The 200 Letter Revisited

 Posted by at 7:22 am
Feb 042014

mailbox receiptFor those who don’t know, the 200 letter was for years a standard practice assigned to newly licensed agents. Many agencies would help promote the new licensee with a press release to the local newspaper and require the licensee to develop a mailing list of 200 people, then send those people a letter announcing his or her new role as a sales agent with ABC Realty.

There was nothing particularly sacred about 2oo–although there has been some research done indicating that most people do, in fact, know at least 200 people beyond a nod and a smile. You’re supposed to include everyone you can think of… your doctor, auto mechanic,  pet sitter, etc.

This does not exactly qualify as “targeted marketing” until you realize that we are in a relationship business. Fortunately (or unfortunately, in some cases) for many people considering a real estate transaction, they will first think “Who do I know?” and if they can’t come up with a name, they’ll start to ask their friends. (You’d think the question would be “Who’s the best in this business?” but it isn’t.) For the 200 letter  this suggests we include two business cards–“one for you and one for a friend” along with the hope of reaching upwards of 400 people.

Personally, I think it’s still a valid approach to getting started. It’s admittedly gotten expensive–mailing 200 letters is going to cost close to $100 just in postage. But that’s still a small investment in your future business. Some of the factors that “make it work” are not “cheaping out” when printing the letter and cards, writing a letter that makes a strong impression, and some degree of repetition or reinforcement. It’s not just about getting started if it’s done correctly.

An alumnus of a sales agent class once contacted me because she was having trouble with her 200 letter. It seems she couldn’t come up with 200 names of people she knew and she wondered if she might contact her 600 Facebook friends and request their mailing address. I replied that I doubted many would send her their address and suggested she put more energy into thinking about people she knew outside of social media. If you have a name and town, you can often dig out the address with some Internet research.

We can, of course, debate whether or not she should have a “600 Facebook Post.” But before we jump on Facebook (the good news is the bad news–it’s easy) let’s get a good solid list of people we know. Maybe you can’t come up with 200–there’s a message for you in that. As part of your business plan, you’re going to want to start thinking about how you will network and make contacts. Remember, this is a relationship business. The more people you know, the more prospects you have.

Just don’t be obnoxious about making those friends, please. Years ago I knew an agent (not from this area) who would clip newspaper obituaries. She would at least wait until the body was cold before sending a letter “Sorry for your loss… if your personal situation suggests it might be time for a change, I’d love to talk with you about listing your home for sale…” No, I am not making this up. Yes, there are better ways of meeting people.

(If you’ve taken a class with me, you’ve probably heard me describe “undertaker agents” — those who drive buyers around until they either buy a house or die. The above example represents the other side of the transaction. The seller undertaker agent waits until someone dies to start a relationship.)

One of the failings of the 200 letter is in its name–it’s one letter to 200 people. Why not have a plan that increases those numbers? “I’ll send a 200 letter announcing my new career. Six months from now I’ll have met another (pick the number–50?) people so I’ll send a 250 letter with some market updates and a reminder that my business is growing…” To be really sophisticated, collect the email addresses of these people and consider how email might support the program. The 200 letter is really about starting (or altering) a relationship on a professional level. The wise licensee recognizes the need to nurture that relationship on an ongoing basis.

I hear a lot of complaints from licensees about the lack of loyalty in our business–usually after they’ve driven by a friend’s home and seen a competing for sale sign on the lawn. One of the reasons it happens is we’re not reminding them we’re in the business and we’re not giving them reasons to turn to us when the need arises. What’s your plan for doing that?