My phone rings. “Mom” pops up on the caller ID. She leaves me a voicemail, so I text her, “Hey mom, what do you want?” To which she promptly replies, “I want u to pick up the phone and call your mother!”
Right or wrong, in our digitally driven world, texting is now the most used form of communication for American adults under 50, according to Gallup. It makes sense; we want to pass along our message quickly instead of spending valuable time chatting on the phone, even to Mom. And text messages usually garner a response time that’s faster than email (90 seconds versus 90 minutes, according to Hubspot), so if you want to grab someone’s attention, texting is the way to go.
All that being said, there are strict rules for using text messaging as a sales tool. When I’m asked (often) how texting fits into the process of new-home sales, my answer is, “Carefully.”
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The Rules for Texting
Texting is a quick, easy way to reach customers, either individually or en masse. When you hear that 98% of text messages are read within 2 minutes, that no one answers their phone anymore, and that email open rates are falling, you may think, “This is easy; let’s just text everyone now!” Slow down.
In 2013, Congress updated the Telephone Consumer Protection Act of 1991 (TCPA; see sidebar, below) to address and apply the law to mass texting. Simply put, you can’t just dump your database into a short message service (SMS) platform and start texting away. If you do, you’re probably breaking a law or two that can carry penalties of up to $1,500 per violation.
Let’s clarify one point: An individual texting another individual (me to my Mom) is totally fine and completely different from mass texting. But automatic to peer (A2P) texts are regulated by the TCPA, and you need to pay special attention to how you are sending marketing messages, promotional offers, and information request responses en masse via text.
To comply, keep the following guidelines in mind:
Implied or verbal consent to receive SMS text messages isn’t acceptable. Recipients must provide “unambiguous written consent” by checking a box or providing written consent. Having customer phone numbers in your database doesn’t count; you can’t use an existing list, even if customers provided their contact info, unless you have explicit permission to send them text messages.
Even though you have written consent, you must still provide recipients with an option to opt out of receiving texts. That’s because, by law, a company or organization advertising via mass calls or texts must maintain a Do Not Call (DNC) list of recipients who don’t wish to be called or texted. Opt-out requests must be honored for at least five years, and must be clearly noted in your database.
Check the DNC Registry
You can’t make mass calls or send bulk texts to anyone on the National DNC Registry. To check if a customer is already on it, go to https://telemarketing.donotcall.gov.
Special Texting Considerations for Home Builders
If you’re following the rules above, you’re in great shape. But home builders also should pay special attention to the following:
• Make sure you allow for written consent on your online registration forms if you plan to use phone numbers for mass texting or phone calling.
• Leads entered manually from on-site visitors must either receive an opt-in request or fill out their information electronically and provide unambiguous written consent to receive mass texts. It’s not enough to ask, “Is it OK if I text you?”
• Make sure the company or SMS platform adheres to TCPA standards. If you’re unsure, just ask the SMS provider, though some put that responsibility on you.
• If your texting efforts feel intrusive to you, your customers will likely feel similarly. People respond well to human interaction, especially via text, since it’s heavily weighted toward personal communication, but don’t spam prospects just because you have their cell phone numbers.
Texting and the New-Home Sales Process
Simply, you can’t text too soon, too often, or with too much information to someone willing to receive your messages. “Once rapport is built with a prospect, texting is easier and gets a higher response rate,” says Robyn Breece, a former new-home sales manager and now the director of marketing and a real estate agent for Highgarden Real Estate, in Indianapolis.
A sales optimization study from sales software company Velocify reported that conversion rates improve by more than 100% when texting is used correctly. Prospects that received text messages from their sales professional converted 40% more often than those who didn’t receive any texts.
“I usually ask a prospect who calls me, ‘Can I text you the address of the model home?’ That opens the door, and then I try to find other reasons to engage. It’s much more casual than email and it builds trust faster,” says Andy Gottesman, general sales manager at M/I Homes, in Columbus, Ohio, providing an example of one-to-one texting not regulated by the TPCA.
If you’re going to use texting in the new-home sales process, here are six tips that will deliver the best results:
1. Don’t make first contact via text. Texting is an informal way to communicate. First establish a relationship with prospects.
2. Ask your prospect for permission to use texting. Not every person wants to receive text messages. To be safe, ask politely if you can text them.
3. Keep your messages brief. Texting doesn’t replace detailed conversations, and lengthy texts are annoying. Save texting for the “quick question” or confirmation.
4. Go easy on abbreviations and emoji. You can use them with friends and family, but it’s not always appropriate with customers. Don’t assume a recipient knows what a particular abbreviation, emoji, or GIF means.
5. Always use a professional tone. Don’t be too informal with your customer via text, even if your customer prompts it.
6. Reply in a timely manner. Texters expect a quick reply, so be sure to reciprocate; that is, unless your customer has a habit of texting at 2 a.m. You don’t want to encourage that by responding then, even if you’re awake!
Need to Know: Telephone Consumer Protection Act
Unless recipients have given prior consent, companies wishing to employ mass texting or calling are required to heed the following restrictions established in the federal Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA):
• Anyone registered with the National Do Not Call Registry cannot be a recipient of an organization’s mass calls or texts.
• Businesses conducting mass calls or texting must identify themselves or identify who they are calling for.
• Companies must provide a callback number or reply option.
• A company or organization advertising via mass calls or texts must maintain a Do Not Call list of recipients who do not wish to be called or texted. Opt-out requests must be honored for at least five years.
• Violations of the TCPA give the recipient of any unwanted call or text message the right to sue for up to $1,500 per unsolicited text or call.
• Consent must be written. Verbal consent won’t hold up in a court of law. Unambiguous written consent is required before telemarketing calls or text messages can be sent.
• All SMS content must be relevant to your business; there is no “established business relationship” exemption. An established business relationship does not relieve senders (“advertisers”) from the unambiguous written consent requirement.
Good communication is essential to closing sales and maintaining customer relationships. Texting certainly fits into the sales process. Just follow these guidelines and always put your customer first. For now, texting is still a privilege, not a right.