The vacation rental niche has done extremely well during this pandemic era, with locations and accommodation types that are ideal for socially distanced vacationing. Therefore, the biggest issue facing most VR managers is to keep the inventory they have and to find new owners to join their program.
Many of our KTN clients have reported losing inventory, as owners have decided to leave their metropolitan lifestyles and move into their vacation homes, especially if they are at or near retirement age. Then, there are always those new start-up companies who are looking to lure away existing owners with the promise of lower commission rates. To top it off, new services are making it easy for companies to systematically solicit owners with a deluge of postcards.
As in all hospitality businesses, the most essential, core quality of keeping current owners happy and recruiting new ones is creating personal relationships that go beyond business transactions.
Recently, I found strong anecdotal evidence to support my theory that relationships are truly what makes one company stand out when, as a raving fan, I was listening to a podcast called The Sarah and T Show, produced by Sarah Bradford of Winterpark & Steamboat Lodging and Tim Cafferty, of Outer Banks & Sandbridge Blue. In a recent episode, they each – bravely – asked one of their homeowners to participate in an unscripted Q&A session. The key takeaways I got were that relationships, integrity, and proactive communication create strong bonds and undying loyalty.
Growing inventory will always be a challenge, even long after COVID-19 is in the rearview mirror. Therefore, KTN has officially launched a webcam training and coaching program for homeowner servicing and recruitment. The following are key takeaways:
First, you simply must organize around a relationship management process.
The starting place for keeping current owners and finding new ones is following up tenaciously, but in a personalized way. One option is to use a cloud-based CRM; chances are you already have one in use for other areas of your business. Yet most of commonly used platforms such as Slack and HubSpot are feature-rich and can be overwhelming. A more basic option is ZoHo, which offers a free version that works just fine. Although it is not ideal, I have seen numerous clients do just fine with customized forms they have created in Excel or Google Sheets.
- For owners, the most essential functions are:
- Tracing each owner on a task or to-do list.
- Entering notes from phone calls and meetings for an “at-a-glance” view.
- Attach links to documents, such as receipts, trend reports, and online reviews. (Those using Excel or Sheets can also organize a folder system for each homeowner, in which the documentation is stored).
- Trace each owner on the task list for a pro-active reach-out within the next 90 days. If you connect before the date originally traced, push them back out for another 90 days from there. Alternatively, if you only react when owners initiate, you will probably find that 20% of the owners take up 80% of your time, while the rest are sitting ducks, ready to be picked off by those sending postcards offering (seemingly) reduced commissions.
- When it comes to prospecting for new owners, timing is essential. Often, owners will say, “I already have a ton of bookings, so check back with me after the end of the main season…” or “I just re-signed for a year…” Therefore, use the tracking system to reach out every few months to check on their status and to stay top-of-mind.
Next, use a tool to make it easy to connect with owners and prospects.
- Most staff are maintaining owner relationships exclusively through digital means, such as email and text exchanges. It is impossible to build strong relationships through typed words alone. The urban myth is that owners prefer these means and they are fine for routine items. The real reason is that we make it too hard for owners to set times to speak with our reps, most of whom work during the week, while owners mostly think about their investment homes on weekends.
- Use tools like Calendly, which has a free version that integrates with both Outlook and Gmail, or “BookWithMe” options that are offered by platforms such as HubSpot.
- If you simply drop this link in your email signature, most will not even notice. Instead, explain the option in a short sentence in emails and mention it when leaving voicemails.
Take it to webcam!
- After owners and prospects agree to a time to meet, send over a link to Zoom, Teams, or another platform of your choosing. Integrate your platform with Calendly, so that the automated confirmation includes the link, but also send an external message to invite them to join you on webcam. Even if they do not flip on theirs, this provides a chance to put the name with the face.
- During our one-on-one coaching, we help owner reps perfect the use of webcam, such as putting the camera at eye level, paying attention to lighting, and speaking only on webcam before you share your screen in order to build rapport.
Use personalized video email messages.
- When on-site visiting the owner’s home, use the mobile video email app to send a short message showing you giving personal attention to their asset.
- When owners are not responding to your request to meet, send a short video email from your desk saying how much you would love to connect. Then direct them to the link of the scheduling app.
- Send shout outs for their “anniversary” date of being in your rental program, regarding a glowing review or especially lucrative month.
- Similarly, sending personal video emails to potential owners as part of your overall cadence of follow-up will help you stand out from the flood of companies who simply solicit by postcard or generic email.