At least there’s effort here, which is more than I can say for those that strive to monetize whatever should flit across their subconscious.

     

    Anyhow, enjoy.

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  • 35 comments

    Facebook Works If You Work It. If You Won’t Work It, Just Play Farmville

    Let me restate my case about Facebook; if you’re not using Facebook as a prospecting tool, you are most likely wasting your time and engaging in the ultimate procrastination scheme.  I don’t begrudge folks fun and Facebook can provide much joy.  You can reconnect with old friends and make interesting new friends there but if you plan to use it for business, you’ll most likely end up wasting hours that could have been better spent standing in front of a supermarket, handing out your business card.

    Like this, from Agent Genius:

    You don’t need a business page.  In fact, a business page is just one more time suck.  People rarely go to a business page to learn about real estate on Facebook; look at the metrics offered to prove that.   The author’s offered advice is just plain wrong:

    You shouldn’t be using your personal profile page to promote business. It is against the guidelines on Facebook and just rude, regardless. I will share with you how you CAN use your profile effectively, but blasting out your market reports and new listings is a big NO-NO on your personal profile.

    Huh?  I have no idea where the author found the “rule” about doing business on personal pages but can tell you, from a few years experience on Facebook, that telling your audience about your business is not only desirable but effective.   Posting listings isn’t rude, it’s your stock-in-trade.  If you’re only posting listings on your Facebook page, you’re likely to be branded as boring but listings are real estate porn, designed to slow down the gawkers and encourage a reaction from them.  Your “friends” will most likely be gawking at your listings if you’re interesting enough to be in their Facebook stream.

    I have what I think is a low key way of occasionally including real estate into my status without it being obvious. I share parts of my day that include real estate in a personal light. For example: last winter I was showing REO property and put as my status update: “Showing bank owned properties and it is colder INSIDE than OUT, my feet are totally numb!” A status like this reminds my friends and family on my personal page that I am a REALTOR without the typical “sales pitch”.

    Status updates are an excellent way to mix in your business life with your personal.  The advice offered, while seemingly paradoxical to the author’s etiquette course offered earlier, is a good way to remind people that you sell homes.

    Want to really make Facebook effective for business?

    Prospect your friends’ list.  That’s right, actually call people up and say hello to them.  Reach out and discover what they do offline and remind them you sell real estate.  Go one step further and get permission to do the MREA thing and every twelve of these conversations will turn into an annual transaction. That may seem “rude” but your number one job as a real estate agent is to find prospects.

    Keller and Jenks (authors of the Millionaire Real Estate Agent) claim that with shifted markets, must come shifted focus, in their follow up book Shift:

    When leads become fewer, prospecting increases.  The research from Millionaire Real Estate Agent shows that top agents use “marketing-based and prospecting-enhanced” approaches, but experience teaches us that a shifted market requires that you move more towards prospecting.  You could still be marketing based, but you’re probably doing more prospecting than you were.  It’s all about meeting your lead generation goals.  Prospecting tends to uncover more motivated leads faster and keeps you more in control.  Because prospecting puts you in immediate contact with people you get immediate feedback- and that is what you want in a shifted market.

    The advice offered by the author about Facebook then, is so 2005.  You would be much better served to call every single person on your Facebook connection list, ask them if they have any questions about real estate. and secure permission to enter their name in your MREA database. Most of you won’t do that because, well…it’s “rude” (and requires courage and work).  Just play Farmville then, keep a low profile,  and forget about using Facebook for business.  You’ll probably do more harm than good if you try to mix business with game playing.

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  • 10 comments

    Prospecting Your Way To Prosperity With Social Media

    Most real estate agents and mortgage loan originators don’t know how to find business.  I fear that some of the social media strategies I’ve shared have morphed into a  “build it and they will come” approach to business development.  Greg Swann did a nice job of identifying this problem when he said that time spent on social media marketing is wasteful:

    “Marketing” by social media is a huge waste of time. Selling is one-on-one, focused, time-consuming and goal-directed. Marketing, done properly, is broadcast, diffuse, time-efficient and passive and long-term in its goal-pursuit.

    He’s absolutely correct.  The time investment required, to keep your social media current, never pencils out if you want to make six figures annually.  You will get some results but trust me when I tell you that you could have equaled or bested those results by handing out business cards at the swap mart (and yes, I’ve done that, too).  Here’s where his opinion gets a bit murky, though:

    Even if you are really doing your best to market your services on-line, if you are doing it by engaging people one-on-one in fleeting media like Twitter or Facebook, you are almost certainly wasting your time.

    That, I can tell you from experience, is only partly true.  Using social media to prospect can be exponentially more effective than cold-calling or handing out business cards at a swap mart because of the rich information users provide.  People buy from people they trust and connections help to build trust more quickly.    I’ll come back to this later but it helps to understand the difference between marketing and prospecting as lead generation tools.

    Greg’s working definition of marketing (op. sit.) is a good one.   The long-term benefit of marketing is that it is scalable.   Online marketing, especially blogging, can be a workhorse, which generates inquiries from prospects for as long as the information is relevant.  The hour investment in a well-written blog post can attract tons of inquiries over time (I have a few blog posts that perform that well).  Likewise, a consistent display advertisement in the town’s weekly newspaper can trigger you to “top of mind” status for people seeking to sell their home.  The problem with marketing?  Marketing costs either time or money.  If you need rather than have money, you might consider prospecting as a lead generation tool.

    Prospecting is best defined as an active business generation effort.  You seek potential customers in the “river” and sift through the “silt” to find little nuggets of “gold”.  It is, by nature, a disqualifying process where you throw out people who have no immediate or pressing need for your services.  Good prospecting rejects certain interested people as much as it does to accept them.  Consider this advice about prospecting from Russell Shaw:

    You don’t want to pay a lot for advertising for two reasons: you don’t have the money to pay and you wouldn’t know what to put in the ad anyway.  Okay so skip advertising for now.  Prospect.  Learn what people consider valuable just by trial and error.  See enough people and ask enough people what they might be interested in and in very short order (a few hundred people from now) you will know what to say and what not to say when you are talking to a prospective customer.

    There are exactly two methods of getting business in our business: marketing or prospecting.  Learn to effectively do one or both of those or leave real estate sales.  Fortunately, or unfortunately, those are the only three choices.  The skill of getting customers is the “important skill” in our business.  For a really bright future make this important thing your important thing.

    You can blindly cold call names out of a telephone directory.  You can wear out the shoe leather by knocking on doors for listings.  You could ask the question “Wanna buy a home?” when you hand out the business card at the swap mart; that action alone turns the marketing effort into a prospecting effort.  Ask any top-producing securities broker or insurance agent and they’ll tell you that, in the beginning of their career, they built their business through cold prospecting.  The top producers still prospect but they use a much more sophisticated strategy; referral prospecting.

    Referral prospecting leverages your proven work results by soliciting introductions from happy customers.  This can be as crude as the “referral card at closing” or as sophisticated as asking a past customer for an introduction to a specific person.  A personal example of the latter was when I asked a securities broker, for whom I secured a refinance loan, for an introduction to another broker in her office.  I thought I might have an opportunity to write a bigger loan for next broker; I was right.  The challenge with that strategy is that you must have a specific “target prospect” in mind.

    Social media offer us a peek behind the curtain of the previously hidden relationships our customers have.  It helps you to identify that “specific prospect”.   LinkedIn shows us our customers’ colleagues, friends, and customers.  Facebook might identify our customers’ political connections, work colleagues, kids’ Pop Warner coaches, family members, and neighbors.  Social media narrows the field so that you can more effectively “target” the people with whom you wish to speak.

    Social media marketing is really not a cost effective strategy for business generation but social media prospecting can help you fire an arrow at more bull’s eyes.  I’ll share some specific strategies, which can produce immediate positive results, in future posts.

    Happy hunting!

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  • 40 comments

    CFORMS->Heap + Aweber = Finally, The Perfect Real Estate CRM Smashup?

    Heap CRM’s recent announcement that you can now fire off Event templates from an email got me jizzing a little.

    Here’s why:

    I’ve played a lot with the CForms wordpress plugin and knew that it allowed for 2 interesting things to happen after a form submission.

    1. Cforms will show a custom thank you message directly after form submission and this message will take html.
    2. Cforms will fire off a custom message to any admin email address of your choosing.

    So, starting with the latter…

    Knowing that Heap allows a series of events to be scheduled based on some code inserted into an email, I created a CFORM and got to tweaking a custom email message that would be sent to my heap dropbox address for creating a new lead.

    You’ll see in the example below that the Subject of the admin email is configured to display the “Name” field entered by the visitor. And the body of the email is configured to include Heap’s code for firing off an event template (along with some other variables, of which there are delightfully many to choose from!)

    So in this example, a new lead is created in Heap and a follow up series of events that I’ve pre-configured is kicked off, along with the scheduling of any number of email messages.

    The lead could have also been auto assigned to a teammate based on the short code, which might be a nice feature for any broker considering building a multi agent contributor, multi niche focused blogsite. (Imagine embedding a different agent branded cform for on pages created for each neighborhood in your market area. Then consider reaching out to a prospective recruit and promising them that all leads from that page will be routed into the custom CRM solution you’re going to be giving them. [at the whopping cost of an additional $5/month!]

    And Then… the Lead Gets Subscribed to an RSS Based Blog Broadcast!

    At this point there were already excitement streaks in my undies, but then I realized that I’d also want all of these “leads” to be subscribed to the RSS based newsletter I had set up in Aweber…

    Enter CFORM’s silky smoove ajaxy custom HTML thank you message! Simply embed the script for your Aweber form as your form submission thank you message with a little trickery and you’re good to go. What trickery? Here’s an image of the custom thank you message displaying the aweber form.

    Summing It Up In Terms of Cost

    • Subscription to Heap = $9/Month for First User, $5/Month for Each Additional.
    • Heap is way more user friendly, flexible, and affordable than industry standards like Top Producer.
    • Aweber = $19/month. You can add multiple rss based broadcasts (one for each niche within your site).
    • CFORMS = Free! (download from DeliciousDays.Com)

    Wanna See It In Action?

    CLICK HERE and scroll to the bottom of the page for a glimpse at the user experience. As a bonus, [and because I'm too lazy to build another example ] you’ll also get a peak at retechulous mortgage lead generation approach. :)

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  • 4 comments

    Taking the Genius of Brian Brady to the Next Level: How to Pipe Linked In Network Updates Into Your Feed Reader

    In the spirit of my #1 Bloodhound Blog Unchained takeaway, here’s a 70% ready-to-roll video.  Brian Brady was kind enough to teach me his brilliant way of leveraging Linked In to establish new relationships.  I haven’t been executing the Brady Principles consistently enough.  Check out a little something-something I stumbled upon (no pun intended) today:

    Here are some related links if you’d like to learn more about Brian Brady’s Linked In techniques or Google Reader:

    Brian Brady Training on Linked In (awesome webinar we recorded in March)

    Google Reader vs. Twitter Lists (why I disagree with a recent article Scoble wrote vs. Google Reader)

    Introduction to Google Reader (great article by Mark Madsen, fellow BHB contributor)

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  • 9 comments

    Digital Access Pass: A Membership Site/CRM

    I have–as a lot of people know–been searching high and low for a workable CRM for my business. I miss desperately the easy fun that was ACT 6.0, and hated every version after that.

    I tried Highrise, but it lacked “activity serieses” at the time, schedule once, do often.   I tried HEAP, and while it has suitable features, a great developer and a good ethos, the interface was not one I could think of.

    Infusionsoft was an utter rip-off.  Staffed by the same types that brought Option Arms to all of the west with nonchalance, Infusionsoft was expensive, it has a bad interface, and worst of all, you have to adopt to it.  In 20 months of being self employed, Infusionsoft was the only thing that made me feel like somebody’s bitch.  The sales staff lied about its capacity “out of the box,” and the employees that ran it wanted to teach me something about being an entreprenuer, condescendingly selling me coaching.

    Still, I think that the $700 I spent was worth it just to learn some slight of hand.  The marketing was so good, so emotionally connecting that I believed, despite evidence to the contrary that they cared.   So, the lesson learned was hire a copywriter so good that you feel happy to have been ripped off, and hopeful despite evidence to the contrary.

    I’ve been playing with a lot of membership site software.  And, on Twitter, a tweet about WP-Wishlist got a clever guy following me, the developer of a piece of software called Digital Access Pass. DAP is not without its flaws.  It’s not yet perfect.   But, the structure and the thought behind it is, and it’s going to power a large bit of my customer service for the foreseeable future.

    Dap sees things as “product” oriented.  Each product has a group of files and emails that are sequentially released to the customer at an arbitrary interval.  Day 1, email one, file one.  Day 2, email 2, file two.  Etc.

    I emailed Ravi, and suggested one feature: that the “emails” that go out can be sent to an arbitrary address, defined on each one.  He wanted to know why: simple: with filters, you can use that as reminders.  So now, if you get a lead you can demonstrate how well you do with dap.   He made the change the same day I pinged him, and has been nothing but a joy to deal with.  (Full disclosure: he has comped me something or other, at some point, yet that has nothing to do with why DAP rocks.)

    Put someone into Dap and whatever 8×8 or 12×2 can be expressed automatically. A combination of emails and reminders for you to call can be sent.  With a little elbow grease, you can generate a TODO list or whatever.

    The other part is this: you control it.  100%.  It’s not “pay as you go,” it’s “put a script on your server, and then have a SQL database.”   You can also email Ravi and get him to make changes.  It seems that about every 3 weeks he’s adding features and simplifying things.

    If your model includes selling anything on the Web, and if you want a way to educate your people, try DAP.  It says “membership site,” but I’m using it as a CRM.   I’ll let you know how I do.  It’s $167, and Ravi will have your back when stuff blows up.

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  • 11 comments

    “The 10 (Real Estate Website) Must-Haves” – Top Producer’s List Isn’t Bad, But…

    Just got this in me inbox from Top Producer…It’s interesting, and makes a lot of sense that they’ve branched out from being just a crm over the past few years.

    picture-39

    I don’t think it’s a bad list, but at a glance I think it’s missing 2 things? :

    • 1. Your Lead Capture proposition should be to offer something of value that’s both pretty darn interesting while being something visitors can’t find on your competitor’s sites. Software can’t do this, of course, so I guess it makes sense that it’s not on TP’s list.
    • 2. And hey! No mention of social media integration?

    Is anyone out there developing a CRM / Lead Management system that includes these last two? Is it even possible?

    Number 1:Actually seems like a software company could possibly deliver this if said company hired an in house USP thinker-upper-executer? Sorta blend the software with initial/ongoing guidance as a way to attract/retain customers?

    Number: Will Twitter/Facebook apps/api’s allow for contacts to be imported and assigned to activity series/follow up plans automatically? Just seems our Twitter/Facebook connections should be part of our pipeline, and should be incubated as such, even if they’re way further down that pipeline than actual folks we’ve met or talked to on the phone…

    Thoughts? Is TP missing anything else?

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  • 9 comments

    Why We Should Rename It SMP (Social Media Prospecting)

    I asked if SMM were dead as a precursor to our session with the Phoenix Association of REALTORs.   A few of y’all mentioned that social media was helpful as a lead generation tool.  I suggested this yesterday and  I want to be perfectly clear about the utility of social sites as lead generation pools.

    Serially creating overly commercial, spammy messages on your Facebook status bar is never going to be effective.  Kelley Koelher once said in my Unchained session that you’re supposed to be SOCIAL on social media.

    I don’t disagree.  I often liken your behavior on social media like a party, wedding, or community event.  If you showed up to cousin Fred’s wedding and handed out your business card, you should be tossed out on your ear.  If  bride Wilma’s sister asks you “What’s the market doing ?”, it makes sense for you to get her number and reconnect with her a week later.

    Now, more than ever, prospecting is paramount to success as a REALTOR.  Consider this video of Gary Keller and Jay Papasan, discussing the shift from marketing to prospecting.

    Here are my takeaways:

    1. the 8 X 8 is about cementing a relationship.  These can be phone calls, interactive comments on social media sites, e-mails, and postcards.  I think 3-4 different forms of media touches hardens the relationship cement quickly
    2. the 33 touch is about saturation.  I can’t stress enough that you must have permission to continue this saturation strategy on a prospective client
    3. The monthly newsletter is a non-threatening way to buy brain cells.  My yellow postcard might only be read for the 8 seconds it takes to go from the mailbox to the wastepaper basket but it does get read.  I get calls from it.
    4. The principles of direct marketing are more important now than ever. This means that you should ask people questions…directly (eg- do you know any teachers looking to buy their first home?)

    How do social media play into this strategy? Here’s a Facebook tactic:

    1. Call everyone on your “friends list”
    2. Ask them who their REALTOR is in (your town)
    3. If they have one, politely move on.  If they don’t, ask if you can adopt them.  If they don’t live in (your town), inform them that you know they’ll refer someone to you one day and want to be know as their (your town) REALTOR
    4. Look at their “friends” list for someone whom you find interesting; ask for an introduction

    Does that sound creepy? Well, that’s sales, folks.  Lead generation is the MOST important part of your job.  Keller and Papasan suggest that 3 hours of your day be dedicated to lead generation daily.  Can you imagine how supercharged your business would be if you took their advice and optimized the social media contacts you spent years developing?

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  • 7 comments

    What’s the End Goal To be?

    I’ve been migrating all of my data to Infusionsoft  lately.   A little at a time.  Easy does it.  One list, suck it in, de dupe it, and on with the next.  Tag it.   Infusionsoft is powerful stuff.  A good tool.  I hate the counterintuitive interface.  I hate the fact that you can’t ‘tag’ people at account creation without saving.  I hate the fact that the Usability Team was likely ignored.  And I hate their customer service, which is of the same ethos as big boiler room refi shops from 2004.   That’s all I’m gonna say.  There are things to hate about it, just like there are things to hate about ACT!, Heap, and whatever CRM Mark Green whips out.

    But, all that aside, Infusionsoft does a lot right.  It combines an auto-responder, some analytics, a project manager and a goal tracker in the same spot.  It tells you what to do, step by step.   And you can set up smart workflows for different things.  Right now, I’m underusing it.

    What it taught me was a fundamental weakness in my business.  Before I can sell, before I can scale, I have to create a coherent, robust & predictable customer experience.  Meaning this: when I send people to a web page, or offer, Infusionsoft strongly suggests I know what happens next.  And in my nascent business, selling blogs and social media propagation, I don’t know what happens next.   I haven’t engineered a good enough customer experience to throw a bunch of customers at it.  Yet.  I’m tons closer today than I was yesterday, and this weekend was “what I want to happen time.”

    But there’s the rub: most CRMs fill a leaking bucket.  You throw some autoresponders and newsletters at people, and yeah, they’ll perform.  The efficiency loss is never addressed:  what happens when you make a sale.

    And the other one: most people, especially D’s hate to be scripted.  They hate to feel like they’re on some assembly line that they do not control.   I lose time, personally, not in my ability to sell and market but because I have so many points that need to be improved.  I don’t have the entitlementality that other automation junkies have–I want to honor the customer first.  I want them to feel comfotable in every way.  Broadcasting to a list on a CRM is a fool’s errand unless you can efficiently and honorably deliver the goods.

    Infusionsoft helps.  By its nature of thinking of things in action sequences, I learned what I want my customer intake to be.  What pages I have to build.  What things I have to do. I’m almost there.

    What I’ll bet is this:  you do things that are like reinventing the wheel all the time.  I’ll betcha anything that you are filling a leaking bucket, and WHAT HAPPENS once you get the deal is where your business suffers.  It is with mine.  When I was an unabashed rake, I didn’t honor my customers.  Because they were fungible.  Replacable.  All the work I did generating leads was worthless because they didn’t turn into lifelong customers.  I was on my way to that path with my new business.

    Then I decided to be the best, by making sure that my customer experience was coherent.  My take on a good customer experience is a few things:

    • Instant deliverables.  (Can be applied to Real Estate if you, say write a manifesto like Greg did on the divorced commisison…a mortgage dude can do a walkthrough of the process).  If your web guy instantly sent you a list of current best practices, would you dig?  Yes, you would.
    • Stellar communication: (you always know what happens next, and when it’s gonna happen.)
    • Keep your promises.
    • Ruthlessly Grade yourself and future plan for things that slowed the process.
    • Solicit Customer feedback & future plan for things that can upgrade the experience.

    I did it as a lender and it made a profound difference in the ‘where’s my deal,’ calls, and thus my life.  When I automatically emailed all my deals in progress each day, even when there was nothing to report, people trusted me more, they felt connected and they referred their friends.

    All the lead generation in the world isn’t gonna help if your bucket has no bottom and a bunch of holes in the sides.  And having a good customer experience is easy.  It’s not enough to outshine the 99% of your competition that is on a failure path.  You have to be the best possible experience, worship at the church of skinned cats, and subordinate your ego to what is actually happening.

    And that, friends, is a big damn blue ocean.  But that’s what the OODA loop is all about.

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  • 8 comments

    If You Will Not Assist Us With the Shrubbery, We Will Be Forced To Say “MORTGAGE!!”

    Oh, what sad times are these when loan originators can say such words as “Free” and “Mortgage” at will to their contact database?!?!

    For if thou doest seek thine Holy Grail, or at least a decent shrubber, ye shalt best consult thy Book of Armaments here before lobbing thine Holy Hand Grenade of Drip Email upon thy database.

    In Addition to Nee, Pang and Nuuuwon, Ye Shalt Also Avoid:

    Okay, enough of the silly talk.  I’ve got actual work to do.

    1)  Free + ________: Permission Marketing proponents love giving free stuff away.  Make it a point to avoid this evil word your email subject lines.

    2)  Mortgage: Perhaps the evilest word of them all!  How do you avoid this one if you’re a loan originator?  I guess you could substitute nuuuwon.  Or you can just make it a habit to check your subject lines for keyword spam infractions before sending.  Either will do.

    3)  Low Interest Rates: Not that we have a problem with that right now.  So I’m announcing a temporary hunger strike until rates drop back below 5%.  Or at least until dinner.

    carrot-top-steroids1Hey, you’ve been a great audience.  Now I’ll turn the stage over to not a good friend of mine who definitely has not been doing any steroids or performance enhancing drugs.  His jokes sucked before he looked like this too.

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  • 5 comments

    Show Me “Paint the Fence”

    I have a confession to make:  CRM isn’t as complicated as people tend to make it.  Take a look at an app like Salesforce and they purposely build the interface to look like you’re piloting a 747 jet when in reality all you’re looking to do is deepen a few hundred relationships and organize your life.  We CRM experts like to try and look a lot smarter than we actually are.

    Over the next few weeks, I’d like to share some easy action items that will make managing your database a snap.  WARNING: I’M FLORIDA EDUCATED SO I TEND TO KEEP THINGS AT A 7TH GRADE LEVEL.  GREG SWANN: INITIATE LOBOTOMY NOW.

    Lesson #1:  Paint the Fence

    Remember when Mr. Miyagi made poor Daniel Son paint the fence?  And wash the car?  And paint the fence again?  If we’re gonna make you a black belt database manager, you’re going to have to suck it up too.  One must not deliver kick to opponent family jewel without proper training.

    The most common problem I notice when consulting with mortgage/real estate professionals:  the quality of your data sucks.

    1. Lazy Data Entry:  If you’re populating data from an internet form, expect respondents to take as little time as possible getting to the goodies you’re dangling.  No less than 50% of your data will come in with capitalization, punctuation and other grammatical errors.  There are some automated ways to help clean this data, and I’ll leave that for another day.  But in the meantime, I’m asking you to make a habit of cleaning data as you go.
    2. Incomplete Data:  For the belly-to-belly folks:  I have my salespeople take the extra 120 seconds to visit a new prospect’s website as they enter data into our CRM system.  When I find records with just a name and email address, I get pissed.  When you take the extra time to dig for granular data on a contact, you’re in essence learning more of their story in the process.  Did my prospect give me a fake phone number (easy to learn if the the phone number on their website is different than the one they gave you!)?  How polished of a prospect am I talking to (ie:  how nice is their site?)?  Does my prospect have an area of specialization that I ought to know about?  You get the idea.  While you’re at it, go ahead and populate their physical address.  Why?  Because if you get into this habit today, you won’t have an excuse to hold off on conducting a timely and profitable direct mail campaign down the road because you need to “clean your data up”.  When opportunity arises, you’ll be able to pounce immediately.  Case in point, the client I collaborated with on the preceding letter originated 52 loans in December 2008 – by himself.
    3. Make Notes About the Contact:  When I enter a new contact into our mortgage CRM system, I always make a quick note with details on where the prospect came from and how impressed I was with him/her (if at all).  Remember that one of our core functions with CRM isn’t just identifying who’s most likely to buy, it’s just as important for us to segment out our B, C and D players.  I’ll be talking about data segmentation in more detail another time.

    I know I shouldn’t have to say this, but I will anyway.  BACK YOUR FREAKING DATA UP!  Even today I’m dealing with people, even smart people, who lose their entire DB when a computer goes down.  If you’ve got your entire database on a desktop running ACT or Outlook, and you don’t know how to go about backing your data up, leave a comment and we’ll address that down below.

    Garbage In –> Garbage Out

    We’ve heard this saying a million times, but 9/10 of you still do a poor job of maintaining a pristine database.  Today’s takeaway:  don’t finish reading this and say “Yeah Yeah, I know Green, we get it”.  Just make sure every record in your DB moving forward contains the following fields:

    1. FN & LN
    2. Nickname (if applicable)
    3. Company Name
    4. Main Phone
    5. Cell Phone
    6. Full Physical Address
    7. Email Address (secondary email address is also huge if you can get it)
    8. Website Address
    9. Referred By
    10. Quick Note:  How you met them, how impressed you were, plus an item to jog your memory)

    Are you guilty of keeping a messy database?  Hire a high school kid to dig in and fix grammatical, spelling and other errors one night a week.  Within a couple months, you’ll be good to go.  And that’s when things get fun.

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  • 11 comments

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